There are two books which, I believe, if you will read them and ponder their content, will turn you into a Libertarian, i.e. a Classical Liberal.
The first in Professor Murray Rothbard’s “The Ethics of Liberty”.
The “Ethics” begins with a discussion of Natural Law Theory as it pertains to Ethics in the field of Political Philosophy. Not based on any theological necessity, but rather on man’s reason, Natural Law gave a rock-hard ethical roadbed to the basis of Libertarianism. Libertarianism is actually an ethical movement, based on universal principles that exist for all men at all times. That is why Constitutional Rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights pertain to anyone within the United States, not just U.S. Citizens.
Libertarianism deals with “what ought to be” rather than “what is”, although it is often a reaction to what is. The Abolitionists knew that Slavery was Immoral, and a great Crime, despite the fact that it was part of State Law (in contrast to Natural Law) that said it was legal for people to own slaves, and there was nothing sinful about one man owning another, being able to force him to work for nothing, being able to whip him at the owner’s whim, and being able to kill or maim him with impunity. Natural Law, which said All Men had an inalienable, Natural Law Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, was here in direct conflict with Positive State Law, which said it was legal to own and kill slaves, and that racism and segregation were valid, justified, and even a social virtue.
Thus Rothbard, in the first part of the Ethics of Liberty, lays down a foundation for an ethical political philosophy that enables any man to judge any government action or State in the light of certain immutable principles. This is why most Nation States hate Libertarianism, because it shows up very clearly their violation of basic Natural Civil Rights, which so many States and Countries around the world violate with impunity, including the Democracies. You can easily see why Fascists, Nazis, Communists, Stalinist Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, and Post-FDR Democrats and Republicans in America, all fear Libertarianism, because its Ethics will clearly show up the authoritarian aspects of all those named political ideologies.
Moving on further, Rothbard explores the question of property rights, and the aggression against those valid property rights. He points out that if we see B holding up A and taking his watch, we don’t really know if A was the legal owner of the watch, or if B was re-taking a watch that was originally his and was stolen by A. He discusses what are the conditions that make for valid titles to property, and points out that it is not trade in goods and services that is taking place in Capitalist society, but the trade in the legal titles to those goods and services. Valid private property titles can be sold (for the money commodity in that society), traded for other pieces of property, rented out, or given away. Under Libertarianism, these are the only legal ways in Libertarianism of exchanging private property titles. Any other way of acquiring property rights is illegal and is termed “aggression” or invasion. And key to this is also ones’ property right in ones’ own person.
Rothbard also makes the clear distinction between “freedom” and “power”. Freedom is the individual’s right to use his own will to manage his life, but this is not to be confused with power. There are many things the individual is not free to do because he does not have the power to do them (like leaping tall buildings in a single bound, or buying up Manhattan when he only has $1.27 in his pocket). And he shows up the Left’s usual slogans that people have a “right” to free medical care, free schooling, free meals, by pointing out that these all lay claim to goods and services provided by others, so that those others become mere slaves who have some duty to provide these services against their will, and thus these “rights” are not actually natural law rights, but aggressions against the self-ownership of those people who must provide the food, medical care, and teaching.
Additionally, he discusses the natural rights theory of land ownership known as the “homestead” principle. Land is not owned if nobody claims it until somebody comes along who does claim it, and at the same time mixes his labor with the land to produce commodities necessary for his survival. The farmer who settles on a piece of land on the edge of the wilderness, clears the land, and farms it to produce oats, has a legitimate legal title to that land and its products, but an explorer who lands on a continent and announces on the beach that the entire continent is now the property of Queen Isabella of Spain or himself does not have a legitimate legal title to the entire continent.
This acts as a theory of the rights of property: that every man has an absolute right to the control and ownership of his own body, and to unused land resources that he finds and transforms. He also has the right to give away such property, or to exchange it for likewise legitimately-owned property. It also produces a theory of criminality, i.e. a criminal is someone who aggresses against such legitimately-owned property.
Then Rothbard moves on to discussing self-defense against property rights aggressions. These defensive measures are legitimate only up to the point where they begin to infringe on the property rights of the aggressor. If someone steals a twig off your land, you are not entitled to take their entire homestead, or gun them down. Non-violent aggressions cannot be met by violence, so that if someone intentionally or accidentally trespasses on your land, you are not entitled to shoot them. Moreover, direct threats of aggression which are palpable, immediate, and direct can be met with similar measures, like shooting someone who pulls a gun on you and says they will shoot you if you don’t give them your wallet. But “threats” that are vague, indirect, or pose little danger cannot be treated in the same way. You cannot shoot someone who shakes their fist at you and says, “Just you wait.” You cannot outlaw cannabis, and throw its users in cages as the Democrats and Republicans have done for decades, because you say that cannabis use leads to crime and thus is an immediate threat to society, which needs to be protected against that threat by prohibiting cannabis use and jailing its users.
Rothbard then discusses fraudulent contracts, and how some contracts can be violated without the need for Libertarian action. For example, selling someone a car of a certain year and model which turns out to be a different year and model is fraudulent adulteration and would justify legal redress, but if two people sign a contract to marry in six months, and one of them fails to live up to the contract, that is not a fraudulent contract but a broken promise. Promises are not legally binding.
The proposition that the store owner does not have the right to shoot the child who is stealing a pack of chewing gum is based on the proportionality of the crime. Rothbard proposes that the criminal loses his right to self-ownership in proportion to the extent to which he has aggressed against the victim’s right to self-ownership and property. Thus the child stealing the gum might have to pay the store owner two or three times the cost of the gum, but he could not be punished by being made the slave of the store owner for life, being gunned down by the store owner, or being executed by the State.
Next Rothbard discusses retributive punishments for aggressions against property rights. He notes that ancient laws correctly looked for restitutions made to the victim, but that in modern society this has (or had) been totally eliminated, and the crime was now against “The People of the State of …” instead of a specific individual. Fortunately, in recent years, moves have been made to have restitution paid to the victim, and this is now a common Libertarian part of sentences. However, in many cases the victim receives no restitution, and is even forced to pay taxes to feed, clothe, and house the criminal who assaulted him.
After this, Rothbard moves on to a discussion of Libertarian principles as they apply to children. These differ in many aspects from Libertarian principles as they pertain to adults. He comes to the conclusion that abortion is the right of the mother over her body, and the unusual conclusion that adults have no responsibility to feed, clothe or care for their children, a view that most people would not concur with.
