What proved to be unacceptable to academia—Rothbard's pre-modern method of axiomatic-deductive reasoning and system building—still found resonance among many people. Even if modern academics, freed of the obligation of having to provide a practical justification for their activities, can engage in unsystematic and open-ended "conversation," real men, and especially successful men, have to act and think systematically and methodically and such planning and future-oriented low-time preference people also will not likely be satisfied with but systematic and methodical answers to their own practical moral concerns.
Nor did Rothbard's explicit political radicalism constitute a serious acceptance problem among such successful and independently minded men. Even if increasingly marginalized, significant remnants of the original American tradition of radical libertarianism still existed among the educated public. In fact, the American Revolution had been largely inspired by libertarian, radical Lockean ideas. And the Declaration of Independence, and in particular its author Thomas Jefferson, reflected and expressed the same rationalist spirit of the Enlightenment and the even older natural-law tradition that also characterized Rothbard and his political philosophy:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
Rothbard, apart from his theoretical work as an economist and a political philosopher, was also an eminent historian. In his four-volume history of colonial America, Conceived in Liberty, he gives a detailed narrative account of the predominance of libertarian thought in early America, and in many essays on critical episodes in U.S. history, he notes again and again the continuing importance of the original libertarian American spirit. To be sure, the original radical-libertarian impetus, which had led to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, had subsequently suffered one setback after another: with the victory of the Federalists over the anti-Federalists and the transition from the original Confederacy to the Union, with the de facto abolition of the Union constitution by Abraham Lincoln in the course and as the result of the destruction of the secessionist Southern Confederacy, with the onset of Progressivism, with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, with Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society, and so on with presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. Even if again and again defeated, however, the tradition of radical individualist libertarianism could not be eradicated from the American public consciousness. In harking back explicitly to
It was only in light of "external" events—the emergence and advancement of a libertarian movement and the central role played by Rothbard in this movement—and with a considerable delay, that Rothbard and The Ethics of Liberty no longer could be overlooked by academia. Not surprisingly, even then the general reaction was cool. To be sure, there were also a fair and steadily growing number of highly respectful and appreciative academic treatments of political philosophy, and around The Journal of Libertarian Studies, an interdisciplinary scholarly review Rothbard had founded in 1977 and for which he had served until his death as editor, he had assembled a formidable number of disciples. But in general, the academic reaction to Rothbard and his libertarianism was one of non- or miscomprehension, indignant rejection, or even downright hostility.
In part, this was certainly due to Rothbard's unapologetic use of the language of natural rights. This had been the language of the Declaration of Independence; the same natural-rights language had been preserved to the present within the Christian and in particular the Catholic Church, and it had also been adopted by a handful of contemporary philosophers. However, to most contemporary academics talk of "natural rights" was, in Jeremy Bentham's words, no more than "nonsense on stilts." In fact and more to the point, natural rights were incompatible with absolute state power, and they did not sit well with either democracy or socialism. Hence, in the course of the transformation of the Western world from an aristocratic or monarchical system to a modern mass democracy within the last 100 years, natural-rights teachings had been successively removed from the officially approved philosophical curriculum and replaced with modern positivistic doctrines. Confronted with a largely unfamiliar language, even many well-intentioned philosophers were simply befuddled or irritated by Rothbard's work. Moreover, Rothbard may even have over-stated his own agreement with classical natural-rights theory, and not sufficiently emphasized his own distinct contribution of importing and applying the Misesian method of praxeology to ethics, and thus unintentionally have aggravated an already existing problem.
