Note (6/4/07): The Preface and Introduction to this anthology are no longer on the LewRockwell.com site; I have re-posted them however, as my own web pages. The full text of the Introduction, written by Lew Rockwell, is printed below; the hyperlinks within it however, were added by me. - Aakash Raut

 

The Irrepressible Rothbard - - - - Order 'The Irrepressible Rothbard' today! - - --


Essays of Murray N. Rothbard
Edited by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

INTRODUCTION

Summing up the work of Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995) and noting its stunning range, philosopher David Gordon once wondered "if there are really three, four, or five geniuses writing under his name." These lively essays display one of those geniuses: Rothbard the journalist, cultural critic, political observer, and movement organizer. Even more remarkable, they represent just a fraction of what he wrote in his spare time, for just one publication, and in just the last few years of his life.

These articles hold up magnificently on their own, but here's the broader context. Two massive scholarly tomes bracket Murray's academic life. The nine-hundred-page Man, Economy, and State – written when he was in his early thirties and appearing in 1962 – jump-started the revival of the Austrian School of economics. It remains a masterpiece of theoretical reasoning, and the last full-blown economic treatise. Appearing one month after Murray's untimely death in January 1995 was the Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought in two volumes. Its thousand pages trace the rise and fall of sound economic thinking from Aristotle to Marx. Though it is an unfinished work – like Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis or Mozart's Requiem – it knocked the breath out of specialists in every field. (And so did The Logic of Action a two-volume compilation, again totaling a thousand pages, of Murray's most important scholarly articles, published by Edward Elgar of London in its Economists of the Century series.)

These two masterworks would be enough to place Murray among the gods of the social sciences. But there was much more from this irrepressible genius, including a four-volume history of colonial America, a philosophical treatise, books on money and banking, dozens of chapters in books, hundreds of scholarly articles, and thousands of essays on topics of every sort.

In addition, he taught full time, counseled students at all hours, edited scholarly journals, spoke around the world, read everything, wrote enough letters to fill a room, and studied formally in chess, German Baroque church architecture, early jazz, and other areas.

Mere volume and range is not, however, the key to his intellectual power, and neither, necessarily, was his consistent defense of human liberty against state tyranny. Murray was irrepressible because of his burning desire to tell the truth. He would tell the truth in any forum that would take his work, whether a British economic publishing house, a French journal of political science, an American magazine of culture, a daily newspaper, or an irregular libertarian flyer. He had so much to say that he didn't mind appearing to "waste" his articles (although he never thought of it like that) on the tiniest publications.

He wrote all night, almost every night. What a joy to arrive at the office at 7:00am to find my fax machine filled with twenty or thirty pages of magnificent material, representing only part of his output for the evening. This was the popular material, which he wrote as one diversion among many, the way others watch sports or read popular fiction (although he did those too, and was expert in both). Meanwhile, he was also delving into medieval theology, taking apart his critics in all fields, and advancing the scholarship of liberty in every way he knew.

Toward the end of his life Murray began to develop consistent outlets for his academic work, despite being shunned by the academic establishment. He began to have more commissions than even he could keep up with. But what about those mountains of popular material? I tried to find markets for this great writing, and often succeeded, but as any freelancer knows, the rewrites, copyrights, deadlines, and follow-ups can tie you in knots. What he needed, it seemed to Burton S. Blumert, his California benefactor and friend, was a regular outlet for his non-academic work. And since every article was a gem, Burt cringed at the thought that the world would be denied even one sentence.

The purpose of The Rothbard-Rockwell Report was to provide him that steady and reliable outlet. (For no good reason, he insisted that my name also be on the masthead.) We knew there would be a demand for his material, but what took us by surprise was the crucial role the Triple R would play in shaping American political history. Burt tells me that I can't reveal the names of all the famous people who subscribed to this relatively expensive publication, but it included a surprising number of players, for good and evil, on the right.

The Triple R combined libertarian anti-government economics, decentralist local patriotism, anti-war isolation, and a reactionary cultural outlook that saw government as the key to the loss of the Old Republic. As its reputation spread and its loyal subscriber base grew, the publication developed into a leading forum in defense of the issues and groups that had been excluded (both as a matter of habit and policy) from conventional publications on the right. Its pages defended land-rights groups against environmentalists, citizen militias against gun grabbers, isolationists against imperialists, paleoconservatives against neoconservatives, populists against party regulars, anti-New World Order conspiracy theorists against the establishment, nationalists against internationalists, states righters against libertarian centralists, the Christian right against its own leadership, and much more.