Next Rothbard tackles the question of “Human Rights” vs “Property Rights”. Many liberals and Leftists maintain that they are for the “Human Rights” of The Freedom of Speech, and The Freedom of the Press, while aggressing against private property rights through taxation, monetary inflation, and bureaucratic regulations. But Rothbard cogently points out that all “Human Rights” are ultimately reducible to “Property Rights”. Thus, the Freedom of the Press is dependent on the private property right to own print, buy paper stocks, and own a printing press. Likewise, the Freedom of Speech is dependent on the Property Right of renting or owning a hall. It is obvious that in a socialist society, where the State owned everything including newsprint, lecture halls, and the streets, there would be no such thing as Freedom of Speech or the Press safe from governmental intrusions. And note too that these two freedoms are based on the Freedom to Contract.
Rothbard also discusses the “Freedom of Speech” of the shouter who interrupts a performance with false cries of “fire”. He correctly notes, in contrast to the Supreme Court, that what this actually entails is the Crime of Contractual Fraud. The audience had a contractual expectation to the quiet enjoyment of the performance, and the shouter is aggressing against that contractual property right. This is also why interrupting a political rally being held on private property (as was done against President Trump’s campaign rallies) is a crime. But interruption would not be a crime if the speaker and the rally were using public streets.
Rothbard next discusses privacy laws, libel and blackmail, and various other topics such as subpoenaing reporters and forcing them to reveal their sources. Unusually, Rothbard believes that blackmail should be no crime, because it is a willing contract between two parties, and that there should be no such things as libel and slander suits, since “reputation” is something in the minds of other people and does not belong to the individual bringing the suit. He also feels subpoena is a form of slavery, i.e. forcing someone to come to court and to speak, and that reporters have the right not to reveal their sources, because just as you have The inalienable Right to The Freedom of Speech, so too do you have The Right to remain silent, and not to speak.
Rothbard also points out, several times, that what is legitimate and legal in Libertarianism is not necessarily what is moral. It may be immoral to back out of a promise of marriage in six months or to blackmail the poor widow into near starvation, but it completely legal under Libertarianism, because promises are not legally binding, and the blackmail is an agreement between two parties, freely entered into, in which the victim feels it is worth the money to not have certain news come out.
Next Rothbard moves on to his astonishing view of bribery, which he maintains should be completely legal since not only does one have The Freedom of Speech to propose a bribe, but also the Freedom to Contract. If the person offered the bribe, however, accepts it, that person is the guilty party in the eyes of the Libertarian, for if he is a policeman or government official, he has violated his good faith contract with the public, and if he is a corporate worker taking a kickback for negotiating a deal, he is defrauding his employers, the Company, and the stockholders. So the bribe offerer is the innocent party, the bribe taker is the guilty, under Libertarian ethics. Not a view your normal unthinking Liberal Democrat will ever have cross his mind, because to him the bribe offerer is the real culprit, and a criminal. However, bribe offering is obviously a form of The Right to Freedom of Speech, and an exercise of The Right to Contract. He also discusses payola, a form of bribery.
Continuing, Rothbard discusses the Boycott. This beloved Libertarian weapon, which can be used to show disapproval for actions one considers immoral, involves no coercion or aggression against the Property Rights of others, but only voluntary abstention from action, which is no Crime. I’ve written at length elsewhere on the virtues of the Boycott as a non-violent tool, and all it requires is the old Zen Buddhist activity of “Sitting quietly, doing nothing.”
The Boycott also shows the Power of the Consumer in largely-Capitalist societies. Ludwig von Mises along with Rothbard have pointed out that in Capitalist society, it is the Consumer that is King, and not the Corporations or the Unions. The Corporations, though huge and highly influential, still have to bend to the will of the consumer. If they come up with a good product that is generally liked, they will make a fortune and the Consumer will be happy, but bad products and companies go under, though it may take years if the company has a large cash balance. So the Leftist and Unionist who blames the “Bosses” and “Big Capital”, and the factory owners who blame the Unions, are both wrong. Their power is miniscule in relation to all the consumers in the U.S., and overseas too.
Next Rothbard discusses property rights and the theory of contracts, pointing out the difference between a valid contract, which involves changes in the title to real property, vs mere promises, the breaking of which may be ethically bad, but which do not involve the transfer of property rights titles. The difference between a promise and a legally-binding contract is a subtle one, and Rothbard goes into some detail in describing that difference. He saliently points out that bankruptcy laws are a violation of such legal contracts and, by letting the debtor off the hook, are a virtual license to steal. The fact that the creditor knows beforehand that the debtor may squirm out of his debt by using bankruptcy laws does not negate the fact that the debtor has aggressed against the creditor by not fulfilling his contract, and that he should be forced to pay back the money with interest, although debtor’s prisons violate the proportionality of punishment principle. Bankruptcy laws should clearly be abolished.
Next, Rothbard discusses entail, and how it cannot be a valid contract, since the Right to restrict the sale of land must belong to a living person. In other words, entail, which forbids the sale in the future by any descendant of the current owner (a favorite of feudal law), is not a valid legal concept because the Right of transfer or sale of the property belongs to the current owner and not some long-dead ancestor. To quote Rothbard, “Property Rights must only be accorded to and can only be enjoyed by the living.”
This promise vs. contract theory has a political aspect: it shows that the “social contract” theory of government is completely invalid, since the promises made originally had no validity, and certainly have no validity for future generations.
Continuing, Rothbard turns to “Lifeboat Situations” in which extreme circumstances may be felt to override Libertarian Principles. He correctly points out that the “Right to Life” is false phraseology since my Right to Life may infringe on your Right to Life. Though he doesn’t mention it, it seems to me cannibalism would be such a situation, where, if I’m starving, I have a right to kill and eat you. Would seven starving people in a lifeboat be justified, on the basis of an inalienable “Right to Life” in eating a weak and dying eighth lifeboat passenger? Obviously not. Instead of the inaccurate “Right to Life”, we should instead use the term “Right to Self-Ownership” which obviously encompasses and includes ones’ Life.
Certain “lifeboat” situations, however, can be adjudged correctly through Libertarian theory. For example, after a shipwreck, two men swim towards a floating plank which can carry the weight of one man but not two. Who is entitled to the plank? Obviously, under the “homesteading” principle, the first man to reach and embrace the plank has homesteaded unclaimed property and is utilizing it for productive ends. The second man to reach the plank and who tries to take it away from the first is now aggressing against the property right in the plank of the first man, and is committing a Crime. However, if he is a dedicated Libertarian, he will cheerfully drown rather than violate the Libertarian Non-Aggression Principle by trying to wrest the plank from the first man.
In the last chapter of this section of the book, Rothbard discusses “Animal Rights”. As a vegan morally opposed to animal slaughter, I’d say I’d have to agree with Rothbard that animals don’t have “Rights” in the same way a human being does. I’ve written a separate blog post on this topic, arguing that those who share my view of animals should use the term “animal welfare” instead of “animal rights” since these rights can only belong to human beings, due to the nature of our consciousness and intellect.
