Thursday, May 22, 2014

Was Murray Rothbard a Thick Libertarian?

Below is an email exchange Walter Block recently had. Professor Block's comments are in blue:

I received this important challenge to libertarianism:
A position opposed to initiatory aggression was not enough for Rothbard when he wrote that David Friedman's anarchism was not good enough because he did not "hate" the State. This is an extra-libertarian preference.
A position opposed to initiatory aggression was not enough for Rothbard when he supported diversity in human relations. He went so far as to call egalitarianism "evil" as against human nature. The same can be said for his stance on hermeneutics.
A position opposed to initiatory aggression was not enough for Rothbard when he split society into the ruling class and the subject class. I don't have to tell you that he drew heavily on Leftist historians for this material and this sort of class theory is exactly something you would find among left thick libertarians today 
This is not to say Rothbard was good or bad for any of this. I just recognize that his intellectual project was not just the NAP, and that all of his commitments were of a greater worldview -- a Rothbardian worldview.

Here are my responsese (<<)

But Murray was far more than merely a libertarian. He was also an Austrian economist, a philosopher, an ethicist, a historian, a strategist for libertarianism (this is different than being a libertarian; the former asks how liberty can best most efficaciously be promoted, the latter is limited to deductions from the non aggression principle) and much more.  If Murray said any of these things QUA libertarian, I would agree with you. Murray would then be a thickster libertarian. But I don’t agree that Murray spoke as a libertarian on any of the points you make. Let me consider each of these points:

A position opposed to initiatory aggression was not enough for Rothbard when he wrote that David Friedman's anarchism was not good enough because he did not "hate" the State. This is an extra-libertarian preference.

<<Yes, this is “an extra-libertarian preference.” But note, Murray didn’t say that David was not a libertarian. Only that he didn’t like that viewpoint, in effect. So, Murray is not speaking here as a libertarian. He would have been had he said that since David didn’t hate the state, David wasn’t a libertarian. But Murray didn’t say this.

A position opposed to initiatory aggression was not enough for Rothbard when he supported diversity in human relations. He went so far as to call egalitarianism "evil" as against human nature.

<< Hey, Murray was also “Mr. First Nighter.” That is, Murray gave movie reviews. Did he do so as a libertarian? Of course not. He did so as a movie critic. Libertarians are allowed to take stands on non libertarian issues. They just do not do so qua libertarian; rather, they should not do so from that perspective. Suppose the following scenario: we have laissez faire capitalism, full free enterprise, and somehow everyone ends up with precisely the same amount of wealth and income. This is not a logical contradiction. What would Murray’s view on that scenario have been? Of course I cannot speak for him, but it seems to me he would have said something of the order of, “well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I do not at all oppose voluntary egalitarianism, or egalitarianism that arises from economic freedom. I think it extremely unlikely, given what I know of the heterogeneity of the human race, but this would not violate the NAP. I only oppose coercive egalitarianism, since it violates the NAP.” Here, the Murray of my imagination would be speaking as a libertarian, but this would hardly be thick.

The same can be said for his stance on hermeneutics.

<< Here, Murray spoke as an Austrian economist, not as a libertarian.

A position opposed to initiatory aggression was not enough for Rothbard when he split society into the ruling class and the subject class. I don't have to tell you that he drew heavily on Leftist historians for this material and this sort of class theory is exactly something you would find among left thick libertarians today.

<<Yes, thick libertarians buy into this too, and why not? It is an accurate portrayal of economic history. But what is the distinction between rulers and ruled. It is certainly not the Marxist one between employers and employees. Rather, it is based on NAP violations. The rulers do this, and the victims suffer from it. So this is also thin libertarianism.


Best regards,

Walter

Walter E. Block, Ph.D.
Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics
Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business                   
Loyola University New Orleans

Walter Block earned his PhD in Economics at Columbia University. He is an author, editor, and co-editor of many books which include Defending the UndefendableDefending the Undefendable II: Freedom in All RealmsThe Privatization of Roads and Highways: Human and Economic FactorsThe Case for Discrimination.

No comments:

Post a Comment