Which Side Are You On? Robert Wolff, Murray Rothbard, and David Friedman

Ironically, Wolff, Rothbard, and Friedman were all major influences in the development of my own thinking.

By David Friedman

I spent the past two days attending a conference at Duke University. One of the other participants was Robert Wolff, who published his In Defense of Anarchism a year or two before I published my Machinery of Freedom. I found his presentation, and especially what it implied about the difference between his views and mine, one of the most interesting parts of the conference.

Wolff considers himself a left anarchist and a Marxist. He described the difference between us as the difference between two movie tropes—the self-sufficient western loner who comes into town to clean it up, seen as symbolizing the propertarian anarchist, and an Amish barn raising for the communitarian anarchist.

There are two obvious problems with that. The first is that I, like most individualist anarchists, have nothing against the Amish barn raising, indeed see that sort of voluntary cooperation as an important and attractive feature of the kind of society we want. The second is that the actual Amish are both propertarian and communitarian. The barn will end up as the private property of the farmer on whose land it is being raised.

The real difference, as best I could tell, is something quite different. Wolff described how, as a professor of philosophy at Columbia during the student riots there, he had been trying and failing to find a philosophical derivation of ethics in the work of Kant, an argument showing what was good or bad, what one should or should not do. His conclusion was that if Kant could not do it, it could not be done, leaving him with no intellectually satisfactory way of answering the important questions. The solution to that problem was provided to him by one of the student revolutionaries, one he thought was almost certainly a communist, who told him that he did not need a philosophical derivation of ethics. All he needed was to decide which side he was on.

Wolff eventually concluded that the student was right. He did not go into details, but pretty clearly the way he saw it was that he was on the side of the workers, the South African blacks, the oppressed of the earth against their oppressors. There was still room for disagreement among those on his side of the barricades, but the essential problem was solved.

There are some problems with that solution.


1 reply »

  1. One thing I think that is perhaps more accurate is ‘are you willing to undergo social castigation and financial hardship’. which most libertarians (or others) are not. Thus the end up employed at Beltway Thinktanks after spending half a dozen years at Leftist indoctrination centers. This fundamental weakness of character, vulnerability to social pressure (everyone can be pressured, but it’s up to you whether to submit or to turn on them like a wolf at bay). Most of these ‘anarchists’ are just too comfortable being lumpenproles and controlled opposition, and THAT is why they are fundamentally problematic; they’re useless religious protestors, if we’re going to bother with that stupid shit instead of going to Cato and posting garbage about how cops are all raysist maybe they might consider starting a cult that declares taxes against their religion.

    Too many of these people are in easy chairs repeating tired old leftist nonsense and feeling good about themselves to actually, say, break the law or refuse to take lucre from an entity which is basically the Apostle of Satan (that is, Universities).

    I think that if you force your children to attend government schools you are a bad parent and shouldn’t have children. Sending yourself to university is the same thing, only one step closer: deliberately subjecting yourself to this shit in order to ‘get along’ is just proof that you’re human detritus who gets in the way and muddies things up.

    No worldview can be realistic unless it is essentially misanthropic. Libertarians are still devoted to the idea of ‘saving’ people and using moralizing clap-trap ‘activism’ as a way to feel good about themselves without actually doing shit to challenge state power.

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