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What the State Fears

FnstBy Murray Rothbard

From Anatomy of the State:

What the State fears above all, of course, is any fundamental threat to its own power and its own existence. The death of a State can come about in two major ways: (a) through conquest by another State, or (b) through revolutionary overthrow by its own subjects?in short, by war or revolution. War and revolution, as the two basic threats, invariably arouse in the State rulers their maximum efforts and maximum propaganda among the people. As stated above, any way must always be used to mobilize the people to come to the State’s defense in the belief that they are defending themselves. The fallacy of the idea becomes evident when conscription is wielded against those who refuse to “defend” themselves and are, therefore, forced into joining the State’s military band: needless to add, no “defense” is permitted them against this act of “their own” State.

In war, State power is pushed to its ultimate, and, under the slogans of “defense” and “emergency,” it can impose a tyranny upon the public such as might be openly resisted in time of peace. War thus provides many benefits to a State, and indeed every modern war has brought to the warring peoples a permanent legacy of increased State burdens upon society. War, moreover, provides to a State tempting opportunities for conquest of land areas over which it may exercise its monopoly of force. Randolph Bourne was certainly correct when he wrote that “war is the health of the State,” but to any particular State a war may spell either health or grave injury.

We may test the hypothesis that the State is largely interested in protecting itself rather than its subjects by asking: which category of crimes does the State pursue and punish most intensely? Those against private citizens or those against itself? The gravest crimes in the State’s lexicon are almost invariably not invasions of private person or property, but dangers to its own contentment, for example, treason, desertion of a soldier to the enemy, failure to register for the draft, subversion and subversive conspiracy, assassination of rulers and such economic crimes against the State as counterfeiting its money or evasion of its income tax. Or compare the degree of zeal devoted to pursuing the man who assaults a policeman, with the attention that the State pays to the assault of an ordinary citizen. Yet, curiously, the State’s openly assigned priority to its own defense against the public strikes few people as inconsistent with its presumed raison d’etre.

New Japanese Translation of ‘Anatomy of the State’

71TkjRAJjsL._SL1490_Murray Rothbard’s Anatomy of the State is now available in Japanese, thanks to Tatsuya Iwakura. It is available at Amazon as an ebook.

Remembering Mr. Libertarian on his birthday

RothbardSmileMarch 2 marks the birth of Murray Rothbard. Given his importance to the cause of liberty (The website said he “mounted the most comprehensive intellectual challenge ever attempted against the legitimacy of government. During a career that spanned more than 40 years, he explained why private individuals, private companies and other voluntary associations can do whatever needs to be done”), it is worth marking the occasion by remembering a few of Mr. Libertarian’s words.

 There can be no truly moral choice unless that choice is made in freedom; similarly, there can be no really firmly grounded and consistent defense of freedom unless that defense is rooted in moral principle.

The State, by its very nature, must violate the generally accepted moral laws to which most people adhere.

[The] essential activities of the State necessarily constitute criminal aggression and depredation of the just rights of private property of its subjects.

I define anarchist [society] as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of any individual. Anarchists oppose the State because it has its very being in such aggression…

Of all the numerous forms that governments have taken over the centuries, of all the concepts and institutions that have been tried, none has succeeded in keeping the State in check.

Since the State necessarily lives by the compulsory confiscation of private capital, and since its expansion necessarily involves ever-greater incursions on private individuals and private enterprise…the state is profoundly and inherently anti-capitalist.

All of the services commonly thought to require the State—from the coining of money to police protection to the development of law in defense of the rights of person and property—can be and have been supplied far more efficiently and certainly more morally by private persons. The State is in no sense required by the nature of man; quite the contrary.

In a truly free society, a society where individual rights of person and property are maintained, the State, then, would necessarily cease to exist. Its myriad of invasive and aggressive activities, its vast depredations on the rights of person and property, would then disappear. At the same time, those genuine services which it does manage badly to perform would be thrown open to free competition, and to voluntarily chosen payments by individual consumers.

The libertarian creed, finally, offers the fulfillment of the best of the American past along with the promise of a far better future… libertarians are squarely in the great classical liberal tradition that built the United States and bestowed on us the American heritage of individual liberty, a peaceful foreign policy, minimal government, and a free-market economy.

Murray Rothbard’s New York Times obituary called him “an economist and social philosopher who fiercely defended individual freedom against government intervention.” At times like his birthday, it is worth remembering the power of his ideas.

Obama the ‘Closet Realist’


Woodrow Wilson: Not a Realist

Below is an interesting discussion on foreign policy with John Mearshimer.

Among other things, Mearshimer declares that the neoconservatives “are in real trouble,” and that Obama is a closet realist. Mearshimer has a point. Obama may in fact be a realist. His foreign policy has certainly been less reckless, although it just goes to show how insane American foreign policy is that Obama’s brand of it looks relatively prudent next to that of George W. Bush.

Realists tend to indulge in less bloodletting simply because starting major wars nonstop is not conducive to political stability. Bourne was still right: war is indeed the health of the state, but the wars are ideally low-risk wars.  As Rothbard noted in “The Anatomy of the State” (page 55), wars provide both great benefits and great risks for states. A lost war can be a disaster for a state. A realist like Obama (assuming he is one) apparently favors much safer little wars such as all the little drone wars and the much-scaled-down presence in Iraq. He elected (so far) to keep US meddling in Syria restrained and appears to have little appetite for a war in Iran.

