Murray Rothbard at 90
March 2 would have been Murray Rothbard’s ninetieth birthday. Had he lived, you can be sure he would have been up all night, going through the results of Super Tuesday. In any election, he was able to provide a detailed account of every candidate, issue, faction, economic interest, newspaper, magazine, and television station involved.
Elections were not unique. Murray had the most voracious intellectual curiosity of anyone I have ever met. I used sometimes to visit bookstores with him; the Strand in Manhattan and Kepler’s in Menlo Park are the two that come first to mind. He would go through the store, picking out book after book that he had read, in each case describing the book’s good and bad points.
If he came across a new idea, he was ecstatic. When he was teaching at Las Vegas, he came across Philip Mirowski’s More Heat Than Light, which showed that Irving Fisher and other neoclassical economists had transposed models from physics to economics. The point, Murray thought, was of great value in exposing the scientism that beset mainstream economics.
On one occasion, I got a detailed look at how he worked. In 1980, he had to write on very short notice a paper for a conference at SUNY Albany in honor of Thomas Szasz. Murray chose as his subject a criticism of “psycho-history,” the application of Freudian psychoanalysis to interpret historical events and personalities. To prepare for his paper, reading the literature on psycho-history was not enough. He also studied a large number of books and articles critical of psychoanalysis itself. He had a detailed command of all the arguments that showed it was a pseudo-science.
Philosophy was no different. I once recommended to him Ralph McInerny’s book Aquinas on Human Action. By our next telephone conversation, he was discussing the book’s relevance for praxeology. That came as no surprise, because praxeology and Austrian economics were always uppermost in his mind. At one of the early Mises Universities, held at Stanford, he exhorted the students on the last day, “Carry on the fight for praxeology!” His words often echo in my mind.
Murray was of course not only a champion of praxeology but a major contributor to it. His many theoretical innovations, such as his application of the calculation argument to show that there could never be One Big Cartel and his demonstration that there cannot be a monopoly price on the free market, show his extraordinary creativity and keen analytical mind.
Although few if any could match his joy in intellectual inquiry, knowledge for its own sake was not enough for him. He was devoted to the cause of liberty; and his account of libertarian political philosophy in The Ethics of Liberty is a landmark. Like many others, I am proud to call myself a Rothbardian. He influenced me more than anyone else, and I’m immensely grateful to him, not only for his work but for his wise counsel and encouragement. He and his wonderful wife Joey were unforgettable.