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Rothbard Had It Right in 1970

Said Murray Rothbard of what the New Left had become at the end of the 1960s:

To contemplate America in the grip of the Weathermen or Women’s Lib is to envision a truly nightmare world. Not only does Dick Nixon shine in comparison; I would venture to predict that a Rudd or a Morgan reign would make even Joe Stalin seem like Albert Schweitzer. For make no mistake: the Left is now in the grip, not just of Marxists-Stalinists, but also,  for the first time in the history of Marxism, it is a movement that is Marxist in ideology but totally nihilist in attitude, worldview, and lifestyle. There have been few more repellent blends in the history of social thought than the current one of the goals of Stalin blended with the attitude and tactics of the nihilist Nechayev. For at least the Marxism of Stalin’s day tried its best to be rational, to pursue the goals of science and reason; they did not pursue insanity almost for its own sake, or as a “liberating” force. If, then, we have nothing in common with either the means or the purposes of the current Left, then we must cease thinking of ourselves, in the current political and ideological context, as “Leftists”. We must bid farewell to the Left.

Murray Rothbard, “Farewell to the Left,” Libertarian Forum, May 1, 1970

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5 replies »

  1. And then the libertarians went Right and they fucked that up too. People fuck things up. That’s a given. I think I’m going to stay center — socratic with a very long term left endpoint.

  2. What’s interesting is that in that same issue Jerry Tuccille had a piece attacking conservatives as well.

    I think the big blunder for libertarians was when their movement started becoming dependent on Koch money in the 1970s. That’s what really started the process of bringing a lot of old guard conservatives and neoliberal corporate apologists into their ranks. We can see where that leads: http://aaeblog.com/2011/02/02/how-roger-pilon-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-empire/

    Actually, I think Rothbard was correct in aligning libertarians with anti-establishment forces wherever they emerged, with the primary emphasis being on decentralization and opposition to imperialist war. That’s more or less my approach as well. The problem is that a lot of libertarians didn’t follow his lead on this question due to the fact that many of them were simply conservatives under another name and were really only interested in standard economic conservative objectives like “tax cuts and deregulation.” Hence, the love that some libertarians bestowed on Ronald Reagan. Rothbard cut that to shreds: http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard60.html

  3. I think the big blunder for libertarians was when their movement started becoming dependent on Koch money in the 1970s.

    That’s how I see it, too. A “brand” started to develop, and libertarianism began to be articulated in ways that were too easily integrated into the establishment. I remember even in the late 90s the LP was all about approaching politics like a business rather than as a radical people’s movement or even an intellectual adventure. It hasn’t worked except to the extent the party’s survived by transforming itself into a quasi-wing of the establishment.

  4. Back in the early to mid 90s I was starting to move away from the Left and towards libertarianism. I started going through all of the economic and philosophical arguments made by Mises, Hayek and Nozick, and getting into the radical anarcho-capitalist literature that came along in the 60s and 70s from Rothbard, the Tannehills, Roy Childs, David Friedman, et. al. I also started getting really into Thomas Szasz at that point.

    The interesting thing is that when I started coming in contact with the actual libertarian movement as it was at that time, it just seemed really dull compared to the radical literature the movement had put out a couple decades earlier. I’m talking about the LP, Reason and Liberty magazines, the CATO Institute, etc. It was like in the space of 20 years the movement had gone from this cutting edge radical, new-fangled kind of anarchism over to something that wasn’t much different from a standard political special interest group like the Sierra Club. I began to wonder what the change was, and much later I came to the realization that it was the infusion of Koch money in the 70s that turned the libertarian movement in that kind of reformist direction. Hence, you had libertarians abandoning the libertarian label, and rejecting the anarchist label much more strongly, and re-inventing themselves as “low-tax liberals.”

    I used to see utterly nauseating stuff in libertarian publications back in those days. One of the worst was Mark Skousen’s defense of Rudy Giuliani in the pages of Liberty magazine. I began to think Bob Black was right when he said libertarians were Republicans on drugs.

  5. @Keith:

    Thanks for your awesome comments.

    As to the radical literature and libertarianism, I noticed some libertarian literature in the 70s and 80s taking a commendably radical and anti-conservative tone. And while I am not a cultural leftist (I am a Christian), I did appreciate the criticisms of conservatism from such icons as Murray Rothbard.

    And as to radicalism, it was wonderful, and while there are many great writers and institutions that are radical in their libertarianism, the earlier 20th century libertarian writings had a radicalism that was unique. In fact, it sometimes even had positive views toward the French Revolution (which is routinely condemned by many libertarians), especially from Rothbard himself.

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