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Introduction to the First Edition, by Murray Rothbard
Probably the most common question that has been hurled at me—in some exasperation—over the years is: “Why don’t you stick to economics?” For different reasons, this question has been thrown at me by fellow economists and by political thinkers and activists of many different persuasions: Conservatives, Liberals, and Libertarians who have disagreed with me over political doctrine and are annoyed that an economist should venture “outside of his discipline.”
Among economists, such a question is a sad reflection of the hyperspecialization among intellectuals of the present age. I think it manifestly true that very few of even the most dedicated economic technicians began their interest in economics because they were fascinated by cost curves, indifference classes, and the rest of the paraphernalia of modern economic theory. Almost to a man, they became interested in economics because they were interested in social and political problems and because they realized that the really hard political problems cannot be solved without an understanding of economics. After all, if they were really interested mainly in equations and tangencies on graphs, they would have become professional mathematicians and not have devoted their energies to an economic theory that is, at best, a third-rate application of mathematics. Unfortunately, what usually happens to these people is that as they learn the often imposing structure and apparatus of economic theory, they become so fascinated by the minutiae of technique that they lose sight of the political and social problems that sparked their interest in the first place. This fascination is also reinforced by the economic structure of the economics profession (and all other academic professions) itself: namely, that prestige, rewards, and brownie points are garnered not by pondering the larger problems but by sticking to one’s narrow last and becoming a leading expert on a picayune technical problem.
Among some economists, this syndrome has been carried so far that they scorn any attention to politico-economic problems as a demeaning and unclean impurity, even when such attention is given by economists who have made their mark in the world of specialized technique. And even among those economists who do deal with political problems, any consideration devoted to such larger extra-economic matters as property rights, the nature of government, or the importance of justice is scorned as hopelessly “metaphysical” and beyond the pale.
It is no accident, however, that the economists of this century of the broadest vision and the keenest insight, men such as Ludwig von Mises, Frank H. Knight, and F.A. Hayek, came early to the conclusion that mastery of pure economic theory was not enough, and that it was vital to explore related and fundamental problems of philosophy, political theory, and history. In particular, they realized that it was possible and crucially important to construct a broader systematic theory encompassing human action as a whole, in which economics could take its place as a consistent but subsidiary part.
In my own particular case, the major focus of my interest and my writings over the last three decades has been a part of this broader approach—libertarianism—the discipline of liberty. For I have come to believe that libertarianism is indeed a discipline, a “science,” if you will, of its own, even though it has been only barely developed over the generations. Libertarianism is a new and emerging discipline which touches closely on many other areas of the study of human action: economics, philosophy, political theory, history, even—and not least—biology. For all of these provide in varying ways the groundwork, the elaboration, and the application of libertarianism. Some day, perhaps, liberty and “libertarian studies” will be recognized as an independent, though related, part of the academic curriculum.
This present volume is a collection of essays on liberty, on the groundwork, nature, and applications of the “science” of libertarianism. Some of them have been unpublished until now; most of the others appeared in fugitive publications that are now defunct.
The title essay was delivered at a conference on human differentiation held by the Institute for Humane Studies at Gstaad, Switzerland, in the summer of 1972. A fundamental reason and grounding for liberty are the ineluctable facts of human biology; in particular, the fact that each individual is a unique person, in many ways different from all others. If individual diversity were not the universal rule, then the argument for liberty would be weak indeed. For if individuals were as interchangeable as ants, why should anyone worry about maximizing the opportunity for every person to develop his mind and his faculties and his personality to the fullest extent possible? The title essay locates the prime horror of socialism as the egalitarian attempt to stamp out diversity among individuals and groups. In short, it reflects the grounding of libertarianism in individualism and individual diversity.
“Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty” is an ideological manifesto for libertarianism, placing the current movement and ideology in a world-historical context and perspective, and analyzing our relation to “left,” “right,” and in between, to socialism and to conservatism. It also presents the basic reasons for the growth of statism in the modern world and the case for fundamental long-run optimism on the future prospects for liberty.
“The Anatomy of the State” presents the libertarian case for the State as the age-old enemy of liberty, an analysis of how the State arises, and how it perpetuates itself through an alliance with “Court Intellectuals” who propagate the apologetics for despotism and State rule. Also included is a critique of various arguments for State rule and for the supposed solution of a Constitution to bind the State down.
“Justice and Property Rights” is an unpublished paper delivered at a conference on property rights held by the Institute for Humane Studies in January 1973. It presents the philosophic groundwork for the libertarian axiom of nonaggression against person and property, and adumbrates a theory of justice in property rights; that is, which asserted property rights are truly to be supported and which are not.
“War, Peace, and the State” specifically applies the libertarian axiom of nonaggression to an area where most Libertarians have been weakest: war and foreign policy. Given the unfortunate existence of States, how can their nonintervention abroad as well as at home best be secured?
“The Fallacy of the Public Sector” analyzes the fallacy of economists placing government operations as part of legitimate and productive activity and criticizes the two major arguments of even the most free-market oriented of economists for government intervention: “collective goods” and “neighborhood effects.”
“Kid Lib” and “Women’s Lib” apply the libertarian creed to various areas of assertedly needed “liberation.” To what extent have women or children been “oppressed,” and what does a rigorous application of the libertarian creed have to say about it? In particular, how can the concept of property rights and self-ownership be applied to children? At what stage in their development should they be considered as having full rights?
“Conservation and the Free Market” applies free-market economics and property rights to the area of the most recent hullaballoo by Leftists and opponents of a free society: the whole area of ecology and pollution. Can a free market and free society work in this area, or is comprehensive State planning needed to solve these broad interpersonal problems?
The next four essays take concepts that are propounded by various brands of Leftists and analyze their merits and demerits. “The Meaning of Revolution” discusses what “revolution” really is and to what extent Libertarians may be considered as “revolutionaries.” “National Liberation” explains how this concept can be interpreted as a libertarian movement from below, against continuing imperial aggression by other nations. “Anarcho-Communism” is a critique of the self-contradictory movement for libertarian collectivism which took hold among some Libertarians in the late 1960s. “The Spooner–Tucker Doctrine” is a critique of the nineteenth-century individualist anarchist creed from the point of view of a laissez-faire economist—with the differences found in the Spooner–Tucker ignorance of the politics and economics of money, their refusal to recognize the legitimacy of land rent, and their failure to see that private juries must adopt an objective code of libertarian law in order to make consistent or libertarian decisions.
“Ludwig von Mises and the Paradigm for Our Age” is my tribute to the economic genius of Mises and his courageous battle for laissez-faire, but it is also something else: a philosophico–sociological explanation of why Misesian economics has been neglected in the modern world, using Thomas Kuhn’s famous “paradigm” theory in the history of science.
Finally, the concluding essay is a cry from the heart on the basic reason why a person should be a Libertarian: not as an intellectual parlor game, not from the utilitarian weighing of costs and benefits, and not because there will be X percent more bathtubs produced in the free society. The basic reason for one’s libertarianism should be a passion for justice, for sweeping away as quickly as possible the tyranny, the thievery, the mass murder, and enslavement, which statism has, for too long, imposed upon mankind. It is only such a concern for justice that can inspire the Libertarian to try to abolish, as quickly as he can (and far from the Marxian sense), the exploitation of man by man.
Murray N. Rothbard