Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Murray Rothbard was a disaster

A couple of friends have been researching so-called anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard.

Per-Olof Samuellson started it, with the comment:

Murray Rothbard was a great economist[1], and a disaster when it came to politics.

And he’s right.  Consider:

Rothbard praises the mafia:

Unorganized, or street, crime, in contrast, is random, punkish, viciously aggressive against the innocent, and has no redeeming social feature.

Whereas, he says,

Organized crime is essentially anarcho-capitalist, a productive industry struggling to govern itself; apart from attempts to monopolize and injure competitors, it is productive and non-aggressive.

Sure, they might not have due process, but you want your neighbour whacked for pissing you off, then tell Don Corleone a good story -- and job done.

Or, consider Rothbard on Lenin (that butcher of five millions) and Stalin (that butcher of forty-three millions) and the festering sore of a country they created.

[T]the Soviets arrived early at what libertarians consider to be the only proper and principled foreign policy. As time went on, furthermore, this policy was reinforced … This increasing conservatism under Stalin and his successors strengthened and reinforced the nonaggressive, “peaceful coexistence” policy.

I’m sure the residents of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Lithuania et al would have been happy to hear that. If, that is, owning books such as Rothbard’s weren’t grounds for arrest, under the ever-peaceful Stalin.

Lenin, said Rothbard,  was “far more congenial to the libertarian than that of Karl Marx,” since he represented “the smashing of the State apparatus to achieve the “withering away of the State.”  This, of the man who founded the Cheka, and who unleashed Red Terror across his new regime.

And Stalin? He was a farsighted man of peace, who only accidently invaded Poland, with Hitler, to help start World War II. “So unwarlike was Stalin, in fact, that Germany was almost able to conquer Russia in the face of enormous odds.” That old peacenik, Uncle Joe. Who, perhaps, only inadvertently organised the purge trials and the starving into submission of the Kulaks.

Or, consider Rothbard on international terrorist and mass murderer Che Guevera – only a minor butcher compared to these other two, but still a popular one on teenage bedroom walls.  “Che is dead, and we all mourn him,” said an older but still unwiser Rothbard in this obituary.

What made Che such an heroic figure for our time is that he, more than any man of our epoch or even of our
century, was the living embodiment of the principle of Revolution… The CIA might claim Che's body, but it will never be able to shackle his spirit.

This of a man who banned religion, speech, press, assembly, and protest; who put a bullet in the heads of thousands of Cubans he deemed an enemy of his state; and who had fervently hoped the Cuban missile crisis would lead to worldwide atomic war, declaring Cubans “a people ready to sacrifice itself to nuclear arms, that its ashes might serve as a basis for new societies.”

Murray Rothbard was a great economist[1], but a disaster when it came to politics.


  1. Agreed. Rothbard mistook apparent for real applications of the non-aggression principle in, of all things, states, and in, of all people, communists.
    Perhaps he was applying the "my enemy's enemy" axiom to contrast them with the U.S., which was using freedom-generated wealth to be the more successful bully.
    The sentiment has resurfaced on some otherwise libertarian blogs with Putin-cheerleading.
    Mises, who suffered more directly under socialist tyrannies, should have reined Rothbard in.

    It's interesting that the meme: “So unwarlike was Stalin, in fact, that Germany was almost able to conquer Russia in the face of enormous odds”, pervaded even to Rothbard.
    Anyone who reads Suvorov's Icebreaker, its sequels and the increasing body of evidence for its thesis, realises the perverse reasons for Barbarossa's initial success. My introduction to it came from

    On a final note, I suggest that there's no shame in being a disaster when it comes to politics, because it's a lot less destructive than being a successful politician.

    J Cuttance

  2. "Sure, they might not have due process, but you want your neighbour whacked for pissing you off, then tell Don Corleone a good story -- and job done."

    Speaking of due-process, is it OK that the Pres selects people for whacking-off each week merely on the basis of being presented a kill list and asked if he'd like to sign it (and sometimes he does not even have to put pen to paper even, just verbal assent suffices)? When asked to comment about it he stated how he was good at having people whacked.

    What about the thousands of kidnappings, torturing and killings, all done in secret? What was it named- rendition? Due process? Sure there was.

    What about the secret courts in the West? You know, the ones where the accused doesn't have any access to family, friends, legal representation or in many instances even the right to appear and be heard. Those secret courts are so secret that the judges are not allowed to keep copies of any papers, even their own opinions and judgements. Due process? Sure it is.

    Compare the number of deaths caused by government over the last 100 years and then the number caused by the mafia. Funny how you have one standard for the mafia and an entirely different one for governments. One is far and away orders of magnitude worse than the other yet you give it a free pass.


  3. J Cuttance

    I've read Suvorov. It does appear that Stalin was ordering the Soviet military right up to the border in preparation for attacking Nazi held territory. The Nazis got in first and exploited the non-defensive position the Soviet military was then deployed in. Stalin appears to have been surprised by this attack as otherwise, had he expected it, surely he'd have deployed the army defensively (assuming he was a competent military leader).

    The question. Do assume Stalin was preparing to attack the Nazis. Why did Stalin intend to attack the Nazis at some point in the not too distant future? What was he thinking at that time? It is a difficult one. He did not give away much of his analysis or plans to anyone, ever. He was well known to be secretive, paranoid, obsessively concerned about retaining power and control. Did he consider he had reason not to trust the Nazis and that they were a menace to his government and to his interests? Did he understand that they were a threat to his government and to his interests (which they indeed were)? He must have done. Surely Stalin would have understood the nature of the Nazis. Surely he would have understood all the stuff about "living space" in the East and what that would mean for the future of the USSR, of his government and of him. So was he getting ready to eliminate this threat to his government, to his interests?

    Did Stalin, being a good Communist, think that elements of the Western European, Gt Britain and the USA governments and their financiers were out to destroy Communism and do in the USSR? Were he to have thought that, then preparing for war in Europe would have been reasonable and defensive. Given his strategic situation his best option may indeed have been to invade and decapitate his enemies at the opportune moment. He waited too long.

    I am not so sure that Rothbard was all completely wrong with his analysis. As with Rand, he can be made to look woefully wrong with a few selective quotations taken away from context. Seems there are those who like to do that sadly.


  4. Hi Peter.

    To me it looks like a clear case of you not having read any of these very selective quotes in the full context of what he actually was saying. I'm quite surprised and disappointed. I think this post is a bit of an own-goal.

    I'm assuming that you've never read Rothbard's "For a new Liberty", otherwise you wouldn;t have allowed yourself to take Rothbard so out of context.

    Page 279:

    " Isolationism or peaceful coexistence is the foreign policy counterpart of severely limiting government at home. "

    You'll note that he refers to peaceful coexistance in this instance without the quotes, such as on page 298:

    " When such hopes were dashed after the end of world War I, Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks adopted the theory of “peaceful coexistence” as the basic foreign policy for a Communist State."

    and on 299:

    " This increasing conservatism under Stalin and his successors strengthened and reinforced the nonaggressive, “peaceful coexistence” policy. "

    and other pages.

    Please take the time to have another look at what Rothbard was actually saying with respect to the Russian's back then and his comment about the Mafia. I think you'll change your mind.



    This will probably be posted twice, or not all all. Having trouble posting using Firefox 31.0

  5. Here's Rothbard's "Mafia Movies"

  6. Rothbard's writings on foreign policy were a mixed bag. His writings on Soviet foreign policy and the Cold War may not have survived the opening of the archives in Moscow in terms of their accuracy.

    He was an excellent economist and economic historian.


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