Typical and at the same time instructive were reactions like those of Peter D. McClelland, for instance, in a chapter in a book on economic justice entitled "The Market Defended: Confusions of the Right." "Murray Rothbard," McClelland noted:
is one of the intellectual leaders among contemporary libertarians, a group which, by American standards, is located on the far right. His views are interesting for purposes of this discussion for two reasons. First he provides a carefully reasoned defense of the income distribution generated by the market that makes no reference to the merits of recipients. Secondly, that defense proceeds from a handful of premises to a conclusion presumed to be universally applicable in any situation where the justice of the economic system is at stake. As such, it provides a classic example of how not to reason about economic justice. To put the second point a second way, Rothbard's approach flies in the face of key points made in earlier chapters: that to problems of economic justice we bring a multitude of values to be honored; these values can and do conflict; when conflicts arise, tradeoffs among competing values must be made; general rules for making such tradeoffs are difficult to formulate; and thus judgments about economic justice are difficult to make independent of the context of the situation in which such judgments must be made. Or, more simply put, in reaching decisions about economic justice in a concrete situation, we do not generally rely upon universal rules to determine the "right" or "just" or choice.
In all, McClelland finds that Rothbard's arguments are "somewhat strange"—"Aquinas viewpoint minus the theology"—and he then summarily dismisses them on the ground that:
for most Americans, many of [Rothbard's] points are extreme or simplistic or both, and the argument in its entirety is more curious than compelling. The best evidence of that is the negligible importance of the Libertarian Party in American politics. . . . [Rothbard's] "reduction" of moral dilemmas to one or few basic principles] is itself objectionable, precisely because it is achieved by ignoring much that is important—or at least much that is important to the vast majority of Americans.
Several objections and questions arise immediately upon reading this, not least of which is the truly strange fact that our author apparently believes that empirical facts, such as that not many people believe p, have any bearing on the question whether or not p is true, valid, or justified. Would he also object to mathematical or logical proofs on the ground that most people are incapable of grasping them? Moreover, granting that "when conflicts arise, tradeoffs among competing values must be made," the decisive question is, who is to decide what these tradeoffs should be? Conflicting values invariably involve incompatible—mutually exclusive—views of at least two actors concerning the use of some scarce resources. Obviously then, not both of these parties can decide what these tradeoffs should be (after all, their respective values are incompatible), but only one or the other. But how can one party be selected, and not the other, unless one possesses a theory of property? And if one cannot "rely upon universal rules to determine the 'right' or 'just' choice" and everything depends on the "context of the situation," how then does our critic think it possible for anyone to ever know ex ante, before taking it, whether or not some action qualifies as just? Or does he believe that justice is to be determined only ex post? How could such a theory of justice qualify as a human ethic?
All of these concerns may be left aside, however, because the ultimate error in McClelland's criticism—and by contrast the unique Rothbardian contribution to ethics—occurs at a logically prior stage, when McClelland claims that Rothbard's reductionist, that is, axiomatic-deductive method, "flies in the face" of the existence of a "multitude of values to be honored."
McClelland does not explain why this should be so. Nor could he have succeeded, even if he had tried. First off, surely Rothbard could not have been unaware of the fact of a multitude of conflicting values. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine anyone unaware of this fact. Yet this observation is no more than the starting point of ethics and moral reasoning. If no conflicting values existed, then, by definition, all actions would be in perfect harmony with each other. Everyone would always act in such a way as everyone else thought he should act. In this case of a pre-stabilized harmony of all interests, there is no need for an ethic and none would ever come into existence. The existence of conflicting values thus poses no problem whatsoever for Rothbard's ethic (or any other ethic, for that matter). Rather, it is from the outset taken for granted, and ethics is the very response to this universal and eternal human dilemma. Furthermore, if conflicts exist and if these can be resolved at all, then such a solution cannot possibly be found except by means of a "reductionist" method, i.e., the subsumption of specific cases or conflict-situations under general and abstract rules or principles. Rothbard's view in this regard is not essentially different from that of most other political and moral philosophers: ethics, if it is possible at all, must and can never be anything else but "reductionist."
Assuming for the sake of argument that no disagreement exists up to this point, McClelland's charge can only mean this: even if one were to follow such a reductionist strategy, it will not yield a single principle (or a single set of internally consistent principles) covering and resolving all cases of conflict. In other words, even if some disagreements may be resolved by reference to increasingly more general and abstract rules and principles, (many) other disagreements will remain unresolvable because, as a matter of empirical fact, even on the level of abstract rules and principles, disagreement persists and inescapably results in inconsistencies and incompatibilities (and leads to moral skepticism of some sort). This line of reasoning is indeed characteristic of a wide-ranging group of political philosophers (including Rawls) who, while they may disagree among themselves on how much conflict can or cannot be resolved in this way, all conceive of ethical principles as the result (outcome) of agreement or contract.
