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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4869/journal-of-libertarian-studies-20-no-1-winter-2006/

Journal of Libertarian Studies 20, no. 1 (Winter 2006)

April 3, 2006 by

Volume 20, no. 1 (Winter 2006)

SYMPOSIUM ON KEVIN CARSON’S
STUDIES IN MUTUALIST POLITICAL ECONOMY

  • EDITORIAL by Roderick T. Long. Many of the individualist anarchists, and in particular those thinkers associated with Benjamin Tucker’s journal Liberty, sought to combine a political theory based on individual sovereignty and self-ownership with an economic theory based on the labor….

  • THE SPOONER-TUCKER DOCTRINE: AN ECONOMIST’S VIEW by Murray N. Rothbard. First, I must begin by affirming my conviction that Lysander Spooner and Benjamin R. Tucker were unsurpassed as political philosophers and that nothing is more needed today than a revival and development of the largely forgotten legacy that they left to political philosophy….

  • THE LABOR THEORY OF VALUE: A CRITIQUE OF CARSON by Robert P. Murphy. This is an impressive work. It first attempts to rehabilitate the classical labor theory of value (by giving it a subjectivist spin), and then traces the history of capitalism to show that it was founded by, and necessarily relies upon, State aggression….

  • KEVIN CARSON AS DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. By Walter Block. On the one hand, he shows familiarity with the important libertarian contributors to the field of political economy. On the other hand, familiarity with libertarian authors seems to have been wasted on Carson, as he adopts the labor theory of value as the basic building block of his analytic framework….

  • FREEDOM IS SLAVERY: LAISSEZ-FAIRE CAPITALISM IS GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION: A CRITIQUE OF KEVIN CARSON. By George Reisman. Carson’s book centers on the incredible claim, self-contradictory on its face, that capitalism, including laissez-faire capitalism, is a system based on state intervention, in violation of the free market…

  • LAND-LOCKED: A CRITIQUE OF CARSON ON PROPERTY RIGHTS. By Roderick T. Long. In 1888, France’s leading libertarian periodical, Gustave de Molinari’s Journal des Économistes published a favorable and appreciative review of Benjamin Tucker’s Liberty….

  • CARSON’S REJOINDERS, by Kevin A. Carson. This is not, properly speaking, a rejoinder—obviously, since Rothbard’s article predates my book. But since it was chosen to set the tone for this symposium issue, and includes some comments on individualist anarchism in general, I’ll make a few remarks anyway….


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{ 73 comments }

Nick Bradley April 6, 2006 at 2:03 pm

Person,

Regarding naval subsidies to global trade – A naval presence does more than just actively “fight pirates”. It also plays a major role in search and rescue, technical assistance, aiding in navigation, etc. These all help to drive down maritime insurance premiums and lowers risk for traders. Just like in your local neighborhood, an absence of government security forces would not resort in a total lack of security. On the contrary, residents would provide for their own defense and hire private security guards/police to protect them. There is nothing different on the high seas, nor is anything different for the Coast Guard.

Many highways were built in the 1920s and the trucking industry exploded in the 20′s. In fact, the railroads started lobbying heavily in the 1920s for regulation of the booming trucking industry because it was cutting in on their action. The following quote is from EH.net (the Economic History Encyclopedia) for “The Economy of the 1920s”:

“A complaint of the railroads was that interstate trucking competition was unfair because it was subsidized while railroads were not. All railroad property was privately owned and subject to property taxes, whereas truckers used the existing road system and therefore neither had to bear the costs of creating the road system nor pay taxes upon it. Beginning with the Federal Road-Aid Act of 1916, small amounts of money were provided as an incentive for states to construct rural post roads. (Dearing-Owen, 1949) However, through the First World War most of the funds for highway construction came from a combination of levies on the adjacent property owners and county and state taxes. The monies raised by the counties were commonly 60 percent of the total funds allocated, and these primarily came from property taxes. In 1919 Oregon pioneered the state gasoline tax, which then began to be adopted by more and more states. A highway system financed by property taxes and other levies can be construed as a subsidization of motor vehicles, and one study for the period up to 1920 found evidence of substantial subsidization of trucking. (Herbst-Wu, 1973) However, the use of gasoline taxes moved closer to the goal of users paying the costs of the highways. Neither did the trucks have to pay for all of the highway construction because automobiles jointly used the highways. Highways had to be constructed in more costly ways in order to accommodate the larger and heavier trucks. Ideally the gasoline taxes collected from trucks should have covered the extra (or marginal) costs of highway construction incurred because of the truck traffic. Gasoline taxes tended to do this.”