In the final section of the book Rothbard turns to the issue of “The State versus Liberty”.
Firstly he goes into the question of the State’s coercive power to tax, and points out that there is no difference between taxation and theft. Indeed, it is well nigh impossible to frame a definition of taxation that does not show it is theft by coercion, for should someone not pay their taxes, their property will be seized by force, and if they resist that depredation, they will be arrested or shot if they resist arrest. Moreover, many of the services that government carries out, like policing services, fire fighting, and mail delivery, could easily be carried out by private businesses. The arguments about paying ones’ “fair share”, or that taxation is comparable to paying voluntary club dues, are relentlessly shot down one by one by Rothbard as being the absurd propaganda of the socialists and the liberal democrats. Moreover, the idea that democratic elections justify this taxation theft is left in the dust by the observation that in America about 40% of the people vote in elections, and the deciding vote usually compromises 20-25% of the electorate. Obama was elected with about 22% of the eligible vote, yet they call that “democracy”. Maybe a better term would be “hypocrisy”. To quote Rothbard again, “If then taxation is compulsory, and is therefore indistinguishable from theft, it follows that the State, which subsists on taxation, is a vast criminal organization, far more formidable and successful than any private “Mafia” in history.” — telling it like it is to the face of the Democrats and Republicans. Rothbard mentions the German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer who pointed out that there are only two ways of gaining wealth, either through the market process of production and voluntary exchange with others — the free market system (Capitalism), or else through the violent expropriation of wealth produced by others— the political process (Socialism and taxation). He called the first “the economic means” and the second “the political means”. Oppenheimer accurately calls the State “the organization of the political means”.
Rothbard also quotes Lysandor Spooner’s analysis of the difference, if any, between the highwayman who demands “you’re money or your life” and the State which makes a similar demand on the individual, the only difference being that after robbing you, the highwayman leaves you to go your own way, while the State is there annually robbing you.
Spooner goes on to discuss how the ideological minions must go to work justifying the theft by the State as being some noble undertaking, instead of a glorified highwaymanship. When the State kidnaps you, and forces you to work for nothing or near nothing, it is not called kidnapping, but rather “conscription” (or jury “duty”). When the State kills, it must not be called ‘murder’ but rather ‘war’, ‘suppressing internal subversion’, or ‘capital punishment’. This manipulation through ideology of the necessity and morality of the State is necessary because whatever the form of the State — democracy, republic, dictatorship — it cannot survive without the support of the majority of the people. If the majority of the people really believed the State was a criminal enterprise, it could not long survive. So this brainwashing is essential to the State’s survival, and it is usually carried out by the “intellectuals”, who gain recognition and usually income by issuing propaganda. Key to this brainwashing is the State’s control over education, from the universal education of the public schools, with their compulsory attendance laws, to the financial incentives given to the universities, where the new “leaders” of society are intellectually groomed. Though “The Ethics of Liberty” was written in the 1970s, this education propaganda-process can still clearly be seen in 2017.
Now, as a Minarchist, or believer in minimal government, at least temporarily, I was interested in Rothbard’s next arguments against Limited Government. I’m a Minarchist because firstly I don’t think Americans in general, or the Western Democracies in Europe and Australia, are anywhere near ready for Rothbard’s Anarcho-Capitalist Stateless society, they have been so brainwashed into thinking that government is necessary, and that the government is them. Of course, with such a Libertarian Constitution with its Libertarian Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, it is easy to admire the basic concepts of American Government, especially when compared to what went on previously in history, and when compared to the current Constitutions of the other Western “democracies”, with their vast socialist loopholes that let the Government push the Individual around if the Individual rocks the boat. This is the norm around the globe, from the Phillipines to Saudi Arabia to Iran to Indonesia to China and Vietnam, and everywhere else. There are no Libertarian societies anywhere on the globe, and the ideals of the Enlightenment and the Founding Fathers still have never been realized in any nation. And now that technology can produce efficiency and wealth with very little expenditure of energy, unlike any pre-technology period in history, there is no technological reason why any human being should lack the basics of food, clothes, and shelter. Libertarians feel that the best way to bring this about is to have a radically free society, with a completely free market, no or very low taxation, and either no government, or government in only law enforcement, courts, jails, etc, and perhaps a few other areas such as public health, plague control, or environmental laws. The scope of the minimalist government depends on the particular Libertarian. Most modern Libertarians would probably concede the need for some kind of military force in today’s world, but are no fans of the military. One big benefit of a peaceful Capitalist world would be the relaxation of international tensions as people learned that trade brought prosperity and a higher standard of living. This in turn would deter the impulse to war since war would mean the disruption of consumer markets, leading to a disgruntled civilian population. So Capitalism will breed more Capitalism, and as the general level of wealth goes up, as it would, there would be more and more demand for a variety of new services and talents that had never previously been able to secure an individual a living, but now could. For example, in the pre-industrial age, in the industrial towns of England and America, no one could have made a living as a dog-walker. But in an affluent age, where most of the elderly would be financially secure in their senescence, there might be enough demand from elderly people who had difficulty walking to pay someone enough to walk their dog so that the dog-walker could make a living at it. Various cosmetic surgeons currently are able to do quite well because of the demand for physical perfection which in previous times wouldn’t have existed because either the technique or the demand for that specialty didn’t exist.
Moving on, Rothbard discusses the inherent contradictions in the State, in his attempt to prove the fatuousness of Minarchism. Rothbard argues against a limited government because he says there is no guarantee that it will stay within its limits. Past history would show that it never has. And as the State moves beyond its minimalist beginnings, the power of its bureaucracy will grow, along with that bureaucracy’s desire to extend its power and guarantee its further employment.
He goes on to point out that government is naively regarded by many of the public as an “umpire” or objective ruler who will make the best decision in the public interest. This is what most pro-government people believe I’d guess. But given the immense power and wealth of the government, it is dangerously naive to think that the decision makers in the bureaucracies will funnel their huge spending budgets in a way that is totally objective, and since their funds come at the expense of the rest of society instead of through free-market trading profits made from delivering goods and services to consumer, and those funds come from coercive confiscations, there will surely be a corruption somewhere in the vast government. Coercive confiscations, being against both Natural Law and the Libertarian Non-Aggression Principle, cannot lead to a moral society.
Rothbard then points out that there is no such thing as a neutral tax, so that when a government imposes a tax, it is automatically creating two antagonistic classes in society: the payers of the tax and its recipients. These two classes will now be in friction, which means that the government will not, and cannot be, the objective “umpire” that limited-government advocates believe in, but must choose sides.
He then goes on to note that most limited-government advocates think that government is necessary for there to be law, but Rothbard points out that this is a myth, and that stateless societies have existed which still had laws. He cites the example of Ireland, which for over a thousand years prior to its conquest by Cromwell, was a stateless society but had laws, law courts, and panels of jurists. They seemed to do just fine without “The State”.
Rothbard then discusses the fact that the State is not required to live up to the laws that it sets down for its citizens. It tells them they must not rob from another, and then proceeds to rob them through taxation. It tells the citizen he cannot aggress violently against his neighbor except in self-defense, but allows its own police force to use deadly force against anyone and imposes itself by force on everyone in its jurisdiction.
Then Rothbard asks: even in a limited-government situation where the government only provided protection and a legal system, who would decide how much protection is necessary? The government could supply every citizen with a tank and a private bodyguard, but this would quickly bankrupt the State. So who decides? And we are back with the same problem that socialism always brings: who decides how much and what quality of good or service is to be provided to the public?
Rothbard next tackles the question of the size of the State, a question rarely asked. He discusses secession, and holds that the smaller the government unit, the better, until we get down to the level of the individual, who secedes from the government, thus giving a basis for individual anarchism.
In the next chapter, Rothbard discusses the criminal nature of the State, and whether one has any moral obligation to it. If it is a criminal organization, then lying to and cheating the State is no longer immoral (although it may be prudential to tell the truth to avoid perjury charges), any more than lying to an armed robber about whether you have money in your wallet is immoral. He goes into whether one has an obligation to pay taxes or to not break contracts one makes with the State. For example, is it morally licit to desert from the army after one has been drafted, or after one has volunteered for the armed forces? Rothbard’s answer: yes!
He then discusses the morality of bribing government officials, distinguishing between an “aggressive bribe” designed to use government to keep out market competition, and a “defensive bribe” which seeks to prevent government from shutting down an activity that would be completely legal under libertarianism. He points out that “defensive bribes” are the only way a lot of business can be transacted under corrupt governments, and that such a system, though immoral, is better than a system where no business can be transacted at all due to a totalitarian government. Throughout history, “defensive bribes” have been the only way many corrupt State governments have been able to function.
Next, Rothbard moves on to inter-State relations. He makes the point that modern weaponry has made a difference to libertarian theory regarding war, since with earlier weapons like the bow and arrow or the gun, the weapons could be used selectively against those in the other State who were individually responsible for making aggressive war, while with nuclear weapons we are in an age where many innocent people would be killed in any use of these weapons. Rothbard regards war as illegitimate and illegal, and the mass murder of war as the worst crime than can be imagined. Therefore disarmament is viewed as one of the highest activities, and threatening nuclear war as one of the lowest.
It is interesting to note here than Rothbardian and Misesian Libertarians are often painted by the Left as Right-wing extremists, yet their position on Militarism and War is congruent with Leftists like Bertrand Russell, and anti-war anti-militarists in general. Obama and Clinton are much further to the Right when it comes to the military and war than Rothbard or Ron Paul. And that is logical and consistent because, apart from the moral issue of murdering innocent human beings, war destroys vast quantities of useful commodities and wastes vast quantities of capital, both of which could have been used in a libertarian society to raise the standard of individual wealth and increase human happiness.
And of course another misery brought about by war is an increase in the taxation-aggression of the State against the Individual. Throughout history, the wealth level of the Individual has been seriously depleted by the war taxes levied, first b y kings, and now by “democracies”. In the practical terms of its wealth effect, military spending in excess of defense needs is the enemy of Laissez-Faire Capitalism and the Capitalist.
Rothbard concludes the chapter with discussion of various other aspects of interstate relations like foreign aid and imperialism.
In the final section of the book, Rothbard looks at various other flawed theories of Liberty, like utilitarian Free-Market economics and social philosophy which holds that what is best is what gives the “greatest good for the greatest number”. Rothbard points out flaws in the Unanimity Principle, the Pareto optimality concept and its “Compensation Principle” variant. He craftily criticises “value-free” utilitarian economists like Prof. James Buchanan, and even goes after Mises, trenchantly criticizing him in a subtle analysis of the flaws in his positions on this topic. One thing I like about Rothbard is his willingness to ruthlessly but accurately criticize the economists who come closest to his philosophy, like Mises and Hayek, and to consistently hit on the weak spots in the arguments of other prominent Libertarians. He points out that Mises was a utilitarian economist, whose praxeology theory of economics is value-free, but that as a liberal (or classical Liberal) he had a value-judgement philosophy, and he found it difficult to reconcile the two, saying that as an economist he was a value-free praxeologist, but as a “citizen” he was a laissez-faire liberal, an ideology which is clearly value-based, which says that it is better for man to live free and in accord with Natural Laws, than to break those laws and live in constant violence and fear, that it is better for all men to live as citizens with equal Rights and self-ownership, than it is for one man to own another as a slave.
Rothbard concludes his roasting of Mises by pointing out that, while value-free praxeology can give an economic basis to Libertarian theory, showing that the free-market and Natural Law Rights do lead to the freest, most prosperous societies in most cases, praxeology alone cannot give an ethical basis to Classical Liberalism, which is a value-based philosophy.
He then discusses Isaiah Berlin’s theory of Negative Liberty, Berlin’s revision of that theory, and the absurdities it led him into. He finishes the chapter by quoting from Berlin and blasting him on his inconsistencies and falsehoods.
Frederick Hayek is the next victim on Rothbard’s intellectual chopping block. He points out the problems with Hayek’s definition of “coercion” as a replacement for the word “aggression” in the Libertarian Non-Aggression Principle, and shows where it fails. After pointing out the many flaws in Hayek’s “coercion” idea, he mentions that Hayek even fails to distinguish between “aggressive violence”,such as armed robbery or assault, and “defensive violence” used in defense of ones’ property or body from assault. The first is criminal, the latter is both licit and proper. But Hayek skips over this distinction.
Anyway, Rothbard really tears poor old Hayek to shreds in the rest of the chapter, and points out the many egregious flaws in “The Constitution of Liberty”, which lead Hayek to accept many government invasions into the Rights and Liberties of the Individual which are completely against the Libertarian Principles that Rothbard has clearly demonstrated in the first part of his book. It’s no wonder that a pseudo-Libertarian like Margaret Thatcher threw down a copy of Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty” at a cabinet meeting and said, “This is what I believe in.”
Next Rothbard hunts Robert Nozick, who starts out with an “Immaculate Conception” of the State, i.e. that,, through some “invisible hand” it started as men banded together and found that it was to their protectionist advantage to form a protective force, which transformed into an ultraminimalist State, which further transformed itself into a minimalist State, a sort of “social contract” theory of the State. Rothbard, however, points out that no State in history has actually started like that; that in almost all cases the State was founded by violence, with the most brutal and victorious gang of cutthroats becoming the King and the government. Rothbard quotes Thomas Paine in support. Moreover, the “social contract” theory presupposes that every individual within the territory voluntarily gives up their sovereignty and, in times of war, self-ownership, but Rothbard points out that for a contract to be binding and enforcable, it must only deal with “alienable” titles such as physical property, but it cannot deal with the “inalienable” Rights of the individual, like “self-ownership” and The Right to the Freedom of Speech or to remain silent. Therefore, such “social contract” theories are bogus.
