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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6135/ethics-of-liberty-audiobook-podcast/

Ethics of Liberty Audiobook Podcast

January 12, 2007 by

Murray Rothbard’s greatest contribution to the politics of freedom is now available as an audiobook podcast.

Hans Hoppe’s introduction to The Ethics of Liberty, as well as Part I of the book, an introduction to the Natural Law tradition, are now available for download.

Point your podcatcher to this URL:


(Copy and paste it.)

Or download the files individually here.

The book is read by Jeff Riggenbach, who also read the two previous Rothbard audiobooks: For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto and What Has Government Done to Our Money?


Dan Coleman January 12, 2007 at 11:49 am

Thank you, Mises Institute, and thank you, Jeffery Riggenbach. It is because of you that I “read” ‘For a New Liberty,’ and with any luck I will soon have “read” ‘The Ethics of Liberty’ as well. I had been hoping that you would do something like this!

Leave it to mises.org to turn my daily commute from a normal drive into one of the most important hours of my day.

Len Budney January 12, 2007 at 1:03 pm

Is there a rule that readings of of non-fiction works must be done in a hypnotic monotone? Can we not afford one of those voice actors that read novels, or at least someone who can manage to sound interested? How about Walter Block?

Mark Humphrey January 12, 2007 at 3:04 pm

In spite of the attempted cannonization of Murray Rothbard by Lew Rockwell and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, “The Ethics of Liberty” is a profoundly flawed and third rate work.

Rothbard sought to establish a “libertarian” creed of ethics, because he recognized that the intellectual battle for the value of individual freedom ultimately reduces to disputes about objective moral values. Since economics presupposes certain moral values, including the value of individual fullfillment and material well-being, Rothbard understood clearly that the battle for liberty would be won, or lost, based on the persuasive power of a “libertarian ethos”.

Sadly, Rothbard’s attempt at creating a “libertarian ethical system” failed to prove liberty as an objective moral value. For Rothbard dealt with ethics, the realm of moral values concerned with proper behavior between moral agents; as strangely divorced from morality, which concerns itself with fundamental moral values logically prior and unrelated to the realm of human relationships. Rothbard sought to try to develope natural laws relating to political philosophy while disregarding the challenging philosophical groundwork concerned with the source and nature of moral values.

Ethics concerns social behavior proper to a particular sort of creature, man. Without first proving exactly what kind of creature man is, his epistemology, the source of his need for moral values, and how exactly principles of ethics can be derived from these prior considerations,any attempt to estblish political-ethical norms becomes a floating abstraction.

So, for example, Rothbard attempts to prove the value of individual liberty–an ethical norm–from a sort of “axiom” of self-owership. Rothbard reasons that either everyone “owns” everyone else, or everyone “owns” himself. Since the second is a lot more plausible than the first (at least, to libertarians), the first can be rejected and the second established as a natural law. But this argument presupposes what it tries to prove, namely that the concept of “ownership” exists as an objective fact of human action, as an ethical norm. But one could just as plausibly argue that ownership is a modern fiction; that there is no “ought” to human choice of which ownership is one varient.

I’m not arguing against ownership as an objective ethical principle. I’m trying to point out why I am not persuaded that Rothbard proved that self ownership is an objective value.

My impression from reading Rothbard is that he sought to create a system of ethics without conceding the radical and monumental insights of Ayn Rand to moral philosophy. Thus Rothbard, in his book on ethics, described himself as the sole libertarian devoted to the study of ethics as a philosophical discipline. But since Rothbard wrote this book after he had been well aquainted with Rand and her extensive writing on this subject, his claim seems disingenuous.

My impression of Rothbard is that he was obsessed with creating an ideological movement, an obsession that somethimes crowded out his respect for careful reasoning. I write this having read and reread several times much of his work, includind “Man Economy and State”. Rothbard’s writing on economics was superlative.

David White January 12, 2007 at 3:54 pm


You’re welcome to have a beef with Rothbard vis-a-vis his supposed failure to concede Rand’s contribution to moral philosophy, but if you are defending Rand, then you are defending a right to life, liberty, and property that they both shared:


And let’s face it, the right to life is the right to YOUR life, meaning that it is yours and no one else’s. Hence self-ownership.