Clearly, at least the railroads thought the subsidized road network was helping the trucking industry. Of course, the railroads were heavily subsidized as well, but they thought they were unique in this regard.

quasibill April 6, 2006 at 2:38 pm

“If anything, I think its involvment in this area is a huge roadblock (please pardon the pun) to innovation and quality in general”

Well, you’re wrong about my faith in the market – I have plenty of faith. I just realize that where we are now has nothing to do with the free market. Regardless, you’re missing the point that what is now considered “better” is influenced by the existence of these self-same highways that were built outside of market preference.

For example, it is highly unlikely any private market actor would have built the WV turnpike which serves part of my extended family. The return on investment would have been very low. Yet business has adapted to its presence and centralized producers now dominate in markets surrounding it, where before the existence of the turnpike, small, local producers flourished.

The market prioritizes values at the time in question, and absent state intervention, much of the country would not have been worth having a 4 lane highway through.

“I am as willing, but business *is* a persecuted class”

I was afraid you were one of those. Business is no more persecuted than any other “class”, and in many instances, large, well connected businesses are some of the primary beneficiaries of our socialized state.

“The argument was not that there are *small* returns to scale, but that merging them into one has serious negative consequences, mainly that it sidesteps the discovery process of market. That is, if there is no free entry into producing that, they will go lax in finding better methods and removing the unnecessary.”

I’m having a hard time unravelling that, but I’ll repeat the point by a direct quote:

“Modern methods, it is asserted, have created conditions in the majority of industries where the production of the large firm can be increased at decreasing costs per unit with the result that the large firms are everywhere underbidding and driving out small ones…This argument singles out one effect sometimes accompanying technological progress; it disregards others which work in the opposite direction; and it recieves little support from a serious study of the facts.” Serfdom, p. 50. Hayek then goes on to compare England and Germany.

It has nothing to do with anything about “they will go lax in finding better methods and removing the unnecessary”. It is definitely about the benefits of large scales of economy being overstated because of the presence of socialist policies that reinforce it. I’m not sure how you could misread it except for intentionally.

quasibill April 6, 2006 at 2:52 pm

Person,

It appears from your answers that you have a serious misunderstanding of the issue of cost in general versus cost to an individual.

Just because transportation would be cheaper in general if left to the market does NOT necessarily imply that it would be cheaper to a given individual or business. In fact that is exactly why socialism exists – to defray the costs suffered by certain individuals off onto the taxpaying class as a whole. The whole point is obviously to make it cheaper for certain individuals or classes than it would be otherwise. Government is incompetent in general, sure, but it does succeed at re-distributing wealth fairly well.

So your assertion that transportation as a whole would be cheaper, while likely true, does nothing to refute the argument that for an individual actor like Wal-Mart, it would likely be more expensive, as they no longer could spread the costs among the taxpaying base. The same is true of protection services (navies, etc.) while there would likely be less spent overall, the costs would fall entirely on those who use the service, so for them, the costs could increase.

Once again, the market is not magic. It merely prioritizes and coordinates values in a manner no centralized planner could ever replicate.

Kevin Carson April 6, 2006 at 3:35 pm

I don’t want to take up a lot of space, because I’ve already made a blog post on the subject.

But the epigraph to my book is a quote from Bohm-Bawerk, to the effect that the ball was in the labor theorists’ court, and that he was ready to engage them on whatever errors of analysis he might have made, and on any attempt on their part to maintain the labor theory in face of his criticisms. Nevertheless, he said, any such defense of the labor theory would have to be on a different basis than those of the past–no more “appeals to authority,” no more “dogmatic phrases,” but an argument that addressed his criticisms head-on and answered them rationally.

Today, I find the shoe is on the other foot.

I wrote the section on value theory in my book as an attempt to take up B-B’s challenge. In so doing, I made a good faith effort to understand what he was actually saying it and answer it directly–NOT to talk past him without a careful reading.

Now it’s the adherents of subjectivism who smugly assert that Bohm-Bawerk or Mises “disproved” the labor theory, who appeal to authority, and who repeat “dogmatizing phrases.” Paul Marks, perhaps the worst example of that tendency on this thread, repeats platitudes about what “everybody knows,” without having the vaguest idea of what I actually wrote, of what the labor theory of value really entailed, or what are its real points of difference with the subjective theory.

