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Posts Tagged ‘Murray Rothbard’

The Beauty and Freedom That Is Anarchy – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on March 17, 2021

It seems that the modern understanding of the terms “anarchy “ and “state” have been intentionally twisted around so as to be opposite of reality. In essence, the state reeks of lawlessness, chaos, and disorder, while anarchy is steeped in the concepts of freedom and liberty. This could never be more obvious than it is today.

Government is never legitimate; it is always an exercise of force, it is always corrupt, it is always a murderer, it is always a thief, and it is always evil. It can only exist if the majority of people allow it to exist, and in the process give it a false legitimacy so that its stolen power over society can be protected and retained. Anarchy is still a governing system of sorts; it just relies on self-government instead of a state prison system perpetuated by force and dehumanization of all individual thought and action in order to rule.

By Gary D. Barnett

Will Durant once said: “As soon as liberty is complete it dies in anarchy.”  This statement is incorrect in my view; as it relies on the false assumption that anarchy means chaos. It does not. I say that once anarchy is complete, freedom lives in the individual, and therefore it lives in society. True anarchy is liberty.

From the Greek root anarkhos comes anarchy, and it simply means “without a ruler.” Those that control and worship the state have not only bastardized the honest meaning of the word, but that meaning has been literally eliminated in favor of what I describe as progressive language manipulation, which is simply a devious way to achieve control over others through confusion and deceit.

So anarchy is “society without a state,” as Murray Rothbard so clearly stated in a talk he delivered long ago. Properly accepting this true meaning of anarchy means that it is necessary to define the ‘State.’ Again, the eloquent and brilliant Rothbard defined the state as “that institution which possesses one or both (almost always both) of the following properties: (1) it acquires its income by the physical coercion known as “taxation”; and (2) it asserts and usually obtains a coerced monopoly of the provision of defense service (police and courts) over a given territorial area.  Once again, the great Rothbard is a gentleman, but what this means to me is that the state is full of liars, thieves, and murderers; all with the desire to rule over and control all of society.

It seems that the modern understanding of the terms “anarchy “ and “state” have been intentionally twisted around so as to be opposite of reality. In essence, the state reeks of lawlessness, chaos, and disorder, while anarchy is steeped in the concepts of freedom and liberty. This could never be more obvious than it is today. In our obnoxious postmodern world, the masses have been trained to think and act due to conceived perceptions instead of reality.  Therefore, state claimed truths are lies, and state claimed lies are truth. It does appear that all has been reversed in order to fool those are easily fooled.

As Orwell put it by the use of a slogan attributed to the English Socialist Party of Oceana in his Novel “1984”: “War is peace; Freedom is slavery, Ignorance is strength.” The new United States of “doublethink” has arrived, and has been fully embraced, and is being acted out by the people as ordered.

Considering our current state of affairs, and the asinine absurdity of compliance to idiotic and draconian ‘Covid’ mandates issued by state goons, any alien landing on this planet today could only describe the scene as one where the most cowardly, submissive, and pathetic species on earth were the masses of common human beings. Most would be wearing masks, walking around like zombies, staying at distance from one another, locking themselves in home prisons on orders, shaming any that refuse to submit, seeking permission slips to live normally, abandoning their families and friends, injecting toxic mind-controlling poison into their bodies on demand, and watching as state criminals destroy their property, their livelihoods, and their very way of life. They would watch as the state enforcers harassed, beat, and jailed those that resisted while the majority stood by and watched and did nothing to stop it. This is not science fiction, it is not a movie; it is reality in America.

In order for freedom to ever exist, it must come to pass and be fully understood by the people that ‘legal’ force is always and forever the enemy of liberty.  So long as the public lives and exists under the presumption that the force of government is necessary in order for society to function, then freedom can never be achieved, and slavery will be the only result. All advocates of government (the state) expect and accept the initiated force of government, whether it comes in the forms of theft by taxation, the only solution to disputes, social or otherwise, through government courts, the enforced management of all health and medicine, forced control of all ‘education,’ restrictive laws and licensing in order to function, waging aggressive war with standing armies at the expense of American lives and money, and the heavily enforced control of all commerce. In essence, what the people are really accepting is a total monopoly of force by the government that claims to be the people’s ‘representatives.’ That is and has always been a lie.

All indications are that the state and its governing bodies are nothing more than an organized crime syndicate. It is even worse than this description, because organized crime (Mafia) works within its own area and networks, and of course uses and pays off politicians in order to stay in business, but it does not wage world war, and does not seek to gain control of all humanity and the entire planet. The state and government on the other hand, are certainly organized criminal organizations, but they want to gain control of everything and everybody. The state desires to control all money, all commerce, all property, all markets, all military, all theft, all health choices, all employment, all everything.

Government is never legitimate; it is always an exercise of force, it is always corrupt, it is always a murderer, it is always a thief, and it is always evil. It can only exist if the majority of people allow it to exist, and in the process give it a false legitimacy so that its stolen power over society can be protected and retained. Anarchy is still a governing system of sorts; it just relies on self-government instead of a state prison system perpetuated by force and dehumanization of all individual thought and action in order to rule.

In any anarchist society, all power rests in the sovereign individual, and only so long as the non-aggression principle is followed. Each individual in a truly free society such as anarchy provides, can live and pursue their dreams and interests, and can choose the path that is unique to them and their family. This will allow the opportunity to live in harmony with others in a world where cooperation, passion, and love can prosper.

The beauty and freedom that is anarchy is the better way forward.

“The State is, and always has been, the great single enemy of the human race, its liberty, happiness, and progress.”

~ Murray Rothbard

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To Understand Economics, First Understand Private Property | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on March 10, 2021

Chris Calton

In Man, Economy, and State, Murray Rothbard expounds the principles of economics by reconstructing an economy from the ground up. Following the practice of classical economists, he opens the book by imagining Robinson Crusoe alone on an island. After identifying the operative laws that apply even to isolated individuals, Rothbard’s second chapter considers Crusoe on an island with one other person, introducing the concept of direct exchange, or the barter economy. In the third and fourth chapters, Rothbard considers the origins of money and prices in an economy of indirect exchange.

For a treatise on price theory, Rothbard recognizes the need to explain the origins of money prices, as Carl Menger and Ludwig von Mises did before him. In The Theory of Money and Credit, Mises built on Menger’s original explanation for the origin of money by formulating the regression theorem. When considering price changes back through time, Mises theorized, we must naturally come to points of origin and departure. Paper dollars today have no commodity foundation, but we can easily identify the point at which they were disconnected from specie. Going further back, we may not be able to identify empirically the moment at which specie, or any other commodity, was first used as a medium of indirect exchange, but we can logically deduce that such a moment must have occurred as primitive economies grew increasingly complex.