Are you saying that Rand didn’t believe in it or made a case for it that is substantially different from the case Rothbard made?

Indelible Enigma January 12, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Mark said:

“Thus Rothbard, in his book on ethics, described himself as the sole libertarian devoted to the study of ethics as a philosophical discipline. But since Rothbard wrote this book after he had been well aquainted with Rand and her extensive writing on this subject, his claim seems disingenuous.”

Apparently Mark has forgotten that Rand claimed not to be a libertarian. Perhaps Rothbard took her word for it. :)

Black Bloke January 13, 2007 at 12:57 am

Can you fix that link that says “Part I of the book.” I keep getting sent to the site manager, and I don’t want to hack your site.

Alex Peak January 13, 2007 at 3:10 pm

I suppose–and hope–that parts 2-5 will be alsp made available. Thank you again for producing these free audiobooks.


Alexander S. Peak
Membership Chair, College Libertarians of Towson, 2006-Present
President, College Libertarians of Towson, 2004-2006
Representative At-Large, Libertarian Party of Baltimore, 2006-Present

quincunx January 13, 2007 at 7:39 pm

Sweet! I love to ‘read’ while driving.

BTW, Jeff Riggenbach is a magnificent reader, Len’s silly comment not withstanding.

Mark Humphrey January 13, 2007 at 7:51 pm

To David White:

I don’t deny that both Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard thought that individual natural rights–including one’s right to one’s own life–exist objectively, i.e. as a natural fact of human living. I think Rand provided profoundly important insights about the source and nature of moral values, and that while her writing on ethics was suggestive rather than complete, it was right on target. As subsequently elaborated and carefully developed by broadly Randian ethicists, such as Tibor Machan, Rand’s approach to moral philosophy is powerfully persuasive and logically coherent.

In contrast, I think Rothbard largely failed to develope a good defense or explanation of individual rights. I have the impression (but can’t prove, of course) from reading his book on ethics, that he borrowed heavily from Rand’s approach, choosing to use what appealed to him but deleting that which offended him. So he wound up with an abbreviated “castrated” attempt at building ethical-political principles that lack logical foundation.

Nothing in my criticism detracts from Murray Rothbard’s supreme achievements as an economist.

Björn Lundahl January 14, 2007 at 4:50 am

Life and self-ownership

Mark Humphrey

Mark Humphrey “I don’t want to precipitate trench warfare with devoted Rothbardians, but I strongly suspect that Rothbard owed his insight about “life as the standard of moral value” to Ayn Rand. I can’t prove this, of course. Sadly, in “The Ethics of Liberty”, (published in the early Eighties) Rothbard chose to, in a sense, blacklist Rand by claiming that NO ONE, other than himself, in the libertarian movement was working to develope a system of rationally defensible ethics. (Maybe Rothbard meant “at the moment I am writing this statement”.)”

Björn That life is an axiomatic value and functions “as the standard of moral value” in an ethical system, Rothbard could, alternatively for example, have gotten this insight from Mises himself through analyzing his statement in his book, “Human Action”, page 11:

“We may say that action is the manifestation of a man’s will.”


I am not saying that Rothbard did get his insight from Mises; I am only saying that it was possible. Surely, many other possibilities exist which we do not know anything about.

Mark Humphrey “It has been awhile since I’ve read Hoppe, and Rothbard; but I suspect Hoppe’s reasoning goes: either we all own ourselves, or everyone owns everyone else. Since the first proposition is clearly more defensible than the latter absurd proposition, one can affirm self ownership as valid. But if this is the argument, it fails. For that argument assumes that which it sets out to prove, namely that an ethical concept, “ownership”, exists. But on this basis, ownership remains unproven, so that one could just as well assert: “no one owns anything, and anything goes.””

Björn Self-ownership is a natural fact, since a man in his very nature controls his own mind and body (natural disposition), that is, he is a natural self-owner of his own will and person (having a free will) and if this was not true, neither could he effectively control any property and, therefore, not own it. In other words; “nothing could control and own something”.

