Against the State: Lew Rockwell interviewed by Tom Woods

This is an excellent introduction to the basic anarchist positions.



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ROCKWELL:  Tom Woods had me on his show to talk about my book, Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto.  This is just the first installment of a couple of appearances, which I thank Tom very much for.  And I hope you’ll find it interesting.

WOODS:  What a thrill and a privilege it is to be joined today by Lew Rockwell.  Of course, you know Lew from, the indispensible website, but he’s also the founder and chairman of the Mises Institute, the heroic Mises Institute, former chief of staff to Ron Paul and all-around great guy.

Like me, Lew is originally from Massachusetts.  And that’s where I’m heading today for  a week’s vacation — if you can believe I’m actually going on vacation –  and my wife and I are taking all five children.  We have five girls, ranging from just about 11, all the way down to newborn.  So ask me next week whether that turned out to be a good idea or not.  [Laughing]  Actually, we took a vacation to Manhattan in New York City last summer.  We had four kids at that time.  We took three of them with us and we had a wonderful time.  It was just one exciting thing after another.  We had a great time.  So I’m confident this will be the same way.

But don’t worry.  In my absence, there will be episodes of the Tom Woods Show.  That’s just how I am.   I want to be known for reliability; that every week day, you can get your episode of the Tom Woods Show.  If you’re subscribing on iTunes or Stitcher, you are really making me happy.  You can do that over at

Well, right now, let’s turn to Lew Rockwell.

Lew, welcome back to the show.

ROCKWELL:    Tom, great to be with you.

WOODS:  I’m always looking for an excuse to have you on and a new book is about the best reason in the world.  And moreover, a new book, called Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto, is the best reason I can possibly imagine having somebody on.   [Laughing]  So –

ROCKWELL:  Oh, you’re very nice to say that.

WOODS:  Well, let’s start off with what your definition is, how you would explain to the man on the street what this scary sounding term “Anarcho-Capitalism” is all about.

ROCKWELL:  Well, first of all, this is Murray Rothbard’s term.  And, in fact, this entire book is, in a sense, a tribute to Murray as well as derived from Murray, so he is the inventor of Anarcho-Capitalism.  There were anarchists before Murray, obviously, Capitalists before Murray, but it was his combination of the two things along with Austrian Economics that made Libertarianism and Anarcho-Capitalism what they are.  In fact, he once said that Anarchism was fulfilled in Capitalism; Capitalism fulfilled in anarchism.

So what is it?  It’s the view that — and there’s a wonderful essay, by the way, by Stefan Cassella on about what is an Anarchist.  And this is, of course, again, derived from Rothbard.  When we think of Libertarianism and certainly Anarcho-Capitalism, it’s really when is force — when can you initiate force against somebody?  When can the state, which, of course, is the sort of organization of violence in society, when is it justified to initiate aggression against someone?  The Anarcho-Capitalist says never.  It’s never justified to initiate aggression, initiate violence and force if somebody is innocent.  Now, of course, you can respond with violence.  If somebody is invading your home and breaking down the door, can you then respond with violence?  Yes.  I mean, there are people who believe not.  I’m not one of those.  Although, I appreciate the Pacifist view, I’m not a Pacifist.  But for the Conservative, the Liberal, for the Communist, to the Socialist and to the Fascist, to, for that matter, even Classical Liberals, the state can initiate force against the innocent, whether it’s to collect taxes, to make them pay their parking fine and grab them to go to war, all the various things that the government does to us.  So the Anarcho-Capitalist says, no, never; it’s never morally justified to initiate force, violence or the threat of violence against the innocent.

So if you were to describe that to the man on the street, a lot of times they say, “Oh, well, of course, that’s right.”

WOODS:  Right.  Yeah, and we all favor that.

ROCKWELL:  “You should never do that.”  But, of course, once you start to get into examples, “Well, is the government ever able to just decide it’s going to take X percentage of the money you earn this year and spend it on itself?”  Of course, they think, “Well, of course, that’s actually necessary because we have to have roads; we have to have mass murder in Afghanistan and everything else in-between; we have to have a state.”  So the Anarcho-Capitalist says, “No, we don’t need a state.”  We don’t need this ruler over us in society, run, of course, despite the American propaganda, not by people.  It’s always a parasitic elite and they live off the rest of us.  They do it through propaganda.  For the most part, they couldn’t — and this is Etienne de La Boetie’s and other peoples’ view — you can’t actually just use force against us.  The rulers just can’t use force, all the time, against the ruled.  There are too many of the ruled.  They are a small minority, after all.  And they have to be a small minority in order to live it up in the style to which they’ve become accustomed and reward their friends and do all the things they want; it can’t be too large a group.  So it’s not the people.  It’s this little, tiny group of elites that we’re taught from the earliest days in the government schools, you know, thank goodness, we’ve got these people because they’re concerned about the public good, the common good, the national defense and all the rest of these slogans that, upon examination, actually don’t mean what they claim them to mean, but rather mean what the power elite people who are actually running the state for their own benefit and the benefit of their cronies — it’s just the whole thing is a fraud.

So I think of this book as — it’s not a scholarly book.  I mean, there’s many — Rothbard, Hoppe, many great people have written scholarly works on Anarcho-Capitalism and related issues.  This is like the peoples’ book.  Maybe this is the man on the street’s book.  But I’d like to try to convince people who are already inclined towards liberty that they need to go all the way, that they need to not give an inch to the state, not ever go along with their looting — what we call taxation — their mass murder — they call it war — their kidnapping, whether it’s public schools or military conscription.  So all that sort of conduct is unjust; it’s immoral; and we should all be opposed to it.

Is this just an entirely utopian view?  Is it, “Well, it’s ridiculous; it could never happen?”  I think it maybe can, and has happened in the past in some societies.  Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that he really admired the American Indians because they were all Anarchists and they didn’t have government.  But he said, unfortunately, that’s only suitable for uncivilized people.  For civilized people, like himself — [Laughing] — they needed the government.  And, of course, he ran the government.  So I think that it’s not utopian.

But in another sense, maybe if one is dedicated to ending, let’s say, murder, somebody is concerned about all the murders that take place in this country — we’ll just mention private murders, not the government murders – and wants to dedicate his life to trying to do everything possible to lessen the number of murders, he might feel he’s never going to entirely succeed.  There always are going to be murders, but is it possible to diminish the number of murders?  Yeah, I think so.  So is it actually to diminish — is it possible to diminish the state and all this unbelievable amount of violence — and what size of the Himalayas of corpses that — just take our own government, the U.S. government — has built up over the centuries?  Is it possible to diminish that?  Yes, I think so.  And it’s through people learning what the story is and really taking the Rothbardian red pill and the scales fall from their eyes, and you never see government politicians, the government’s media, the government’s academia, the government’s big business, all these various forces in society constantly promoting the state, you don’t ever see them the same.  And if enough people come to actually not believe in them, then they are much diminished.

So I think there is real hope.  I especially see it among the young people who are not buying into the system, thanks to Ron Paul, in large part.  They’re not buying into the system like older people do; who don’t ever think there’s going to be Social Security for them, who are worried about the debt that they’ve got, who are worried about whether they have a job, whether they’re going to have to live with their parents into middle age or longer, and all the horrible things that so many young people face and worry about for their futures.  They’re much more open to questioning everything, questioning everything that the official line lays down for us.

So I hope this book will — it’s a short book.  I mean, it’s less than 200 pages.  I hope that it will encourage people not only to be interested in these ideas, to read the importance of particularly Rothbard but others, too, and to withdraw their consent.  It’s not necessary to bow down to these people.  It’s not necessary to think that just because somebody is in a government union that they are a superior person over the taxpayers and really deserve to — you know, the typical federal employee or state or local government employee makes more than twice as much as the typical person paying the taxes.  So you have to question these things.  If you can, get other people interested.  It could be a very long process.  It could take centuries.  Although, sometimes, ideas, the climate of opinion can change seemingly almost over night.  So I think it’s so important from a moral standpoint, from a strategic standpoint that we question the government, question what they do, question their morality, question — tell the truth about their lives.  Because every word out of the government’s mouth is a lie, or certainly should be assumed to be a lie unless proven otherwise.  Because, of course, they don’t ever want to tell the truth.  They can’t actually say, “We’re not spending all this money to help the poor; we’re spending it on ourselves and on our friends and empowering ourselves and making us bigger and more important people and richer people and so forth.”  So it’s so important to tell the truth, to learn the truth, study some political philosophy, just like it’s important to learn some economics, to learn some history, real history and real economics.  So I’m very optimistic about the long-term future just because of young people in this country and all around the world are questioning all this stuff.  And so the government, I think, has got less and less prestige.

Pat Buchanan had an interesting column today, talking about the V.A.  And he said here’s the single-payer medical system that people are always telling us we should be having and, of course, it’s a horrendous disaster, also like the government’s other single-payer systems, the health service or the public health service hospitals.  It’s a total disaster.  And who is surprised?  I mean, who really is surprised that this is — this is the government.  And as anybody who has been around the military knows, it’s the same in the military; it’s the same in the post office; it’s the same in HUD or the Department of Education; the same in every single public school.  So these things are losing popularity.  People are losing trust in them.  This is the moment for people who believe in freedom.

WOODS:  Lew, I had a guy named Larken Rose on this program not too long ago, and he said the thing that made him think differently was that he realized that when it came down to it, he was making the same kind of argument that his Left Liberal opponents were making.  That they would say that, “Of course, we have to take your money to make you better off,” and he would say, “No, no, no, no, but, yeah, we do need to take some of your money to make you better off, yes.”  And then he thought, “Well, wait a minute, hold on a minute.  Maybe that whole principle needs to be rejected.”

And I know that there will be listeners who will say, “All right, Woods and Rockwell, I see where you’re coming from and it’s wonderful to have these moral principles, but facts are facts and, at some point, you have to live in a civilized society and we all know we need the government for that.”  And I guess I would just say, is that an attractive position to hold?  Whether or not that’s correct, is that a position that you’re really happy with, that it’s great having these moral principles, but, come on, like, is that really where you want to rest your intellectual — where you want to stop with your conclusions?  Or at least I think you owe it to yourself to think this through, not just to think it through superficially for 10 seconds, but to read people like Rothbard and to read people who have taken the football since his time and pushed it ahead and thought about these ideas.  If it could possibly work, then you have to consider it.

My old friend, Donald Livingston, says the default position, the starting position in your thinking about government should be Anarchism.  That should be the default position that individuals just interact with each other, and only when you feel like you are totally stumped do you bring in the state.  Now I wouldn’t make than concession, but I like his initial starting point.

Now let me shift gears because I want to get to some specifics in the book.  You’ve got a number of chapters in here, but three of them are dealing with the following topics: We’ve got the Federal Reserve, we’ve got the War on Drugs and we have the war in general.  Now, those are three issues — and, look, there are plenty of Republican politicians I’ve endorsed over the years.  But those are three issues that you can pretty much count on a Republican politician being absolutely terrible on.  And yet, aren’t those three pretty important?  Why are those three so important?

ROCKWELL:  Well, they are extremely important.  And, of course, there was Ron Paul, right?  I mean, as you –

WOODS:  Right.  But the thing is I hated to soil him by saying Republican politician and –


– Ron Paul in the same sentence.

ROCKWELL:  You know, just to mention Ron, he actually is a wonderful politician in the pure sense, in the sense of convincing people of his views and the sense of building coalitions.  And even just when he would run for office.  When he ran for Congress, he would typically wear out five or six pairs of shoes during the campaigning season because he walked so many neighborhoods.  And then, of course, the Internet and his national political campaigns always run on a purely educational basis, not for power.  And he always said he didn’t want power.  He didn’t want to run the peoples’ lives.  He’s entirely sound on these three issues.