As George Mason put it, in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, “All men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity.”
Rothbard goes on to discuss Nozick’s views on police forces in his State, and the question of competing law, lawcourts, insurances, and other topics that are rather subtle for the Libertarian neophyte. All in all, he really lambasts Nozick, concluding with a list of ten points and theories which Nozick has dead wrong.
In the final section of “The Ethics of Liberty” Rothbard discusses the previously undiscussed topic of a theory of strategy for Liberty. Firstly, such a strategy must reflect Lord Acton’s view that “Liberty is the highest political end” which of course doesn’t mean that it is the “highest end” for mankind in general.
If Liberty is the highest goal in politics, then what is its moral grounding? It is clear that Liberty is a moral principle, and it is grounded in Justice. The Libertarian must have a passion for Justice, and that must be his overriding political goal, and Justice is the search for the abolition of aggressive violence in the affairs of men. It is Justice, and not mere utility, that must be the motivating force behind the Libertarian.
If Liberty is the highest political means, then it is obvious that a strategy of implementing it must be approached by its most efficacious means, which means by the fastest means that will bring it about. This means the Libertarian must be an “Abolitionist”; if there is an unjust situation or law, it must be removed immediately, not just slightly reformed. Indeed, as the Abolutionist William Lloyd Garrison correctly observed, “Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice.”
However, the means cannot contradict the end or be inconsistent with it. A Libertarian could not use aggressive violence, such as murder and theft, to bring about a libertarian society in which murder never occurred or never went unpunished. Another example of inconsistent means would be if a Libertarian advocated repeal of the Income Tax, but argued for replacing it with some other tax, or argued for the legalization of cannabis on condition that it be taxed and licensed.
He next discusses “Right Opportunism” and “Left Secularism”, two distinct groups that the Marxists correctly observed always form within a movement. Right opportunism will give up the long term goal for a short term gain, while Left secularism criticizes the slightest deviation from what it perceives as libertarian principles.
Then, quoting the Marxists again, he points out that they felt there were two sets of conditions necessary to the success of a social movement, the objective and subjective conditions. The subjective conditions are the existence of a self-conscious movement dedicated to the principles of the philosophy, and the objective conditions are some kind of crisis that impinges on almost everybody in society, breeding a cynical attitude towards the government and the State. Indeed, every major revolution in modern history has followed this pattern.
Rothbard observes that both Marxists and Libertarians have had their visions unrealized so far. The Marxists have had to put off their utopia indefinitely, and the Libertarians have seen the diminution of the Classical Liberal philosophy and a massive resurgence of the State and State power in the 20th century. However, Rothbard feels optimistic about the future of Libertarianism. He feels the industrial revolution changed the picture completely, and that in the long run, Libertarianism will prevail.
Perhaps in the weakest part of the book, Rothbard seems to exude a strong optimism that things are about to change, that Watergate, the bankruptcy of New York City, and Proposition 13’s passage in California, are signs that we are on the brink of a transformation in the American political scene. How little are those events talked about nowadays. This book was published in 1982, and this last chapter sounds as if written even earlier, and in light of how little has changed since the book was published, and how the State seems even more entrenched than ever, and with Libertarians continuing to get 1.8% of the vote after 35 years, you have to question Rothbard’s optimism. In the long run a Libertarian society will come about, but in the last few decades, things have continued to deteriorate. Yet Rothbard’s belief that we were on the brink of armageddon in 1982 has been proven premature, if not wrong. The system still had 35 years of fat to ride on.
However, he does end the book on a stirring note of optimism.
The second book that will turn you into a Libertarian is also by Rothbard, his “For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto”. Anyone having read carefully “The Ethics of Liberty”, will have little difficulty understanding the concepts presented in “For a New Liberty”, since they are largely a recap of the earlier-presented theory.
Rothbard begins “For a New Liberty” with a historical perspective on Libertarianism from the American Revolution up to the time the book was written, concentrating on the libertarianism of the Founding Fathers, the French Revolution, and also how the libertarian heritage was curtailed in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and how statism, big government, and the military-industrial complex, in collusion with the unions, basically took over society, and crushed the libertarian spirit of earlier times.
Forty years on from the writing of the book, we current Americans can see that little has changed, although Ron Paul’s campaigns did expose the country, and many young people, to mainstream libertarian ideas in a way that had never been seen before in American politics. Senator Rand Paul carries on that legacy somewhat, in a diluted form. But we do see much more cynicism and scepticism about big government and its efficiency, and that is a healthy sign.
Moving on to chapter two, we encounter the now familiar concepts of the libertarian non-aggression principle, the definition of aggression as invasion against ones’ property rights, and how the state commits all the acts, through war, conscription, and taxation, that it forbids to the individual citizen. More specifically, “aggression” is defined as ” the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else”.
He points out that the libertarian is often characterized as “right-wing”, but to the libertarian he is just taking a consistent position of liberty for the individual on every issue. On some issues he is “left-wing”, on others “right”. He wonders how the Left-wing can claim to be for human rights and civil liberties like freedom of speech, and at the same time support the violence of taxation and government controls. And he wonders how the Right-wing say they are for Individual Rights and Property when they support war and conscription, the war on drugs,and taxation? And looking back on the last thirty years since the book was written, we can see how the Republicans have done nothing to abolish the income tax and estate taxes, abolish minimum wage laws, and shrink military spending. They can’t even repeal the Obamacare forced-payment-to-private-insurance-companies tribute, even though that was a major reason the Republicans were elected.
He next makes an important point about the fiction we call “society”. To the libertarian, there are only individuals, and the sum total of their interactions is “society”, but it is a mistake to think that there is an entity called “society” that exists on its own. This is one of the traps into which both Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans fall but not the libertarian. He knows that society is a fictional collectivist concept, and that is all. It is a mere convenience for designating a large number of people. A similar phenomenon occurs with the term “nation”. And we can see how these terms serve as cop-outs for individual responsibility, when we hear that “society” drove John Doe to commit robbery or murder, not John Doe himself. The term “social justice” is likewise a bogus term, since it is obvious that only if you always have “individual justice” will you then have “social justice”, but “social justice” is a term currently used to justify the theft of one group of citizens by another group via the government enforcers.