Naturally, praxeology the science of human action, by itself logically confirms the natural fact of self-ownership, since praxeology is based upon “the acting man consciously intending to improve his own satisfaction” and I quote from answers.com:

“From praxeology Mises derived the idea that every conscious action is intended to improve a person’s satisfaction. He was careful to stress that praxeology is not concerned with the individual’s definition of end satisfaction, just the way he sought that satisfaction. The way in which a person will increase his satisfaction is by removing a source of dissatisfaction. As the future is uncertain so every action is speculative.

An acting man is defined as one capable of logical thought — to be otherwise would be to make one a mere creature who simply reacts to stimuli by instinct. Similarly an acting man must have a source of dissatisfaction which he believes capable of removing, otherwise he cannot act.
Another conclusion that Mises reached was that decisions are made on an ordinal basis. That is, it is impossible to carry out more than one action at once, the conscious mind being only capable of one decision at a time — even if those decisions can be made in rapid order. Thus man will act to remove the most pressing source of dissatisfaction first and then move to the next most pressing source of dissatisfaction.

As a person satisfies his first most important goal and after that his second most important goal then his second most important goal is always less important than his first most important goal. Thus, for every further goal reached, his satisfaction, or utility, is lessened from the preceding goal. This is the rule of diminishing marginal utility.

In human society many actions will be trading activities where one person regards a possession of another person as more desirable than one of his own possessions, and the other person has a similar higher regard for his colleague’s possession than he does for his own. This subject of praxeology is known as catallactics, and is the more commonly accepted realm of economics.”



The Ethics of Liberty, page 45:


“[1]Professor George Mavrodes, of the department of philosophy of the University of Michigan, objects that there is another logical alternative: namely, “that no one owns anybody, either himself or anyone else, nor any share of anybody.” However, since ownership signifies range of control, this would mean that no one would be able to do anything, and the human race would quickly vanish.”


Or in my own words from the essay “Normative principles”:

“Why must anybody own anything?

In accordance with our objective test to find out if something is a condition for something else, we grasp a state of things where the following principle is none existent anywhere and at all:

“Everybody owns themselves and their Justly owned property rights”.

Nobody would be able to do anything, since nobody has the right to control anything. Not even themselves (see below about property rights in your own person).

This question is not only a contradiction it is also silly. You ask a question which means that you control yourselves (natural disposition), that is owning yourself (see below the excellent writing of Hans-Hermann Hoppe). The other contradiction is that if nobody would own anything, nobody would be able to hinder anyone to own anything either since they would otherwise have an invalid control (having the disposition to) of everyone else, that is having an invalid ownership to everybody else (see below about valid property rights in your own person).

Ownership itself is, therefore, an objective condition for the preservation of human life.”


An Animated Introduction to the Philosophy of Liberty:


The animation in full-sized window:


Björn Lundahl
Göteborg, Sweden

Björn Lundahl January 14, 2007 at 5:17 am

If we were going to discover objective ethical norms with the use of reason, it would be a quite funny thing if we started to analyze the basic inclinations of the nature of ants, grasshoppers, plants, giraffes, elephants etc. As this would not be a successful inquiry, the nature of man must at least be implicitly assumed to exist and, therefore, to be studied in such an examination.

Ethical norms and rights are also, only, related to the species man. The proof of this is that “if man did not exist nor would any ethical norms and rights persist”.

In other words, ethical norms and rights by themselves, reveals the existence of a nature of man.

Björn Lundahl
Göteborg, Sweden

Mark Humphrey January 16, 2007 at 8:41 pm

I re-read the first six chapters of Rothbard’s book on ethics over the weekened. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book is substantiually better than was my first impression. So I owe an apology for mis-characterising “The Ethics of Liberty” as a third rate book.

Unfortunately, Rothbard’s treatise on ethics fails to achieve the meticulous and masterful command of that subject that “Man Economy and State” achieved in economics.

