Monday, March 12, 2012

Was Murray Rothbard a Racist?

At the risk of waking up a sleeping dog, I am going to discuss Murray Rothbard as racist and the Ron Paul newsletter quotes that were supposedly racist. Hopefully, this will result in putting the damn dog to sleep, forever.

There have been two broad sweeps against Rothbard and those influenced by him. One being, Rothbard considered the South's attempt to secede from the Union legitimate, and two, writings in the Ron Paul letter were racist.

To the first point, more than once, it has been explained that Rothbard and company were not supporting the South because of the South's policies on slavery, but merely the South's desire to secede from the Union. Rothbard wrote as much:
It is here that we must split our analysis of the "causes of the Civil War"; for, while this analysis leads, in my view, to a "pro-Northern" position in the slavery-in-the-territories struggles of the 1850s, it leads, paradoxically, to a "pro-Southern" position in the Civil War itself. For secession need not, and should not, have been combated by the North; and so we must pin the blame on the North for aggressive war against the seceding South. The war was launched in the shift from the original Northern position (by Garrison included) to "let our erring sisters depart in peace" to the determination to crush the South to save that mythical abstraction known as the "Union" – and in this shift, we must put a large portion of the blame upon the maneuvering of Lincoln to induce the Southerners to fire the first shot on Fort Sumter – after which point, flag-waving could and did take over.
Thus, any attempt to quote Rothbard out of context and state that he was pro-South, without out explaining the context in which Rothbard was pro-South is misleading and dishonest. It is an attempt to hint that Rothbard was racist because of his view on the Civil War, when in fact his position on the war was a principled position based on the right to secede.

The second attempt to smear Rothbard as racist comes about as a result of the infamous Ron Paul newsletters that it has been speculated were written by Rothbard and/or those close to him. A mere five lines, or so, discussing loosely black crime in the late 1980s/early 1990s, have been lifted on to placards in an attempt to paint Ron Paul as one associated with racists.

But, if the lines are put in context of the era and the failure of public schools to provide a solid education, and minimum wage preventing black youth from finding jobs and LBJ's Great Society removing fathers from black families via Aid to Mothers with Dependent Children, the quotes can be viewed as nothing more than a harsh description of what happens when government gets involved in care and parenting.

But no, those who have spent hours upon hours re-reading them and analyzing every comma and every period, could not find such an interpretation. What they saw was as Koch-supported Reason magazine dis , was " the bigoted rhetoric about African Americans". To them, it's simply Rothbard and his crew as racists--and, therefore, Ron Paul is probably so also (or at least tainted).

But, here's where we can shoot the dog. Murray Rothbard was a principled man and stood for principle, always and everywhere. Not once have any of the writers, that agonized over these few lines, point to Rothbard's true views on blacks and slaves. In his book, Ethics in Liberty, Rothbard  explained his view this way:
   We have indicated above that there was only one possible moral solution for the slave question: immediate and unconditional abolition, with no compensation to the slavemasters. Indeed, any compensation should have been the other way—to repay the oppressed slaves for their lifetime of slavery. A vital part of such necessary compensation would have been to grant the plantation lands not to the slavemaster, who scarcely had valid title to any property, but to the slaves themselves, whose labor, on our “homesteading” principle, was mixed with the soil to develop the plantations. In short, at the very least, elementary libertarian justice required not only the immediate freeing of the slaves, but also the immediate turning over to the slaves, again without compensation to the masters, of the plantation lands on which they had worked and sweated. As it was, the victorious North made the same mistake—though “mistake” is far too charitable a word for an act that preserved the essence of an unjust and oppressive social system—as had Czar Alexander when he freed the Russian serfs in 1861: the bodies of the oppressed were freed, but the property which they had worked and eminently deserved to own, remained in the hands of their former oppressors. With the economic power thus remaining in their hands, the former lords soon found themselves virtual masters once more of what were now free tenants or farm laborers. The serfs and the slaves had tasted freedom, but had been cruelly deprived of its fruits.
Let the Rothbard-haters and the Ron Paul-haters try and explain this as a racist view. Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard are principled men. They stand in favor of liberty for everyone, and they think out there principles in detail. Yes, on secession even for the south. Yes, on 40 acres and a mule for former slaves.

Rothbard and Dr. Paul  have thought things out far beyond the depths that their attackers have. And for Dr. Paul and Rothbard, it is always about freedom for everyone, black, white or other.


  1. I think Ron Paul talked about buying off the slaves..not sure but I did watch an interview where he said the civil war was unnecessary, if the objective was to free slavery (as per popular belief) - they should have bought the slaves instead of half a million dead.

    1. Actually the idea of "buying off the slaves" was suggested at the time and it was not accepted by the states in queston. But then again you idiots do seem to live in your own alternate universe where historical facts are rewritten to suit your fucked up crazy ideology.

    2. Nice that you hold comments for approval, I guess the poor little losertarians can't accept that the majority of people have rejected your fucked up unrealistic ideology.

    3. i love how your best defense against libertarianism is that the majority of people "rejected" it, and that's it's "unrealistic". people reject libertarians because we would cut out the unnecessary government aid that is drowning our country in debt and uninspired, dependent layabouts. the people who are receiving that aid don't try to work harder simply because they already have a source of income. no, people reject libertarianism because they don't want to accept responsibility for their own failings

    4. Yes the majority of people reject libertarianism because the majority of people recognize it for the horseshit that it is.

    5. I love how statist correctly identify their own argument flaws but then blame them on the other side. They do it with passion and then go on to completely reject reality. I think its built into the programming.

    6. Ever notice how statists always get frustrated and defensive and being lashing out with insults when they're confronted with facts? It's a natural human defense mechanism. They know they're wrong. They just don't want to admit it in front of you.

  2. The US Civil War will always be a loser when it comes to arguing about liberty. It was inexorably linked to slavery at the beginning (no matter the actual reasons that the North provoked the first shots), and by the end slavery was deliberately ended. The details simply overwhelm all other facts.

    If your arguments for liberty depend on this war, then you will not win that argument, no matter the facts. Murray should have recognized this.

    1. Nope, you're wrong.
      The war was all about tariffs and Federal hegemony.
      Why start the war at that time when slavery was and had been legal all along? It was SECESSION that started the war.
      The Emancipation Proclamation was a propaganda ploy; it didn't free the slaves in the Union slave-holding states!
      Every other Western nation had freed their slaves through non-violent means. Why couldn't we?

    2. If the "Civil War" was, as you say, linked to slavery, then Affirmative Action and lifting up the 'freedmen' is a moral requirement of the "Civil War." If the "libertarian" is consistent, and says okay you are free, and really just has him eek it out without any skills to compete as such--well, then some programs will be required to get him up to shape, right? An occupying army, and necessary legislation to insure an outcome will be required, right?

      Too many men died, too much treasure spent, to just let it all go to squalor, right? Because if it did go to squalor, then the Southern's would be proved just by Norhtern propaganda, right? Too risky an outcome, right? To just put these now "free men" and all on the street? Or make them clients of the state, rather than the local agrarian aristocrat? Is that libertarian?

    3. Quote from Capn Mike: "The war was all about tariffs and Federal hegemony."
      Quote from Anonymous: "If the "libertarian" is consistent, and ..."

      These are all wonderful points, but mean virtually nothing to the majority of people you're talking to. You're preaching to the choir. There is 150 years of cultural inertia pushing back against this argument.

      We can't even get people to recognise the logic of libertarianism and Austrian economics, let alone to agree with it. Do you really think attacking the mythology of the Civil War is going to win you any converts?

      There are better ways to spend your intellectual capital.

    4. What about the detail that all battles but Gettysburg (in 1863) were fought in the south? That detail in and of itself says who the aggressive belligerent was.

    5. @Geoih,

      Well, I respectfully disagree. Young people have a built in B.S. meter, and they come alive when I give them the truth about the "civil" war. I also hand out DiLorenzo's books on Lincoln.
      It really starts their thoughts going in a revisionist direction. And they do keep going.
      That's the same drive that attracts kids to Ron Paul.

    6. I agree...that discussing the Civil War is a tough sell to the uneducated masses whose 5th grade 'education' plagues them. We've all been there at some point (some of us more recently than others).

      But I have - with a gentle attitude - brought to may people's attention the words of Lincoln in his inaugural address (a la Tom DiLorenzo) he promised to attack southern states - who at the time were providing more than half of the federal govt's revenues - that refused to pay the newly doubled Morrel tariff (that caused northern made products to be more attractive when compared to highly taxed European imported goods)...and how Lincoln also proposed the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which would have institutionalized slavery in the Constitution. Some abolitionist he was!

      I always acknowledge the hideous institution of slavery, and condemn those wealthy landowners for what they did. This tells my listener that I'm not crazy and that I'm not some sort of neo-confederate, racist weirdo.

      But when I make the above points, my friends and neighbors all say "Are you f-ing kidding me...I didn't know that...really?" I always answer by saying 'It makes sense that Republicans and Democrats alike worship this guy Lincoln to this day...who destroyed our voluntary union of independent sovereign states. Lincoln flushed the Constituton down the toilet, and today's politicians agree with that idea....don't let them fool you...that's why I'm such a fan of this crazy Ron Paul guy who simply addresses these ugly issues honestly'.

  3. Well said, Mr. Wenzel. I expect the leftist progressives to scream racism regarding the newsletters, because they are such sensitive souls. However, I have seen republicans try to make the racism charge, too. This is far worse, in that they are completely doing this for political reasons because they want us to be policeman of the world. And Ron Paul is an isolationist!!!!

  4. Mr. Wenzel, where do you stand on mass US immigration and its relation to libertarian principles of a free society?

  5. Let me ask you about this collectivist "right to secede" I hear self-proclaimed libertarians espousing: what about the rights of Southerners who would have preferred to stay in the Union? I bet a lot of Southerners would've liked to escape the food shortages and hyperinflation which came with their "war for southern independence"

    1. Or the Loyalists in the Revolutionary War...

      Sure, but....

