The Rothbard-Rockwell Synthesis

I recently published two articles on LRC, titled “Taming the libertarian conscience” and “Waiting for the collapse”. Both of these articles addressed libertarian strategy, the elephant in the room. Just how do we get to liberty? What are the proper steps and protocols? Regardless of how well thought out libertarian models of the ideal stateless or minimal state society are, these are crucial questions to ask. Following the publication of the two previously mentioned articles, I received multiple emails praising me for bringing up a tough issue that has daunted many libertarians. I certainly don’t claim to be the savior. But, in this article, I endeavor to continue this discussion, and reflect more upon optimizing libertarian strategy.

What distinguishes Rockwell and Rothbard from the screeching “purist libertarian” is their depth of insights in regards to building a functional, resonating, and effective movement. I will discuss these insights soon, but first, let us examine the above mentioned elements of a good movement:

  1. Functional- A movement should have a strong base of scholars, and a platform from which sound ideas can be “catapulted”. Think tanks such as the Mises Institute and the Ron Paul Institute fulfill this niche for libertarians. Against the State: An ... Rockwell Jr., Llewelly... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details)
  2. Resonating- This strong base should be able to pass its ideas on to heirs (as movement leaders age, new generations must come about to take their place), and also convince other like minded people to join the movement (e.g., libertarians gradually bringing small government conservatives into the movement).
  3. Effective- In order to create a strong and lasting movement, the hearts and minds of people must be touched. Libertarians in this regard need to underscore why liberty beats the alternatives, and do so correctly. A powerful movement that continues to grow is only a consequence of element two.

If you read my previous articles, you saw that I came to the conclusion that the ultimate goal of libertarians should be to spread ideas, i.e., as noted earlier, changing hearts and minds. It should not be to get people elected, per se. We should resort to given elections, or even non-victorious campaigns, only if they are a means to our previously stated desired end, that is, spreading ideas. That is precisely why Ron Paul’s non-victorious (only in the electoral sense) presidential campaign, has contributed far more to liberty than say, the election of a Libertarian to a state senate, that cost millions of dollars to finance.

Elections are only useful in this regard, because it is not practical that we will legislate our way to freedom, as we would have to elect large quantities of liberty minded candidates to do this. Thus, this is the problem with striving to elect candidates, purely for the sake of getting them in office. They will have zero sway in the legislative process, unless elected en masse, which is highly unlikely. If however, they can use that position as a bully pulpit to spread libertarian ideas, more power to them.

All this being laid out, let us now examine the insights of both Rothbard and Rockwell, beginning with the latter. Rockwell is notorious for his hard nosed, stubborn stance against the state, and is always skeptical of anything linked to the state. He is no advocate of voting, though not “adamantly against” it, in his own words. He has also described voting as a “sacrament of the state”, a way of allowing the political elite to cater to the masses. Rockwell understands that voting could very well taint the libertarian conscience. Putting such faith in voting has clearly lead to such phenomena as an ineffective Libertarian Party, and lack of changing hearts and minds. There is not a strong connection with the ideas and the constituents. People are joining the L.P. in an act of dissent against the Republocrat establishment. But once a seemingly anti-establishment candidate, like Bernie Sanders, enters the next election, it’s “So long suckers!”. No permanent connection is made between many potential libertarians, and the Libertarian Party.

In a blog post on LRC in 2010, Rockwell listed six reasons why he doesn’t vote, most of them very sound. For example, he asserts: “Not voting bugs the regime, and no wonder. Such abstinence, like not complying in other ways, weakens them. What if they held an election and nobody came?”. But reasons five and six are worthy of further discussion: 5. “The candidates itch to rule others. There is no lesser evil”. 6. “Politics is not our salvation. Indeed, the whole system is corrupt from top to bottom”.

With regards to point six, the system is certainly corrupt, and not salvageable at this point. The reformist libertarian mindset, i.e., that we can gradually fix our government/ vote our way to freedom, is a suicide path for libertarians. And politics is certainly not our salvation, but it can be used in our favor, at times. Rothbard well knew this, as we will discuss. Regarding point five, the lesser of two evils can, again, be used in our favor. Walter Block’s “libertarians for Trump” phenomenon provides a good case study.

Let’s now segue our way into a discussion of Rothbard’s insights. Unlike Rockwell, Rothbard saw strategic opportunities in politics. Namely, Rothbard would support various candidates in an act of dissent against the establishment. But this act of dissent was far more than just an angry Rothbard seeking to buck at the swamp. It was purposeful, namely strategic. Rothbard saw these “dissent votes” as opportunities to further spread libertarian ideas. Rothbard supported a whole catalog of statist candidates, including the likes of Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, and Adlai Stevenson. Let’s examine his support behind the New Left to gain an understanding of his “strategizing”.

Man, Economy, and Stat... Murray N. Rothbard Best Price: $23.43 Buy New $29.95 (as of 08:10 EST - Details) Rothbard watched as the non-interventionist Old Right was being displaced by a belligerent Buckleyite New Right. To keep the libertarian spirit intact, Rothbard had to adapt, and find a new vehicle in politics to spread the ideas of liberty. This was now the New Left movement, and such organizations as the League of Stevensonian Democrats. By communicating with the New Left, Rothbard could defend such crucial stances as supporting civil liberties and a non-interventionist foreign policy. Rothbard would find such “political vehicles” throughout various different political ideologies later down the line, from Buchananism, to Perotism.

We have now taken a look into the insights of both Rockwell and Rothbard. What do we get when we fuse these? What follows is a strong movement based on the spread of ideas, and the changing of hearts and minds. It is a movement which cares not to get candidates elected with hopes that they will make massive legislative change. It is a movement that will use any and all opportunities to spread ideas, whether this be through electoral politics, or the think tank world. It is a movement which understands the evils of democracy, yet can use it to game the system in pursuit of liberty. It is a movement which can tap into populism, and gradually bring people into the libertarian tent. It is a movement that doesn’t waste time with the L.P.

What is more important for libertarians is that they find someone who is anti-establishment, over someone who is more libertarian. Someone like Trump or Tulsi Gabbard could deal a serious blow to the establishment, and consequently, potentially score a partial victory for libertarians. Whereas people like Justin Amash and Gary Johnson, who are certainly more principled libertarians, are all too cozy with the establishment. It is their “reformist” mindset, which is containing the libertarian movement. Alas! We have a long ways to go. Stay tuned, as I will continue discussing this subject matter.

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