From Christianity to Black Power, Rothbard Offers a Unique View
Judged by the sheer quality and volume of his intellectual output, Murray Rothbard was a genius. Though we reflect on the ingenuity of his peculiar intellect—we must never forget that Rothbard was the master of defying stereotypes. Unfortunately, many assume that libertarians are hostile to Christianity, but it was Rothbard who admitted that “[t]he greatest and most creative minds in the history of mankind have been deeply and profoundly religious, most of them Christian.” Rothbard also informed readers that the Spanish Scholastics made a pivotal contribution to economics.
Rothbard in several articles and books refuted the uncharitable characterization of late Scholasticism as intellectually barren. In his article “New Light on the Prehistory of the Austrian School,” Rothbard asserts that we owe religious thinkers a debt of gratitude for laying the foundations of modern economics. Despite popular belief, late medieval thinkers and not Adam Smith offered the first systematic justification for modern economic theories. Rothbard writes of the Scholastics: “It was the sixteenth-century Spanish Scholastics who developed the purely subjective and profree-market theory of value. Thus, Luis Saravia de la Calle denied any role to cost in the determination of price; instead, the market price, which is the just price, is determined by the forces of supply and demand, which in turn are the result of the common estimation of consumers on the market. Saravia wrote that 'excluding all deceit and malice, the just price of a thing is the price which it commonly fetches at the time and place of the deal.'”
Notably, the Spanish Scholastics were remarkably sophisticated in applying supply and demand analysis to money. Rothbard writes of the Dominican Martín de Azpilcueta Navarro: “Citing previous Scholastics, Azpilcueta declared that “money is worth more where it is scarce than where it is abundant…. Because “all merchandise becomes dearer when it is in great demand and short supply, and that money, in so far as it may be sold, bartered, or exchanged by some other form of contract, is merchandise and therefore also becomes dearer when it is in great demand and short supply.”
This analysis is illuminating because Azpilcueta provided relevant examples: “We see by experience in France, where money is scarcer than in Spain, bread, wine, cloth, and labour are worth much less. And even in Spain, in times when money was scarcer, saleable goods and labour were given for very much less than after the discovery of the Indies, which flooded the country with gold and silver. The reason for this is that money is worth more where and when it is scarce than where and when it is abundant.”
The Black Power Movement
Rothbard was such an objective analyst that he could even appreciate the political aspirations of the Black Power movement. Unlike many on the right, he noted that “the goals and means of civil rights were statist and Liberal to the core.” Rothbard argued that the failure of civil rights to change the hearts of men resulted in an awakening among black activists, who recognized that they could not force racists to tolerate their demands. As a result, instead of lobbying for integration, these leaders thought that it would be prudent for blacks to create communities free of white control, and Rothbard supported them in this regard in a popular essay: “The Negroes began to turn, and turn swiftly, from the old Liberal ideal of compulsory integration to another tradition that had previously lingered, underground and un-respectable, at the core of the Negro community. This was the idea of black nationalism, an idea that had always appealed, not to the educated and articulate Negroes, but to the poorest inhabitants of the ghetto. The black nationalist idea came to the fore in the 1920s with the phenomenally popular Marcus Garvey.”
Rothbard felt that the circumstances of the 1960s justified black separatism: “For a time many conservatives were enthusiastic about black nationalism…. The conservatives were overjoyed with the nationalist and Muslim emphasis on Negro self-help, thrift, dignity, and pride, in contrast to the old ideals of coerced integration from above. But there is one thing that the conservative proponents of black nationalism overlooked: self-help, pride, thrift, Negro businesses, etc. are all well and fine. But they cannot hope to flourish within the context of the black reality in America: permanent oppression by the white 'power structure.' None of these good and libertarian things can be achieved without first and foremost, getting the white-run U.S. and local and state governments off the backs of the Negro people.”
Nationalism and National Liberation
Although libertarians frequently condemn nationalism, Rothbard held that in some cases nationalism can result in the liberation of oppressed groups. As he contends in a 1966 essay: “There are two contrasting types of nationalism: a desire to liberate an oppressed nation from the chains imposed by another nation (a movement for 'national liberation'); as against a desire to aggress against other nations and impose one's own national domination upon them…. One is a libertarian form of nationalism, the other an invasive, profoundly anti-libertarian form. A Negro nationalist movement in present-day America is a movement for national liberation; any white insistence on thwarting such a movement is an example of white imperialism. Such are the qualitative differences within the concept of nationalism.”
In his radicalism, Rothbard posited that black Americans were a colonialized people and needed to be free from the clutches of the state. Specifically, urban renewal activists and school administrators are singled out for criticism in his controversial piece on black power. Rothbard details the negative effects of urban renewal on black communities: “All good Liberals, not so long ago, used to admire urban renewal as a means of helping the poor and bringing esthetics to the city. Now, radicals and some conservatives are beginning to agree (in another burgeoning form of 'Left-Right' coalition) that urban renewal is really a vast subsidy to the real estate interests at the expense, not only of the taxpayer which was always evident, but also of the poor themselves, who are summarily kicked out of their homes by the urban renewal bulldozer, and forced elsewhere, redoubling the slums there. If they try to move into the new urban renewal housing, they find that there is far less space available, and at much higher rents than they were paying before. And so, more and more people are coming to recognize 'urban renewal' is really 'Negro removal'—for urban renewal has been concentrated in the Negro ghetto areas.”
He is equally critical of administrators: “The compulsory attendance laws force all of the youth of the country, regardless of their talents or inclinations into this vast prison-system, and the teachers and administrators are their guards and wardens. The oppression lies much the heaviest in the urban Negro areas, where so many children are not inclined toward schooling and where racism as well as hatred for working-class mores are given full rein by the school staff, armed with the power of compulsory education to force their charges to stay in school. No wonder that Negro youth are embittered by their enforced stay in the system.”
So, Rothbard continues to confound even in death. For example, the average person who has not read his publications would assume that he had no interest in Christian philosophers. And as expected people under the spell of liberal delusions believe that he was a racist without assessing his ideas. However, Rothbard was a giant among men and an exceptionally articulate defender of black sovereignty.