      I think a good libertarian should always favor the smaller form of government down to eventually, the individual.

      So... Fed, State, County... well you get the drift.

    2. The right to secede goes all the way from the federal state on the bottom to the individual at the top.

    3. Anon 4:31 AM:
      I stand corrected!!

    4. @Anonymous "Let me ask you about this collectivist "right to secede" I hear self-proclaimed libertarians espousing: what about the rights of Southerners who would have preferred to stay in the Union? I bet a lot of Southerners would've liked to escape the food shortages and hyperinflation which came with their "war for southern independence"


      How many people are willing to give up their property for nothing, or very little, in return? And, even if these people make up the majority that would, does that mean then that everyone else should also give up their property for nothing, or very little, in return?

  6. It would be more accurate to challenge the term 'racist'. Rothbard appreciated the publication of the Bell Curve as a weapon against egalitarianism, and like Mises, had traditional and empirical views on human biodiversity.

    Rothbard was not a Leveller.

    1. Rothbard was certainly not 'racist' for his era - I subscribed to the RRReport and can affirm that racial matters were at best tangential to criticism of government programs and policies. I actually looked through my surviving copies trying to find any evidence of what would now be considered non-PC. Most Yankee men of his class in that era simply avoided the topic, as it was generally considered an abstraction from another time and place, but he did not write as a White person, or as a Jew, or a Man. Difficult to imagine in today's poisonous atmosphere, I know, but in those days one didn't have to be constantly self-censoring for fear of giving unintended offense.

      I appreciate not wanting to stir the pot, but has anyone other than our enemies ever actually seen the offending quotes? I had sort of assumed that they must have been really rank, but now I'm thinking they are more likely quite "objectively" mild, or they would have been more prominently featured.

    2. Where did Mises write on this topic?

    3. "Where did Mises write on this topic?"

      A good place to start:

      Third section (start page 35), The Cultural Thought of Ludvig von Mises, Journal of Libertarian Studies

  7. Huh?
    Even if Rothbard was, he wasn't ever president of the US.
    Or AoG.
    Anybody want to touch that one with a ten foot pole?

  8. It is unfortunate that we have come to view that war as a war for the freeing of the slaves, because it wasn't. While it is regrettable that the Southern states had not advanced enough to realize that slave labor was actually working to their detriment, we must not forget that the Union of the American States was formed on a voluntary basis by its constituent parts. From the South's point of view, their entry into the Union was a function of their voluntary choice, and if their benefits were no longer served by participating in that union, then they had the right to secede.

    As I see it, Rothbard was making an argument on contractual obligations.

    In the interest of space, I have posted the rest of my comment here:

  9. I prefer to reference the two greatest racial issues of our time. Paul opposes the racist war on drugs and opposes the slaughter of the brown skinned people of the middle east. And now we are busy expanding our killing and our empire in Africa.

  10. Here's a great place to view an incredible and laughable amount of ignorance on the subjet.

    I encourage you all to help set the record straight.

  11. Robert

    ..And don't forget Rothbard's 1961 piece "The Negro Revolution." (See here. Rothbard made his modern liberal critics look like pikers...

  12. Jebus, but hard to claim that Lincoln "provoked" anyone since he hadn't yet even been inaugurated when the first Southern state seceded. And for the Murray Rothbard was a notorious racist, chattel slavery is a crime against humanity, since could be "war of aggression" in seeking to end the practice of chattel slavery. For lunacy from the misanthropic libertarian crowd, the one soul above posts a link, this one:


    How about, because the south said so. You can start with Mississippi:

    Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

    That's from Mississippi's A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union, the 2nd paragraph of the same. The first paragraph reads:

    In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

    Then comes the part about how slavery is the greatest material interest in the world.

    Some of you need to recognize that great grandpa and grandma were flat out racists who could see the plain inhumanity of a chattel slavery. The good news is that they didn't give birth to Hitler.

    1. "hard to claim that Lincoln "provoked" anyone since he hadn't yet even been inaugurated when the first Southern state seceded."
      That's a moot point because the shots on Fort Sumter which initiated the Civil War were fired after his inauguration. Lincoln and his cabinet provoked the war because they knew that sending reinforcements into Fort Sumter would cause a war. How do I know this? Maybe the fact that Lincoln's Secretary of State William Seward was quoted as saying, "The dispatch of an expedition to supply or reinforce Sumter would provoke an attack and so involve a war at that point." Can you explain Lincoln's strange views on "colonizing" slaves, aka deport them? Was that because he cared for them?

      "And for the Murray Rothbard was a notorious racist"

      Evidence? I have read many of Rothbard's publications and have never seen anything that could be construed to be considered racist, not even things that politically correct progressives could construe. How do you explain the passage from Ethics in Liberty in the article above?