It is here that the fundamental error lies and Rothbard's unique contribution to ethics comes into play. Ethics—the validity of the principle of self-ownership and original appropriation—is demonstrably not dependent and contingent upon agreement or contract; and the universality claim connected with Rothbard's libertarianism is not affected in the slightest by the circumstance that moral discussants may or may not always come to an agreement or contract. Ethics is the logical-praxeological presupposition—in Kantian terminology: die Bedingung der Moeglichkeit—rather than the result of agreement or contract. The principles of self-ownership and original appropriation make agreement and contract—including that of not agreeing and contracting—possible. Set in motion and stimulated by the universal experience of conflict, moral discussion and argument can discover, reconstruct, explicate, and formulate the principles of self-ownership and original appropriation, but their validity in no way depends on whether or not this is the case, and if so whether or not these formulations then find universal assent.
Rothbard's distinct contribution to the natural-rights tradition is his reconstruction of the principles of self-ownership and original appropriation as the praxeological precondition—Bedingung der Moeglichkeit—of argumentation, and his recognition that whatever must be presupposed as valid in order to make argumentation possible in the first place cannot in turn be argumentatively disputed without thereby falling into a practical self-contradication.
As Rothbard explains in an unfortunately brief but centrally important passage of The Ethics of Liberty:
a proposition rises to the status of an axiom when he who denies it may be shown to be using it in the very course of the supposed refutation. Now, any person participating in any sort of discussion, including one on values, is, by virtue of so participating, alive and affirming life. For if he were really opposed to life, he would have no business in such a discussion, indeed he would have no business continuing to be alive. Hence, the supposed opponent of life really affirming it in the very process of his discussion, and hence the preservation and furtherance of one's life takes on the stature of an incontestable axiom (pp. 32–33).
As an immediate implication of this insight into the status of the principles of self-ownership and original appropriation as ethical axioms, Rothbard rejected as nonsense all notions of "animal rights." Animals are incapable of engaging in propositional exchange with humans. Indeed, it is this inability which defines them as non-rational and distinguishes them categorically from men as rational animals. Unable to communicate, and without rationality, animals are by their very nature incapable of recognizing or possessing any rights. Rothbard noted,
There is rough justice in the common quip that "we will recognize the rights of animals whenever they petition for them." The fact that animals can obviously not petition for their "rights" is part of their nature, and part of the reason why they are clearly not equivalent to, and do not possess the rights of, human beings (p. 156).
Rather than rightful moral agents, animals are objects of possible human control and appropriation. Thus Rothbard confirmed the biblical pronouncement that man had been given dominion over every living thing, in the sea, on earth, and in the sky.
As academia had little to do with Rothbard's success in creating and shaping a political-philosophical mass movement in the first place, its belated mostly negative reactions did little to change Rothbard's growing status as a public philosopher. To the contrary. The course of historical events—the spectacular collapse of the "great socialist experiment" in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe from 1989–91, and the increasingly obvious crisis of the Western welfare states—provided ever-more support for fundamental libertarian insights. No one but his teacher Mises had given a more accurate account of the economic inefficiencies of socialism and social democracy than Rothbard, and no one had explained more clearly the moral hazards and perversions created by socialism and social democracy. Whereas the events in Eastern Europe and the economic and moral crisis of the Western states—of stagnating or falling real incomes, staggering public debt, imminently bankrupt social security systems, family and social disintegration, rising moral degeneration, and crime—were an obvious embarrassment and intellectual debacle for the social-democratic academic establishment, they provided dramatic empirical confirmation for Rothbard and his theoretical work. In this situation, libertarianism and Rothbard's influence in particular could only grow and gain prominence, By the Rothbard's role as the spiritus rector of a steadily growing and increasingly "threatening" revolutionary libertarian movement was even acknowledged by the mainstream media.
