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