Friday, June 22, 2012

Murray Rothbard's Take on Where Rand Paul Stands on the Political Spectrum

Dan Cotter emails:

I think Murray Rothbard laid out the best strategy for the liberty movement ever in this letter to F.A. Harper, George Resch. It appeared in Strictly Confidential and was titled "What Is To Be Done?"
Rothbard’s Confidential Memorandum to the Volker Fund,
“What Is to Be Done?”
July 1961
To: F.A. Harper, George Resch
I think he made the perfect distinction between Ron and Rand Paul in this letter and described why Rand Paul's strategy will fail to create positive change.

He laid out three types of strategies.

1.The sectarian strategists (e.g., the current Trotskyite sects) are those who pass out leaflets on street corners, state their full ideological position at all times, and consider any collaboration in halfway measures as “opportunist,” “selling out the cause,” etc. They are undoubtedly noble, but almost always ineffective.

2.The opposite “deviation” is “opportunism”: the willingness to collaborate with any halfway measures or organizations, and, in effect, to abandon the true principles in the name of gradualist advance, “realism,”
“practical life,” etc. These are the real sellers-out of the revolution, and they almost always, in historical Leninist experience, end by turning “reformist” and abandoning—in fact and later even de jure—their
revolutionary principles. These people are ignoble, and, if they are at all effective, they are not effective in the proper, revolutionary direction.

{This is the group I see Rand in.}

3. But I believe that there is a third, “centrist” course—certainly hard to find in practice, but the broad outlines of which can be sketched, and then perhaps used as a guide for our future activities. This “middle way” (Ugh! How I hate that concept!) may, for convenience, be dubbed “centrist” or “Leninist,” and it runs,
I believe, roughly as follows:

{I see this as the group that Ron Paul is a part of}

Rothbard goes on to lay out the strategy and it is just a brilliant letter. I was extremely moved when I read this back when the book first came out. I think your readers would benefit greatly from reading this since there is so much debate over what Rand Paul has been doing.

You can find it here. (page 7)


  1. The same concept of “right opportunism” and “left sectarianism” is discussed in chapter 30 of The Ethics of Liberty by the same Rothbard:

  2. In 1977 Rothbard expanded this letter into a much longer paper titled "Toward A Strategy For Libertarian Social Change", which was condensed into an article in Libertarian Review in 1978 and reprinted in 1980 by the Libertarian Party Radical Caucus. See it here: .

    The last chapter of Rothbard's book The Ethics of Liberty is also on strategy and mostly makes the same points.

    For most of the early years of the Libertarian Party, the sectarians were the problem. Then the Crane machine arrived and opportunism became the enemy, which Rothbard fought tooth and nail. Still, even after the Craniacs departed in 1983 the LP eventually succumbed to opportunism, which was very odd, since they gave up their principles for basically nothing: a few seats in Alaska and elsewhere and almost no impact since. The most strategically centrist LP presidential candidate in the last 20 years was Harry Browne. And probably the most effective.

  3. I'm not sure using Lenin as an authority (and even cribbing the title of Lenin's book) is a great recommendation for a theory of political engagement when we see how Lenin's "revolution" turned out.

    But even accepting Rothbard's dubious authority, I fail to see how Rand Paul falls into the opportunist camp, and if he does, it seems to me that Ron Paul would fall into that camp as well. Where has Rand Paul violated libertarian principles? He endorsed Romney. But Ron Paul endorsed Michelle Bachmann and even helped her raise money.

    Rand justifies his positions in more practical terms while Ron is more ideological. This is partly a matter of personal style and partly a matter of political strategy. But the positions themselves differ little. Rand tries to work with his fellow Senators more than Ron did. But I don't see what's wrong with that. Working with your colleages does not automatically mean "selling out." Crafting a compromise that gets you only part of what you want is not "incrementalism" unless you agree to forego your ultimate goals altogether.

    But the problem that troubles me most on this web site is that view that there is only one right and true understanding of libertarianism and that understanding includes both policy and strategy and any departure from in is "deviationism." Perhaps Rothbard was right to reference Lenin since is the whole process does reek of political correctness.

    There are libertarian principles, and there are libertarian policies. One libertarian principle can justify a variety of policies. But this web site seems to be filled with lockstep libertarians who want to contend that there is only true one and correct understanding of libertarianism both in policy and strategy and any deviation must be condemned.

    I would argue that such people should not be trusted with power. Respect for opposing views and a constant questioning of ones own views is an essential part of any attempt to arrive at truth. We do not need lockstep libertarians. We need libertarians who are willing to think for themselves.