I find the labor theory crudely caricatured as a theory of intrinsic value, I find appeals to strawmen like sunk costs and “mud pies”–all, apparently, with absolutely no awareness of what the classical political economists themselves had to say about these things. All these criticisms from people who get their ideas second hand, and have no idea what the people they’re criticizing actually said.

I should add that there are many Austrian critics who are not guilty of this failing. Murphy and Long, for example, did an excellent job of reading what I actually wrote and directly engaging my ideas. Their thoughtful criticisms required a lot more effort and thought to answer, in my rejoinders, than did the vitriol of Block and Reisman. In reading the latter, as Person says of someone else in this thread, I got the impression they were answering arguments they made up themselves.

On the historical issues, the differences between (on the one hand) Person and (on the other) Keith and quasibill are explained quite well in quasibill’s last post. No doubt a free market road construction company could do a cheaper and more efficient job than the state. But the free market would be hard put to provide any service more cheaply than one can get it by stealing it–which is exactly what a state subsidy amounts to. On the tariff issue, no less authorities than Mises and Rothbard called it the mother of cartels. The decisions to adopt high tariff walls in the late 19th century, and to move toward low tariffs under FDR and the subsequent Bretton Woods regime, were made by essentially the same state capitalist interests. They actually saw their interests, at different times, as being served by different policies–imagine that!

Person, it’s not accurate to say I applaud the “inefficiencies” caused by poor transportation. That’s begging the question. My argument is that any “efficiencies” of large scale that only exist when part of total cost (transportation cost) is externalized are illusory. When all the costs appear on the ledger, increased transportation costs offset increased productive economies of scale at relatively low levels of output. Producing above that scale is MORE inefficient. And highway subsidies did not begin with the Interstates. They began after WWI, with the system of federally designated state highways.

One other thing: Paul Marks, if you could be bothered, with all the trouble in your life, to read my comments in my response to the Rothbard article, you might find out that the Greene-Tucker idea of mutual banking has nothing to do with inflating the money supply. In fact, their critique of the state’s banking entry barriers directly parallels Rothbard’s critique of similar barriers in the life insurance industry. The mutual bank, in fact, is not “lending” money at all, but issuing currency against the “borrower’s” own property in exactly the same way an existing commercial bank does in a second mortgage or home equity loan. The difference, under the present system, is that market entry barriers (capitalization requirements and licensing) artificially reduce competition to supply the service, and enable banks to charge a monopoly price for the service–exactly what Rothbard said about the life insurance industry. Apparently, reading the article and knowing what you’re talking about before you shoot your mouth off is one of those “luxuries” you can’t affort. But thanks for awarding me that PhD.

Richard Garner April 6, 2006 at 5:27 pm

Given all the disagreement here even between people who reject Kevin’s basic economics and accept the Austrian method, maybe a JLS symposium on state monopoly capitalism is in order? Effects can be discussed and remedies explored. Its a subject that is over due. (Though the recent Economics of Fascism conference covered a deal).

Kevin Carson April 6, 2006 at 6:16 pm

I’ll second that. Perhaps Stromberg’s articles “The Political Economy of Liberal Corporatism” and “State Monopoly Capitalism and Empire” (the latter of which appeared in JLS) could be the jumping off point.

Roderick T. Long April 6, 2006 at 7:58 pm

Keith Preston writes: “I have yet to encounter a single orthodox an-cap/Austrian/right-libertarian who is willing to address this question in a thorough and satisfactory manner.”

Well, this might be a matter of definition, no? There are plenty of essentially Rothbardian thinkers (including Brad Spangler, Wally Conger, and myself) who make the very points Preston asks for, and (as far as I can see) don’t backslide into defending the existing corporate system — but once we adopt that position, do we still count as “orthodox an-cap/Austrian/right-libertarians”? Those of us who take that position tend to call ourselves left-libertarians, precisely because we take that position.

Manuel Lora April 6, 2006 at 8:09 pm

Why must there a position that defends any existing system? Personally, I see the “an-cap/Austrian” thing as being merely opposed to force (and thus, the state). Why should this imply either corporatism or other isms?

Graeme Bird April 6, 2006 at 9:31 pm

Nor does the “good deal” of the roads imply that someone got a bad deal — it was a difficult coordination problem which may have been hard for private businesses to replicate.”

We all got a bad deal. Sitting in traffic (waiting in line like Soviet peasants for goodness sakes) and crawling along at a snails pace. Roads taking up so much land that they throw people out to the outer suburbs and thereby create conditions where more roads must be built.

How about this:

“So you got no job cause you got no car so you got no girl so there you are”

or this:

” Can’t get a job cause I aint got a car
Can’t get a car cause I aint got a job
So I’m looking for a girl with a car and a job
(Lost in America, Lost in America, Lost in America, Lost in America)”

Would the sorts of vicious circles, as described by the above poets, have been evident under economic liberty? I think not.

There has been little economising on land use under the path we did travel. Whereas if we did it the Proffessor Block way there would be much more tunneling and overpasses by now. Much less encroachment on nature. And a competitive framework between the various types of transport.

The canals would be all systems go. And moving heavy weights by water is so powerfully energy efficient that the adjustments we now might have to make (due to likely rising oil prices) would be a thing which would strike no fear in the hearts of even the most dedicated hand-wringers.

Since if anything the amount of surface area land used in transport (under the Block way of doing things) would be a tad under-supplied we might expect multi-level rail and roads by now. A rail-line above the road or canal…….. So here we see the possibility of direct and rigourous competition between competing transport infrastructures that follow the same route!!!!! Now wouldn’t THAT have been something?

What about all those shattered lives through road kill. That could never happen on private roads.

But how about the ubiquitous cold evil of height restrictions on buildings. The idea would have been so untenable we would have been spared this silent but devastating persecution.

Look one can see how there might have been some medium-term inefficiency to not having compulsion in this area. That there might have been this short period of inefficiency many decades ago.

But having short-circuited the market process we have lost all those innovations that would surely have come had the situation been left to individual genius and enterprise.

We can only guess at the wonders we missed out on.

Roderick T. Long April 6, 2006 at 10:39 pm

Another thought:

Block and Reisman accuse Carson of confusing free markets with government intervention. Carson turns around and accuses Block and Reisman of the same thing. So what’s going on?

I offer the following not as a complete but at least as a partial explanation.

Carson condemns various aspects of present-day “capitalist” society on the grounds that these aspects are the results of various governmental rights-violations past and present. But here some distinctions have to be drawn.

1. Some of the actions he points to as governmental rights-violations are ones that any Austro-libertarian must agree are indeed rights-violations — various sorts of taxation, protection, expropriation, etc.

2. Others are ones that most Austro-libertarians will not regard as rights-violations; for example, Carson considers enforcing absentee land titles a rights-violation even if the land was not acquired violently.

3. Where the original actions are ones that Austro-libertarians will agree are rights-violations, in some cases the causal connection between those actions and the aspects Carson condemns is relatively straightforward and most Austro-libertarians will be committed to agreeing.

4. In other cases the causal connection depends on economic and/or historical theses that are controversial, and that any given Austro-libertarian might or might not accept. (For example, to what extent are the present structure of industry and the present distribution of property due to the enclosure movement?)

(So, for instance, Carson’s claim that rent is unjust because absentee landlordship is inherently unjust is distinct from his claim that rent is unjust because the current division between the landed and the landless is the result of past expropriation. One could agree with either claim and disagree with the other. But I think neither Carson nor his critics always distinguish these claims as clearly as might be desirable.)

Now suppose an Austro-libertarian reads Carson and disagrees with him about #2 (as he will) and #4 (as he may). Then it will naturally seem to the Austro-libertarian that Carson is condemning as government interventions what are in fact perfectly legitimate market phenomena.

Well, that still leaves #1 and #3, no? True; but Carson’s #1 and #3 are much intermingled with his #2 and #4, and the Austro-libertarian, now impatient and suspicious, may be inclined to read Carson’s whole project as a conflation of free markets with government intervention, and toss the whole thing into the flames without further disaggregation.

What then will be Carson’s natural reaction? “Maybe they disagree with me about #1 and #3 — but they haven’t rebutted my arguments for them. And anyway, the way they’re dismissing my whole book, not just #1 and #3; they obviously disagree with my #2 and #4 also. But they couldn’t do that if they were consistent Austro-libertarians. By rejecting #2 and #4 they show that they are willing to defend what I’d thought were uncontroversially rights-violating aspects of the present system as though they were free-market aspects. Obviously my critics are conflating free markets with government intervention.”

So that’s my theory for at least part of the reason that Carson and his critics can each accuse the other of conflating free markets with government intervention.

