This talk, delivered by Lew Rockwell at a memorial service for Murray Rothbard, gives a great perspective on Rothbard’s life, work, influence, courage, and personality.
Especially fascinating is Rockwell’s account of Rothbard’s willingness to defy political boundaries and work with both Left and Right — causing each to believe fervently that he was in the other camp!
His political writings date from the early 1950s, when he wrote for Faith and Freedom, a hard-Right, isolationist publication. In articles on the evils of the military buildup, he warned that American liberty would be sacrificed to the Cold War.
That led to his break with the Buckleyites, who ridiculed him and his ideas. They never took him on directly; they were smarter than that. Instead, they smeared him in private, and tried to deny him publishing and speaking opportunities.
As editor of Left and Right and Libertarian Forum, Rothbard also predicted that the Cold War would someday end because Soviet socialism would collapse. But, he said, the American military machine would keep on cranking out the planes and bombs. The real threat, he maintained, was not foreign Communism, but US militarism and socialism, which would do what the Soviets never could: steal our liberty.
Rothbard developed a large and growing audience for such views, and continued with this theme for the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, writing against US military interventions in Panama, the Gulf, Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. As the official Left and Right pushed for a New World Order, Rothbard, exasperated, suggested we save time and just invade the entire globe.
Well, here we are 40 years after Rothbard began his foreign-policy writings. The warfare State is as big as ever, and so is the welfare State. National Review — which has always cozied up to power, and, like other neoconservatives, even holds up the dictators Lincoln and Roosevelt for our admiration — is still cheerleading the Republican establishment to new levels of hypocrisy. And we can see that Rothbard was right all along: right about the military, right about politics, right about the Buckleyite conservatives and their love of State power.
That is why Rothbard has triumphed in the end. Despite its attempt to purge and destroy him, National Review’s influence on the intellectual world hasn’t come close to Rothbard’s. And when the Buckleyites are long forgotten, Rothbard’s authority will not have begun to peak.
For Rothbard, politics and criminal behavior are largely the same enterprise, to be treated with the same investigative rigor. Every day required another whodunit. His motivation in political writing was exposing crime and denouncing criminals.
Some people say that Rothbard’s politics were all over the map. That is not true. He set the political standard as liberty itself, and worked with anyone who pursued it. At the height of the Vietnam War, for example, when the official Right was countenancing mass murder, he looked to the New Left as a vehicle for stopping this most vicious form of statism.