Then Rothbard sums up: “The central core of the libertarian creed, then, is to establish the absolute right to private property of every man: first, in his own body, second in the previously unused natural resources which he first transforms with his labor. These two axioms, the right of self-ownership and the right to “homestead”, establish the complete set of principles of the libertarian system.”
These axioms lead to the free-market system, since, if you have property rights over something, you are free to sell it, exchange it, rent it, or give it away. And the free-market system leads to the most libertarian, prosperous society. But unlike the utilitarian capitalist who supports capitalism because it leads to the wealthiest societies, the libertarian supports the free-market system based on the morality of the libertarian axioms. This is the big difference between Milton Friedman and his utilitarian Chicago School of Economics, and Rothbard and the Austrian-Libertarian School of Economics.
Rothbard then points out that inheritance taxes are a violation of the rights of the “giver”, not the receiver. It is not the orphan but the dying parent whose rights are violated when the Democrats and Socialists rob him of the money he earned with his labor and which he wanted to give to his offspring.
The central thrust, then, of Libertarianism is to oppose all aggression against an individual’s property rights both in their person and in the things they have voluntarily acquired title to. This also means that in a libertarian system of justice, there would be no “district attorney” who may or may not file charges against someone in the name of “society”. Rather it would be up to each individual if he wanted to pursuit a suit against someone’s aggression against himself. Moreover, the punishment would first seek restitution to the victim, not just “protecting society”, since it was not some vague notional “society” that was attacked, but a specific individual or group of individuals.
In regard to opposing theft and assault, libertarians would differ very little from most societies throughout history who opposed robbery and murder. Where the Libertarian differs from the others is his regard for the State as being the worst aggressor against the property rights of Man that has every existed, and it matters little if that State is monarchical, dictatorial, democratic, or what you will.
While the Democrats and Republicans will regard the people holding high office as above the moral law, Libertarians will morally measure people at the top of government in the same way as they would measure the behavior of individuals. So while Democrats will applaud a new tax proposed by Obama, and the Republicans will either tolerate it, or not do anything to abolish all taxation, the Libertarian will continue to regard someone like Obama or Sanders as indistinguishable from the meth addict who steals your car battery. They will coolly and deliberately continue to apply the moral law to those in the highest echelons of government irregardless of their titles, or their being elected. When they carry out aggressive war, Libertarians will call it Mass Murder. When they talk of “conscription”, “the draft”, or “national service”, the Libertarian will call it Slavery. When they rob people at bayonet point and call it “taxation”, the Libertarian will call it “Robbery”.
Moreover, while all individuals and groups get their income through voluntary payments, only the government gets its income by violent coercion through the threats of confiscation and imprisonment. Additionally, and with the exception of criminal gangs, only government can use those funds to aggress against its own citizens by prohibiting pornography, compelling a religious observance, or jailing someone for selling something at a higher price than the government deems fit.
And what of checks on State depredation? When an individual or gang attacks one, one has recourse to the law courts. But what about when the State attacks you? There is no recourse to that, as countless people who were murdered in mistaken police drug raids during the last 50 years could have testified if they were able. What check is there on a dictatorship? None, since the State has arrogated to itself a virtual monopoly on violence and decision-making in the land area to which it lays claim. For example, if you don’t like the Supreme Court’s decision on some case and law, you have no further recourse.
And additionally, though America has a Constitution which places strict limits on government, we can see clearly how that Constitution has been overridden in so many instances. Unfortunately, that is the tendency of all governments, and eventually whatever Supreme Court exists in a society will reinterpret those strict limits according to what those court justices happen to think, and inevitably those limits will be overcome by Tyranny.
Here Rothbard adds a long quote from John C. Calhoun discussing how, in any government with a constitution of strict limits and constraints, there will eventually form two parties. One will hold to a strict constructionist view of the limits, and the other to a broader, more liberal interpretation. When the party with the liberal construction vision of government becomes the majority, it will remove those strict limits through the court decisions of judges who share their liberal view, and then the strict constructionist party will have no further recourse. This process Calhoun felt was more or less inevitable, even in a Constitutional Republic.
And a second problem with all States is that they are inevitably ruled by an oligarchy, an elite set of government officials who have taken over the most powerful positions. In every organization, from a political party to the local chess club, certain individuals, more aggressive and assertive, will end up taking over and dominating such organizations, and it is no different with governments. We have only to look at the Kennedy, Bush, and Clinton dynasties to see how a small group of individuals are accepted as “knowing best” for the country. And we may well see an attempt at a “Trump” dynasty. This so-called “Iron Law of Oligarchy” was discovered by the Italian sociologist Robert Michels, while studying the Social Democratic Party of Germany, who ruled Germany before the Nazis. Despite their verbal commitment to equality, Michels found that the party was rigidly heirarchical and oligarchical in its actual functioning.
After repeating certain points made in “The Ethics of Liberty”, Rothbard discusses both the role of religion in aligning with the State, and how the Individual is deprecated and the collective society elevated in the rhetoric of the State rulers. Any Individual coming up with new ideas, especially critical ones of the State, will be ridiculed (and, in many modern societies, censored), and since almost all reform movements start with small minorities critical of the status quo, those movements will be ridiculed and pilloried.
The role of the State is made to seem inevitable by the fear aroused by the State when it warns of the chaos that would ensue if it were abolished. This causes a passive acceptance of the State as ruler over men, and through the further identification of the State with a certain piece of the Earth’s geography, and given that most men will grow to love the lands they inhabit, it is easy to convince men of the Nationalist illusion that they are the such-and-such people, and they are threatened by the other-such people next door to them. In the old days, the peasants of Europe mainly felt that wars were irrelevant disputes between the nobles of rival nations; now people really believe in Nationalistic self-identification — that they are, for example, Norwegians or Turks.
Another favorite State strategy for continuing its control is guilt. Any increase in private well-being is called “unconscionable greed”, “materialism”, or “excessive affluence”, and mutually beneficial exchanges in the free market are condemned as “selfish”. Somehow it is touted as good that more resources should be extracted from the private sector, and siphoned into the parasitic “public” sector, i.e. the State. Listen to Bernie Sanders and the Liberal Democrats if you want to hear a modern version of this. The version often calls for more “sacrifices” or “belt-tightening” to save the nation, but it is not the members of the ruling elite in government who will sacrifice.
Another illusion is that men enter the State government apparatus out of concern for the general welfare of society, and not out of the interest of maximizing their own incomes. When it comes to businessmen and workers, no one is surprised that they seek to maximize their incomes, but with the politician it is assumed that they are there out of altruistic motives. So-and-so is a “good man”, even though he has a gold-plated salary from the public, a gold-plated healthcare system, and a gold-plated retirement, all at the individual taxpayer’s expense.