Vince Daliessio April 6, 2006 at 11:38 pm

In the long run, absent state subsidy, distribution of property will become more even over time under anarchism. That’s because the full cost of defending and maintaining claims of “enclosure” on property that is not productive will become very expensive even for wealthy landowners (I suspect Mr. Carson could make a convincing argument that all current governmental arrangements subsidize property defense for the wealthy at the expense of the poor).

And this will be true even if the property was aquired unjustly (if not illegally). To make strides toward the kind of equitable distribution Mr. Carson favors will require only the removal of the subsidy, and no outside or government force of any kind. Resorting to any kind of forced redistribution will invalidate the anarchic ideal by replacing one form of oppression of property rights with another. Remove the subsidy, and inertial will take care of the rest.

Graeme Bird April 7, 2006 at 12:26 am

It sounds like a very minor point from your account Vince.

In a near-libertarian setup that costs issue would be solved simply by going easy on low wealth/income individuals tax-wise.

In a libertarian setup it might be covered by Rand’s insurance idea.

And in an anarcho-capitalist setup it would be Hoppes private enforcement agencies also funded at least in part by insurance.

A minor point. Hardly an existential crisis.

Still I will have to read it myself I guess.

Paul Edwards April 7, 2006 at 12:43 am

Roderick,

Your response to Keith Preston almost sounded like you agreed with his assessment. If it is mostly the left-libertarian Rothbardians who manage to avoid defending state capitalism, do the right-libertarian Rothbardians sometimes fall into the trap of defending it? Yet if they do fall into this trap, to the extent that they do so, do they not also fall away from defending libertarian ideals and fall away from the Rothbardian camp altogether?

In general, i have to confess to being confused on the left-right libertarian distinction. Was Rothbard a left libertarian? I have never detected a left or rightness in his writings, but rather a simple and pure libertarianness that upheld a pure libertarian ethic to the best that he had developed it during his time.

Roderick T. Long April 7, 2006 at 11:04 am

To Paul Edwards — I use the terms “left” and “right” for lack of anything better, but they’re slippery. Some of what I mean by them I explain here. Slipping occasionally from defending laissez-faire to defending state capitalism is certainly a right-making feature, though not the only one. Making the slip consistently makes one no longer a libertarian. But as Carson said on his blog some time a while back, he’s come to prefer “vulgar libertarian” as a description of particular arguments rather than of people, since no libertarian makes the slip all the time. As for Rothbard, I’d say he was certainly a left-libertarian during the 1960s. And I’d say he shifted rightward during the 80s-90s, but more on cultural issues than on narrowly economic ones.

Paul Edwards April 7, 2006 at 12:12 pm

Roderick,

Your comment “and I regard libertarianism as properly rooted in egalitarianism” at your site struck me as worth a read, so i followed the link and located this gem:

“But, again like racism and sexism, statism is the kind of moral vice that tends to enter the soul through self-deception, semi-conscious osmosis, and a kind of Arendtian banality, rather than through a forthright embrace; it is a form of spiritual blindness that can, and does, infect even those who are largely sincere and well-meaning…”

So I’m glad i asked because this piece of insight struck me as correct and helpful.

And this statement

“…Murray Rothbard, in his advocacy of anarcho-capitalism, turns out to have been one of the most consistent and thoroughgoing egalitarian theorists of all time. As the author of Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature, Rothbard might very well turn over in his grave to hear himself so described;…”

is really interesting. I need to go over the entire article again to see if i can grasp what it is about Rothbard’s thinking that is egalitarian in the sense that i think of the term. Perhaps i don’t think of it in quite the way you mean it. Thanks.

Keith Preston April 7, 2006 at 3:45 pm

Roderick,

From the economic commentary I’ve seem from you (on the Praxeology site and on the Libertarian Nation site), I’d have to say that, for all practical purposes, you are “one of us” as is Spengler, Conger, Samuel Edward Konkin III and, as I see it, Rothard himself.

You and Kevin may disagree over absentee landlordism and the labor theory of value, and to an economist these are no doubt very important questions. However, to a non-economist like me it’s like watching the debate between Baptists and Presbyterians over the question of infant vs. adult baptism from an atheist’s perpsective: Why worry about it?

I once saw a statement from you (sorry, I forget where) comparing the alliance between state and capital to the relationship between state and church during the pre-Enlightenment era. This is similar to my approach to class theory. I would compare the state to the monarchy, the state-corporate system to the feudal land barons and I think the best analogy to the authoritarian church would be the media, academia and the “white coat priesthood” (the medical-industrial complex).