Nor did the academic rejection make any noticeable impression on Rothbard or the further development of libertarian theory. The Ethics of Liberty had been published at a low point in Rothbard's career. Though one of the founders of the Cato Institute, Rothbard had been forced out by the chief financial backer as too "extreme" and "intransigent." Despite such unfavorable external circumstances and without any institutional promotion, the book established itself quickly as the single most authoritative and comprehensive work in libertarian theory. Long after the book had gone out of print in the U.S., it was being translated into French, Spanish, Italian, and German, further securing its status as an enduring classic of political philosophy. Ironically, 1982 was also the year of the founding of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, of which he served as academic head until his death. Together with a new academic position at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, these would prove to be the years of Rothbard's greatest professional success.
After the original publication of The Ethics of Liberty and until his death in 1995, Rothbard was working on a comprehensive and encompassing history of economic and political thought. Two massive volumes of the unfinished three-volume project were published posthumously, in under the titles Economic Thought Before Adam Smith and Classical Economics. Based on his prior theoretical work—with Austrian free-market economics and libertarian political philosophy providing the conceptual framework—Rothbard in these volumes gave a sweeping narrative account of the history of economic and political-philosophical ideas, from the ancient Greeks to near the end of the nineteenth century, and the interplay of ideas and economic and political reality. Pure and abstract Austrian and libertarian theory was illustrated with historical examples and illustrations, and at the same time intellectual and political history was presented as a systematically comprehensible subject, methodically and thematically unified and integrated. Rothbard here opened a panoramic view of the entire history of Western civilization, with new vistas and many surprising or even startling reinterpretations and reevaluations. History was unfolded as a permanent struggle between truth and falsehood and good (justice) and evil—of intellectual and political heroes great and small, and of economic and political and progress, as well as of blunderers and villains, and of errors, perversions, and decline—and the civilizational ups and downs of human history were explained as the results of true and false ideas and the distribution and strength of ideologies in public consciousness. By complementing economic and political theory with history Rothbard provided the Austro-libertarian movement with a grand historical perspective, sociological understanding, and strategic vision, and thus deepened and broadened libertarianism's popular anchoring and sociological base.
Besides his main work on the history of economic and political thought, however, Rothbard also returned repeatedly to political theory. In reaction to a growing environmentalist movement and its transformation into an anti-human and pro-animal movement, Rothbard wrote "Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution," further elucidating the concepts of physical invasion, tort, causation, risk, burden of proof, and liability. In response to the rise of nationalism and separatism in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Empire and U.S. multiculturalism and compulsory "non-discrimination," a decade later in an article on "Nations by Consent: Decomposing the Nation State," he further elaborated on the libertarian answers to the questions of nations, borders, immigration, separation, and secession. In the preface to the French edition of The Ethics of Liberty, he summarily reviewed several current contributions to libertarian theory—apart from utilitarian and contractarian libertarianisms, and natural-rights minarchisms—and rejected all of them as ultimately confused or inconsistent. In the monthly Free Market published by the Mises Institute, he provided political and economic analysis of current events, beginning in 1982 and continuing until 1995. In addition, in 1989 he founded the monthly Rothbard-Rockwell Report, which served as the main outlet of Rothbard's political, sociological, cultural and religious commentary; he contributed dozens of articles in which he applied libertarian principles to the full range of human events and experiences—from war and criminal punishment to the appropriation of air space and waves, affirmative action, and adoption, etc.—and thus constantly illustrated and reiterated the universal applicability and versatility of libertarian theory.
None of these later writings, however, brought any systematic changes as compared to The Ethics of Liberty, whether on principle or remote conclusions. Different and new problem aspects were analyzed and emphasized, but the essentials were already contained in his earlier treatise. In distinct contrast to Nozick, Rothbard did not change his mind on essential questions. Indeed, looking back over his entire career, it can be said that from the late 1950s, when he had first arrived at what would later become the Rothbardian system, until the end of his life, Rothbard did not waver on fundamental matters of economic or political theory. Yet owing to his long and intensive work in the history of economic and political thought, a different thematic emphasis became apparent in his later writings, most noticeably in the several hundred articles contributed during the last years of his life. Apart from economic and political concerns, Rothbard increasingly focused his attention on and stressed the importance of culture as a sociological prerequisite of libertarianism.
Libertarianism as developed in The Ethics of Liberty was no more and no less than a political philosophy. It provided an answer to the question of which actions are lawful and hence may not be legitimately threatened with physical violence, and which actions are unlawful and may be so punished. It did not say anything with respect to the further question whether or not all lawful actions should be equally tolerated or possibly punished by means other than—and below the threshold of—a threat of physical violence, such as public disapprobation, ostracism, exclusion, and expulsion.
Even given its explicitly limited scope, The Ethics of Liberty had a distinctly old-fashioned flavor and revealed libertarianism as a fundamentally conservative doctrine. The most obvious indicator of this was the already noted emphasis placed on punishment as the necessary complement to property. More specifically, Rothbard presented a rigorous modern defense of the traditional proportionality principle of punishment as contained in the lex talionis—of an eye for an eye, or rather, as he would correctively explain, two eyes for an eye. He rejected the deterrence and rehabilitation theories of punishment as incompatible with private property rights and championed instead the idea of victims' rights and of restitution (compensation) and/or retribution as essential to justice; he argued in favor of such old-fashioned institutions as compulsory labor and indentured servitude for convicted criminals, and for debtor's prisons; and his analyses of causation and liability, burden of proof, and proper assumption of risk invariably displayed a basic and staunch moral conservatism of strict individual responsibility and accountability.
This and Rothbard's own life-long cultural conservatism notwithstanding, however, from its beginnings in the late 1960s and the founding of a libertarian party in 1971, the libertarian movement had great appeal to many of the counter-cultural left that had then grown up in the U.S. in opposition to the war in Vietnam. Did not the illegitimacy of the state and the non-aggression axiom imply that everyone was at liberty to choose his very own non-aggressive lifestyle, no matter what it was?
Much of Rothbard's later writings, with their increased emphasis on cultural matters, were designed to correct this development and to explain the error in the idea of a leftist multi-counter-cultural libertarianism, of libertarianism as a variant of libertinism. It was false—empirically as well as normatively—that libertarianism could or should be combined with egalitarian multiculturalism. Both were in fact sociologically incompatible, and libertarianism could and should be combined exclusively with traditional Western bourgeois culture; that is, the old-fashioned ideal of a family-based and hierarchically structured society of voluntarily acknowledged rank orders of social authority.
Empirically, Rothbard did not tire to explain, the left-libertarians failed to recognize that the restoration of private-property rights and laissez-faire economics implied a sharp and drastic increase in social "discrimination." Private property means the right to exclude. The modern social-democratic welfare state has increasingly stripped private-property owners of their right to exclude.
In distinct contrast, a libertarian society where the right to exclude was fully restored to owners of private property would be profoundly unegalitarian. To be sure, private property also implies the owner's right to include and to open and facilitate access to one's property, and every private-property owner also faces an economic incentive of including (rather than excluding) so long as he expects this to increase the value of his property.
The Ethics of Liberty's chapter most difficult to accept for conservatives, on "Children and Rights," comes thus to appear in a different light. In this chapter Rothbard argued in favor of a mother's "absolute right to her own body and therefore to perform an abortion." He rejected the "right to life" argument not on the ground that a fetus was not life (in fact, from the moment of conception, he agreed with the Catholic position, it was human life), but rather on the fundamental ground that no such thing as a universal "right to life," but exclusively a universal "right to live an independent and separate life," can properly and possibly exist (and that a fetus, while certainly human life, is just as certainly up to the moment of birth not an independent but, biologically speaking, a "parasitic" life, and thus has no rightful claim against the mother). Further, upon child birth, a mother (and with her consent parents jointly),
would have the trustee-ownership of her children, an ownership limited only by the illegality of aggressing against their persons and by their absolute right to run away or to leave home at any time. Parents would be able to sell their trustee-rights in children to anyone who wished to buy them at any mutually-agreed price (p. 104).
So long as children have not left home, a parent:
does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child . . . but the parent should have the legal right not to feed his child, i.e., to allow it to die (p. 100).
So as to avoid any misunderstanding, in the next sentence Rothbard reminded his reader of the strictly delineated scope of his treatise on political philosophy and noted that "whether or not a parent has a moral rather than a legally enforceable obligation to keep his child alive is a completely separate question." However, this explicit qualification and the general thrust of The Ethics of Liberty notwithstanding, these pronouncements were used in conservative circles in the attempt to prevent a libertarian infiltration and radicalization of contemporary American conservatism. Of course, conservative political theory was a contradiction in terms. Conservatism essentially meant not to have, and even reject, any abstract theory and rigorous logical argument. Not surprisingly, Rothbard was singularly unimpressed by conservative critics such as Russell Kirk, whose "theoretical" work he considered devoid of analytical and argumentative rigor. Consequently Rothbard did not see any reason to abandon his original conclusions. Until the end of his life, he would not budge on the problem of abortion and child neglect and insisted on a mother's absolute legal (lawful) right to an abortion and of letting her children die. In fact, if women did not have such rights and had committed instead a punishable crime, it would seem that their crime then must be equivalent to murder. Should abortion accordingly be threatened with capital punishment and convicted abortionist mothers be executed? But who, except its mother, can possibly claim a right to her fetus and child and thus be considered as the rightful victim of her actions? Who could bring a wrongful death suit against her? Surely not the state. For a conservative in particular, any state interference in the autonomy of families should be anathema. But who else, if indeed anyone?
Yet while Rothbard unchangingly held to his conclusions concerning the rights of children and parents, his later writings with an increased emphasis on moral-cultural matters and the exclusionary aspect of private property rights placed these conclusions in a wider—and characteristically conservative-social context. Thus, while in favor of a woman's right to have an abortion, Rothbard was nonetheless strictly opposed to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which recognized such a right. This was not because he believed the court's finding concerning the legality of abortion wrong, but on the more fundamental ground that the US. Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in the matter and that, by assuming it, the court had engendered a systematic centralization of state power.
The right to have an abortion does not imply that one may have an abortion anywhere. In fact, there is nothing impermissible about private owners and associations discriminating against and punishing abortionists by every means other than physical punishment. Every household and property owner is free to prohibit an abortion on his own territory and may enter into a restrictive covenant with other owners for the same purpose. Moreover, every owner and every association of owners is free to fire or not to hire and to refuse to engage in any transaction whatsoever with an abortionist. It may indeed be the case that no civilized place can be found anywhere and that one must retire to the infamous "back alley" to have an abortion. Not only would there be nothing wrong with such a situation, it would be positively moral in raising the cost of irresponsible sexual conduct and helping to reduce the number of abortions. In distinct contrast, the Supreme Court's decision was not only unlawful by expanding its, i.e., the central state's, jurisdiction at the expense of state and local governments, but ultimately of every private-property owner's rightful jurisdiction regarding his own property, it was also positively immoral in facilitating the availability and accessibility of abortion.
Libertarians, Rothbard stressed in this connection, must be opposed, as are traditional conservatives (but unlike social democrats, neo-conservatives, and left-libertarians), on principled grounds to any and all centralization of state power, even and especially if such centralization involves a correct judgment (such as that abortion should be legal, or that taxes should be abolished). It would be anti-libertarian, for instance, to appeal to the United Nations to order the breakup of a taxi-monopoly in
Hence, a libertarian, as his second-best solution, must always discriminate in favor of local and against central government, and he must always try to correct injustices at the level and location where they occur rather than empowering some higher (more centralized) level of government to rectify a local injustice.