Mises’s theorem offered a number of important insights for price theorists. Perhaps the chief insight is that even though modern money may have no commodity base, the origins of any money could only have been a commodity with some original value in use. No new media of exchange can undermine this history. Even cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, can be traced back to a point at which they were first exchanged for dollars. Dollar prices then trace back to a point of disconnect from a commodity foundation, and those prices trace further to a point of original indirect exchange. Another insight derived from the regression theorem is that money prices depend on exchange. This may seem like an obvious truism, but in the early twentieth-century debates over socialism, the necessity of market exchange highlighted the crucial distinction between technical calculation (What do we need to build a given item?) and economic calculation (What should we build given the resources available?).

In chapter 2 of Man, Economy, and State, before Rothbard summarizes Mises’s insights about the origins of money prices, he considers the origins of property rights. With a citation of John Locke, Rothbard asserts the principle of self-ownership and argues that the original appropriation of property comes from mixing labor with yet-unowned resources, such as clearing land for cultivation. Only after establishing a basis for property rights, does Rothbard turn to considerations of exchange and money prices.

Even friendly scholars, happy to acknowledge the value of Rothbard’s treatise, often consider this passage an unwarranted deviation from value-free economic analysis. Rothbard, they claim, is importing libertarian ethical theory into his economic analysis. John Egger, for example, accuses Rothbard of putting on his “political scientist hat,” arguing that “the ethics adopted by . . . Rothbard cannot be derived from Austrian-school principles and are not necessary to Austrian economic analysis.”1

Even sympathetic Austrians rarely pay much attention to Rothbard’s explanation for the origin of property rights except to occasionally dismiss it as a libertarian deviation from scientific analysis, but I believe Rothbard is offering underappreciated economic insights. Mises recognized that money prices depended on exchange, and he saw the need to explain the origins of monetary exchange. Rothbard took Mises’s idea a step further, recognizing that the prerequisite for market exchange is private property and the origin of property norms is therefore just as relevant to economic analysis as the origins of money and monetary exchange. “Before we examine the exchange process,” Rothbard writes in no unclear terms, “it must be considered that, in order for a person to exchange anything, he must first possess it, or own it.”2

Critical readers might object that we cannot take it for granted that property rights originate in the way that Rothbard describes. Governments, of course, can establish property rights, even if in violation of Lockean ethics, that suffice to provide the conditions for market exchange. But such considerations would be inappropriate for Rothbard’s second chapter, as he is considering an unhampered market economy—one in which governments, as yet, play no role. For markets to exist sans government, then, private property norms must emerge spontaneously.

To this last point, Rothbard never asserts that the Lockean rule of first appropriation is the proper means of establishing property rights (though he certainly believed that and made genuinely ethical arguments along those lines in other works, such as The Ethics of Liberty). In Man, Economy, and State, he simply considers the way property norms could logically emerge in an unhampered market.

Man in a “free, unhampered market … may exchange any type of factor … for any type of factor,” Rothbard writes, but “it is clear that gifts and exchanges as a source of property must eventually be resolved into: self-ownership, appropriation of unused nature-given factors, and production of capital and consumers’ goods, as the ultimate sources of acquiring property in a free economic system” (emphasis in original).3

Rothbard’s argument follows a similar logical structure to Mises’s regression theorem, and in fact even extends the continuum of exchange that Mises outlines. When constructing his theorem, Mises views the end point of his analysis as modern monetary prices, and his point of origin is that moment when a commodity was first used as a medium for indirect exchange. Rothbard has the same end point in mind, but realizing that property rights are (1) necessary for exchange and (2) not a given for any society and therefore warrant explaining, he finds the origins of money prices in the original emergence of private property norms.

Of course, people can provide alternative theories for the origin of private property, but the mere fact that Rothbard recognizes the need to explain property norms is itself a valuable contribution to economics that continues to go unappreciated. The most obvious objection people might offer to counter Rothbard’s theory is no different than the alternative explanation to Mises’s and Menger’s theories for the origins of money: the state must construct property rights and introduce money, thus creating markets.

But as historians and anthropologists learn more about prehistory (the history of man prior to documentary evidence), the statist theories for both property rights and money crumble. Yale political scientist James C. Scott, for example, notes that evidence for the domestication of plants precedes the formation of the earliest states, arguing that states could not exist without a taxable base (grain, most commonly), and the domestication of plants and primitive commerce preceded state formation. Although he doesn’t address property rights directly, Scott notes that the formation of early states “required a host of products that originated in other ecological zones: timber, firewood, leather, obsidian, copper, tin, gold and silver, and honey,” which they obtained through long-distance trade of “pottery, cloth, grain, and artisanal products.”4

Recognizing that economic exchange preceded the state, both Rothbard and Mises raised valid considerations for the origins of money, exchange, and property norms. In offering their theories, they were in fact engaging in a common exercise among classical economists known as “conjectural history.” In the absence of empirical historical evidence, classical thinkers such as Adam Smith and Turgot speculated on the origins of observable, modern institutions based on assumptions about human nature. Although speculative, this method of history was not unscientific. The test of a good theory was that it explained more of what we can observe (both in terms of present society and extant evidence) and omitted less. Historians today who deal with areas of history that have scant documentary evidence, such as Africanists, still engage in conjectural history (even if they may not be aware of its roots in classical political economy).

In this light, Rothbard’s explication for the origins of property norms is not a value-laden prescription for how societies should establish private property rights. Instead, Rothbard is recognizing that early societies must have established some system of private property rights, which individuals recognized reciprocally with respect to each other, and he provides a theory for how this system most likely emerged. It is not an uncontestable idea (no scientific theory is), but scholars dismissing it as a libertarian sidestep from proper economic analysis fail to understand the important economic contribution Rothbard was actually making.

  • 1. John B. Egger, “Comment: Efficiency Is Not a Substitute for Ethics,” in Time, Uncertainty, and Disequilibrium: Exploration of Austrian Themes (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1979), p. 119.
  • 2. Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy and State, with Power and Market, 2d scholar’s ed. (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009), p. 91.
  • 3. Rothbard, pp. 92–93.
  • 4. James C. Scott, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), pp. 68–92, 125. Although Scott does not address the question of property rights or exchange, he does reference the role of exchange prior to the establishment of the state


Chris Calton

Chris Calton is a 2018 Mises Institute Research Fellow and an economic historian. He is writer and host of the Historical Controversies podcast.

See also his YouTube channel here.

