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William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925–2008)

Murray Rothbard, RIP - professor and Libertarian Party founder - Editorial - Obituary

William F. Buckley, Jr.

February 6, 1995

MURRAY ROTHBARD, age 68, died on January 7. We extend condolences to his family, but not to the movement he inspired. The academic and journalistic achievements of Professor Murray Rothbard of the University of Nevada were prodigious — 25 books, including Man, Economy, and State, and a four-volume history of economic thought, the final two volumes of which will appear in the spring. He was the primary influence in founding the Libertarian Party, whose godfather he continued to be until he broke with it a few years ago.

What reason, then, not to regret the end of his influence on the conservative-libertarian movement?

Murray Rothbard had defective judgment. It pains even to recall it, but in 1959 when Khrushchev arrived in New York, with much of America stunned by the visit of the butcher of Budapest — the Soviet protege of Stalin who was threatening a world war over Berlin-Rothbard physically applauded Khrushchev in his limousine as it passed by on the street. He gave as his reason for this that, after all, Krushchev had killed fewer people than General Eisenhower, his host.

Murray couldn't handle moral priorities. In 1991 he decried the Cold War, which had just ended by liberating three hundred million people while maintaining our own independence. As president of the John Randolph Society, he spoke jubilantly at its convention in 1991 of his fancy, that we should "think the unthinkable and restore the good old Articles of Confederation." In recent years he disavowed Milton Friedman on the grounds that in endorsing the idea of school vouchers, Professor Friedman had sold out to the enemy, the State. James Burnham, the noble strategist and philosopher, he attacked bitterly in 1968 ("I can see Burnham now, helping the slavemasters of the South round up the slave rebels under Nat Turner"). In 1957, reviewing in NR a book by Murray Rothbard, Henry Hazlitt observed that he suffered from "extreme apriorism." Indeed he did, Rothbard retorted in an essay that defended categorical positions, leaving no room for qualifications however critical. We have not read his economic history, but if it is as reliable as his contemporary history, we warn against it a generation of scholars which, from all appearances, is paying it the attention it deserves. In his speech to the John Randolph Society Rothbard gave this rendition of the history of National Review: "And so the purges began. One after another, Buckley and National Review purged and excommunicated all the radicals, all the nonrespectables. Consider the roll call: isolationists (such as John T. Flynn), anti-Zionists, libertarians, Ayn Randians, the John Birch Society, and all those who continued, like the early National Review, to dare to oppose Martin Luther King and the civil-rights revolution." Anybody who could decipher this magazine's history as above, could also conclude that Khrushchev was morally preferable to Eisenhower.

Murray Rothbard was a wonderfully pleasant social companion. He had been a friend and colleague — he did the research for the passages in Up from Liberalism that dealt with economics. But in 1962, at an ISI-sponsored seminar at Yale, I spoke derisively, if with good humor, about Murray's proposal to privatize the lighthouses, suggesting that such a platform would persuade listeners less of the advantages of the private sector than of the disadvantages of knowing nothing about lighthouses. Rothbard was outraged and noisily denounced this journal, vowing never again to contribute to it.

We muddled through without him, and he got on with his own work, though the influence of the Libertarian Party did not correspond with its valuable insights-the American people, during the Cold War, were not going to welcome in large numbers a political party whose leader thought the defense of freedom through containment was a travesty.

It was a great pity, but his problem ought not to be thought of as tracing to the seamless integrity of libertarian principles. In Murray's case, much of what drove him was a contrarian spirit, the deranging scrupulosity that caused him to disdain such as Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and — yes — Newt Gingrich, while huffing and puffing in the little cloister whose walls he labored so strenuously to contract, leaving him, in the end, not as the father of a swelling movement that "rous[ed] the masses from their slumber," as he once stated his ambition, but with about as many disciples as David Koresh had in his little redoubt in Waco. Yes, Murray Rothbard believed in freedom, and yes, David Koresh believed in God.

COPYRIGHT 1995 National Review, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group


Buckley Defames Rothbard

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

January 30, 1995

In his obituary of Murray N. Rothbard, William F. Buckley, Jr., attempts to blacken a great man's life and work (National Review, 2/6/95). His essay, entitled "Murray Rothbard, RIP," should actually be called, "I Hate Rothbard and I'm Glad He's Dead." Worse, it is error-ridden, confused, and dishonest.

The day after Rothbard's death, Buckley received — through National Review and his personal machine — a three-page announcement on Rothbard's professional career, complete with citations to his major works. There can thus be no excuse for errors of fact, especially in an obituary, and National Review must correct them immediately.

Buckley claims that Rothbard wrote a "four-volume history of thought, the final two volumes of which will appear in the spring." "From all appearances," Buckley then announces, scholars are "paying it the attention it deserves" — that is, they are ignoring it.

