For years I’ve sat in the corner when the topic of Murray Rothbard arose and found that many libertarians see him as some sort of god. I’ve never really followed him much and instead always chose to recognize more in the light of Milton Friedman, FA Hayek, Larry Reed and David Boaz. I just found them vastly more achieved people who espoused cleaner histories of being principled libertarians and had messages focused on real reforms. With Rothbard, I’d quietly always nod my head when people at libertarian events praise Rothbard as a god and I just also saw him as a troll before the Internet espousing bizarre right wing anarchist views.
Yet well, it’s 1 am, I’m tired and feel the need to write something in order to calm down. Let’s dive into my points on why Murray Rothbard was just some cultist who wasn’t really of huge benefit to libertarianism.
Reason 1. The Man Just Never Got A Damn Thing Done
When people ask me about my ideal libertarian, I automatically say Milton Friedman. Friedman to me was the most achieved and intelligent libertarian I’d say to ever live and most influential libertarian ever to hit academics and political reform. He was on the economic advisory boards of three presidents, headed the effort to eliminate the draft in the 1970s, was responsible for the modern school choice movement, structured many economic reforms in 1980s Chile, the leader of the negative income tax/flat tax effort in the 1960s, head of economics at the now leading Chicago School of Economics and his Nobel Prize winning work on inflation boomed global policy reform dismissing the majority of classic Keynesian ideas changing how monetary and trade policy have worked for nearly four decades. Milton Friedman is literally the man of limitless achievements and stayed principled every step of the way. With his involvements in the Reagan administration, he’d gladly be the only man in the room against the War on Drugs, but proudly calling for legalization of all drugs. While he was friends with conservatives, he’d be the pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and pro-immigration man in the room. He was, honestly, a genius.
Murray Rothbard, on the other hand… not so much. While extremely well-educated, he never really did anything as an economist. Where Friedman’s focus on economics was math and proving a point, Murray Rothbard had a very different approach. Writing radicalized ramblings saying why the world should adopt anarchy and radicalize teenagers to buy into it and worship him as a cult leader. He never had a single paper get much attention in academics or culture. He never wrote one book that sold in the volumes other libertarian authors sell in. He was never involved in any serious national or global policy talks. He also had many professors and universities outright laugh him out of a room saying his papers didn’t even use real numbers.
I just never actually saw what was special about him as an economist. To put this in better of an example, I label myself as an inventor when asked what I do. I have a couple of patents and have raised funding for a few startups in the past. From this, I’d label myself as kind of a low-level engineer focused on practical problems, but I do read a lot regarding math and biology. I’d not quite call Michio Kaku or Bill Nye a scientist as much as people selling books who have degrees, but haven’t been in a lab in decades. Murray Rothbard, with me as an economics junkie, sort of holds the same standard. He had the degrees, but never used them to produce anything of value.
Reason 2. He Was Politically A Total Moron
This is for all of my Rothbard-heavy friends reading this. Just for a moment look a bit more at the history of Murray Rothbard and tell me it’s worth idolizing.
- Setup a Strom Thurmond fan club while in college. Strom Thurmond was a Jim Crow advocate, a New Deal supporter and deemed one of the most racist senators ever switching parties from Democrat to Republican over the Civil Rights Act.
- Supported Robert Taft, but gave mixed reviews of him as a senator saying he compromised too often.
- Rebelled against the Libertarian Party in 1983 forming the radical caucus and claiming Ed Clark/David Koch were poison despite them bringing the most successful election the LP has had to date. Also the result of this was the Koch Brothers leaving the LP forever and returning to the GOP.
- Endorsed isolationist and known racist Pat Buchanan in 1992.
- Endorsed anti-trade candidate Ross Perot
Murray Rothbard, as a political strategist, has as many bad decisions as a high school cheerleading captain who’s also in remedial math. He seemed to have this failed approach that he’d not want to work with more Milton Friedman/David Koch libertarians (likely out of envy) and unless they’d embrace full-on anarchy, he’d go over to people who wouldn’t take him seriously in the slightest and just seemed to be racist, isolationist and also failed politically.
I don’t really see Rothbard as a good economist. No economist, Austrian, Keynesian, or Chicago, could ever possibly support Ross Perot. The man who called for controlled trade with Mexico in name of mass tariffs and regulations between nations. No free market economist could seriously back someone such as Strom Thurmond or later some of the hard leftists he rallied behind in the 1960s Vietnam era. That, combined with his lack of contributions to economics, showed Rothbard as what I believe he truly was: Some guy who was just a rogue isolationist.