    1. Three things.

      1. Your spin on why he used Lenin as an example is extremely ignorant. Rothbard said,

      "I think that here we can learn a great deal from Lenin and the Leninists—not too much, of course, because the Leninist goals are the opposite of ours—but particularly the idea that the Leninist party is the main, or indeed only, moral principle. We are not interested in seizing power and governing the State, and we therefore proclaim, not only adhere to, such values as truth, individual happiness, etc., which the Leninists subordinate to their party’s victory.

      But from one aspect of Lenin’s theory of strategy we can learn much: the setting forth of what “revolutionaries” can do to advance their principles, as opposed to the contrasting “deviations from the correct line,” which the Leninists have called “left-wing sectarianism” and “rightwing opportunism.” (In our case, the terminology would be reversed, perhaps: “left-wing opportunism” and “right-wing sectarianism.”)"

      2. Rand Paul is not a libertarian. He said in the past, "They thought all along that they could call me a libertarian and hang that label around my neck like an albatross, but I'm not a libertarian,"

      He believes being considered a libertarian is an albatross around the neck. So he readily admits that he deviates from libertarian principles. Otherwise, he would consider himself a libertarian. Also you keep saying he hasn't violated libertarian principles but that simply isn't true. I have to go no further than pointing to the fact he voted for sanctions on Iran which is an act of war. This is as non-libertarian as you can get. It is a despicable vote and any true libertarian would call him out on this.

      3. You say, "I would argue that such people should not be trusted with power."

      This comment tells me all I need to know about you. You clearly don't understand libertarianism if you would even make a statement like this. We don't want to be trusted with power. We don't want anybody to be trusted with power. We want freedom, not control over others. Why don't you study up on libertarian philosophy before you lecture us on beliefs you clearly don't get. Maybe the reason you can't understand our views is because you aren't a libertarian.

    2. Robb, I couldn't agree more. I couldn't have said it better. Unfortunately, I think most of the people that follow this site, as well as lewrockwell, will serve to ruin any libertarian revolution because they are just too obsessive and fanatical.

      When it comes to topics such as Rand Paul, Gary Johnson, CATO, or Reason magazine, all I have seen is complete lack of objectivity.

    3. I absolutely agree, and I 've already said it several times, these people here think and behave like some kind of religious sect or a Communist/Fascist cabal (not being familiar with Rothbard's writings in detail, I wasn't aware he used Lenin as a positive example, but, unfortunately it fits the zealotic profile perfectly :)) ), and, even if you broadly sympathize with their agenda, this kind of attitude and culture, together with the type of people it attracts tells you there's something seriously wrong with the "Liberty movement", at least the way the majority of the people commentinghere understand it. Particularly, if you've lived in different parts of the world, as I have, and have some experience with the totalitarian and post-totalitarian mindset in its diverse manifestations. People who want a revolution instead of an evolution, who reject compromises and insist on the "purity of faith" and who go around calling anybody who doesn't adhere to all the minutiae of their dogma a "fascist" strike me as too close to Jacobin/Bolshevik mentality for comfort, even if, otherwise, I approve of 80% of the things they stand for (the most notable exception are, of course, their naive and short-sighted foreign policy views).

    4. This is too hilarious.

      "I absolutely agree, and I 've already said it several times, these people here think and behave like some kind of religious sect or a Communist/Fascist cabal"

      and later in the same comment

      "People who want a revolution instead of an evolution, who reject compromises and insist on the "purity of faith" and who go around calling anybody who doesn't adhere to all the minutiae of their dogma a "fascist" strike me as too close to Jacobin/Bolshevik mentality for comfort"

      So you call us a communist/fascist cabal and then later complain about people calling someone who doesn't adhere our philosophy a fascist. You're too dense to be taken seriously.

      Also it is quite clear you are not familiar with Rothbard's writings. There was no need for you to inform us of your ignorance on the matter you felt compelled to comment on.

    5. Is there any point in discussing with people who don't understand the difference between comparing certain aspects of someone's beaviour or style to fascists/communists and calling someone (say, Mitt Romney or any other honorable, law-abiding person who respects the constitution of this country) a "fascist"? I disagree with Romney much more than with any of your "saints", but this is not the reason to revile and denigrate him in such a base, primitive and stupid way. This is exactly what constitutes totalitarian mindset I spoke about: if you happen to disagree about any points of the Dogma, than, if you're with us, you're automatically a traitor, and if you're not, of course, you can't be anything but a fascist. But if your little fraternity of cranks can't tolerate any voice of dissent, even though "Liberty" is nominally the central tenet of their narrow-minded and sectarian ideology, that's fine with me: with thinking like that you'll never be anything more anyway... :))

    6. "...(say, Mitt Romney or any other honorable, law-abiding person who respects the constitution of this country)"

      Tell me you're kidding when you claim Mitt Romney respects the constitution.
      Because if you're not, then there's no helping you.

