Monday, February 22, 2010

Lew Rockwell on von Mises, Ron Paul, Free-Markets and the Future of Freedom

The Daily Bell is pleased to present an exclusive interview with Lew Rockwell.

Introduction: Lew Rockwell is a seminal proponent of the modern free-market movement and a chief orchestrator of the Austrian economic resurgence in America and abroad. Rockwell was Ludwig von Mises' own editor in the 1960s and later served as Congressman Ron Paul's chief of staff. He is founder of the Auburn, Alabama-based Mises Institute and the highly successful blog Together, these entities are among the highest- frequented free-market Internet sites in the world.

Daily Bell: You have almost singlehandedly led a revolution in thought that has changed the world. How does that make you feel?

Rockwell: Well, thank you, but that's not how ideas work. Without donors, faculty, students, collaborators, distribution media, and the division of labor, we are all just isolated scribblers. That has always been true, from the ancient world and today. We like to say that one person can make a difference, but it is only true to some extent. All forms of production, including in the world of ideas, require as much cooperation with others as possible. And while we were making great progress before 1995, the advent of digital media has made a vast difference precisely because it has dramatically expanded opportunities for communication and cooperation.

Daily Bell: Can you familiarize our readers with the depth and breadth of the organizations you have founded and that offer services - especially on the ‘Net.

Rockwell: I founded the Mises Institute in 1982 to try to make sure that the influence of Mises and other Austrian economists would grow. Today is the largest economics website on the planet that is not-for-profit, and a teaching and publishing powerhouse. I founded in 1999, mainly because I had lots of information to share with others, and I got tired of using email lists. I figured that I might as well post what I found interesting, in every area, on a public website. Today, it is the best-read libertarian site on the web.

Daily Bell: Did you ever dream of this level of success?

Rockwell: Neither I nor any of my mentors, like Rothbard or influences like Mises, could have imagined such a thing. Of course, reaching minds is what liberty is all about. The default position of the world is despotism. In the sweep of things, liberty is the exception. What makes the exception possible is ideological work, that is, spreading the ideas through every possible means.

Daily Bell
: You attribute some of your success to your father. Can you tell our readers about this unique man?

: He was a surgeon and a man of great strength of character, a man of the old world of the sort we hardly meet anymore. He wasn't a complainer, didn't whine when things didn't go his way. He was incredibly smart, and he loved liberty in the way that the men of the Enlightenment loved liberty: he didn't believe that the state could do anything better than people can do for themselves. He was a man of the Old Right who despised FDR, in whose deliberate war my older brother was killed, and an admirer of Robert Taft, not least because of his non-interventionist foreign policy. My father worked hard until the last moment he possibly could. So should we all.

Daily Bell: Can you provide us with a brief history of how you became interested in free-markets and decided to make them your life's work?

Rockwell: As with most people, it began with the observation that something was profoundly wrong with the conventional wisdom, which even from grade school seemed to presume that wise masters at the top knew more than anyone else and so should be in charge of everyone and everything. That supposition seemed to lack empirical evidence, so far as I could tell. I discovered the literature of freedom hiding in the library and realized that truth was something I would forever have to dig for. It wouldn't be given to me by network news anchors, politicians, nor the leading lights in establishment academia. When I discovered what was true, I could not resist acting on it, and telling others. It really isn't any more complicated than that.

Daily Bell: Is the logical outcome of Austrian economics the disappearance of the state?

Rockwell: Mises didn't think so; neither did Hazlitt. Sudha Shenoy argues that of all the people who entertained the possibility of society without a state in that generation, Hayek comes closest to embodying the anarchistic temperament. In any case, the man who made the real difference in the Austrian School in this regard is Rothbard. It was he who pushed the theoretical apparatus "over the edge," so to speak. Hardly any modern Austrian today is not an anarchist. This is also thanks to Rothbardians such as Walter Block, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and David Gordon, of course. At one time Rothbard was denounced for his views, for having allegedly marginalized the School. Now, of course, his anarchism is probably the largest part of the legacy he left for the world. It is very appealing to young people, unlike the statism of regime economists.

Daily Bell: Is it reasonable to believe that the state will ever wither away or does reality instruct us that the best that can be done is to limit its power?

: To me, that's like asking if we can imagine a society without robberies and murders. Maybe it won't ever happen, but we must have the ideal in mind or else we'll never get closer to it. Without the ideal, progress stops. To some extent, then, whether reality will finally ever conform is not the critical question. What counts is what we imagine can and should exist. I like to imagine a society without legally sanctioned aggression against person and property.

Daily Bell: Are you worried that your organizations will come under significant attack as the free-market movement continues?

Rockwell: No, I don't worry about it. On the other hand, it is completely normal for radicals to be under attack from every quarter, so this would not be a surprise.

Daily Bell: Take us back in time. You founded Imprimis. Were you bitter when you left?

Rockwell: Not at all! I admired George Roche, and still do. But my work at Hillsdale was done, and I moved on.

Daily Bell: When did you decide to found the Mises Institute? Was it when you became allied with famous Austrian economist Murray Rothbard?

Rockwell: I had been Mises's editor at Arlington House, Publishers, in the late 1960s. After his death in 1973, it became increasingly clear to me that no idea in this world stands a chance for success without an infrastructure of support. Misesians did not have that in the universities nor think tanks. Mises himself dealt with the lack of support by leaving Austria and moving to a wonderful institute in Geneva. I wanted to found an institute in the United States that would be a sanctuary for free thought in the Misesian tradition. First I approached his widow, Margit von Mises, who gave me her blessing and agreed to serve as our first chairman. Then I asked Murray, whom I had also known, to guide our scholarly affairs. He was thrilled as well. He was a natural ally not only because he was Mises's greatest student, but also because he was being shunned as too extreme, too radical, insufficiently willing to play the game -- just as Mises had been. I take very seriously his example, and the trust he reposed in me by making me his executor, and literary executor. In many ways, he was the critical force behind our growth and success. His spirit still surrounds us today.

Read the rest of the interview here.

1 comment:

  1. Mises and Hayek are mentioned in this Clusterstock piece on the double dip: