Conservatism Turned Upside Down


It is a cliché of publishing to observe, when a book appears before the public years after it was first written, that it is more relevant now than ever. But it is difficult to think of how else The Betrayal of the American Right can be described. Murray N. Rothbard chronicles the emergence of an American right wing that gave lip service to free-market principles and "limited government," but whose first priority, for which it was willing to sacrifice anything else, was military interventionism around the world. That sounds familiar, to be sure, but as Rothbard shows, it is neither recent nor anomalous. It goes back to the very beginnings of the organized conservative movement in the 1950s.

Since this book is likely to reach beyond Rothbard’s traditional audience, an initial word about the author is in order. Murray N. Rothbard was a scholar and polymath of such extraordinary productivity as almost to defy belief. His Man, Economy, and State, a 1000-page treatise on economic principles, was one of the great contributions to the so-called Austrian School of economics. For a New Liberty became the standard libertarian manifesto. In The Ethics of Liberty Rothbard set out the philosophical implications of the idea of self-ownership. He told the story of colonial America in his four-volume Conceived in Liberty. His America’s Great Depression, now in a fifth edition, used the explanatory power of the Austrian theory of the business cycle to show that monetary interventionism, rather than "capitalism," was to blame for that catastrophe.

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