Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Libertarian Forum

The Libertarian Forum, edited by Murray N. Rothbard from 1969 to 1984, had a small — even tiny — circulation but it forged the intellectual edifice known as libertarianism.

Month after month, the newsletter thrilled, enlightened, shocked, and awed its subscribers. Everything was on the table.

The Mises Institute has compiled and published every issue of this obscure journal, in a two-volume book of 1200 pages in total.  It offers a glimpse into the world as Rothbard saw it – real time, during some of the most dramatic events in US history. 

Think about the Vietnam War and the protests (Kent State as one example) and the last helicopter out of Saigon; Nixon closing the gold window; Nixon resigning; raging inflation and high unemployment at the same time – something that all mainstream economists thought an impossibility; the Iran hostage crisis.  I suspect each of these is covered with gusto, and I look forward to the treatment.

The volumes also offer a glimpse into the libertarian world in what must be described as its infancy.  Who were the early pioneers?  What gave any of them any hope?

At 1200 pages, this will be a long-term commitment on my part.  Unlike most of my book projects, I will not run through this one uninterrupted; my intent is to touch on it from time to time while continuing with the various other books and topics as I have in the past.

Unless an author is specifically noted, my assumption is that Rothbard wrote the referenced item.  I might be wrong, but my guess is not very often.  And with this, I will begin with the introductory issue, dated March 1, 1969:

Why The Libertarian?

The libertarian movement is growing at a remarkable pace throughout the country.  Yet the organizational forms, the means of communication, among libertarians are not only miniscule, but actually suffered a considerable blow during 1968.

It remains remarkable to me that those few libertarians that could fit in a phone booth could even find each other before the internet.  Heck, it is remarkable to me that I found anything “libertarian” before the internet.

Talk about Isaiah’s Job and preaching to the remnant!  Making the commitment to write a twice-monthly newsletter during a time when Rothbard probably knew every “libertarian” personally, and could count them on one hand – I cannot describe this in any way other than a huge leap of faith.

Rothbard goes on to list some of the early institutions that “suffered a considerable blow”:

Freedom School-Ramparts College: was a libertarian educational institution established by Robert LeFevre in Colorado, United States in 1956. The college was an unaccredited four-year school for classical liberals and individualist anarchists. Teachers at the college included Butler Shaffer and Sy Leon, who ran the college after it moved to Southern California in 1966.

Forgive the length of this next one; the list of names is worth review:

New Individualist Review: Ralph Raico, editor.  Initially sponsored by the University of Chicago Chapter of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, the New Individualist Review was more than the usual “campus magazine.” It declared itself “founded in a commitment to human liberty.” Between 1961 and 1968, seventeen issues were published which attracted a national audience of readers. Its contributors spanned the libertarian-conservative spectrum, from F. A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises to Richard M. Weaver and William F. Buckley, Jr. The associate editors were John P. McCarthy, Robert Schuettinger, and John Weicher. The book review editor was Ronald Hamowy. Other authors included Milton Friedman, Murray N. Rothbard, F.A. Hayek, Russell Kirk, Eugene Miller, Wilhelm Roepke, Harry Elmer Barnes, Sam Peltzman, George Stigler, Benjamin Rogge, Ludwig von Mises, Bruno Leoni, Israel Kirzner, Richard Weaver, Yale Brozen, Gordon Tullock, Warren Nutter, W.H. Hutt, E.G. West, Henry Hazlitt, Arthur A. Ekirch, Ljubo Sirc, and Armen Alcjian.

He also lists Pine Tree Press, but I find nothing on line on this entity.

Regarding the then-new Nixon administration, Rothbard notes that only perhaps 90 of the top jobs have been filled out of the thousands available:

How much clearer can it be that the much vaunted free elections in the United States are a sham and a fraud, designed to lull the public into believing that their voices really count?

It certainly was clear to clear thinkers such as Rothbard.  I suspect that the recent election of Trump is making it clear to the tens of millions of those who voted for him; what Rothbard saw almost 50 years ago may be finally entering a broader consciousness.

Next comes an idea of a “People’s Court,” proposed by Gerald Gottlieb in the January 1969 issue of The Center Magazine.  Given the failings of institutions such as the World Court, the idea is for private citizens to create a court “independent of nations and able to render judgement upon those who misuse sovereign power.”

Rothbard asks: How would such a body enforce its jurisdiction and decisions?  He points to successes of the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal in arousing European sentiment against the Vietnam War and other similar private efforts.

The last report in this edition regards the city of San Francisco and a new law that prohibits sitting on the sidewalk.  Rothbard’s complaint sounds almost quaint given how far and how quickly the totalitarian American state has grown:

…we must note one more step on the road to a totalitarian America.


Murray, one can only wonder what you have been writing regarding this totalitarian America since September 11, 2001.


  1. One must ask "why is Murray Rothbard now hated by a large segment of libertarians?". Among a certain segment (and let's face it, the most numerous and monied segment) of libertarians, Rothbard is virtually persona non grata. To them mentioning Rothbard is like farting at a fancy dinner party.

  2. "and let's face it, the most numerous and monied segment"
    The People's Court(where have we heard this before?)
    This would be my primary concern about a private court. If in libertarianism you vote with your dollar, I could concievably be left out for being less monied.

    1. Josh1476,

      It could be a lot worse than that. Imagine a single owner of a given geographical area. Let's say Rhode Island. What is the difference between living under the rules of the state and this owner? Well, the difference is that the owner is completely unrestricted in his sovereignty. You can leave and that's it.

      Good luck on leaving if the seas and airspace above are owned by someone like George Soros. Like the Hotel California, you can check in but never leave.

  3. "Pine Tree Press" produces 39,000,000 results on Google. What search engine couldn't find it?

    1. You must be kidding. 39 million links to an obscure libertarian press? You believe this?

      Did you even check any of the links for relevance?

      I find a mention of it on the Wikipedia page of Robert Lefebvre, but no meaningful description.

      Thirty nine million relevant hits? That's a laugher.

    2. "He also lists Pine Tree Press, but I find nothing on line on this entity." Where does it say relevant? I read books published by Pine Tree Press when I was a volunteer in the Colorado Libertarian Party office in Denver. I might even have some of them in my book horde. If it is in my memory, it is in someone else's, although real libertarians are getting as hard to find as real representatives.

  4. I was a subscriber to the Libertarian Forum. Sometime in the early 70s I was at Rothbard's Apt. And asked if he authored the unsigned articles and he said yes.

  5. The Pine Tree Press was the publisher that gave us 1960s libertarians a 1966 edition of Lysander Spooner's NO TREASON; published with Spooner's "Letter to Thomas F. Bayard" (both reprinted from Rampart Journal). I still have my treasured copy. It had an introduction by James J. Martin. The precise legal relationship between it, Rampart College, and Robert Lefevre is not clear, but it would not be far wrong to say that it was probably created as an imprint of Rampart College.

  6. Loompanics Unlimited did the same thing with a large number of low-demand or "undesirable" books, many of which became unavailable after they closed down after receiving no acceptable purchase offers. My personal favorite, Vonulife, moved to Delta Press.

  7. Oh, it is great to go through the whole archive of the Forum, I'm doing the same slowly but surely.

    I also archived the whole Rothbard-Rockwell Report with the same intention: