Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Private Scholarly Memos of Murray Rothbard

Exciting news out of the Mises Institute. A new collection of Rothbard writing is out, Rothbard vs The Philosophers. Jeffrey Tucker provides an overview:
Here is Rothbard's stunning mind at work on some of the most serious topics in philosophy, economics, and politics, originally crafted as private memos. The advantage here is that you get super-candid evaluations of the thought of the giants while avoiding the appartus of formal papers. The result is more like a series of expansive letters to the reader rather than a collection drawn from a scholarly journal.

These important essays have never been published before. In fact, they were not written for publication. They were written on assignment by a foundation that employed Rothbard to read and review books. In many ways, then, the tone is unguarded, even reckless in a wonderful way, but this serves the reader's advantage.

The payoff here is that you get both Rothbard's perspective and a clear look at the thought of Polanyi, Hayek, Strauss, Mises, and other great thinkers of his time.

Some of his judgements are surprising. His initial review of Hayek's Constitution of Liberty, for example, is brutal in its criticism. But once the book came out, Rothbard moderated his opinion and called the book extremely important. Both essays appear herein. The same is true of his judgement of Leo Strauss: at once blistering where he is wrong and congratulatory where he is right. Meanwhile, Rothbard is effusive in his praise of the work of Lionel Robbins.

There is one additional benefit from reading this volume: it shows a master critic at work. We can all be supremely grateful that a book like this exists at all. It gives us another glimpse into the mind of one of the great intellectual innovators of the 20th century.
Private memos and letters are always fun to read. For a scholar, it's equivalent to getting backstage access after a Mick Jagger concert.

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