My primary criticism of those whom Carson refers to as “vulgar libertarians” is rooted in the idea that I largely see them as the equivalent of those who championed the aristocracy against the monarchy (“We don’t want the crown interfering with aristocratic privilege but keep those peasants down!”) Obviously, that’s very far removed for your perspective.

Incidentally, I would also regard Bob Murphy and Walter Block as “one of us” as well, all things considered. Both of them have produced much excellent material over the years denouncing imperialism, the police state, the warfare state and most of the other true monstrosities of statism. Murphy’s response to Carson was intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable and while I though Block’s response was rather shabby, it’s something I can certainly forgive given that Block is the author of “Defending the Undefendable”, an all time libertarian classic in my view.

Keith Preston April 7, 2006 at 4:24 pm

Roderick and Paul,

I think there’s more consistency in Rothbard’s thought throughout his career than is sometimes recognized. He is sometimes accused of shifting rightward in the early 1990s (his paleo period) but if you go back and read some of his old articles from the Libertarian Forum many of them read like they were lifted from the Rothbard-Rockwell Report. He was raking womens’ libbers over the coals as early as 1970. Check out his comments on the 1972 Presidential campaign from LF. He describes George Wallace as the true “champion of the common man”, has some nice things to say about the campaign of Jon Schmitz of the American Independent Party and his comments about the McGovern campaign and the Democratic Party convention from ’72 are virtually identical to what he was saying about the Clinton crowd twenty years later. He also supported Nelson Rockefeller against the inmate uprising at Attica. In fact, Rothbard always had a kind of “law and order” streak that is unusual for an anarchist. He wrote articles while in high school denouncing Fiorella La Guardia as soft on crime and pretty much took a “shoot ‘em on site” approach to the LA riots in 1992.

Rothbard’s leftism, in conventional terms, basically amounted to his Cold War revisionism and his adoption of Kolko and Weinstein’s New Left critique of state-capitalism.

I don’t really use the terms “left” and “right” anymore. Like it or not, most people identify the left with state socialism or with the Marcusean cultural Marxist revisionism of the New Left (or both). In the US, the rightwing is usually identified with the neocons (Zion Uber Alles), “vulgar libertarians” of the type we’re arguing over here (Wal-Mart Uber Alles-sorry, I couldn’t resist), Russell “let’s restore the English nobility” Kirk and other reactionaries, conspiracy kooks, unreconstructed neo-nazis and Ku Klux Klanners and the intellectually challenged folks who comprise much of the religious right. I think the right-wing in Europe is much more interesting and intelligent than what we find in the US. Check out this interview with Alain De Benoist:
http://theoccidentalquarterly.com/vol5no3/53-bs-debenoist.pdf

Here’s a somewhat related anecdote some of you might find amusing. I have a long standing very good friend of nearly twenty years whom I met when I first started out in radicalism. I met him at an anti-war in El Salvador rally. He grew up in France, his parents were heavily involved with the French Communist Party (the most Stalinist of any of the Euro-communist parties) and he participated in the insurrection of ’68. He broke with the CP after that and became a Maoist. He won’t tell me the whole story but I suspect he was involved in Maoist terrorism in Europe in the 70s. Anyway, when I met him in the 80s, he was anti-environmentalist, anti-feminist, anti-gay, reluctantly pro-Soviet but more enthusiastically pro-Shining Path. He’s never budged an inch from these views. In recent years, he’s become so antagonistic to the countercultural left that he’s started to sound like Rush Limbaugh. He told me he cancelled his subscription to the paper of the Stalinist Workers World Party, telling their local operative: “There’s nothing in there about socialism, it’s all about faggots.” He’s also very anti-immigration and tells me if he were still in France, he’d vote for Jean Marie Le Pen.

It seems more accurate to describe the left/right spectrum as a circle than a straight line.

Jesse Walker April 8, 2006 at 5:49 pm

Keith is basically correct about Rothbard’s cultural views. He was a stalwart hippie-basher too, and in part blamed the counterculture for the decline of the New Left. (Of course — unlike Keith’s Maoist-LePenist friend, I suspect — he never favored repression of the counterculture, and stood up for the hippies in People’s Park and other conflicts.)

