Rothbard Was Right
If you want to understand Murray Rothbard, you need to keep one principle in mind. If you remember this, you will have the key to grasping his thought. And you should want to understand Murray Rothbard, because he was the greatest American defender of liberty in the twentieth century.
The principle in question is that Murray Rothbard had a consistent vision of the good society that he upheld throughout his long career. He described this vision in a vast number of books and articles, including Man, Economy, and State, Power and Market, The Ethics of Liberty, and Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature. That vision was always the same.
Some people, even among those who knew and admired Murray, fail to realize this because they view him through a political lens. They point to shifts in his political alliances, seeing him as shifting from Old Right to Left and finally to Paleolibertarian. They miss the essential point.
Of course, Murray wanted to put his vision into practice. But for him the vision was primary. If you concentrate on Murray’s political tactics you will miss the real Murray.
What was this vision? As everybody knows, Murray believed in a complete free market. The State, which Nietzsche called “that coldest of all cold monsters” was the enemy.
In order to maintain a free society, people needed to hold certain values. Murray was a traditionalist who believed in natural law and the family. He deplored assaults on tradition such as the modern feminist movement. In cultural matters, Murray started out on the Right, and he always remained there.
Here are a few samples of what he said: “In our century, we have been inundated by a flood of evil, in the form of collectivism, socialism, egalitarianism, and nihilism. It has always been crystal clear to me that we have a compelling moral obligation, for the sake of ourselves, our loved ones, our posterity, our friends, our neighbors, to do battle against that evil.”
To do so, we must stick with the wisdom of the perennial philosophy: “In contrast to other specific sciences or to history, there can be little genuine innovation in philosophy from one decade, or even century, to the next. Philosophy deals with eternal problems through rational discourse. Moreover, genuine philosophy is only refined common sense, which is in no greater supply now than in ancient Greece. So there is nothing much new that philosophers can legitimately say.”
He had no use for modern feminism: “At the root of the women’s liberation movement is resentment against the very existence of women as a distinctive entity.”
Murray saw leftist elites as enemies of the values he upheld: He said that “We live in a statist country and a statist world dominated by a ruling elite, consisting of a coalition of Big Government, Big Business, and various influential special interest groups. More specifically, the old America of individual liberty, private property, and minimal government has been replaced by a coalition of politicians and bureaucrats allied with, and even dominated by, powerful corporate and Old Money financial elites.” As he summed up, “The big danger is the elite, not the masses.”
During the 1960s, it became evident to Murray that the CIA agent Bill Buckley had thrust aside the non-interventionist Old Right. “Conservatives” in that period like the ex-Communist Frank Meyer and the ex-Trotskyite James Burnham wanted a preventive war to annihilate the Soviet Union.
For Murray, the struggle against war was always the primary political goal. “War is the health of the state,” in Randolph Bourne’s famous phrase, and the battle against the State is a battle against war. The Left during the 60s and 70s opposed the Vietnam War and the Cold War generally. Because of this, he formed a temporary political alliance with them.
One fact must always be borne in mind about this alliance. It was strictly confined to foreign policy. Murray never changed his mind about conservative social values or, of course, the free market.
When Murray saw how leftwing values had taken over much of the Libertarian Party, he helped start the famous “Paleoalliance.” He joined forces with traditionalists who also opposed war. In doing so, he remained true to his consistent vision. In that vision, he never wavered.
If you want to know what Rothbard’s vision applied to contemporary America would be like in practice, you should look to Ron Paul. Dr. Paul’s career in Congress, marked by his opposition to war and the Fed, is the best example of the anti-elitist free market values that Murray supported.
Those too much enamored of the “zigzag of politics” miss what is most real and most vital in Murray Rothbard’s work.