But Rothbard's two volume history of economic thought (published by Edward Elgar) appears this week. Scholars can't ignore a work before it is available. Not even Rothbard lived to see it. What appears later this year is a much-awaited two-volume collection of Rothbard's best journal articles published in Elgar's "Economists of the Century" series.

Buckley may think such details are unimportant, but then he was wrong to feign an interest in scholarship, make up facts to suit his bias, and use them to defame a dead man whose life was devoted to the highest academic ideals.

In a book review appearing "in 1957," Buckley writes, "Henry Hazlitt observed that [Rothbard] suffered from 'extreme apriorism.'" Hazlitt, a close friend and lifelong colleague of Rothbard's, cannot protest this mischaracterization. He died in 1993.

Hazlitt reviewed Rothbard's Man, Economy, and State in 1962, the year the book was published. By citing the year 1957, Buckley makes verification difficult, and for good reason.

Wrote Hazlitt (National Review, 9/29/62): Rothbard "has succeeded…. It is brilliant and original and profound…. It is in fact the most important general treatise on economic principles since Ludwig von Mises' Human Action."

Buckley also misquotes Hazlitt. The phrase "extreme apriorism" is not Hazlitt' s, but Rothbard's, as the original review made clear. It is drawn from his highly influential article published five years earlier in the Southern Economic Journal, "In Defense of Extreme Apriorism."

Hazlitt's remark reflects his judgment that deductive methodology should apply to economics and not to legal theory; in the literature, apriorism is not a synonym for dogmatism, as Buckley seems to think.

Like one of Buckley's earlier attacks on Rothbard (New York Times, 2/16/71), this one falsely maintains that private lighthouses were central to Rothbard's economic program, and then ridicules the idea. Most likely, Buckley has confused Rothbard with Ronald Coase, the Nobel laureate who showed that lighthouses have historically been private.

Buckley also claims that "in recent years [Rothbard] disavowed Milton Friedman on the grounds: that in endorsing the idea of school vouchers, Professor Friedman had sold out to the enemy, the State." In fact, Friedman and Rothbard clashed on the voucher question in 1974.

And vouchers trivialize their differences. As economics students know, Friedman is a Chicago School Monetarist and Rothbard is an Austrian School Misesian. They disagree on everything from monetary theory to methodology. But to understand this requires a modicum of study and intellectual patience.

There is also Buckley's claim, "which pains even to recall it," that "Rothbard physically applauded Khrushchev in his limousine as it passed by on the street." The year was 1959, and Dwight D. Eisenhower had invited Nikita Khrushchev — who had repudiated Stalin and emptied the Gulag of millions of political prisoners — to tour the U.S. The visit raised the possibility of peace. Said a young Richard M. Nixon: it was "justified and wise" (New York Times, 9/21/59).

But Buckley would have none of it. He devoted issue after issue of National Review to denouncing the event, sold "Khrushchev Not Welcome Here" bumper stickers, orchestrated a letter-writing drive, ran a press campaign on "What YOU Can Do About Khrushchev's Visit Now," and put on a rally the day of his arrival. In the pages of National Review, he attributed any anti-war sentiment to the tiny U.S. Communist Party.

Rothbard, in the tradition of the Old Right, saw the warfare state as part and parcel of the welfare state: both diminish our liberties. For Rothbard, peace might mean a return to normalcy, and an end to the "totalitarian bureaucracy" that Buckley had called necessary to fight the Cold War. Thus Rothbard, like Nixon, never signed on to Buckley's heated crusade.

But did Rothbard actually stand on the streets of New York to applaud Khrushchev? Of course not, and no one who knew him could imagine him fighting a crowd for a peek at a politician.

The last time Buckley raised the issue — in the 1971 New York Times article — he wrote that "Rothbard broke with National Review eleven years ago on the question of Khrushchev's visit." There was no claim that Rothbard "physically applauded." That is a posthumous invention.

Rothbard was the only National Review writer who refused to join Buckley's hopped-up effort. Yet far from having "broken" with NR, Rothbard reviewed economics books for the magazine until 1961; Khrushchev came in 1959.

The break actually occurred during the Vietnam War, and Rothbard wasn't the only one cast out. Buckley expelled all the skeptics of empire from his magazine and the conservative movement.

Once outside the National Review circle, Buckley concludes in his obituary, Rothbard died "huffing and puffing" with "as many disciples as David Koresh. "

That's a delusion. Rothbard became more prolific than ever, influencing three generations of economists, philosophers, historians, journalists, and activists the world over.

When historian and journalist E.J. Dionne deciphered the intellectual influences on the November 1994 election and the new Congress, he named Murray N. Rothbard and his mentor Ludwig von Mises.

William F. Buckley's name didn't appear, and no one would expect it to. The Cold War, now over, was Buckley's life. Everyone else has moved on.

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