But there was a rightward drift as well. The Rothbard of 1969 believed that state property was open to homesteading, while the Rothbard of 1992 believed it proper for the state to toss bums out of public libraries. As late as the 1988 election, Rothbard was attacking Bush for his ACLU-bashing and saying that, if he had to choose between the major parties, he’d pick the Democrats (he wrote a Dukakis-is-the-lesser-evil article for Liberty under a pseudonym); by the ’90s he had embraced the GOP and was including lines like “to hell with the ACLU” in his articles. (He even backed Bush in the ’92 election. Then again, he backed Nixon in ’72, so maybe that isn’t such an enormous shift.) The latter-day Rothbard condemned the children’s rights plank in the Libertarian Party platform, which had been based on the younger Rothbard’s views. (I might be remembering this wrong, but I think he might have even played a role in composing it.) And we’re all familiar with his change of heart on immigration.

So there was a genuine move to the “right,” whatever that means, even though he was a cultural conservative all the way through his New Left period.

Jesse Walker April 8, 2006 at 5:53 pm

(And yes, I know the shift from preferring the Dems to preferring the GOP had more to do with the end of the Cold War than with any change in Rothbard’s own views. His shifting rhetoric towards the ACLU from one election to the next is still telling.)

Dennis Sperduto April 8, 2006 at 7:42 pm

Hopefully, I have not misunderstood some of the above comments, but to say or suggest that Murray N. Rothbard was an egalitarian, in the commonly understood meaning of the word, is a blatant mischaracterization of his ethical/political system, which is most fundamentally based on each individual’s self-ownership of his or her own person.

Also, let us not forget that in his early years Rothbard started out as a member of the Old Right, and left this movement only after its demise due to the death of its prominent members or their defection to the modern “conservative” movement.

In addition, one extremely important and remarkably consistent principle of Rothbard’s thought throughout his life was his trenchant opposition to all war, except those that are clearly and strictly in self defense.

Finally, as Mises’s most prominent student, Rothbard actually understood economic science as very few others have. I would assert that Rothbard was one of the finest economists of the second half of the 20th century, and his economic writings form an extremely important aspect of his overall intellectual legacy.

Keith Preston April 8, 2006 at 9:37 pm

I’ve sometimes wondered if Rothbard didn’t alter his rhetoric from time to time for purely strategic reasons rather than out of conviction. It might be helpful to remember that Rothbard was also a student of Marxist organizational methods and borrowed heavily from these in his approach to libertarian strategy (just like he lifted a lot of his approach to moral philosophy from Thomistic Catholicism). The LF even ran a piece by Stephen Halbrook in the early 70s calling for a Libertarian Vanguard Party organized on the Leninist model (and praising Third World Marxist leaders like Ho Chi Minh as libertarian heros). Rothbard was also prone to using Marxist terminology like “left sectarian” or “right deviationist”. He denounced Milton Friedman as “reformist”. A lot of Rothbard’s rhetorical approach seems very much related to who he was trying to appeal to at the time, whether SDSers or Buchananites. Dennis is right that Rothbard’s main interests were his opposition to war and Austrian economics. He seemed to be more indifferent to cultural matters and simply aligned himself with whatever faction seemed to be most libertarian at the moment.

jeffrey April 8, 2006 at 9:49 pm

Keith, I don’t think you need to reach that far to explain the changes in shadings that took place through the decades. The problem is that the most immediate threat changes because the cultural-socio-political agenda of the regime in charge changes.

After personally feeling great sympathy to the anti-Reaganite left in the late eighties–even cheering them in the Iran-Contra fiasco–I can myself remember thinking in the 1990s that the Clintonite left was a frightening threat to liberty, while the Right was not only anti-government but approaching a consistent anti-war stance. In some of those 1990s days, red-state populism seemed like a path to freedom, as absurd as that may sound now that red-state fascism is giving us the worst of all worlds in the 2000s.

For anyone active in public life, there must be flexibility in approaches so that power of all sorts–no matter what cloak it happens to be wearing at the time–remains the focus. Rothbard never took his eye off the main enemy. So there is no need to call this cynical or “strategic”; it is simply a matter of consistently opposing power in the guise it happens to be wearing at the time.

bob April 16, 2006 at 8:15 pm

Keith Preston:
Contrary to your unfounded assertion that “Reisman’s critique is the weakest of all” I found his to be one of the strongest and well argued. And what on earth did you mean when you said “he sets up a false dichotomy” in reference to his title? I would be interested to hear your responses on this matter.

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