So why are they important?  Well, first of all, the Federal Reserve and it’s — we can take that as a symbol for all government control of money.  I mean, from the various early days, I think it can be demonstrated that money didn’t start with government.  But that when money developed in the market as the most liquid good and replacing barter and so forth that the governments easily saw what was the possibilities, and grabbed it, nationalized it, stamped the kings face on it, and proceeded to debase it.  So in the old days, they were actually limited to the amount of debasement because — the Roman denarius in the early days was a silver coin.  It eventually became a silver-plated copper coin.  But there was a limit to what they could do.  A very unfortunate development in the 17th century, with the Bank of England, of the central bank, just took this to another level, and specifically, by the way, to wage war was why the Bank of England was set up.  And the king thought it was just wonderful to have some place that was going to fund his wars without the necessity of going through parliament.  And then the worst central bank ever, of course, was the Federal Reserve, established in 1913 after a long propaganda campaign.

And what it does is it enables all the banks to inflate together, expand the money supply, and not go out of business.  Because banks always want to inflate; they always want to issue more paper notes than they — or IOUs than they have specie in their vaults and so forth in the old days.  But the bank run prevented that from getting out of hand.

You know, Murray always loved the old western movies where there would be a hue and cry — [Laughing] — hey, the money’s not in the bank, and everybody loan up, and the bank went out of business.  He always thought they actually had the right sort of monetary and banking system.  You wanted a bank run, you’d start rumors of, “Hey, there’s no money in the bank.”  And if a bank was sound, they could give people their money.  If it wasn’t sound, they couldn’t.

By the way, it’s illegal in most states to spread rumors about banks being insolvent.  Somehow the freedom of speech doesn’t apply to that.

So we’ve had an unbelievable amount of monetary depreciation since the establishment of the Fed.  I sometimes wonder — you know, this was just before World War I, of course — was the Fed established to fund the wars or did they run the wars to make use of the Fed, you know?


I don’t know.  But it all went together.  And without central banking, for example, there could not have been, I don’t believe, world wars.  There’s always been wars as long as there have been governments.  But the sort of world war, the massive, unbelievably massive destruction and murder, and politically, economic, morally horrendous, World War I and World War II, these sorts of wars could only take place with central banking because there’s no way that people would ever agree to pay the taxes.  And people can resist paying taxes.  They call it war weariness when people — I remember you giving a wonderful talk about this at a Mises Circle in New York.  So people got sick and tired of it.  And by the way, that still exists today, despite the Fed.  We see why Obama’s having trouble invading Syria and going to war against Russia and sending troops to the Ukraine and maybe all the things that some of the politicians would love to be doing.  They can’t get away with it.  But on the other hand, they were able to — George W. Bush was able to run his war in Iraq, his war on Afghanistan without any concerns about whether people would be willing to pay the taxes.  They just printed it up.  And this is the mentality, of course, of everybody in the House of Representatives and the Senate.  They don’t have to worry about getting people to agree to go along with this stuff.  They just print it up.  So it’s had the effects of bringing on business cycles.  Business cycles just don’t fall like the rain from heaven.  These are creations of the central banks, if not deliberate creations, but inevitable creations of their monetary policies.  And –

WOODS:  Lew, let me interject for a second.  I can’t help mentioning — somebody told me on my Facebook book that, the other day, Garry Kasparov, the chess champion, was, I guess, on a Cato Institute podcast or something like that.  And he was saying that liberty at home and liberty abroad are inseparable; that I can’t just lean back and enjoy my liberty somewhere when somebody else’s liberties are being threatened.  And so this is why, even though war may be an unpleasant thing, it may be a moral imperative.  What your reaction to that?

ROCKWELL:  Well, first of all, I would say, “Hey, Garry, let’s drop you over Kiev with a rifle and a parachute.”


WOODS:  I know it.