Another support for the State illusion has become scientists and “experts” in various fields, who tell the public what the State must do to avoid various catastrophes. This replaces the old system of religion backing rulers “by divine right”, the scientists having displaced the clergy. Rothbard cites the case of the thief who would argue that his thefts have boosted retail sales, and thus helped the economy. Such a thief would be laughed down. But when the “economic experts” propose the same theory and cloak it in mathematical formulas and language about “the multiplier effect”, they are listened to attentively.
Another unelected group of “experts” are the “national security managers”. Their scope has obviously increased in the 40-odd years since the publication of “For a New Liberty”.
And Rothbard points out that, just as the State needs the intellectuals to make it seem legitimate, so do the intellectuals need the State, for under the market system intellectuals may have a very hard time making a living, the public in general not being too interested in intellectual subjects. State sponsorship gives them a luxurious lifestyle without their having to compete in the free market system. Look how many university professors make salaries far in excess of anything a manual laborer can make. And with government grants being handed out to professional students and universities, it is easy to see that the intelligentsia knows on which side its bread is buttered.
One huge area of support for the continuance of the State, in my view, which Rothbard doesn’t mention, is faith in the currency. Since Federal Reserve Notes are what most Americans hold their wealth as, and how much their property is worth in those Notes, it is highly unlikely that any normal American would welcome the abolition of the American State which would make their savings completely worthless. Fear of a collapse of the Dollar with the abolition of a Treasury Department is enough to make most American savers skip a heartbeat.
Rothbard next discusses how supreme courts create justification for the State by ruling that some law is “constitutional”. Those who disagree must just quietly sit and lump it. They have no further recourse except to emigrate. But the fact that these supreme courts are part of the government, and then rule on laws made by the government is obviously a conflict of interest, because anything that would tend to dissolve the government would in effect help dissolve the supreme court. The court is in effect the government ruling on its own legitimacy, which flies in the face of correct judicial procedure, where some impartial body of judges must make the final decision. The overthrow of the Jeffersonian ideals in the Bill of Rights by the New Deal of the 1930s just goes to illustrate John C Calhoun’s argument that no matter how well written the constitution is in protecting individual rights against the encroachments of the State, eventually those protections will be destroyed, as in the New Deal. Income taxes, inheritance taxes, forced social security depredations, price controls, usury laws, warrantless searches and wiretaps, and military conscription are all obvious violations of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, but finally they made their heinous way into the law of the land.
Rothbard suggests we start fresh and question the whole necessity of a State government. He mentions the libertarian society of Ireland which existed for a thousand years before the British invasion in the 17th century.
In Part II of “For a New Liberty”, Rothbard looks at Libertarian solutions to modern political problems.
First he notes the major problems that afflict our society, and further notes the “red thread of government” running through all of them. The problems he mentions are high taxes, the urban fiscal crisis, foreign interventions, crime in the streets, traffic congestion, the military-industrial complex, transportation, river pollution, water shortages, air pollution, power shortages and blackouts, telephone service, postal service, television, welfare system, urban housing, union strikes and restrictions, education, inflation and stagflation, and (back then) Watergate. Note how many of these government-controlled problems are still problems forty years on. What better proof of the inefficiency of the State.
Rothbard begins the next chapter, on Involuntary Servitude, with the words, “If there is anything a Libertarian must be squarely and totally against, it is involuntary servitude — forced labor — an act which denies the most elemental form of self-ownership. “Liberty” and “slavery” have ever been recognized to be polar opposites.” (The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution only allows involuntary servitude “as a punishment for crime”.)
First he discusses conscription, which fortunately no longer exists now we have a volunteer army. And, if we were invaded, would we actually need conscription to get people to fight? If the Canadian socialist baby-seal-clubbers were to stream across the border in an invasion of America, do you think Americans would welcome them with open arms? More like automatic arms.
Next he discusses the involuntary servitude involved in withholding taxes, which force the employer to become the unpaid tax-collector for the government, and the income tax, which not only forces the filer to work for nothing filling out his tax form, but also violates the 5th Amendment prohibition against self-incrimination. He points out that retail sales taxes also force the businessman into the position of unpaid tax collector for the government. The income tax also greatly favors large business enterprises at the expense of much smaller competitors, since the costs of tax compliance are huge, and the large business can bear that cost much better than its weaker competitors, thus tending to reduce competition in the market place, driving up the cost for consumers because of government meddling.
Next he deals with the Courts. He discusses the involuntary servitude involved in compelled testimony and the subpoena. He mentions that in a Libertarian society there would be no “district attorney” and the criminal would be prosecuted in the name of the victim, not “society” or “the people of the state of …”. He mentions that in early colonial America it was a common punishment for a thief or defrauder of a farmer to have to work as an indentured servant — in effect a slave — for the farmer until the theft had been repaid. He points out that during the Middle Ages, the emphasis of justice was on restitution to the victim, and it was only with the rise of powerful kings and nobles that more and more of the restitution came to be claimed by the State, at the cost of the hapless victim.
Rothbard goes on to discuss the unLibertarian procedure of jailing people before they have been convicted of a crime, since there is a presumption of innocence, and how this is particularly dangerous in the case of contempt of court charges, because here the judge has acted as both prosecutor, judge, and jury. The judge has accused, convicted, and sentenced the culprit all without trial by jury, and in the face of the judicial principle that one should not be a judge in one’s own case.
Next, he discusses compulsory jury service, which is indistinguishable from slavery, and a violation of the 13th Amendment. I have written a blog post on the topic under Abolishing Jury Slavery.
Finally, Rothbard goes into the many problems with compulsory commitment of mental patients, and how those who have committed no crimes should immediately be released.
In Chapter 6 Rothbard discusses Personal Liberty, beginning with The Freedom of Speech. Libertarians believe in a near-total Freedom of Speech, and believe that “incitement to riot” laws are bogus because they implicitly take the view that men are not wholly responsible for their actions. This is a deterministic view of Man’s Nature which Libertarians would disagree with. The rioter’s defense that he hacked to death the old lady because of the words of a rabble-rousing street speaker, and that normally he would have never done such a thing, so blame the rabble-rouser, not him, is not a defense a Libertarian would hold truck with. Of course, the crime boss’s order to murder a specific individual is an exception to the Freedom of Speech and makes him as guilty as the assassin.
Likewise, Libel and Slander Laws violate The Freedom of Speech and the Press. In the case of Libel, the claim of the plaintiff that his “reputation” has been damaged is bogus, because one’s reputation is a thought in the heads of other people. It is thus their property and not yours, and therefore in Libertarian theory, there has been no assault against your personal property or person, since your reputation belongs to them, not to you. Pretty subtle reasoning here by Rothbard.
