Rothbard's Amazing Libertarian Manifesto

I have a dream: A dream of thousands of college students throughout the world listening to Rothbard’s electrifying Libertarian Manifesto on their iPods and computers. The Mises Institute is doing its part toward making this dream come true by producing a professional quality audio book and making it available as a podcast. All that remains is to get the word out. I hope you will help.

But why is this a dream of mine? Why should you care about a 1973 book that is currently out of print? (Though it is about to be back in print). Let me begin by describing the effect this book had on me personally. Then I will tell you about the effect it had on one college campus. I leave it to your imagination to multiply this by many people and many college campuses.

Taking the Rothbard Pill

A libertarian friend of mine kept a stack of Rose Wilder Lane’s Discovery of Freedom on hand to give to potential libertarians. It was reading one of his copies that set me on the course to libertarianism. I was brought further along the path by reading the Cato Letters by Trenchard and Gordon. I felt that I finally “got” the ideas that had inspired the secession from the British Empire.

But from here I could have gone in many directions. Men much smarter than me and just as aware of classical liberal ideas had gone on to become tools of the State, members of a Republican administration, war hawks, and Bill Buckley. It was Rothbard who saved me from going down these well-trodden, evil paths.

Reading For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto inoculated me against the fatal mistake made by so many others who became gripped by a passion for liberty: To look to the State as the guarantor, and even the advancer of liberty. Rothbard taught me that the State was the enemy of liberty and that, perhaps, more importantly, liberty does not require the State. Law, security, an orderly and peaceful society, all these things and more could and had been provided without the need for a monopoly provider of violence looming over society.

For example, in discussing police he points out not only that there is a viable alternative but also that it would be superior:

"The police, standing as they do for a mythical “society,” are primarily interested in catching and punishing the criminal; restoring the stolen loot to the victim is strictly secondary. To the insurance company and its detectives, on the other hand, the prime concern is recovery of the loot, and apprehension and punishment of the criminal is secondary to the prime purpose of aiding the victim of crime. Here we see again the difference between a private firm impelled to serve the customer-victim of crime and the public police, which is under no such economic compulsion.

What made a big impression on me throughout this book was that Rothbard did not stop at theory but illustrated from history that non-State alternatives had previously existed and worked quite well. For example, he recounts a case of private police not only from the United States but from the 20th century (why are so many aspects of even recent history virtual secrets?!):

The most successful and best-organized private police forces in American history have been the railway police, maintained by many railroads to prevent injury or theft to passengers or freight. The modern railway police were founded at the end of World War I by the Protection Section of the American Railway Association. So well did they function that by 1929 freight claim payments for robberies had declined by 93%. Arrests by the railway police, who at the time of the major study of their activities in the early 1930s totalled 10,000 men, resulted in a far higher percentage of convictions than earned by police departments, ranging from 83% to 97%. Railway police were armed, could make normal arrests, and were portrayed by an unsympathetic criminologist as having a widespread reputation for good character and ability.

Still Relevant After All These Years

Perhaps you are wondering whether a book written in 1973 that, in part, deals with current events would simply be hopelessly dated — that it would be more of antiquarian interest. Skimming back over the book I ran across Rothbard’s discussion of education. With only slight changes, it could have been written yesterday.

While the Friedman plan [school vouchers] would be a great improvement over the present system in permitting a wider range of parental choice and enabling the abolition of the public school system, the libertarian finds many grave problems yet remaining. In the first place, the immorality of coerced subsidy for schooling would still continue in force. Secondly, it is inevitable that the power to subsidize brings with it the power to regulate and control: The government is not about to hand out vouchers for any kind of schooling whatever. Clearly, then, the government would only pay vouchers for private schools certified as fitting and proper by the State, which means detailed control of the private schools by the government — control over their curriculum, methods, form of financing, etc. The power of the State over private schools, through its power to certify or not to certify for vouchers, will be even greater than it is now.

…Perhaps the gravest injustice is that, in most states, parents are prohibited from teaching their children themselves, since the state will not agree that they constitute a proper “school.” There are a vast number of parents who are more than qualified to teach their children themselves, particularly the elementary grades. Furthermore, they are more qualified than any outside party to judge the abilities and the required pacing of each child, and to gear education to the individual needs and abilities of each child. No formal school, confined to uniform classrooms, can perform that sort of service.

In his chapter on environmentalism we find a passage that applies just as well to the current attempt to cancel the Industrial Revolution in the name of global warming:

The fashionable attack on growth and affluence is palpably an attack by comfortable, contented upper-class liberals. Enjoying a material contentment and a living standard undreamt of by even the wealthiest men of the past, it is easy for upper-class liberals to sneer at “materialism,” and to call for a freeze on all further economic advance. For the mass of the world’s population still living in squalor such a cry for the cessation of growth is truly obscene; but even in the United States, there is little evidence of satiety and superabundance.

One Campus

I asked KV to summarize the impact of Rothbard’s book at the Washington University in St. Louis campus. Here are his quick notes with some bracketed comments from me:

Jon Bird was given FANL [For A New Liberty] by a friend of his. He read it and became an anarchist in ’99.

I was given FANL by Jon Bird in Fall 2000. I worked for the College Democrats. I was converted as I read the book and abandoned the Dems before the election.

Aaron was already a libertarian, and we started College Libertarians.

Spring 2001 I gave FANL to Mike Ewens [now on staff with]. He went from Objectivist to Rothbardian.

In the fall of 2001, I gave FANL to this guy Zak and John Payne [later a summer fellow at the Mises Institute and author of a JLS article on Rothbard]. They read it and became anarchists.

In fall 2002, I gave it to Thea, Jessica Jones, Dave, and Cathleen. They became anarchists. That year I also gave it to a few of my friends at home and they became anarchists. I believe around this time Emily read FANL and became an anarchist with mine and Mark’s help and Aaron too.

Christen read the book in Spring 2003. She became an anarchist. In Fall 2003, I gave it to Ale and Gregg and Scott (I think then). They became anarchists. I believe it moved to Jeff [currently president of WU College Libertarians] in Spring 2004 and Andrew in that same time.

I know that Payne converted Jeff Holman with it at some point in 2003—2004.

We had one of the largest libertarian groups ever. We ran several hundred-person events. You know all the rest. Basically, it totally radicalized us. It was awesome.

For A New Liberty Podcast

The Mises Institute is doing a fully professional production of an audio book and publishing the audio book as a podcast, thus bringing this 30+-year-old book into the latest (and most convenient) technology. The book is read by Jeff Riggenbach whose work includes his excellent reading of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. The audio book also includes a new introduction written and read by Lew Rockwell. The full text of the book is available online.