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Murray Rothbard on War and “Isolationism” | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on March 4, 2021

Well, the Progressive period begins around 1900 with Teddy Roosevelt and so forth. Woodrow Wilson cements it with his so-called reforms, which totally subject the banking system to federal power, and with the Federal Trade Commission, which did for business what the Interstate Commerce Commission did for the railroads. In other words, he imposed a system of monopoly capitalism, or corporate state monopoly, which we now call the partnership of the government and of big business and industry, which means essentially a corporate state, or we can call it economic fascism. It culminated in World War I economic planning, for the war consisted of a totally collectivized economy headed by the sainted and revered Bernard Mannes Baruch, head of the War Industries Board.

Murray N. Rothbard

[These edited extracts, from an interview in the February 1973 issue of Reason magazine, first ran in the June 1999 issue ofthe Rothbard-Rockwell Report.]

Q: Why, in your view, is isolationism an essential tenet of libertarian foreign policy?

A: The libertarian position, generally, is to minimize state power as much as possible, down to zero, and isolationism is the full expression in foreign affairs of the domestic objective of whittling down state power. In other words, interventionism is the opposite of isolationism, and of course it goes on up to war, as the aggrandizement of state power crosses national boundaries into other states, pushing other people around etc. So this is the foreign counterpart of the domestic aggression against the internal population. I see the two as united.

The responsibility of trying to limit or abolish foreign intervention is avoided by many conservative libertarians in that they are very, very concerned with things like price control—of course I agree with them. They are very, very concerned about eliminating taxes, licensing, and so forth—with which I agree—but somehow when it comes to foreign policy there’s a black out. The libertarian position against the state, the hostility toward expanding government intervention and so forth, goes by the board—all of a sudden you hear those same people who are worried about government intervention in the steel industry cheering every American act of mass murder in Vietnam or bombing or pushing around people all over the world.

This shows, for one thing, that the powers of the state apparatus to bamboozle the public work better in foreign affairs than in domestic. In foreign affairs you still have this mystique that the nation-state is protecting you from a bogeyman on the other side of the mountain. There are “bad” guys out there trying to conquer the world and “our” guys are in there trying to protect us. So not only is isolationism the logical corollary of libertarianism, which many libertarians don’t put into practice; in addition, as Randolph Bourne says, “war is the health of the state.”

The state thrives on war—unless, of course, it is defeated and crushed—expands on it, glories in it. For one thing, when one state attacks another state, it is able through this intellectual bamboozlement of the public to convince them that they must rush to the defense of the state because they think the state is defending them.

In other words, if, let’s say, Paraguay and Brazil are going to get into a war, each state—the Paraguayan government and the Brazilian government—is able to convince their own subjects that the other government is out to get them and loot them and murder them in their beds and so forth, so they are able to induce their own hapless subjects to fight against the other state, whereas in actual practice, of course, it is the states that have the quarrel, not the people. The people are outside the quarrels of the state and yet the state is able to generate this patriotic mass war hysteria and to call everybody up to the colors physically and spiritually and economically and therefore, of course, aggrandize state power permanently.

Most conservatives and libertarians are very familiar with—and deplore—the increase in state power in the American government in the last 50 or 70 years, but what they don’t seem to realize is that most of these increases took place in giant leaps during wartime. It was wartime that provided the crisis situation—the spark—which enabled the states to put on so-called emergency measures, which of course never got lifted, or rarely got lifted.

Even the War of 1812—seemingly a harmless little escapade—was evil, and also in the domestic sense, in that it ruined the Jeffersonian Party for a long time to come, it established federalism, which means monopoly state-capitalism in essence, it imposed a central bank, it imposed high tariffs, it imposed domestic federal taxation, which never existed before, internal taxation, and it took a long time to get rid of it, and we never really did get back to the pre–War of 1812 level of minimal state power.

Then, of course, the Mexican War [Mexican-American War, 1846–48] had consequences of slave expansion and so forth. But the Civil War was, of course, much worse—the Civil War was really the great turning point, one of the great turning points in the increase of state power, because with the Civil War you now have the total introduction of things like railroad land grants, subsidies of big business, permanent high tariffs, which the Jacksonians had been able to whittle away before the Civil War, and a total revolution in the monetary system so that the old pure gold standard was replaced first by greenback paper, and then by the National Banking Act—a controlled banking system. And for the first time we had the imposition in the United states of an income tax and federal conscription. The income tax was reluctantly eliminated after the Civil War as was conscription: all the other things—such as high excise taxes—continued on as a permanent accretion of state power over the American public.

The third huge increase of power came out of World War I. World War I set both the foreign and the domestic policies for the twentieth century. Woodrow Wilson set the entire pattern for foreign policy from 1917 to the present. There is a total continuity between Wilson, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson, and Nixon—the same thing all the way down the line.

Q: You’d include Kennedy in that?

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Murray N. Rothbard

Murray N. Rothbard made major contributions to economics, history, political philosophy, and legal theory. He combined Austrian economics with a fervent commitment to individual liberty.

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Are There Any Limits to Natural Rights? | Mises Institute

Posted by M. C. on February 20, 2021

Natural rights of the sort that Rothbard favors are prepolitical. In other words, these rights aren’t dependent on the state for their existence. Each person is a self-owner and may acquire property in the “state of nature,” before there are states and state-created legal systems. Indeed, in Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism, there aren’t any states: people hire private defense agencies to protect their rights.

David Gordon

I’d like to discuss today an argument that is popular among some contemporary political philosophers. If this argument is correct, it undermines the sort of natural rights found in Murray Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty. I hope that I am not spoiling the surprise by telling you immediately that I think the argument is wrong.

Natural rights of the sort that Rothbard favors are prepolitical. In other words, these rights aren’t dependent on the state for their existence. Each person is a self-owner and may acquire property in the “state of nature,” before there are states and state-created legal systems. Indeed, in Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism, there aren’t any states: people hire private defense agencies to protect their rights.

According to the argument I wish to examine, prepolitical rights make no sense because there are no ways to define the boundaries of these rights. If each person is a self-owner, when does self-ownership begin? Are children self-owners? What about abortion—is a woman, as the owner of her body, entitled to abort a baby she doesn’t want? What are the permissible limits of self-defense? Is your right to life entirely negative, i.e., other people must not use force against you, or threaten you with force, unless you have aggressed against them, or do you in some cases have the right to the aid of other people to preserve your life? If you are accused of a crime, what (if any) rights do you have to be tried by fair procedures? The questions multiply when we reach property rights. What is the correct principle of initial acquisition? What about intellectual property?

