The Libertarian Forum, edited by Murray N. Rothbard; June 1, 1970
It has been some time since I last probed the pages of this semi-monthly newsletter edited by Murray Rothbard. For various reasons, I find it appropriate to dive back in. When we last left the story, Rothbard had concluded that the new left was hopeless when it came to prospects for liberty – having abandoned a radical anti-war stance and embraced various social and even libertine causes, none having to do with the objective of liberty – in fact, destructive of this objective.
Rothbard titles this edition “The New Movement: Peace Politics.” Unfortunately, many who fancy themselves as libertarian cannot even grasp this simple concept – peace, as in anti-war, anti-interventionism. This issue – and so much more – is covered in this edition, starting with the opening sentence:
There is no doubt about it: Richard Milhous Nixon is the most effective organizer that the anti-war movement has ever had.
There is to be found a small handful of libertarians – of which I count myself as one – who find in Trump similar benefits when it comes to advancing liberty. In Trump’s case, not because he is coalescing the anti-war forces so tremendously destroyed by Obama, but because he is making a mockery of the state – both through his positive and negative actions.
Positive: he is unafraid to point out the hypocrisy of the state and the establishment; negative: the concept of dignity is not to be found in the same paragraph with the word president.
Lesson 1: Making a mockery of the state is valuable if shrinking the state is one objective for libertarians. That someone can be elected president with this mockery a major part of his platform is even more valuable. That the elected president continues to mock the state after his inauguration is priceless.
It was this issue of war and peace that drove the handful of non-interventionists from the right to the new left in the 1950s; Rothbard now sees that it is driving him and others from the new left. Describing an anti-war meeting that he attended with Leonard Liggio, the vast majority of left-leaning attendees booed the message. Instead, they were after civil rights and socialism.
Lesson 2: nothing surprising here, at least in concept; revolutionaries are all against something but rarely for the same thing. Lesson 2.5: revolutions get coopted, usually by the worst elements in society.
However, Rothbard finds hope. The new anti-war movement is made up of “real people”: businessmen (other than those employed by the merchants of death) and members of the President’s cabinet; people who are repelled by the antics of the new left.
Lesson 3: as the establishment today has made it unacceptable for “real people” to hold non-establishment (statist) views, pretty much anything that tears at the established narrative (e.g. Trump) is good for liberty.
The next essay in this edition of the newsletter is authored by Jerome Tuccille. What is replacing the new left – the left that has fled the anti-war movement?
…a familiar two-headed beast: the old scarred and ugly face of doctrinaire Marxism and the more hideous visage of self-righteous nihilism.
Marxism at its root destroys the idea of private property. Libertarianism has an answer for this. But nihilism is “more hideous” than Marxism according to Tuccille. An interesting thought.
Lesson 4: libertarianism offers no defense against nihilism. Yet, being more hideous than Marxism, maybe it should.
How to avoid the errors of our past? Tuccille cites the success of Atlas Shrugged in the late 1950s, “the last best chance for free markets in the United States.” Yet what came of this? The novel offered no meaningful answers to the problems of the day.
While Objectivists engaged in the exclusive luxury of abstractions and ideology, a war was going on, housing and education among other vital institutions were coming apart, the cities were exploding with violence, the American middle class was falling into a daze, and government grew increasingly more repressive.
What was the Objectivist cure for this? Selfishness.
What was the cause of all our ills? Altruism.
What should we do about exploited minorities? Leave them alone.
Tuccille wrote the eulogy of Objectivism only a decade after Rand’s novel – rightly, of course, but only a decade nonetheless. Keep this in mind….
Instead of replying “rational self-interest” when people want to know how to meet these concerns, we will have to demonstrate how a strict enforcement of property rights will [provide answers]…
It has been forty-eight years since Tuccille wrote these words. There has been phenomenal work done in the area of demonstrating how property rights can resolve many of the concerns of society – frankly, this discussion has been exhausted.
Walter Block is correct when he offers that we are now working to move a fraction of an inch closer to the truth when we engage in debate and dialogue; yet we have already covered more than 99 out of the 100 inches on this path. Will the straw of last remaining fraction of an inch be what breaks the camel’s back? If ten years was long enough to write off Objectivism, what do we do with the libertarian reliance on property rights after half a century?
Lesson 5: libertarianism is no less an “abstraction and ideology” than is Objectivism. Man doesn’t do well with abstractions and ideologies. Perhaps instead of remaining focused on the last hidden corners of private property, a libertarian narrative is called for. Leave it to Hans Hoppe to begin this conversation. I think I will soon examine his lecture.
The closing essay in this edition is offered by Edwin G. Dolan, writing of “The Lenin Centennial” – 100 years since Lenin’s birth. Dolan identifies “many sound principles of importance to any movement opposing the status quo,” taken from Lenin’s famous pamphlet “What is to be Done?”
These and many other passages deserve the attention of libertarians as the 1970s begin, for our movement today has much in common with the bolshevism of the Iskra period.
Iskra was the political paper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). Lenin’s “Iskra period” was from 1900 to 1903. Fifteen years later, Lenin was victorious.
Revolutions all end the same way – with most revolutionaries greatly dissatisfied with the outcome, and most of these ending up on the guillotine or in the Gulag. Is this the form of revolution we want? Can we now, after fifty years, come up with a different path?