The movement, which the Triple R embodied and which came to be called "paleo-libertarianism" or simply "paleoism," was the driving force behind the anti-government intellectual and political movement of the mid-1990s. The Triple R became the flagship and ideological inspiration for a mass movement that swept the right and then the country, and arguably had much to do with the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 (but not with the betrayal of the revolution that occurred even before the freshmen came to town, and which Murray was the first to see and denounce).

The irrepressible Rothbard was the reason for the rise of "paleoism." His cover essays, movie reviews, Congressional voting analyses, and news reports tackled the stories and issues no one else would touch. Long-time lovers and haters of Murray were taken aback at his newfound influence, and some attributed his success to the new distance he placed between his views and those of the official libertarian movement. Some of his thoughts, for example on the culture war and immigration, appeared to be the opposite of what the mainstream press calls "libertarian."

Had Murray really changed his mind? Had he moved from libertarianism proper to the "right"? The short answer is no. Here's the long answer. In dealing with lives as huge as Murray's, we tend to divide the decades into periods or phases. Thus Beethoven had a late period in which he experimented with new harmonies and rhythms, Picasso had a "blue period" that was moderately representational, and so on. No doubt some Rothbard biographer will try the same thing for Murray's journalistic work: the Old Right Rothbard, the New Left Rothbard, the Libertarian Rothbard, and, this, the Paleo Rothbard. Such a division may be inevitable, but let me make my pitch anyway: it is highly misleading.

First, such a division would address only a small part of who he was as a thinker. It might vaguely outline his political associations and publishing outlets, but would say nothing about his academic work, which went through no "phases." Changes in his thinking, whether displayed in popular or academic settings, were never a matter of repudiating his last thoughts but merely adding to them organically, applying them in new areas, and developing them to address new concerns.

Second, even in his politics, Murray went through no real "periods," but rather altered his strategies, emphases, and associations based on what the times and circumstances required. His goal remained always and everywhere a principled promotion of liberty. For Murray, a change of strategy never meant a change in principle, but only in method. No matter what political and intellectual strategy Murray was pursuing, his core views were always the same: he was a radical, anti-state libertarian, in the purest sense. Concretely, on economics, he was a private-property, free-market anarchist of the Austrian School; on politics, a radical decentralist; on philosophy, a natural-rights Thomist; on culture, a man of the Old Republic and the Old World.

A couple of clarifications are in order. Murray's anarchism was not antinomian; it was inseparable from the legal norm of non-aggression implied by the doctrine of natural rights. His view was that rights are necessarily universal, since man's nature is universal, but enforcement of those rights must be as local as is necessary to ensure consent. Murray's individualism, moreover, focused on methodological and ethical concerns; it did not exclude the legal rights of groups like families and communities.

Rothbardian anarchism, then, can be found in any stateless, self-governing community that recognizes property rights, including a huge plantation, an authoritarian monastery, or a company town. Contra one common libertarian error, enforcement of rights should never be centralized in the name of protecting rights. For example, the UN shouldn't legalize drugs over the objections of small communities that want to keep them out. It's also why Rothbardian political economy is compatible with Old Right concerns like constitutional federalism and states rights.

The core of Murray's economic, political, and ethical views was fixed, not because it was a settled dogma, but because logic and events daily confirmed its validity. It was pragmatic because he was willing to work with anyone who shared his love of liberty. Even in terms of political priorities, he maintained a remarkable consistency throughout his public life. He always saw the state, especially its war-making power, as liberty's (and thus civilization's) greatest enemy.

All that said, and I hope understood, let's say these writings do come from the "paleo" period, which began roughly with the end of the Cold War he so thoroughly despised. The shift is explained by Murray himself in these pages, but I'll add a few points.

By the middle 1950s, Murray couldn't identify with the conservative movement, although the "fusionist" branch brought to life by his old friend Frank Meyer had long respected Murray's economic views. It was typical in those days for conservatives to dismiss anything Murray had to say outside economics – and even attempt to prevent people from reading him – on grounds of the supposed "nihilism" and "extremism" of libertarian doctrine, and, preeminently, his foreign policy views.

For it wasn't only the Cold War Murray opposed. He hated the world wars as well as the wars against British Canada, Mexico, the South, Spain, Korea, and Vietnam. He despised the U.S. empire around the globe that, like these wars, had subverted the libertarian republic of the framers. Only the secessionist wars for American and Southern independence were just.

As the pro-war ideology of the right grew increasingly reckless, Murray's lone stand (which meant he had to use New Left publications as his outlets) made him increasingly marginal among the people who, in peacetime, would presumably have been his allies. But the end of the Cold War offered an exciting possibility of restoring the intellectual exchange between anti-statist conservatives and principled libertarians.