Given the lack of clear boundaries to natural rights, it is argued, the notion is useless in practice. Instead, we must start with the notion of autonomous persons who in particular societies decide what legal rights people have, being guided in so doing by local practices. As an example, the notion of property is in this view entirely a social construct. The government in taxing you is not taking away what you rightfully have acquired, because it is the government (backed by democratic decision) that has decided what you own in the first place.

There’s an obvious objection to this argument, but the defenders of the argument have a reply to it. The objection is that proponents of natural rights don’t set clear boundaries for these rights. But if you read Ethics of Liberty, you will quickly discover that Rothbard does answer the questions about boundaries posed above. You may accept or reject what he says, but how can it be reasonably maintained that his natural rights are useless because they lack clear boundaries?

The reply that the opponents of natural rights would offer is that other supporters of natural rights often disagree with Rothbard’s answers. Rothbard, e.g., is critical of patents, but Objectivists regard intellectual property as an essential right. Given such disagreements, don’t even supporters of natural rights have to rely on social convention to decide what the proper natural rights are? If so isn’t it the agreement of people within a society that is doing the work rather than the natural rights?

This reply is very weak. People may disagree, but that doesn’t show that one opinion can’t be correct and the others wrong. That is something that needs to be settled by argument. If you think Rothbard is wrong about strict liability, for instance, it won’t do just to point out that some people accept the “reasonable man” standard at odds with it. You need to show that Rothbard’s arguments don’t settle the issue if you want to push the claim that social convention must play the primary role in settling disputed questions about rights. It’s an interesting point, I think, that showing Rothbard is mistaken doesn’t help the social conventionalist. If you did that, you would be merely eliminating one option, Rothbard’s, from consideration, not showing that the remaining options require a convention-based resolution. For the conventionalist position to remain intact, you would need to show that Rothbard’s arguments for his position aren’t dispositive and also that other arguments don’t show that he is wrong. Then, strict liability would still be in the running but not a clear winner.

But suppose that it can’t be shown that there is a correct theory of natural rights that settles all important issues and that people in a particular society must rely in part on convention to fix the boundaries of these rights. It hardly follows from this that natural rights are useless and everything important rests on the social practices of a particular society. Suppose that we don’t know the exact boundaries of the correct principle of initial acquisition. We do know, though, that people have a natural right to acquire property, so that social conventions that altogether deny people the right to own property are ruled out.

Supporters of the conventionalist view usually don’t like private property rights very much, but they support the right to free speech. The same sort of problems they raise for property rights arise also for free speech. Does free speech cover libel and slander? False advertising? Disclosure of trade secrets? The fact, if it is one, that the concept of “free speech” leaves these questions unsettled does not throw everything open to social decision. A law that prohibited political speech would violate people’s free speech rights, even granting the conventionalist point. Why are property rights subject to different treatment? Further, as Rothbard has pointed out, once property rights are settled, that resolves controversies about free speech rights. People do not have a vague and unlimited right to free speech but rather the right to set regulations for speech on their own property. If you are on someone else’s property, you must follow his rules about speech.

There is another problem with the social conventionalist view, and it is a glaring one. Even if people in a society need in part to rely on social practices to settle disputed issues, how does the state, democratic or otherwise, enter the picture? Why couldn’t those in a stateless society settle such problems through negotiation? People in the grip of the view I’m criticizing tend to assume without argument that we must accept the framework of the modern national state. Murray Rothbard shows us a different way to proceed, and that is a principal element in his greatness as a political philosopher.

Note: The views expressed on are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.


Contact David Gordon

David Gordon is Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute and editor of the Mises Review.

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The New Right Is All about the Left | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on February 9, 2021

The clear religious nature of progressivism that emerges is clear. Replacing God with “the saving grace of progressivism,” the Left has found that racism is the default setting of man, and a person “is able to escape that fallen state” only through their leftish repentance. Another key element of progressive beliefs is to feel good rather than do good: Book

Joakim Book

The ironic thing about Michael Malice’s book The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics is that it mostly deals with the Left. What unites the Right, argues Malice, is that they all hate the Left. His definition of the New Right reads:

a loosely connected group of individuals united by their opposition to progressivism, which they perceive to be a thinly veiled fundamentalist religion dedicated to egalitarian principles and intent on totalitarian world domination via globalist hegemony.

Everyone from radical conservatives to Murray Rothbard–following anarchists to those whom the press sloppily calls “alt-right,” all get lumped into the same category—hence the label. While almost everyone in those groups would strongly object to the affiliation, Malice has found the common denominator among them: they all hate the evangelical left. The New Right, as he sees it, is formed and fueled by this opposition, and so Malice spends page after page describing the progressive power that rules the social, intellectual, and political world.

It works remarkably well, partly, I suspect, because Malice is extraordinarily well versed in the hidden world of internet trolls and the intellectual dark web, as well as more conventional conservative and libertarian ideas. He tells of secret meetings, of invites-only events for trolls and white nationalists, of conversations he’s had, online and offline, with prominent figures of the movement he describes. Skillfully, too, he manages to dissect what it means to be a progressive in America today—a necessary step to even begin to understand this right-wing contramovement.

Malice captures the progressives’ extreme attachment to equity: the dissecting of and the overturning of hierarchies, power, privilege, and, above all, fairness. Elitism and natural hierarchies are inevitable, but the Left won’t have it. Even in the mundane, say, jokes in the locker room or jokes on a stand-up scene, “for the evangelical left, with humor as with everything else, if it’s not for everyone then it’s not for anyone.” This idea, institutionalized and universalized, is the core of what it means to be left-wing in America today.

The distinguishing feature of a left-leaning ideologue, as shown in the Jonathan Haidt research that Malice discusses, is a strong focus on fairness and harm to the exclusion of everything else. Malice eloquently shows that fairness isn’t well defined, and that it is mostly devoid of meaning; it “simply means “what I approve of.'” A discussion over fairness is therefore useless.

A person on the left in the late 2010s, and increasingly so in the 2020s, tries to “impose meaning rather than to understand.” Picking illustrative examples from Hillary Clinton and those more extreme than her, Malice shows that progressives usually ascribe ideas and values to their opponents, dismiss their words as “hate speech,” and then “end the conversation before it has even begun.”

The clear religious nature of progressivism that emerges is clear. Replacing God with “the saving grace of progressivism,” the Left has found that racism is the default setting of man, and a person “is able to escape that fallen state” only through their leftish repentance. Another key element of progressive beliefs is to feel good rather than do good:

Since the progressive religion is based on salvation through faith and not via works, there are often no positive achievements to demonstrate one’s salvation—either to others or even to oneself. Progressives are thereby forced to “do something” without actually doing anything.

