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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6292/ach-that-rothbard/

“Ach, that Rothbard!”

February 22, 2007 by

The Mises archives are truly a wonderful thing. I was reading the brilliant and deserved article on the illustrious Pascal Salin by Dr. Hülsmann when I found this insightful interview with Dr. Salin.

I was struck by this question and answer:

AEN: Last night, Ralph Raico argued that achieving the goal of a free society will require more than education and political action. There are also certain cultural preconditions. Did that provoke any thought in you?

SALIN: It was a very challenging paper. When I discovered the Austrian stream of thought, I was overwhelmed and persuaded immediately. But that’s not true for other people. How is it that some people are inclined toward clarity and truth in the social sciences but others are not? I don t know. Hayek and Mises thought that people are wrong about liberty because they have not been exposed to the truth. The problem is even worse because the intellectual game is rigged against us. Our ideas are dangerous to the elites.

So, I thus searched for more and stumbled on this prodigious speech by Ralph Raico upon accepting the 2000 Gary G. Schlarbaum Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Cause of Liberty.

It is an eloquent exposition on the achievements of those giants whose shoulders we stand upon (pigmaei gigantum humeris impositi plusquam ipsi gigantes vident) and the importance of the work the Mises Institute is involved in.

Here are a few lacunae among many:

“To my mind, Murray’s greatest contribution–beyond his innumerable insights–is his creation of the powerful synthesis, combining natural law theory, Austrian economics, and the tradition of individualist anarchism, and all based on the principle of private property and individual rights.

As a corollary of his system, Murray delved deeply into issues of foreign policy and revisionist history. In analyzing current political events, his watchword was always Peace–avoidance of the state’s wars and the war-fostering myths the state invents and tries to entrench in our minds.

Today, if the libertarian movement stresses peace and a non-interventionist foreign policy, that is the work of Murray Rothbard. If others had had their way, the libertarians would have gone in a very different direction.

Mises was not limited to the field of economics, and here also Murray followed in his footsteps. He was the opposite of the numbers-crunchers in today’s economics departments. His aim was to understand–to understand the workings of society, to understand the nature of freedom, to trace its roots, to ascertain how it could be brought to as much perfection as fallible human beings are capable of.

Yet who else carries on the work of Mises and Rothbard today? Other free market organizations, which do some good, I will not deny it, but still, they find it safer to advertise their connection with Hayek and Milton Friedman. Mises and Murray were never salonfähig, as the Germans say – they weren’t “clubbable,” in the English sense.”

At the Mises Institute there is no political correctness, there is no subject that is off-limits because it might offend the liberal media or liberal academics. The Mises Institute does not play that political game. Its scholars are truth-seekers, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard.

I suggest you read the speech in its entirety and feel free to provide your own opinion. If anyone has information or ideas on these “certain cultural preconditions” I would also like to hear those thoughts as well. Unfortunately, I don’t think the paper of Dr. Raico’s mentioned above is available online.


JIMB February 22, 2007 at 7:12 pm

It occurs to me that there are spiritual preconditions for a free society; especially in regards to the respect of other people and their lives (which is lacking in some libertarians as well … I am not so sure there is as much unanimity as is perceived…). That is one reason (among dozens) that GW’s adventure in Iraq is a severe miscalculation of reward versus risk.

Dissipate February 22, 2007 at 11:50 pm

I don’t know if it could be called a cultural precondition, but I think it might need a change in people’s view towards human condition.

As far as I can tell the state is mainly derived from these aspects of the human condition:

Mortality (welfare state)
Frailty (warfare state)
Scarcity (inflation/runaway growth of state)
Irrationality (excuse for economic intervention)

Of course the state is an irrational reaction against all of these, but it could take people a long time to figure it out, if they do at all.

Mark Humphrey February 23, 2007 at 8:23 pm

The primary intellectual/cultural precondition for a free society is reason–that is, respect for the fact that reason is man’s only means of acquiring knowlege. The fact that the sentence above sounds “dogmatic” and obsessive is proof, of sorts, that contemporary western culture denigrates reason as an epistemological absolute.

As Murray Rothbard emphasized correctly, disputes about politics ultimately reduce to disagreements about ethics, the principles by which people ought to conduct themselves in their dealings with other people. Of course, proving that a particular system of ethics is true and right for all people is a complex and challenging intellectual undertaking. However, the ethical values that seem appropriate to people flow directly from their view of man’s nature. For the kind of creature that man happens to be determines what is natural and appropriate in human behavior.

If man is a thinking choosing being, a creature that lives by his volitional exercise and perfection of his capacity to understand reality, then he is an individual moral agent. For thinking, which is essential to his ability to survive and flourish, is a strictly individual achievement. If man requires moral autonomy to live and flourish, then it is appropriate that he be treated ethically as a moral end, free to choose and live for himself.

The philosophical world view of the last 200 years or so denigrates reason as distorting, limited, or delusional. If reason distorts rather than illuminates, then man is not a moral agent, but a sort of puppet.

To the authoritarian left, reason is a cultural artifact of western civilization. Thinking is considered to be a collective process. Individuals lack volition, the Left believes,and no important truths can be realized beyond the consciousness of the group. So the Left preaches that we are all brothers and sisters in the family of humanity, and that therefore, man ought to live for “The People”.

To the religious Right, man is not nature’s exponent of reason, but a child of God. Reason is thought to be limited–incapable of establishing ultimate truths of morality, of existence, of the nature of knowlege. Answers to these ultimate questions must be discovered through faith and Divine revelation. Reason, while useful for identifying and discovering “earthly facts”, distorts rather than enlightens when taken beyond its proper role. Man has free will, the religious Right proclaims, but this free will is hollowed out. For volition is seen, not as integral to the process of initiating and regulating thought, but as the exercise of a single, ultimate choice, similar to the choice that might confront a child: to “believe” or “not believe”; to decide the most crucial issues in life by reference to faith, or by committing those issues to understanding.

But if reason is comparatively unimportant, then man is only superficially an individual moral agent. Ultimately, he is an extension of God. “We are all God’s children”, one hears in response to moral criticism of another’s behavior. What this statement means is that, although we make choices as individuals, those choices really are not that imnportant. What is important, is the sort of beings we are, which is children of God. But the logic of this outlook leads to the conclusion that man ought to live for God, not for his own flourishing; and that “selfish” choices ought to be restricted as inappropriate to man’s true nature.

To defend reason as natural and efficacious is to portray man as a moral end, in and of himself. This is the only world view that is logically consistent with individualism, and that makes possible a coherent defense of individual liberty.

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