      Furthermore, what could POSSIBLY be fascist about a bankster puppet, who wants to wage aggressive wars, supports the Patriot Act and all the violations of civil/constitutional rights that entails (rendition etc.), and grow the surveillance-spy-and-police state even further?

      Nah, nothing remotely fascist about that.

      I will revile and denigrate ANYONE who supports violating the most basic civil rights, who supports aggressive wars that will kill untold innocent people, who supports the war on drugs and grow the police state.

      There is no such thing as "disagreement" because the majority gets to decide if he gets power, and his power will affect everyone whether they like it or not. A disagreement entails that you disagree and go your separate ways. It does NOT entail that you disagree and one then gets to tell you "tough luck, because i'm in charge and what i say goes."

      When someone is pointing the many barrels of the state at you, there is no "disagreement". There is a command.

      How pathetically absurd that you dare suggest WE are the ones with the totalitarian mindset, when our whole philosophy is based on only wanting to be left THE HELL ALONE by the likes of Romney.
      We don't want to impose our views on you or anybody else. Go live your merry lives the way you want. It is Romney and all other statists who want to impose THEIR view on US.

      By your logic we are "totalitarian" because we refuse to accept that we should be ruled and violated by government.
      When it comes to us not wanting to be ruled, you bet your damn ass we are dogmatic. To suggest this is unreasonable of us shows that you apparently have the mentality of a serf.

  4. So Rand really *IS* a big #2....


  5. While we're talking about selling out, anybody remember Ron Paul's vote for the illegal use of force resolution regarding Afghanistan?

    This constant flagging of Rand is entirely premature. Ron's career in Washington has its own lapses.

    1. But why is it a "lapse"? Honest people can have honest disagreements. It's innate to the human condition. And ideologies can be turned to mean anything you want. There are a thousand interpretations of the constitution and a million interpretations of the Bible. That's why ideology purity is not a good guide to policy. If your ideology does not lead to good results, it is not a good ideology. Prudence, good will, and the substance, rather than the form; must trump ideology in the final analysis.

    2. Ron Paul voted to authorize force to hunt down Osama bin Laden and authored legislation to specifically target terrorist leaders and bring them to justice. He did not vote for the current Afghan War, which I believe is unconstitutional.

      Furthermore, Ron Paul's vote was not illegal. It was Constitutional in that it authorized the specific targeting of defensive military actions at those who aggressed against (i.e. attacked) the US.

      You need to get your facts straight.

    3. @ Anonymous June 23, 2012 4:54 AM

      It's amusing how you mention the 'selling out' or 'lapse' of one person as a good excuse to forgive another person his selling out or lapses.
      Two wrongs make a right?

      Ron Paul has earned his stripes over decades. Even if what he did was a 'lapse' or 'selling out' on that one issue, it can easily be held against decades of consistency.

      Rand Paul has only just begun and has already raced off the 'reservation' so to speak. Forget all the specifics that have now been mentioned here dozens of times. When has Ron Paul ever referred to the libertarian label as an "albatross" around the neck? You really don't need to be a genius to figure out Rand's true position and sentiment.
      Some might say he called the libertarian label an "albatross" in 2010. Why hold it against him in 2012?
      Ehhh.. Maybe because he has now said things, and done things, that if anything PROVE that he considers the label to be an albatross. His words about libertarians on the internet also precede a lot of what has been said here on this blog. We should respect a man who shows no respect to us? You must think you're dealing with dolts.

      There is a thing to be said for forgiving a guy a mistake or lapse. Rand has not made a lapse, because he made a conscious decision that he has not disavowed. To forgive someone a lapse that he himself does not consider to be a lapse is ridiculous.

  6. The French revolutionaries who beheaded Louis XVI didn't claim to be seeking power either. I think Rothbard even calls the libertarians, but they gave France a reign of terror. When you make a revolution, you spawn a counter-revolution and then you must suppress the counter-revolution lest your head be the one to fall. Often, of course, "counter-revolutionaries" turn out to be some of the people who made the original revolution as it devours its children.

    Every libertarian should read Burke. What is Burke's message? If the French want British liberty, they must do it the way the British did. Through the reform, but preservation of British institutions and traditions, and when the dust is settled, the French will not get freedom, they will get a strongman.

    1. Who is calling for a French style violent revolution?

    2. Do you really expect to get any traction here by comparing libertarians to the French revolutionaries?

      Why don't you mention the Bolsheviks while you're at it?

  7. Rothbard was full of shit, he endorsed George HW Bush for president.

  8. Una vez maté a un perro y desde entonces me llaman mataperros.