While the author obviously thought of this piece as a triumphant demonstration of his intellectual prowess and, indeed, a moment of personal glory, I am afraid it is one he will come to regret. The fact that this piece was written by a young aspiring libertarian is truly a shame. As a favor to him and out of respect to the men — too noble to stamp around in these weeds — who were flippantly disrespected by this featherbrained hissy fit, I offer the following brief response and words of advice to the author.
First, I’m only a little older than you — 26, actually. I have no Ivy League pedigree, I can boast no notable libertarian ties, I have never founded an institute, nor capital investment firm, or written a book. I haven’t changed the world. Also — I don’t sell gold. But I do occasionally read books and I know some libertarians who really read books. You know something I’ve noticed about people who read books? They remember the titles.
When you read books, you spend a lot of time looking at the cover, checking how many pages you have left and re-reading paragraphs — especially if you’re reading Rothbard. You know what people who read books don’t ever say? “I’ve read four of his books and listened to maybe 6 to 10 of his lectures over the years.” I’m not saying this is a lie, that would be impolite. I will say that a quick practice in content analysis shows that you’ve got a negative external focus, two uses of distancing and use of padding with that vague and distant dependent clause — in short, those factors point to the possibility of deception. Again, not saying this is a lie, but if it is not, then your messaging needs work. I mean, “6-10”? “Over the years”? Really?
The sentence where you lost 90% of your thinking audience, “… I’m an actual libertarian and Murray Rothbard wasn’t,” shows that you’re not much of a book reader. If you had read actual titles like Mises’ Liberalism, or Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty, you would have learned not only what libertarianism is, but how to use logic to take the idea of libertarianism to its logical conclusion.
Not everyone is into reading, and that’s fine. It really is a simple idea. All libertarianism says is that no one, individually or collectively, may use force to achieve his goals. That’s it. Libertarianism only justifies the use of defensive force. In the above-mentioned Mises text, you will find support for the utilitarian argument, and in Rothbard’s work, you will find the principled or moral case. I understand those messages can seem over-complicated with the abundance of advanced subject matter covered by these scholars — business cycles, monopoly theory, marginal utility, etc. In short, these particular arguments go something like:
Mises: Not hitting one another leads to economic efficiency and human prosperity.
Rothbard: Hitting one another is wrong.
It really doesn’t take a PhD, or even math, to get these main arguments. What Mises and Rothbard show in other works, is that you also don’t need complicated methodologies to answer some of the more technical economic questions, or rather, these methodologies are inappropriate for investigating the phenomenon of human action. What is appropriate? Basically, elementary logic. To break a pencil, you don’t need a chainsaw, right? To get to these basic fundamentals, you don’t need complex econometrics. It’s like my middle school woodshop teacher Mr. Grier taught me when I tried to drive a nail into my birdhouse with a ball peen hammer — use the right tool for the job. The job is to examine how people use resources to independently and cooperatively solve problems and achieve goals. The right tool is praxeology. I think you’ll find it fascinating.
Back to the question of who is, and who isn’t, a libertarian. If someone doesn’t care about prosperity and the fate of the human race, or if they care nothing for the moral argument or natural rights, they’re probably not a libertarian. If someone does care about those things, but compromises them in the interest of fame or influence, they’re a hypocritical libertarian at best, and a complicit state apologist, at worst. I would classify anyone in camp with this author as an undeveloped libertarian, and possibly a rude and unprofessional one — certainly not a well-read or mature one.
Truly, the only measure of success referenced in the article has to do with fame and influence. The four specific questions to Tom Woods all reference these values. That’s okay: values are subjective. Many libertarians, whom the author has attempted to alienate, value things like logical consistency, moral uprightness, uncompromising principles and fearless pursuit of truth. These values have gotten little attention, while statist viewpoints dominate the conversation — even in libertarian circles. Isn’t this an interesting contrast? And is it truly a mystery that an anti-state viewpoint has gained less traction than a pro-state viewpoint in today’s political and cultural environment? The question isn’t who has won more battles — the question is: whose side are you on? Besides, as any self-respecting libertarian believes, the best ideas will win out in the end. What is it they say about the mighty oak?
My advice to you, the author: be nicer to people, be coachable toward your intellectual betters and read Rothbard. Like, actually read Rothbard. If you do, your future self will wish he could erase your last piece from the digital universe and slap you across the face for your irreverence to brave, intelligent men who are fighting for what is most moral and what is most conducive to human flourishing. If you don’t do the reading, and if you fail to stand on principle, that slippery slope of compromise will take you ever further from the cause of Liberty. Besides, if you keep putting out this frivolous nonsense, people aren’t going to like you.
* Kelly W. Conley is a libertarian in the tradition of Rothbard, a commodities marketing professional and graduate student of communication at the University of Arkansas. Tom Woods follows him on Twitter.
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