In Defense of Murray Rothbard and His Legacy of Liberty

If I owe my being a classical liberal or libertarian to any thinker, it is definitely the economist Milton Friedman. I accidentally stumbled on a YouTube video of him a couple of years ago and both his charisma and simple argument about the correlation between capitalism and freedom convinced me that a free society required free markets.

Even though Friedman introduced me to pro-liberty philosophy, there are a number of thinkers that have helped me further develop my ideas: thinkers such as John Locke, Friedrich Hayek, Gustave de Molinari, and Adam Smith. But it is hard to deny that Murray Rothbard has been the libertarian thinker to influence me the most. This is why I don’t agree with Charles Peralo’s articles, Something Libertarians Must Admit and the most recent Dear Tom Woods, Murray Rothbard Did Indeed Suck.

Insulting other libertarians the way Peralo has done in these last two articles does not help the growth and development of the pro-liberty movement; it only hurts it. It is good to be critical of others’ beliefs, but not to completely disregard them and presuppose that you have it all figured out as to who is a libertarian and who is not. Here is a refutation of the four points he makes in his first article:

1. “The Man Just Never Got a Damn Thing Done”
Murray Rothbard is considered a great contributor to the school of Austrian Economics. Despite the Austrian school’s unorthodox status, it reintroduces humanity into economics with its praxeological method. Regardless of his contributions to economics, Rothbard’s works on libertarian political theory such as Ethics of Liberty, brings forward an unerring concept of natural law and natural rights, creating an inviolable defense of liberty; this is something that utilitarian libertarians are unable to do.
When it comes to spreading the ideas of liberty through organizations, Rothbard helped found the Cato Institute and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, two think tanks which have contributed to the development of liberty worldwide.

2. “He Was Politically a Total Moron”
Rothbard was known to interact and work with individuals and groups that many consider anti-capitalist and not pro-liberty. This is not because he always agreed with them, but because he would find areas where he could sympathize with these individuals in order to promote liberty, as Dr. Walter Block has discussed. Rothbard worked with the Peace and Freedom Party, a group with Maoists and Trotskyites, who were nonetheless against war. Rothbard did not have inconsistent beliefs, but utilized any possibility given to him in order to promote liberty.

3. “Rothbard Was Probably a Little Racist”
Rothbard’s neither favored nor disdained the Civil Rights movement, but instead opted for a pragmatic approach, viewing it as a movement with both positive and negative characteristics. Rothbard’s view of the Civil Rights Act was equally careful. While he opposed some aspects of the bill because they conflicted with the right to freely associate with who you wish, a hallmark of free markets. Rothbard also foresaw how it would become a tool to silence the radicalism behind the civil rights movement to push personal agendas and appeal to voters.
As for Rothbard’s position on immigration, the open border argument is only significant if one believes that state ownership of land is legitimate and Rothbard did not believe this was the case. Due to this, Rothbard did not promote open borders and his solution to the immigration question is as follows:

The libertarian society would resolve the entire “immigration question” within the matrix of absolute property rights. For people only have the right to move to those properties and lands where the owners desire to rent or sell to them. In the free society, they would, in first instance, have the right to travel only on those streets whose owners agree to have them there, and then to rent or buy housing from willing owners. Again, just as in the case of daily movement on streets, a diverse and varying pattern of access of migration would undoubtedly arise.

Finally, in regards to his views on the Confederacy, Rothbard was fundamentally opposed to the idea of slavery. He condemned the South for wanting to expand slavery into western territories and the militarism pushed by the North. Rothbard, according to his conception of natural law, thought that slaves should have been given the land they had worked for hundreds of years. Furthermore, in the Ethics of Liberty, he is highly critical of colonialism, regardless of its consequences, while Milton Friedman’s greater focus on mere economic development led him to be softer on the colonization of India.

4. Rothbard Made Libertarians Total Losers
Rothbard’s inability to compromise his beliefs and ideology should be seen as admirable and not as something to look down on. Compromising for the sake of politics has been the death and corruption of liberalism in the last two hundred years. Exceptions were made for the sake of politics, moving liberalism from its classical origins to the current statist and social liberal tradition found across Europe and Latin America.
“Murray Rothbard wasn’t a libertarian and did nothing to benefit the growth of libertarianism” is a statement made in ignorance of Murray’s writing and impact. Any individual who has read enough of Murray Rothbard’s works will acknowledge that he is one of the few individuals to develop a libertarian political philosophy that is as consistent and as well developed as his.

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