As Murray put it, "whether or not I was right about the Soviet/Communist menace, and I still believe that I was, the course of human events has, thank goodness, now made that argument obsolete and antiquarian." This was Murray reaching out to find new allies in the struggle for the future of civilization, as he did throughout his life.

Murray's new allies, coming from highly diverse backgrounds, found they had common ideological enemies: the left, the imperialist neoconservatism of National Review and practically every other official right-wing organ, the unfortunate ideological libertinism of the libertarians, and the shiftiness of social democrats of all stripes. It all began with an exchange of letters among Murray and dissident paleoconservatives who had been expelled from the neocon orbit, and quickly grew into a full-scale, radical intellectual paradigm for post-Cold War political action.

What he saw being revived was the diversity and anti-state activism of the Old Right of the interwar period, a vibrant movement (now almost forgotten) that hated corporatism, militarism, and welfarism, and longed for a return to the Jeffersonian Republic that had been strangled by Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt. This was the revival he had long hoped for, as shown in the final paragraph of For a New Liberty (1976).

The formation and development of paleoism had another major benefit besides advancing the cause of liberty, which it certainly did. It introduced Rothbardianism to a new generation of intellectuals and activists. This might not have been possible if he had remained in the stifling circles of the official libertarian movement, a social set with peculiar thoughts and habits that unnecessarily tainted the Rothbardian program. It also gave him a second hearing among intellectuals who had decided not to bother with him based on the smears of Cold Warriors, as typified by the lying obituary of William Buckley.

With the Triple R, Murray developed a loyal following among home schoolers, traditional Catholics, gun rights people, Southern secessionists, Young Republicans, and many other groups. By the time the Mises Institute brought Murray's Man, Economy, and State back into print in 1994, it had found an entirely new constituency both inside and outside the economics profession, and thousands of copies flew out the door. It was more evidence, along with the booming Triple R, that Murray was irrepressible.

All this intellectual entrepreneurship may seem to involve heavy lifting, but that's not why people cherish Murray's popular writing from this period. They love it because it's insightful, informative, accurate, brilliant, and, above all, fun. For people unacquainted with him, this may have been the biggest surprise.

One consequence of the anti-Rothbard slanders during the Cold War was to give the impression that Murray was a steely-eyed fanatic who thought only about abstractions. The smear artists tried to make an analogy between Murray and his supposed mirror image, the humorless left-wing radical. Was Murray the kind of intellectual who caused Oscar Wilde to comment that socialism consumes far too many evenings?

A thumb flip through this volume is enough to show that the charge wasn't true. Indeed, you get the feeling that if Murray's comparative advantage had not been in economics, history, and philosophy, he would have made a great sports, music, or movie critic. And, no, he didn't always look at movies or music in terms of what they implied for libertarian doctrine, even if he hated art that was little more than a stalking horse for leftist ideology. For non-political works, he reviewed them in their own terms, which is why his writing speaks to all sorts of people.

Even his political analysis was intensely interesting beyond particular candidates or the philosophical implications of an election. Murray did not confuse his ideal world of anarcho-capitalist decentralism with the political possibilities of the moment. For example, he made a distinction between whom we should approve of wholeheartedly, and whom we should root for in a particular election.

In 1992, he stirred up controversy by rooting for Bush, and was bombarded with hate mail for his column saying as much in the Los Angeles Times. That did not mean Murray supported Bush in an absolute sense; nobody denounced Bush more for his wars (see his riveting pieces on the Gulf War) and increases in federal power. Murray made the argument for Bush when compared with Clinton, just as he supported Perot over Bush, and Buchanan over Perot in the same year. It was a matter of strategy – and Murray, contrary to common impression – was a realist who knew the political ins and outs as well as anyone. If you doubt it, check out such articles as "The Bringing Down of Liz Holtzman," "The New York Political Circus," and the classic "A Rivederci, Mario." You'll think he missed his calling as a campaign consultant.

Whenever a candidate for office wanted to meet with Murray, he was thrilled to do so. Pat Buchanan is a case in point. Before he challenged Bush, Pat led the movement against the ghastly war on Iraq, earning Murray's abiding respect. Pat, Murray hoped, would lead a break-out from the conservative pack in backing an anti-welfare, anti-warfare program. During Pat's 1992 primary run against Bush, he met with Murray and they became fast friends. Murray was disgusted by the smears against Pat, and thrilled by his call to bring the troops home. But as anyone who knows Pat can testify, he's a great listener who resists advice from any quarter. It's a good trait when he's bucking Rockefeller on the Mexican bailout, but a bad one when he's rejecting Rothbard on the free market.

Murray's political realism led him to examine all programs and plans by a single acid test: will this person or policy move us closer to, or further from, the goal of freedom? This test led him, for example, to blast school vouchers as a step-up in government power. And although Murray was an ardent free trader, he tore Nafta and Gatt to shreds. Based on the Republican compromises with those bills and the affiliated Mexican bailout, he foresaw the betrayal of the Republican 1994 Congressional takeover.

One political issue that comes up in these pages is California's Proposition 187, a measure that proposed to cut-off welfare benefits to illegal immigrants. You might think: a welfare cutoff? Now there's something a libertarian can support. It didn't quite work out that way. Not only was the entire political and media class wildly opposed to this measure, but the neoconservative and official libertarian movements joined forces (not for the last time) to try to defeat it. That left Murray as its most prominent defender among intellectuals not usually associated with the anti-immigrant wing of conservatism.

According to the media's tale, the immigration question is forever bound up with the issue of free trade (as defined by the governing elites, meaning managed-trade treaties). But no one in the media is willing to say: let's have absolutely open borders. Everybody with a noggin understands that millions storming across the southern border would cause an economic, political, and cultural upheaval. Libertarians should also understand that such a policy would, on net, make us less free, especially because the welfare state slathers tax dollars on all comers, and because, thanks to civil rights, minority aliens automatically have rights to trample on property and privacy, rights properly denied to the majority of natives.

The question then is not whether to restrict immigration (even Julian Simon grants some restrictions are in order), but to what extent and with what priorities in mind. Murray broke from the libertarian consensus not only to favor Prop. 187, but to revisit the issue altogether. As he saw it, the central government uses liberal immigration policies, or what Hans-Hermann Hoppe has called the global right of trespass, as a means of unsettling bourgeois property holders and increasing the power of government.

But how can an anarchist support immigration restrictions? As he wrote in The Ethics of Liberty (1982), "there can be no human right to immigrate, for on whose property does someone else have the right to trample? In short, if 'Primus' wishes to migrate now from some other country to the United States, we cannot say that he has the absolute right to immigrate to this land area; for what of these property owners who don't want him on their property."

I quote the passage to demonstrate the inanity of another accusation against Murray: that he changed his open-immigration position to a "nativist" one because of his new friendship with paleoconservatives. As shown by this volume, his late views on the subject were an outgrowth of his general position in favor of strict property rights. Thus, he would not restrict immigration in which people contract for labor (citizenship being an entirely different issue).

Murray's critics have long tried to play "gotcha" with him by spotting some compromise. Their failed efforts were probably inspired by Murray himself, who rightly placed special emphasis on the moral urgency of sticking to principle. As an intellectual committed to truth above all else, Murray had a special loathing for a common practice in politics and the intellectual world: the sellout.

To him, it was far better to be wrong about the issues, yet moving even a smidgen in the right direction, than to have known the truth (about the state or foreign policy or whatever) and then rejected it for opportunistic reasons. For one thing, in Murray's view, the sellout is typically more dangerous because he has displayed the ability to be a convincing liar. As the great spiritual writers teach us, a person who is wrong but naive is far more trustworthy than a person who knows the truth but seeks fame, fortune, and political advantage instead. Keep that in mind as you read Murray's excoriations of individuals and groups identified as sellouts in these pages.

Several other pieces deserve special mention. His article on Rwanda ("Hutus vs. Tutsis") was hailed by the displaced king of that country as the only piece to tell the truth about his homeland. Murray's "Exhume! Exhume!" is the first essay to my knowledge to make the general case for digging up bodies of political figures long after they're dead for the purposes of arbitrating conspiracy controversies. His attack on the menace of religious leftism, as embodied in Hillary Clinton's politics, is a theme picked up by multitudes of later commentators. Murray's piece on fluoride ("Fluoridation Revisited") revived a subject long forgotten and dismissed. His article on "King Kristol" foretold the bust that Bill's magazine would be among grass-roots conservatives. Finally, pay careful attention to his manifesto on "Big Government Libertarians" for insights into how and why Murray changed his associations in those raucous years.

As the heavy-handed editor of this volume, I regret having to cut many hundreds of pages. Every article was a treasure, and I apologize to any reader whose favorite piece is missing. Going through them one-by-one made me deeply nostalgic for his genius and his intellectual vigor. But rereading them also recalls the complete joy with which he embraced life, and how his extreme optimism made even the most severe setbacks tolerable. He experienced great disappointments and great successes, but through it all he was heroic, undaunted, and irrepressible. In this, as in everything else, Murray Rothbard is the model for those who long for liberty, and work for it.

~ Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.


Order the Book Here

Murray Rothbard Library & Resources

<--- Back to the 'Remembering Rothbard' Antiwar Archive