In spite of Rothbard’s apparent hatred for Rand, it is to his credit that he relies heavily on insights that were peculiarly “Randian” to build his explanation of the source of moral values. Rothbard emphasizes that reason is man’s only appropriate means of acquiring knowlege; that free will is an integral part of man’s nature, and of man’s process of reasoning; that moral values exist to guide man toward the fullfillment of a good and happy life; and that the ultimate standard of moral values–the standard under which all other moral values are logically subsumed–is “man’s life”. In other words, for any individual, the standard by which that individual ought to judge whether something is or is not morally valuable is whether that thing helps the individual to live and flourish.

When I state that these insights are peculiarly Randian, I don’t mean that no other thinker has ever written about them, or that these insights were the original contribution of Ayn Rand to the exclusion of the rest of mankind. But these ideas are very clearly vintage Rand-thought, in that they are essential to her thinking about moral values. Moreover, Rand resurrected and integrated these insights into a theory of moral values so powerful, that she instigated an intellectual revolution during an era in which moral philosophy was widely considered to be the most disreputable and naive bunk.

One place Rothbard falls short is in his claim that one can reasonably uphold religious faith, even while defending a rational philosophical explanation of moral values. But since a philosophical defense of moral values relies solely on reason, on the use of facts and logic to prove the implications of what it is to be human, this approach is fundamentally antagonistic to religious faith. For faith is belief in a phenomena without good evidence, and often in the face of good evidence to the contrary. If one believes that faith will somehow reveal answers to the most important issues in life, then the facts and reasoning that comprise moral philosophy become epistemologically suspect–the product, not of God’s will, but of man’s feeble mind.

Another important error in Rothbard’s treatise on ethics is his attempt to demonstrate that man’s life as the standard of value is axiomatic. Rothbard argues that anyone who denies that life is the ultimate moral standard actually upholds it by virtue of the fact that he is choosing to live. So Rothbard argues, in effect, if one chooses to live, then it follows logically that one should pursue those values that can be objectively shown to contribute to one’s life and happiness.

But Rothbard’s axiom cannot persuade dedicated altruists, such as Islamic suicide bombers, who imagine that they sacrifice their lives for some Great Cause, and that such sacrifice is virtuous.

Ayn Rand’s defense of Life as the ultimate standard of moral value is more elegant and powerful. She explains that the concept of moral values logically presupposes the concept of furthering one’s life; that only the concept of life makes the concept of values possible.

A great article on precisely this point appeared in an early issue of Rothbard’s “Journal of Libertarian Studies”. I only wish I could recall the author and issue now.

Björn Lundahl January 17, 2007 at 2:26 am

“But Rothbard’s axiom cannot persuade dedicated altruists, such as Islamic suicide bombers, who imagine that they sacrifice their lives for some Great Cause, and that such sacrifice is virtuous.”

Do you think that it might have persuaded Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and characters like that?

It is a pity that those Islamic suicide bombers (from Al Qaeda) did not read those books that Ayn Rand wrote before hitting the North and South towers.

I thank you for a very persuading review. It is a pity that Rothbard missed it.

Björn Lundahl
Göteborg, Sweden

Björn Lundahl January 18, 2007 at 4:30 pm

“Count me as one unconvinced emotivist/egoist”

This message of relativism is surely also the following:

“Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Mao, Pol Pot and all the “criminals” in history, they did not really do anything wrong. I might feel that they did but that is only what I feel. What they felt counts too! Their “bad actions” were not really destructive because they did not undermine mankind and in this objective sense were totally okay.

Criminals all over the world unite! You are a suppressed lot. You have the right to kill, “steal”, rape and to do so called criminal acts. If you blow up the whole world it is objectively and therefore, also, totally okay.”

Björn Lundahl
Göteborg, Sweden

G Holzer March 2, 2007 at 7:34 pm

I love Mises to pieces! Thanks for all your tremendously logical insights into liberties lost.
I’d still be in the dark cheerleading Republican interventionism otherwise – and what an opportunity cost that would be!!

Question: Are the powerful forces that TR & Wilson spoke of too powerful to be directly attacked and exposed today?

This Govt needs incumbency enemas, perhaps a decades worth or so, no?