Comparing isolationism with non-interventionism, it seems unfair to call a libertarian such as my mega superhero Ron Paul an isolationist. It seems unfair to call the vast majority of libertarians isolationists. Libertarian people want to send trade, immigrants, communication and peace across the globe making us one world aligned with markets and not rely on the invisible cloaks of nations. Rothbard, however, just never seemed that big on this. He claimed to be for free trade in a lot of writings, but nearly always backed an anti-trade candidate. Thurmond, Perot and Buchanan all advocating near closed borders to trade and immigration set what is a corner piece to economics and libertarianism in the dust. Rothbard advocated for these people and ignored how many economists such as Friedman, Hayek and even people Rothbard aligned more with, such as Mises, to be the most important thing in an economy. Rothbard rejected any trade deal which wasn’t 100% poor, but always seemed to cater with people who wanted closed trade and immigration somehow holding this bizarre view it’d be better to borderline perfectly free trade.
He was, with politics, quite frankly an idiot. He achieved nothing and nearly every choice he made is someone really looked back on with shame. Also, the people weren’t even close to libertarian and Rothbard bashed many such as Barry Goldwater.
Reason 3. Rothbard Was Probably A Little Racist
Just hear this out…
Kid grows up in heavily conservative Jewish household in the first half of the 20th century to a family he called the far right. He goes to college and the first guy he ends up making political alliances and admiration with is a racist southern Democratic senator who is the biggest advocate for Jim Crow. He does this and becomes panned by his campus as someone just being radical to annoy people and admiring a racist.
Rothbard in the 1960s gets more and more out of economics and just moves into philosophy and foreign policy. He does this and well, holy shit, Ayn Rand is now his new biggest enemy. Ayn Rand who wrote a lot about race not being a thing in society and bordering ourselves by skin or tongue is just the act of primitive culture. He claims his difference with Ayn Rand is he’s an anarchist and she’s not, but he still has no issue dealing with the many racist non-anarchist such as Pat Buchanan in his future.
Rothbard never supported a single version of the Civil Rights Act.
Rothbard never favored one trade bill up for consideration.
Rothbard never made any serious motions to promote immigration and instead explained how he believed anarchy could fight immigration better.
Rothbard went on rants saying the Confederacy, which had slavery as a constitutional right, was a good idea.
Rothbard was absolutely nuts. So nuts his work appealed to Lew Rockwell, who is known for very racist-styled works and often blamed for being the writer to the Ron Paul newsletters which are filled with anti-Semitic comments, remarks bashing the African American community and comments associating immigrants as second-class people.
I just don’t believe he was raised to treat minorities well and feel his desire to be a troll made him have elements of a racist.
Reason 4. Rothbard Made Libertarians Total Losers
End of the day? The guy shared his lack of political success with his followers. Where Milton Friedman, being the anti-war, socially liberal and fiscally laissez faire libertarian taught in classrooms across the globe, Rothbard probably won’t even be accepted as a legitimate choice for economics classes to do a paper on. Where Barry Goldwater, being the pro-LGBT mega-libertarian who was the GOP nominee in 1964, Rothbard seemed to fight Goldwater for the most part and quickly go to the left. Where the Kochs are now the prized jewel of the GOP holding clear influence on policy, Rothbard takes credit as the man who chased them out of the Libertarian Party, costing it millions.
So well, libertarians have had no success. Literally none. The Ron Paul movement never was able to be a driving factor in the GOP and most people seemed to have completely forgotten Ron judging by his son having comically low turnouts in 2016. The LP, for decades, has been a total joke where it’s clear before the radical caucus and his work with them, they actually did hold some weight as a growing movement with some heavier money people. Politics or just trying to get policy passed, the legacy of Murray Rothbard created such a bitter and anti-compromise attitude, it’s just become the troll movement.
No work to cut government.
No serious achievements.
Just an army of people in a borderline cult wearing Rothbard shirts pretending he for one day in history actually mattered.
I’m very proud to be a libertarian. But I’m also going to say Murray Rothbard wasn’t a libertarian and did nothing to benefit the growth of libertarianism. He was an anarchist who’d rather deal with racist isolationists over people who agreed with him more, but couldn’t give him total power. He never achieved anything besides the formation of a visible cult following found in the people who want no government, but can’t even form the political powers needed to reduce the penalties for parking tickets.
There are heroes in the liberty movement who exist.
Milton Friedman changed the world with economics and guided modern economic policy away from Keynesianism. Ayn Rand has sold tens of millions of copies of her books and influenced countless people. Robert Taft was one of the greatest senators in history fighting the age of Roosevelt and making more real reforms on union policy exist over anyone.
And new heroes come about everyday in the movement. People in economics such as Larry Reid or Antony Davies have produced great content for people to use on why the free market work and have been quoted in the house and senate for their work. A new age of philosophers exist with the people working at the Ayn Rand Institute under the leadership of Yaron Brook. Successful governors such as Gary Johnson and Bill Weld have come to grow their states in social/economic freedom while Rand Paul currently kicks ass in the Senate. A ton of very big libertarians have existed and do exist today with more to come out constantly.
Rothbard just wasn’t one of them.
This post was written by Charles Peralo.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.