We might note that realism has long been hailed by the non-neocon conservatives as the ideal theory of foreign policy, and the fact that Obama can be thrown out there as a potential realist shows that it would be a bad mistake to confuse realist foreign policy with non-interventionist foreign policy. There’s plenty of room for mass murder within the realist paradigm, although it does appear to be more restrained on many occasions than the untrammeled idealist foreign policy that the neocons so subscribe to.

Even if better than the neocon (idealist) paradigm, the realists, strictly speaking, act in the interest of the state (in this case the American state). This is a totally different criterion for action than that employed by libertarians and other anti-interventionists who, at least in theory, seek to act in the interests of the lives and property of the humans potentially involved in the conflict.

Via Justin Raimondo.

‘The Essential von Mises’ and ‘Scholar, Creator, Hero’ now in Japanese

51nmz72qOnL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-37,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Rothbard’s  The Essential von Mises which includes Rothbard’s biographical monograph Ludwig von Mises: Scholar Creator Hero  is now available in Japanese, thanks, yet again, to the efforts of Tatsuya Iwakura.

Both are available in one volume now available as an ebook on Amazon. 

Following is a part of the ‘book description’ of Amazon (translated):

Rothbard’s ‘The Essential von Mises’ was published in 1973. And now it is coupled with another book  ’Scholar, Creator, Hero’ written by Rothbard in 1990. Each book corresponds to part 1 and part 2 of this book.

In part 1, the contributions to economics by Ludwig von Mises, are outlined in chronological order. This is useful as an introduction to Mises and Austrian Economics.

Part 2 is a biography of Mises. Rothbard talks about his feelings toward the results of of Mises’s search for economic truth and what he did in spite of many severe restrictions put on his efforts.

When I read this, I (the translator) imagine the following passage from Mises’s ‘Human Action’:

“Many a genius could have used his gifts to render his life agreeable and joyful; he did not even consider such a possibility and chose the thorny path without hesitation.” (The Scholar’s Edition, 1998) p.139


Rothbard on the Evil of Trade Sanctions (in South Africa)

downloadRothbard’s arguments against trade sanctions explored in this article are of course applicable to Syria, Cuba, Iran, and elsewhere. Sanctions imposed in the name of reform and regime change hurt the general population in the targeted country, and often are felt most severely by the poorest and most powerless segments of society:

The Crusade Against South Africa

by Murray N. Rothbard

For many years, America’s campuses have been sunk in political apathy. The values of the 1950s are supposed to be back, including concentration on one’s career and lack of interest in social or political causes.

But now, suddenly, it begins to seem like a replay of the late 1960s: demonstrations, placards, even sit-ins on campus. The issue is apartheid in South Africa, and the campaign hopes to bring down apartheid by pressuring colleges and universities to disinvest in South Africa. Coercion against South Africa is also being pursued on the legislative front, including drives to embargo that country as well as prohibit the importation of Krugerrands.

I yield to no one in my abhorrence of the apartheid system, but it must never be forgotten what the road to Hell is paved with. Good intentions are scarcely enough, and we must always be careful that in trying to do good, we don’t do harm instead.

The object of the new crusade is presumably to help the oppressed blacks of South Africa. But what would be the impact of U.S. disinvestment?

The demand for black workers in South Africa would fall, and the result would be loss of jobs and lower wage rates for the oppressed people of that country. Not only that: presumably the U.S. firms are among the highest-paying employers in South Africa, so that the impact on black wages and working conditions would be particularly severe. In short: the group we are most trying to help by our well-meaning intervention will be precisely the one to lose the most. As on so many other occasions, doing good for becomes doing harm to.

The same result would follow from the other legislative actions against South Africa. Prohibition of Krugerrands, for example, would injure, first and foremost, the black workers in the gold mining industry. And so on down the line.

I suppose that demonstrating and crusading against apartheid gives American liberals a fine glow of moral righteousness. But have they really pondered the consequences? Some American black leaders are beginning to do so. A spokesman for the National Urban League concedes that “We do not favor disinvestment . . . . We believe that the workers would be the ones that would be hurt.” And Ted Adams, executive director of the National Association of Blacks Within Government, warns that disinvestment would “come down hard on black people,” and could wind up “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

But other black leaders take a sterner view. A spokesman for Chicago Mayor Harold Washington admits “some concern that the most immediate effect of disinvestment may be felt by the laborers themselves,” but then adds, on a curious note, “that’s never an excuse not to take action.” Michelle Kourouma, executive director of the National Conference of Black Mayors, explains the hard-line position: “How could it get any worse? We have nothing to lose and everything to gain: freedom.”

The profound flaw is an equivocation on the word “we,” a collective term covering a multitude of sins. Unfortunately, it is not Ms. Kourouma or Mr. Washington or any American liberal who stands to lose by disinvestment; it is only the blacks in South Africa.

It is all too easy for American liberals, secure in their well-paid jobs and their freedom in the United States, to say, in effect, to the blacks of South Africa: “We’re going to make you sacrifice for your own benefit.” It is doubtful whether the blacks in South Africa will respond with the same enthusiasm. Unfortunately, they have nothing to say in the matter; once again, their lives will be the pawns in other people’s political games. Read More→