N. Joseph Potts June 1, 2007 at 9:32 am

I suspect Len Budney isn’t aware of, and might be surprised at, Jeff Riggenbach’s stature in the world of readers of books for recording. I likewise suspect Len doesn’t have much experience of other readers reading other books (correct me if I’m wrong, Len).

I have much experience both of Riggenbach reading other books (he’s read LOTS of them) and of other readers, and I feel he’s terrific. Rothbard’s material, on the other hand, is rigorous, not only taking each step with excruciating care, but demanding at all times of close attention. It could be these factors that give Len such an impression of drudgery.

My “reading” of Human Action, by the way, was by way of audio tape (very well read by Bernard Mayes).

I consider it quite a coup to have gotten Riggenbach’s services in the reading of this book, and I hope Mises succeeds in engaging him to read many, many others of our sacred tomes. I judge from what I know of the demand for Riggenbach’s services that he may harbor some personal dedication to the values Rothbard espouses.

The idea of Walter Block as reader, however, is interesting – I’ve heard Block speak, and while I’d rate him a more or less average elocutor, one can tell from his writings (as well) that he does have a lively interest in these subjects, as well as a lively wit, which might show through in his readings. Interested, Walter?

Len Budney June 1, 2007 at 10:28 am

Mr. Potts,

I confess to some ignorance concerning Mr. Riggenbach’s stature in the field, and that the material is at least partly to blame. Nevertheless, I think the nature of the material calls for redoubled efforts to present it engagingly, since our goal is to evangelize, not to win the war on insomnia.

Walter’s elocution is by no means Shakespearean–but I don’t like Shakespearean elocution anyway. Block is conversational. I think it’s a tremendous asset in his speaking and teaching, and a slight liability in his writing.

Walter, do you ever read these blogs? We’re talking to YOU!


Aakash June 11, 2007 at 12:38 am


I am going through the front page of this weblog, after not having done so, for some time.

I wasn’t aware that the entire text of For a New Liberty (which I had once checked out from the library, some years ago), was available in audio format, much less these other books!

And I see, from that link you provide here, that For A New Liberty has been online for almost a year… I don’t think that it’s been that long since I’ve been back here, so either the uploading of For A New Liberty in audio form was done during the periods I wasn’t active in the Blogosphere, or I had known about it, but had forgotten. In any case, I am glad that these books are now online… And, like the first commenter in this thread, perhaps I will now “read” them.

Then again, considering that I have a ton of other listening material that I should get through [especially sermons, like the one I was listening to this morning… I mean, afternoon, after – quite unfortunately – missing church.

Thank you for the continued development of this superb site… I look forward to the updating my ‘Rothbard files’ – and web pages – with more and more printouts, web pages, and audio!

Ryan July 5, 2008 at 4:50 pm

Hi, I was just browsing what is easily my favorite web site, and found this blog.

I just want to say three things:

First, Ayn Rand is not a libertarian; she is an objectivist.

Second, there is no such thing as a Randian; those who would believe in the precepts of objectivism were called “students of objectivism” by Rand. She said that she was much too selfish to allow her name to be thrown around as the name of a philosophy that could be misunderstood and warped by others. She also referred to very few people as “objectivists,” hence showing her distinction between “objectivists” – those who follow the precepts of objectivism -, and “students of objectivism” – those who would follow the precepts of objectivism.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there is no “rational” relationship between objectivism and libertarianism. Rand and Rothbard stand apart from one another in their philosophies. Rand bases her philosophy on what she sees as reason. Unfortunately, there’s nothing very reasonable about taking a minarchist stance (one can see Rand’s inconsistencies when reading her non-fiction). In fact, Rothbardians, in their consistency, realize how statist Rand is, because for the Rothbardian, there are anarchists and statists. You are either for or against the state. Rothbard bases libertarianism on the absence of aggression against private property rights, no questions asked. That is what he stands for. He is ambiguous in no way.

I would say that Rothbard puts me to sleep at night, but the truth is that the absolute freedom of anarcho-capitalism is far too exciting to let me get drowsy. If I want to get a “reasonable” amount of sleep, I have to put Rothbard down pretty early in the day.

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