In fact, as a result of his increasing emphasis on cultural conservatism as a sociological presupposition of libertarianism, Rothbard succeeded in bringing about a fundamental reorientation of the libertarian movement during the last decade of his life. Symbolic of this change in direction was Rothbard's dissociation, in 1989, from the Libertarian Party. Rothbard's action did not, as some prominent left-libertarians vainly proclaimed at the time, mark the end of his association with libertarianism or his role as the libertarian movement's guiding star. Rather, it marked the beginning of a systematic ideological realignment to open libertarian access to the American "heartland" and foment there a rapidly growing and increasingly radicalized populist movement among "Middle Americans" disgusted with the welfare-warfare statism, and social disintegration produced and promoted by federal policies. The anti-central-state shift in American politics at the decisive end of the cold war was the first unmistakable sign of the burgeoning strength of the conservative-libertarian grassroots movement envisioned and shaped by Rothbard.
At the academic level, Rothbard's lifelong work for the scholarship of liberty has at long last come to serve as the foundational theoretical edifice for the modern successors of the old classical-liberal movement—the movement that originally influenced the development of the basic libertarian position. Today, this movement is truly international in scope, and includes thousands of lay intellectuals and professional scholars the world over, many of whom view Rothbard's voluminous writings over the entire course of his lifetime as the model and ideal of principled political and economic thinking. After his death, his reputation as leader in libertarian political theory and Austrian School economics is increasingly obvious, even undeniable, to enthusiasts and critics alike. For his seminal Ethics of Liberty to be available once again should further solidify this status.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
See, e.g., Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970); also Henry Veatch, Human Rights: Fact or Fancy? (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985).
Peter D. McClelland, The American Search for Economic Justice (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 74).
Ibid., pp. 75, 76, 80–81.
On this, and further-reaching philosophical investigations into the logic of axiomatic-deductive proofs and reasoning in ethics (and economics) as championed by Rothbard, see in particular Hoppe, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1993); also N. Stephan Kinsella, "New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory," Journal of Libertarian Studies 12, no. 2 (1996).
Paul Samuelson, left-liberal Keynesian Nobel-prize economist, and author of the world's all-time bestselling textbook, Economics, had characterized the Soviet Union as a largely noble and successful experiment all the way up to the 1989 edition!
Thus, following the right-wing "Republican revolution" during the 1994 congressional elections, the Washington Post identified Rothbard as the central intellectual figure behind this event. In what is probably his last publication, Rothbard took this opportunity to denounce the newly elected Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich as a libertarian welfare-statist sellout.
(Brookfield, Vt.: Edward Elgar, 1995).
Cato Journal (Spring 1982): 55–99.
Journal of Libertarian Studies 11, no. 1 (Fall 1994). Additional scholarly political articles published in his last year include "Bureaucracy and the Civil Service in the United States," Journal of Libertarian Studies 11, no. 2 (Summer 1995): 3–75; "Origin of the Welfare State in America," Journal of Libertarian Studies 12, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 193–230; "Egalitarianism and the Elites," Review of Austrian Economics 8, no. 2: 39–60; "The End of Socialism and the Calculation Debate Revisited," Review of Austrian Economics 2: 51–76.
The historical moment for Rothbardian scholarly tradition may at last have arrived, and his political movement is surely not too far in the distance. Rothbard had always been an optimist, grounded in the fact of human rationality and further strengthened by the Misesian-Rothbardian insight that one cannot violate moral and economic laws without having to pay a price and that one violation will, according to the "logic" of state action, lead to more violations until the price that must be paid becomes intolerable. Thus, the ethical and economic depredations of socialism finally ended in a spectacular collapse. Likewise, in the U.S. and the Western world, after nearly 100 years of social-democratic welfare statism, the moral and economic "reserve fund" inherited from the past has become visibly exhausted and has led to a manifest economic and moral crisis of stagnating or falling standards of living and societal breakdown, as well as a widespread loss of faith and trust in the central state as the organizing agent of society. In this situation of the obvious moral and economic bankruptcy of socialism and social democracy and an ever more strongly felt need for an explanation and a principle alternative, it can be safely predicted that Rothbard's Ethics of Liberty not only will endure as a classic but steadily gain in prominence.
Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humanines 6, no. 2 (March 1995); Murray N. Rothbard: In Memoriam (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1995).