ROCKWELL:  These chicken hawks, of course, always want to do that sort of thing.  And I must say, when people are refugees here from another government — and it’s great to have Kasparov here — but I don’t like it when they bring their ancient ethnic hatreds here.  We’ve got enough problems without people campaigning that we need to, quote, unquote, “Free Ukraine or Crimea,” or whatever, which means bring them under the aegis of the U.S.  The U.S. government is probably the only government in history with both the ambition, maybe, but certainly the ability, probably, to become a world government.  It intends to become the world government and so everything is its business.  And, of course, it’s not liberty.  It’s U.S. control –

WOODS:  Right.

ROCKWELL:  — that is being sought.  So I think Kasparov is full of boloney.  And all I can say is, if you don’t like the Russians, well, raise money, propagandize, you know, get a gun and go over there or whatever.  Don’t involve the rest of us.  Don’t try to involve the rest of us.  So, no, I think it’s nonsensical.  And I think it was — you know, some of the framers made this point that, really, you can’t have an empire overseas and a limited Republic — obviously, I think there’s problems with that whole conception — but you can’t have any restraints on government here at home if it’s just enabled to kill people, to do whatever it wants in other countries.  So –

WOODS:  Yeah.  Exactly.  Exactly.  Yeah.  I think you’ve hit on something.  This gives me the idea that the real truth is not that liberty at home depends on liberty abroad; it’s that intervention abroad brings back intervention at home; that all the imperial stuff that the U.S. has been up to has led directly to the TSA and all these other things that we can’t stand, and spying on us.  It’s all part of the big imperial mission.  You can’t separate the two.  So it’s not that liberty is inseparable at home and abroad; it’s that tyranny is inseparable at home and abroad.  That’s the real truth of the matter.

And by the way, on my Facebook page the other day — once in a while I jump in, and I shouldn’t, right?  I’m busy.  [Laughing]  But I can’t help myself.  And I was saying this is a perfect example of the utter hopelessness of the conservative movement, which I, by the way, came out of.  So you can be a refugee from it and go on to prosper.

ROCKWELL:  Me, too.

WOODS:  Right?  OK?  There is life after this thing.  But the key point that I was making is that I would have thought that a Conservative, who really wants to preserve what Russell Kirk called the “permanent things” and all that, would be skeptical of foreign intervention because he would say that, “The idea that I can’t just quietly enjoy my liberty as long as somebody else’s liberty in the world is being threatened, means I will never be able to enjoy my liberty, ever.”  Because there will always be wrongdoing somewhere in the world.  We’ll be in a condition of permanent war, permanent revolution, permanent intervention, permanent bureaucracy, permanent government growth, forever, forever, and ever and ever.  That is the least — at least if we’re gong to take them at their word that they’re Conservatives, they want to conserve something, that’s the least conservative approach to anything I have ever heard.

ROCKWELL:  And I think it’s true.  And, of course, it also fulfills their real goal, which is to make war against their own people.  The U.S. government makes war against the American people, and running wars overseas strengthens that.  You know, they want to spy on us.  Of course, they want to spy on the world.  They want to spy on the foreign businesses for the benefit of the U.S. government-connected big business and so forth, so they do want to spy on everybody.  They namely want to spy on us.  I mean, it’s us whose e-mails they want to read, not because they think we’re terrorists; because they want to control us and they’re worried about dissent.  I think Glenn Greenwald, later today, is going to release a list of everybody the NSA was spying on here at home.  And he’s going to talk, of course, about the important people because, of course, they spy on everybody, but there are priorities.  And why do I think it’s going to be the politicians and — to make sure there’s no dissent.  It didn’t work with Ron Paul, but it certainly works with the rest of them.

What the government does to us here at home is absolutely strengthened and enabled by the boogieman over the hill that they have to go kill and attacks us; and run us, suppress dissent, all the horrible things that follow with war.  It enables the government to do all the horrible things to us they really want to do.

