Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rothbard’s Libertarian Roots

This is a fascinating video of Murray Rothbard speaking about his libertarian roots.  It is worth every minute of the 90 or so you will spend to watch it.

I offer a few comments….

The speech was given in 1981 at the Libertarian Party convention in Denver.  This was a nice time capsule – consider the progress that has been made since then.  Yet Rothbard goes back decades earlier regarding his gradual intellectual enlightenment – to a time when there may have been all of five libertarians actually known to each other.

I think about this in the context of criticisms toward Rothbard regarding certain political views.  How could he support so-and-so, etc.?  I won’t speak for Rothbard, but offer my view on this.

First and foremost, I care very little about such issues when it comes to people like Murray Rothbard (I would include Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell as well).  The work men like Rothbard have done to develop and expand libertarian and anarcho-capitalist thought as well as Austrian economics (to say nothing of his equally valuable work on revisionist history) is so supremely significant, that spending any energy on trying to split the hairs on seemingly controversial subjects is wasted.

I have written before regarding Ron Paul, and the same applies to Rothbard – he has done enough good to earn nine-lives worth of goodwill in my book.

Second: When Rothbard began his intellectual and philosophical journey, there was virtually no one to show him the way toward integrating libertarian, anarchism, and Austrian thought in an ethical and moral framework.  He looked at this from a sense of justice, not a sense of pragmatism – a free market and private property is best because it is just, not because it produces the best overall outcomes. 

He began with an almost clean sheet of paper on this.  That some steps or some conclusions might be seen in hindsight as mis-steps seems meaningless within the context of the vast fields he has both cleared and plowed. 

I hold views different than Rothbard holds on a few subjects.  This diminishes him not one iota in my mind.  Listen to the man in the speech, and consider that this was over 30 years ago and that he began his journey decades before this and that he integrated several disciplines into a consistent political and economic philosophy.

On to a couple of other comments made during the speech.  Paraphrasing Rothbard, he commented that many libertarians looked at the election of Nixon in 1968 with hope – that he was actually a libertarian in hiding.  He has to act this way to get elected, but his true libertarian colors will show once he wins.

Sadly, we hear this too often about many pseudo-libertarian candidates.  It is enough said that Ron Paul may be the only politician in the history of the national stage that consistently talked the talk and walked the walk of libertarian philosophy within a Constitutional context.

Finally, Rothbard makes the point in this 1981 speech that it was clear that the communist empire was breaking up – ten years before the event.  I guess he knew to bet on the laws of economics doing their slow but steady work.

But, to return to my main observation – the speech is a wonderful glimpse into the history of the libertarian movement as well as the key if not paramount role that Rothbard played in it.

We are all better off because he lived in this world.


  1. Excellent!

    Cheap plug: in my interview with Chris Rossini as well as my chat with the Lions co-founders in my next podcast (should be out this eve), we touch on many of these same themes.

    Greatly looking forward to finding the time to watch this speech.

    1. Marc, I will make time to listen to the interview. Keep up the good work.

  2. Skeeter-

    This actually brought a tear to my eye- I would beg God for the strength of will he had to stand against the tide---not for "economically beneficial outcomes"---but because he had JUSTICE, real, honest to whatever God you worship- justice in his mind. People are people qua people, and treating even the least of us as means instead of ends is evil.

    Great post.