Then he discusses various offshoots of the Freedom of Speech, like picketing on government streets, and radio and television censorship. He points out the incongruity of letting publications be as biased and politically one-sided as they like, but forcing television stations to present “responsible opposing views”. The fact that radio and tv stations are licensed,and must submit to all kinds of regulations and restrictions on their speech, flies in the face of our so-called Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. Freedom would mean there was no licensing requirement and that they could say anything they liked other than advocating violence against an individual.
When it comes to pornography and violent films, Rothbard stresses that the Libertarian believes it is not the business of the law — the use of retaliatory violence — to enforce anyone’s idea of morality. He correctly adds that “Sometimes it seems as if the ‘beau ideal’ of many conservatives, as well as of many liberals, is to put everyone into a cage and coerce him into doing what the conservatives or liberals believe to be the moral thing.”
Rothbard makes the subtle observation that in forcing someone to act morally, the conservative, religious fanatic, or liberal, seems to forget the principle of free will in the behavior of men, and that it is only in freedom that the choice of moral action can take place.
Rothbard next mentions the outrage of the government being involved through sex laws in what takes place between consenting adults in private. He discusses abortion and compulsory birth control. And just as the State should not be involved in these issues, so too should it not be involved in “affirmative action” measures based on sex. Setting a quota on how many women or men must serve in a workforce is thus forbidden under Libertarianism. Likewise, certain laws which prevent women from working in certain professions or working certain hours must be crushed. To quote the 1978 Libertarian Party platform, “No individual rights shall be denied or abridged by the laws of the United States or any state or locality on account of sex, race, color, creed, age, national origin, or sexual preference.”
When it comes to Wiretapping, Rothbard says “Wiretapping is a contemptible invasion of privacy and of property right, and of course should be outlawed as an invasive act.”
As for gambling, it is obvious that laws against it are not only anti-Libertarian (two individuals agreeing to contract on the terms of a wager), but largely unenforceable, given the amount of clandestine betting that goes on everything from football games to elections. Conservatives may argue that just because murders occur it does not mean therefore that we should abolish laws against murder, and likewise with gambling. But they overlook the fact that almost everybody in civilized society believes and accepts that there should be laws against murder, but it is obvious that masses of people don’t seem to believe gambling is so highly immoral to the extent that they should be jailed for participating in it. Thus, as with cannabis, large numbers of people will flaunt these anti-Libertarian, anti-Humanistic laws, because they know they are violations of their self-ownership, and there is no way the state can afford to enforce them.
Moreover, what could better illustrate the filthy immorality of the State than, after ruining millions of citizen’s lives with their anti-Enlightenment laws against gambling and drug possession, they themselves have now gone into the business of peddling these immoral activities to the public, implying that just because the State now engages in them, these activities have somehow suddenly become moral. If it is immoral for two old-timers to play blackjack for nickels at the park, it should be immoral for the State to drive people into poverty and suicide with their immoral lotteries, which mulct the poor, and keep people on welfare. It is outrageous that people receiving welfare assistance are free to buy lottery tickets in the U.S.A.
Rothbard then discusses the legal terms “malum in se” and “malum prohibitum”. The first refers to crimes that most of humanity — and Libertarians— regard as crimes: murder, theft, rape, etc. The second refer to State-made crimes such as those we’ve been discussing: gambling, prostitution, drug possession. He points out that police corruption tends to occur almost exclusively in “malum prohibitum” laws, and that the corruption can consist not only of being paid off to ignore violations of the law, but to create a private monopoly for a crime syndicate, as when the police are paid off by an illegal gambling joint to not only not shut it down, but to enforce the law against all its competitors, so that the gang operating it has a virtual monopoly in that police precinct.
Therefore, the sure way to get rid of almost all police corruption is to immediately abolish all laws against voluntary business activity and all laws against “victimless crimes”. Not only would this end police corruption, but a large number of police and much court and jail space would be available to go after the real criminals, the aggressors against persons and property.
To end the chapter on “Personal Liberty”, Rothbard discusses gun laws, where he of course takes the position that it is your property right to own a gun if you choose.
Chapter 7 deals with “Education”, and Rothbard makes brilliant and decisive arguments against the government school system. He points out correctly that in the 1970s the New Left was an acerbic critic of the school system, with writers like Paul Goodman pointing out how government schools ruined the lives of so many children. This chapter contains many interesting arguments against public schools, and Rothbard points out that totalitarians, from Martin Luther to the anti-Catholic Protestants in 19th Century America, were in favor of compulsory education in government schools. The Ku Klux Klan got “democratic” Oregon to pass a law in 1922 requiring compulsory attendance and outlawing any competing private schools. Fortunately this was overruled by the Supreme Court in 1925. Rothbard even quotes Mises who states, “the state, the government, the laws must not concern themselves in any way with schooling or education. Public funds must not be used for such purposes. The rearing and instruction of youth must be left entirely to parents and to private associations and institutions.”
The latter half of “For a New Liberty” deals with the economic fundamentals of the Libertarian Austrian School of Economics and its clash with Keynesianism. Specifically, it deals with the problems created by Keynesian economics’ effects on welfare and the business cycle. Rothbard discusses the problems created by government’s involvement in business, in owning streets and roads, and the police, law, and the courts. He then moves on to environmental factors like conservation, ecology, and growth.
Environmentally, Rothbard points out that no one has the right to pollute the air you breathe, and that noise is a form of pollution that has negative effects on health. If environmentalists adopted the Libertarian attitude that environmental pollutions are aggressions against individual property rights, they might do better than they have by believing that government is going to protect the earth, when it obviously operates hand in glove with huge corporations to permit them to continue to destroy the earth’s environment. Oregon’s timber industry under Democratic Governors Kitzhaber and Brown has continue to spray pesticides far and wide, undoubtedly killing untold thousands of citizens and children, and causing serious health problems for thousands more. But the gutless liberals and environmentalists never call them to account. The deforestation of the Pacific Northwest continues unabated in the “liberal” Democrat States of Oregon, Washington, and California, to the detriment of the planet and its inhabitants.
In the final chapter of the work, Rothbard discusses the very important topic of war, for, to the Libertarian, war is the gravest violation of libertarian principles — the mass aggression of the property rights unto death by one mass of people by another mass of people, usually because they have come to identify themselves with the nation-state instead of just themselves. Add to that the vast destruction and waste of goods and commodities that could have been used in a libertarian-capitalist society to fulfill individual wants and needs, and we can see why Libertarians view war as the ultimate statist folly.
If, after reading these two books by Murray Rothbard, you can still think that Libertarianism is not a pro-humanistic, ethical political philosophy, and not the historical continuation of man’s longsuffering attempts at liberation from state tyranny that has been going on since the time of the pharaohs and beyond, then you and I must agree to disagree.
— Paul Grad, 2014 Libertarian Party of Oregon Gubernatorial Nominee