Think pins on your jacket, various in-group messages on bags, or the piercing red X taped across the Apple logo of your computer—since, as a good person, you obviously don’t support Apple but still happily use their products. Jeff Deist’s review of Malice’s book is spot-on:

The Left’s religiosity, complete with canonical texts and an ever-narrowing range of faith based opinions, is a key point of Malice’s argument: debate is passé on the Left, if not verboten. The science is settled, and to hell with those outside the faith. Convert or be cast out.

Echoing Orwell’s classic Politics and the English Language, progressive language use is tremendously important. Not only regarding the sensitivity of those who hear it, but as a measure of signaling that the speaker is on board with the Party program. Malice argues that replacing “black” with “African American” or “people of color” isn’t so much a sign of respect or a more accurate description of the group one is discussing, but an in-group signal that the speaker “is on the correct team.”

While clever, it’s easy for outsiders to just say the words: “it costs nothing,” writes Malice, “for someone to adopt the correct term in their speech.” Instead, it becomes an arms race between those who invent new politically correct terms to signal their progressive goodness and those who merely want to get by without vitriol and accusations of being a “white supremacist” (or want to avoid detection).

The ingenuity of the system is that while it costs an outsider almost nothing to co-opt the latest correct word, to avoid tripping any of the many progressive wires, one must internalize a full language. In time, one supposes, a full ideology.

The Members of the New Right

What sits most odd for someone not involved in the world Malice depicts is how normal it is; filled with internal quibbles and breaks along sectarian lines, with regular people doing regular things up until they reveal some of their controversial opinions. What most stood out to me were Malice’s personal stories, and how utterly polite many New Righters are: at an event with big-time pundit Ann Coulter attending, everyone was mesmerized by her but too shy to approach.

That’s not the kind of aura that New Right events conjure up in your mind. Another time Malice describes how attendees to an “NRx gathering” were tentatively “eyeing one another to see what was safe to say. As thought-criminals, we were used to biting our tongues.” This is familiar territory for all of us who hold opinions that diverge even a tiny bit from otherwise allowable opinion.

What emerges is a display of and some in-depth interviews with commonly held crazies—Gavin McInnes, Milo Yiannopoulos, Jim Goad, Alex Jones—that make them seem surprisingly humane. Indeed, that’s the point of Malice’s book: “to present logical, rational explanations for the New Right’s foundational beliefs. They’re not crazy. They’re not suicidal. They’re as American as apple pie.”

Most progressives mistakenly think that with the end of Trump, it’ll be the end of the nefarious factions he spawned and justified. With the evil leaders goes the evil tribe and now America is finally back on its divine, progressive track. That couldn’t be further from the truth. To the New Right, politics is downstream from culture, and whoever rules Washington at any given time is unimportant; all that matters is the larger battle, the long-term fight, the wars over culture. Cutting the head of the snake does nothing, as the New Right is more akin to a scattered hydra, growing new heads in new places whenever an old one is severed.

While a delight to read, some chapters of the book are thoroughly odd. You wouldn’t think that Milo, the effective media provocateur and now forgotten New Right troll, has much to do with the founding of the American Economic Association in 1885, or the moral supremacy (“degeneration”) of the universities. The connection, Malice asserts briskly before ending the chapter, is Christian social gospel.

No explanation; full confusion. And Malice is often all over the place: Pat Buchanan’s and Murray Rothbard’s political campaigns in the 1990s, the pickup artists of Neil Strauss’s The Game, and human nature as explored by Thomas Sowell’s great A Conflict of Visions. On the same page he then briefly mentions the Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht and calls bitcoin “magic internet money.”

Still, captivating and hard to put down.

Drawing to a close, the book ends with a somber reflection that “nation after nation in Europe is finding it impossible to form consensus on virtually anything.” The unstated implication is that if we can’t agree with one another, perhaps we shouldn’t have to…?

The Hoppe-inspired meme to “physically remove” socialists and democrats from a free society might be upside down: perhaps we must not remove deviants, but merely disassociate and self-segregate away from those we cannot stand. After the mad political and cultural fights of 2020, does anyone think that’s such a bad idea? Author:

Joakim Book

Joakim Book is an economics graduate of the University of Glasgow, and is currently a graduate student at the University of Oxford. He writes regularly at Life of an Econ Student

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“The Progressive Era” Author Murray Rothbard

Posted by M. C. on January 24, 2021

John Swett 100 years ago in San Francisco on public education-

“school children belonged not to parents, but to the State, to society, to the country”.

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What Would Murray Say About the Coronavirus? – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on March 4, 2020

These draconian quarantine measures are an overkill. The COVID-19 coronavirus, as it is now called, is infecting and killing no more people than what occurs in a common cold/flu season (2.5% death rate among infected individuals). For comparison, the 2017 flu season in the U.S. caused a reported 2 deaths per 100,000.”

Why has a panic developed over this disease? Here we can again learn from Murray. He taught us to follow the money, and in this case, drug manufacturers and developers of vaccines stand to profit if they can frighten enough people.


Murray Rothbard died in January 1995, long before this year’s coronavirus scare. But the principles this great thinker taught us can help us answer questions about the coronavirus outbreak which trouble many of us. Would the US government be justified in imposing massive involuntary quarantines, in order to slow down the spread of disease? What about vaccines? If government scientists claim that they have discovered a vaccine for coronavirus, should we take it? If we refuse, can the government force us to do so? These are the sort of problems we can solve if we look to Murray for help.

The fundamental rule for deciding whether anyone, including the government, is justified in using force to make us do something we don’t want to do is the Nonaggression Principle (NAP). As Murray put in in “War, Peace, and the State,” “No one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor.”

You might at first think that you can use the NAP to justify forced quarantines against the coronavirus. Suppose someone had a deadly disease that would always spread to others if he came in contact with them. Probably the person would want to isolate himself and not infect others, but if he refused, wouldn’t the people in danger be justified in isolating him? He is a threat to others, even if he doesn’t intend to harm them.

Thinking about this case can lead us astray, and here is where Murray can help us most. In his great book The Ethics of Liberty, he says, “It is important to insist, however, that the threat of aggression be palpable, immediate, and direct, in short, that it be embodied in the initiation of an overt act. Any remote or indirect criterion—any ‘risk’ or ‘threat’—is simply an excuse for invasive action by the supposed ‘defender’ against the alleged ‘threat.’” Murray hammers home the point later in the book. He says, “Once one can use force against someone because of his ‘risky’ activities, the sky is the limit, and there is virtually no limit to aggression against the rights of others. Once permit someone’s ‘fear’ of the ‘risky’ activities of others to lead to coercive action, then any tyranny becomes justified.”

When we apply what Murray says to the coronavirus situation, we can answer our question about forced quarantines. People are not threatening others with immediate death by contagion. Rather, if you have the disease, you might pass it on to others. Or you might not. What happens if someone gets the disease is also uncertain.

The key fact about the disease is that we know very little about it. We talk about the “coronavirus,” but we don’t know that the disease is caused by a virus. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that it isn’t. Bill Sardi interviewed a renowned expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Lawrence Bronxmeyer. Dr. Bronxmeyer pointed out that “Antibiotics cannot be used for viruses. If a virus, then why aren’t antiviral drugs working but antibiotics are?”

Further, the disease, fortunately, is not the great danger that it is being played up to be. “Fear of the COVID-19 coronavirus may be misplaced. More people are killed by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (1.7 million) in a year than the few who have been infected (~80,000) or have died (less than 2000) of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

It is projected that the “COVID-19 Coronavirus” will peak worldwide in March and then return in a second but lesser peak in September, in accordance with Yang’s Wuhan study from 2004 to 2013, describing the annual TB surges in Wuhan, China.

Saying the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus is inevitable, a CDC (Centers for Disease Control) official advised Americans “brace themselves” and prepare to shut down public schools, avoid going to church, and self-quarantine their families.  These onerous measures are for a virus that has infected just 53 Americans (Feb. 25), mostly among people who traveled recently to China.”

Murray would agree with Sardi, who says about quarantining Americans, “The coronavirus infects and then produces symptoms 3-5 days later (the incubation period).  However, maybe a 2-week quarantine period is not long enough. A recent study says the maximum incubation period is 24 days.  That is a long time to quarantine human populations.

These draconian quarantine measures are an overkill. The COVID-19 coronavirus, as it is now called, is infecting and killing no more people than what occurs in a common cold/flu season (2.5% death rate among infected individuals). For comparison, the 2017 flu season in the U.S. caused a reported 2 deaths per 100,000.”

Why has a panic developed over this disease? Here we can again learn from Murray. He taught us to follow the money, and in this case, drug manufacturers and developers of vaccines stand to profit if they can frighten enough people. We all remember the “swine flu” panic of several years ago. Doctors developed a vaccine to prevent people from getting the alleged disease, and this vaccine killed many people. When Gerald Ford was President, there was also a “swine flu” panic, and you can watch Murray laughing at the panic here.  If he were with us today, he would be laughing at the fearmongers, warning us about the dangers of vaccines, drugs, and quarantines, and reminding us that the main danger we face is the tyrannical and predatory State.

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Rothbard: The Constitution Was a Coup d’État | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on February 14, 2020

When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: liberty, sir, was then the primary object….But now, sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country into a powerful and mighty empire….Such a government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism.

[Conceived in Liberty: The New Republic, 1784–1791. By Murray N. Rothbard. Edited by Patrick Newman. Mises Institute, 2019. 332 pages.]

We owe Patrick Newman a great debt for his enterprise and editorial skill in bringing to publication the fifth volume, hitherto thought lost, of Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty. The details of his rescue of the lost manuscript are indeed dramatic, but rather than recount them here, I should like to concentrate on a theme central to the new book.

It is well known that Rothbard took the American Revolution to be mainly libertarian in its inspiration. The libertarian impulses of the Revolution were betrayed by a centralizing coup d’état. As Rothbard puts it:

Basically, urban merchants and artisans, as well as many slaveholding planters, united in support of a strong nation-state that would use the power of coercion to grant them privileges and subsidies. The subsidies would come at the expense of the average subsistence yeoman farmer who might be expected to oppose such a new nationalism. But against them, to support a new constitution, were the commercial farmers aided by the southern plantation-farmers who also wanted power and regulation for their own benefit. Given the urban support, the split among the farmers, and the support from wealthy educated elites, it is not surprising that the nationalist forces were able to execute their truly amazing political coup d’état which illegally liquidated the Articles of Confederation and replaced it with the Constitution. In short, they were able to destroy the original individualist and decentralized program of the American Revolution. (p. 128)

The theme I should like to concentrate on is this: what happens to the way we understand the Constitution if Rothbard is right that it was a centralizing document? The Anti-Federalists, with whom Rothbard agreed, denounced it for that reason. For example, in Virginia Patrick Henry, one of Rothbard’s heroes, said:

When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: liberty, sir, was then the primary object….But now, sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country into a powerful and mighty empire….Such a government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism. There will be no checks, no real balances, in this government. What can avail your specious, imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances? But, sir, we are not feared by foreigners; we do not make nations tremble. Would this constitute happiness, or secure liberty? (p. 262)

With all this as background, we can now consider the theme I’d like to stress. If the Anti-Federalists were right. We cannot say that the Constitution as originally written gave us a limited government that later regimes have ruthlessly and recklessly expanded. In taking this approach, Rothbard set himself firmly against the dominant trend in American conservative thought. He remarks:

The Constitution was unquestionably a high-nationalist document, creating what Madison once referred to as a “high mounted government.” Not only were the essential lines of the nationalistic Virginia Plan Report carried out in the Constitution, but the later changes made were preponderantly in a nationalist direction….While it is true that the general congressional veto over state laws and the vague broad grant of powers in the original Virginia Plan were whittled down to a list of enumerated powers, enough loopholes existed in the enumerated list: the national supremacy clause; the dominance of the federal judiciary; the virtually unlimited power to tax, raise armies and navies, make war, and regulate commerce; the necessary and proper clause; and the powerful general welfare loophole; all allowed the virtually absolute supremacy of the central government. While libertarian restraints were placed on state powers, no bill of rights existed to check the federal government. (p.211)

We can argue that later regimes extended national power beyond what the Constitution contemplated, but if Rothbard is right, the Constitution as written provides ample scope for tyranny.

One of the leading arguments of Constitutional conservatives is that since Congress is granted the power to declare war, military engagements by later presidents that bypass Congress are unconstitutional. (In several reviews, I have argued this way myself.) Rothbard does not agree. He says:

Congress’ proposed broad military powers occasioned much debate. The nationalists tried to narrow Congress’ power to make war into a more concentrated, and therefore a more controllable, form: Pinckney to the Senate only, Butler to the president himself. While these were defeated, Madison cunningly moved to alter congressional power: ‘make war’ became ‘declare war,’ which left a broad, dangerous power for the president, who was grandiosely designated in the draft as the ‘commander in chief’ of the U.S. army and navy, and of all the state militias. For now, the president might make war even if only Congress could formally declare it.” (p. 185)

Rothbard finds similar slippery language in the Tenth Amendment, imagined by some defenders of limited government to be a principal means to thwart efforts by the federal government to centralize power:

This amendment did in truth transform the Constitution from one of supreme national power to a partially mixed polity where the liberal anti-nationalists had a constitutional argument with at least a fighting chance of acceptance. However, Madison had cunningly left out the word “expressly” before the word “delegated,” so the nationalist judges were able to claim that because the word “expressly” was not there, the “delegated” can vaguely accrue through judges’ elastic interpretation of the Constitution….The Tenth Amendment has been intensely reduced, by conventional judiciary construction, to a meaningless tautology. (pp. 302–3)

(Note that Rothbard does not disagree with the nationalist judges’ interpretation.) Rothbard does see some hope of restraining the central government in the “forgotten” Ninth Amendment, but this was not to be invoked in a serious way by the Supreme Court until the 1960s.

Defenders of the Constitution as a bulwark of limited government often invoke the wisdom to be found in the Federalist Papers, but Rothbard views them as deceptive propaganda:

The essays contained in The Federalist were designed not for the ages—not as an explanation of nationalist views—but as a propaganda document to allay the fears and lull the suspicions of the Antifederal forces. Consequently, these field marshals of the Federalist campaign were concerned to make the Constitution look like a mixed concoction of checks-and balances and popular representation, when they really desired, and believed that they had, a political system of overriding national power. What is remarkable is the fact that historians and conservative political theorists have seized upon and canonized these campaign pieces as fountains of quasi-divine political wisdom, as hallowed texts to be revered, even as somehow a vital part of American constitutional law. (pp. 269–70)

James Madison’s argument that a large national republic would better cope with the dangers of factionalism than a small one is often invoked for its profundity, but Rothbard is not impressed:

Madison claimed that the greater diversity of interests over a large area will make it more difficult for a majority of the interests to combine and oppress a minority. It is difficult to see, however, why such a combination should be difficult….But the main fallacy in Madison’s argument is that it is part and parcel of the antidemocratic Federalist doctrine that the danger of despotic government comes, not from the government, but from among the ranks (i.e., the majority) of the public. The fallacy of this by now should be evident. Even if a majority approves an act of tyranny, it almost never initiates or elaborates or executes such action; rather they are almost always passive tools in the hands of the oligarchy of rulers and their allied favorites of the state apparatus. (pp. 270–71)

Rothbard concludes with this verdict on the Constitution:

Overall, it should be evident that the Constitution was a counterrevolutionary reaction to the libertarianism and decentralization embodied in the American Revolution. The Antifederalists, supporting states’ rights and critical of a strong national government, were decisively beaten by the Federalists, who wanted such a polity under the guise of democracy in order to enhance their own interests and institute a British-style mercantilism over the country. Most historians have taken the side of the Federalists because they support a strong national government that has the power to tax and regulate, call forth armies and invade other countries, and cripple the power of the states. The enactment of the Constitution in 1788 drastically changed the course of American history from its natural decentralized and libertarian direction to an omnipresent leviathan that fulfilled all of the Antifederalists’ fears. (p. 312)

There is evidence that Rothbard wrote the manuscript of this book before 1967 (see p. 312, editor’s note 7). But I do not think that he later changed his mind about the Constitution. Those who wish to challenge his brilliant analysis have a difficult task ahead of them.

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Murray Rothbard’s Practical Politics | The American Conservative

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Conservatism: A Vanishing Tradition | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on November 21, 2019

If, for example, you don’t think that Martin Luther King was a “moral saint,” as more than one eminent philosopher has termed him, the Left will not try to show that your arguments for your view are mistaken. It will deny you a forum to express your arguments at all and then try to destroy you personally.

[The Vanishing Tradition: Perspective on American Conservatism. Edited by Paul Gottfried. Cornell University Press, 2020. 223 + pages.]

Paul Gottfried’s excellent anthology of essays on American conservatives chronicles a key phenomenon of our times. Understanding it is important not only for those, like Gottfried and his contributors, who are traditionalist conservatives, but for anyone concerned with freedom. The phenomenon in question is the takeover of American conservatism by neoconservatives.

Why should this development concern us? In brief, the neocons, interested in their own agenda, have joined with the left in enforcing a public orthodoxy that excludes certain views from discussion. As Gottfried explains: “We might note some of the offenses for which an older Right was read out of the movement by the 1990s. Such presumed enormities included opposing the First Gulf War, supporting Patrick Buchanan’s presidential bid in 1992, and complaining about the influence of the American Israeli lobby. Some of the same people had also been critical of the cultural effects of Third World immigration, the extensions of the Voting Rights Act that would increase the electoral strength of the Left and bring the electoral process almost totally under federal administrative control, and the elevation of Martin Luther King — a controversial figure of the Left in his own time — to iconic status with a national holiday.”

Obviously, those who favor the suppressed positions should be concerned, but others should be as well. The Left, joined by the neocons, not only insists on its agenda but will not allow dissent. If, for example, you don’t think that Martin Luther King was a “moral saint,” as more than one eminent philosopher has termed him, the Left will not try to show that your arguments for your view are mistaken. It will deny you a forum to express your arguments at all and then try to destroy you personally. Even if you admire King or accept other tenets of the public orthodoxy, you should be troubled by the suppression of free speech.

Two of the contributors, Keith Preston and Boyd D. Cathey, discuss in detail one such smear campaign against a dissenter from the Official Truth. This was directed at Mel Bradford, a literary scholar and historian, who criticized Abraham Lincoln. In 1981, Ronald Reagan intended to nominate Bradford to head the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Bradford’s opinions about Lincoln would on the surface seem irrelevant to his fitness for the post. But Lincoln’s role as the savior of the Union and scourge of slavery is a key part of our public orthodoxy. The Left joined forces with the neocons to strike at Bradford. Preston writes: “As a legal scholar, Bradford was an advocate of a ‘strict constructionist’ approach to interpreting the Constitution, his view of the American founding as a conservative revolution, and his defense of the South against what he considered to be the usurpations of state sovereignty by President Lincoln during the Civil War [aroused neocon ire].”

Because he had attacked Lincoln, Bradford had to be denied the nomination. “Among the prominent neoconservatives who expressed opposition to Bradford were Irving Kristol, a former Trotskyite and the coeditor of The Public Interest, who is credited with having coined the term ‘neoconservative.’ The neoconservative movement’s other leading intellectual, Norman Podhoretz, another former leftist and the publisher of Commentary magazine, also expressed opposition to Bradford’s nomination.”

Why are the neocons willing to join forces with the Left? Doing so permits them to advance more effectively their own goals, strong support for Israel and for an interventionist foreign policy. Marjorie Jeffrey gets at the heart of the matter: “In what may be considered one of the founding documents of what became Bush-era neoconservatism, [William] Kristol and [Robert] Kagan wrote in ‘Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy’ that instead of either Clinton’s ‘Wilsonian multilateralism’ or Buchanan’s ‘neo-isolationism’, America should seek a policy of ‘benevolent global hegemony.’” Those who opposed this policy were assailed: “Against these efforts [opposing war], David Frum penned his famous ‘Unpatriotic Conservatives’ essay in the pages of National Review, charging antiwar conservatives and libertarians with being anti- American: ‘They have made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist antiwar movements in this country and in Europe. They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation’s enemies.’” As Jeffrey accurately notes, Ron Paul has with characteristic insight brought into question whether an interventionist foreign policy is in America’s interests, and for this he has been vilified.

Preston in his excellent essay makes the same criticism of neocon foreign policy, but he wrongly traces interventionism to the Jacobins: “A former assistant secretary of the Treasury during the Reagan administration, Paul Craig Roberts, has described the foreign policy views of the neoconservatives as emanating from the fanaticism that emerged during the French Revolution, observing ‘there is nothing conservative about neoconservatives. Neocons hide behind ‘conservative’ but they are in fact Jacobins. Jacobins were the 18th century French revolutionaries whose intention to remake Europe in revolutionary France’s image launched the Napoleonic Wars.” A similar critique of the neoconservatives has been offered by the conservative scholar Claes Ryn.” The Jacobins in fact were mainly concerned with internal reform: it was the Gironde that wished to spread the Revolution abroad.

But this minor error pales into insignificance when put beside Preston’s indispensable point, also drawn from Ryn: ”The ongoing project of the neoconservatives has been to purge from the American Right any tendency that is suspected of opposing aggressive military interventionism, the revolutionary spread of ‘democratic capitalism’ on an international level, the geopolitical agenda of Israel’s Likud Party, or the cultural values of urban cosmopolitanism. Meanwhile, the neoconservatives will make common cause with anyone on the left they deem aggressively militarist enough.”

Some of the contributors find an epistemological source that in their opinion accounts at least in part for the errors of the neocons. The neocons favor principles that are universally true, regardless of historical time and circumstance. This contention seems to me mistaken. Isn’t the problem rather that the neocons favor the wrong universal principles? If like Murray Rothbard we support self-ownership, property rights, and peace, we would not fall victim to neocon delusions.

Mention of Rothbard of course brings to mind that he too was the victim of smear campaigns by both Buckley’s National Review and the neocons. As Gottfried remarks: “In some cases, however, those thrown off the bus were subject to at least intermittent abuse intended to justify their fall. This happened in a particularly bizarre way to Murray Rothbard, in the form of an obituary that Buckley inserted into National Review shortly after Rothbard’s death. Here Buckley offered a comparison between Rothbard and cult leader David Koresh. Neither apparently had more than a handful of followers: Rothbard had ‘as many disciples as David Koresh had in his redoubt in Waco.’ ‘Yes, Rothbard believed in freedom; David Koresh believed in God.’ It had not been enough for National Review’s founder to scold Rothbard during his lifetime.”

Fortunately, neither Buckley nor the neocons succeeded in suppressing Rothbard. His teaching continues to guide and inspire us.

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The Power of Self-Ownership | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on November 4, 2019

If you don’t own yourself you are not free.

As every reader of Murray Rothbard knows, the principle of self-ownership stands at the basis of libertarian thought. Each person is the owner of his or her own body. If we add a principle for homesteading land and natural resources, we can without much trouble get to an anarcho-capitalist society. But even on its own, the self-ownership principle rules out the welfare state. You cannot be compelled to labor for someone else, even if the other person “needs” your labor more than you do.

You would expect Marxists to brush aside self-ownership as bourgeois apologetics, and for most part they do. G.A. Cohen, a Marxist who taught political theory at Oxford University, was an exception. In his book Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality (Cambridge University Press, 1995), he says that he finds self-ownership intuitively plausible:

In my experience, leftists who disparage [Robert] Nozick’s essentially unargued affirmation of each person’s right over himself lose confidence in their unqualified denial of the thesis of self-ownership when they are asked to consider who has the right to decide what should happen, for example, to their own eyes. They do not immediately agree that, were eye transplants easy to achieve, it would then be acceptable for the state to conscript potential eye donors into a lottery whose losers must yield an eye to beneficiaries who would otherwise not be one-eyed but blind.” (p. 70)

As Cohen rightly notes, your right to your own body outweighs commonly used socialist principles that mandate redistribution. You are entitled to keep your eyes even if the fact that you have two working eyes is a matter of genetic luck and even if a blind person “needs” an eye more than you do. (You could still see with one eye but he cannot see at all.)

Cohen must now confront a dilemma. He finds self-ownership prima facie plausible. But self-ownership rules out the welfare state, and even worse, is a big step toward a fully free market society. What can he do to escape the dilemma?

Two courses of action suggest themselves. He might admit self-ownership, but deny that it leads to free-market capitalism. Alternatively, he might claim that, in spite of its surface plausibility, self-ownership ought to be rejected. It is the latter tactic that he adopts. He readily acknowledges that self-ownership rules out the welfare state.

Cohen says that the force of self-ownership really derives from something else. We have a strong belief that it is wrong to interfere with the integrity of someone’s body, and this, he thinks, is different from self-ownership. He asks us to imagine that everyone is born with empty eye sockets. The state implants two eyes in everyone at birth, using an eye bank it owns. If someone lost both eyes, wouldn’t we oppose an eye lottery to remove forcibly one eye from a sighted person to help the blind person? But in the example the state owns all the eyes. Cohen concludes that our real objection to an eye lottery in the actual world is not that it violates self-ownership but that people have a right to bodily integrity.

The “suggestion arises that our resistance to a lottery for natural eyes shows not belief in self-ownership but hostility to severe interference in someone’s life. For the state need never vest ownership of the eyes in persons.” (p. 244)

A defender of self-ownership can readily acknowledge that it would be wrong to remove someone’s eyes in Cohen’s science-fiction case. All he needs to preserve his principle is the fact that you own your eyes adds to the moral badness of making you enter the eye lottery. Bodily integrity and self-ownership supplement each other: they do not compete for our allegiance, as Cohen seems to think. The fact that Cohen had to resort to a bizarre example to try to escape self-ownership shows its power. Once you think about it, self-ownership is hard to reject.

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Murray Rothbard


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