I guess every government would be a totalitarian system if they could get away with it.  And certainly the U.S., especially since 9/11, which I suppose they secretly celebrate as a great day — it certainly has been great for the government and the military apparatus and the Military/Industrial Complex and the spy apparatus and all.  So it’s increasing very fast.  And initially, I thought, well, I’ve sort of never understood emotionally how the Nazis came to power.  Now I understand it, when I saw Americans’ reactions to — and their happiness with the Patriot Act and other enabling acts by the Bush administration.

I might just tell — may I tell this one quick story about Russell Kirk?

WOODS:  Please do.

ROCKWELL:  Russell wrote some wonderful stuff against the draft before he was associated with Bill Buckley.  He wrote some terrible stuff about the Cold War when he was associated with Bill Buckley.  But afterwards, he sort of returned to his initial anti-war roots.  But in his last letter to me, he had a hand-written P.S. where he said he hoped George H.W. Bush was hanged on the White House lawn for the war in Iraq.

WOODS:  You know, Lew, I had Brad Birzer on.  He’s actually writing an intellectual biography of Kirk to come out later this year.  He’s a professor at Hillsdale.  And he laughed out loud and loved that.  And he said he didn’t doubt that at all; that sounded just like his sense of human.  [Laughing]  I love that story, by the way, because, of course, it makes the typical movement Conservative –


– it makes his head explode.  “What?  I thought that’s something a Liberal would say.”


Like they all live in this Ann Coulter world that, to my shame, I once inhabited.  And eventually, you realize this is a place unfit for a third-grader.  Get me out of here; where is the exit?

Well, Lew, I know for a fact that people listening to this conversation would like it to keep on going, but as I always say, I always want to leave people wanting more.  So we’ll have you on again in the very near future.  I’d like to have you on actually the day the book becomes available.  This was to get people tantalized and on the verge of wanting it.  Do you have a rough estimate as to the release date of Against the State?

ROCKWELL:  Well, it’s going to be on Amazon Kindle as an e-book and it’s going to be on CreateSpace, which is the Amazon publishing — physical book publishing arm, as a paperback.  It’s going to be inexpensive.  It’s going to be $3.95 as an e-book, $9.95 as a paperback.

By the way, these print-on-demand systems are producing spectacularly good-looking books.  That wasn’t true, say, 10 years ago, but today, they’re in the process of putting the old-line publishers out of business, which I’m not exactly shedding any tears over.

I think the e-book is going to be out this week; probably another week beyond that for the physical book.  But as soon as I get exact times, I’ll let you know.  And, of course, I would be honored to come back on.

WOODS:  Oh, yeah.  We definitely want to have you come back on.  So now, people, now they know.  Because, remember, the rule of advertising is that people need to hear something about seven times before they pull the trigger on it.


So this is time number one, at least for some of my listeners.

Lew, thanks for your time today.

ROCKWELL:  Thank you, Tom.  Bye-bye.

WOODS:  All right, everybody, make sure and watch for Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto.  I’m seeing in my in-box right now a note saying that it will be available on June 3rd.  So keep an eye out for that.  We’ll have Lew back on a couple of weeks after it comes out and we’ll talk some more about it.  It sounds very exciting.  And it’s such a pleasure to have Lew with us.

Remember, I’ll be speaking in Boston on June 2nd; St. Paul, Minnesota, June 19th; and Nashville, Tennessee, August 15th.  Check my personal site for information on those events,  There’s an events page there,

If you like this show, if you’re benefitting from it as you hear it every day, make sure and become a supporting listener of the show.  Supporting listeners, for as little as five smackers a month, get transcripts of every interview we do.  These things are like gold.  And to help me pay for them, you become a supporting listener and then you get to read them — and they’re great — plus, 60 percent off at my and a bunch of other discounts.  We’ve got a discount at the Mises store for supporting listeners of this program, for example.  So it’s just like AAA; it pays for itself if you use it right.  So warm my heart by heading over to  I sure appreciate that.

ROCKWELL:  Well, thanks so much for listening to the Lew Rockwell Show today. Take a look at all the podcasts. There have been hundreds of them. There’s a link on the LRC front page. Thank you.

Podcast date, May 28, 2014

Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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