Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Ethics of Liberty

The Ethics of Liberty
by Murray N. Rothbard

Dr. Hans Hoppe, under whom I studied after Dr. Rothbard died (1), said in the book's Introduction that, after Economics, Ethics is the second pillar of the Rothbardian system. Dr. Hoppe calls The Ethics of Liberty Dr. Rothbard's “second magnum opus” after Man, Economy and State. The latter has been read by nearly every serious libertarian and is crucial to a complete understanding of truly free market economics. It will be explored next on this blog.

Were I a betting person, I would be willing to wager that almost no one in high government office who prattles about ethics and/or the free market has ever heard of these works, much less read them. But one must if one is to know what one is talking about. Congressman Ron Paul, a contender for the Republican 2008 presidential nomination, is familiar with Rothbard's works and supports the Ludwig von Mises Institute. No wonder the establishment is stonewalling him. They are scared to death.

Hoppe's Introduction alone is an education in itself! He explains why the individual's ownership of himself and his property are literally necessary for survival by showing that the alternatives are completely unworkable. Even in the strictest socialist societies, some individual freedom must prevail.

Dr. Rothbard's presentation of libertarianism is clear, systematic, and reasoned. Dr. Hoppe believes that this is precisely why his works are not best sellers. This rationality is considered as dogmatism by too many people who would rather read something nice, something that I'd consider a wishy-washy waste of time.

Man acts. As long as man is alive, man acts. Therefore, man must choose how to act. Therefore, man must decide what is the right way to act and what is the wrong way. There are absolutes in right and wrong. Logic and reason must be used. Rothbard has proven that the right to life, liberty, and property are correct, since this is compatible with life. It should surprise no-one then that these principles coincide with the Word of God. What is really a surprise of cosmic proportions is that intellectuals, including Christian intellectuals, reject individual rights.

But, then, is it really a surprise when so many are at the government trough and in the establishment's stable? Rothbard rocked the boat. Big time. The powers-that-be will not even tolerate a law-abiding teenager on the streets in the later evening hours or a sick patient rolling the wrong plant in a cigarette or the wrong questions being asked of a former presidential candidate at a university forum. I guess it really isn't a surprise after all...

Or, maybe the establishment is scared witless of all who question authority and mutter such blasphemies as ... natural rights?

Chapter 1, “Natural Law and Reason,” starts off with a crash course in the discovery of natural law. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274) is discussed at length. He was a pioneer in what amounts to libertarian thought, meaning the belief in a free will and purposive action (2). As a young teenager, Aquinas was already deep into Catholicism and wanted to join the Dominican order. His parents would not let him; in fact, like too many parents today who send their teens to prison-like behavior-changing institutions without a speck of due process, they held him captive until he escaped to the Dominicans two years later. The good news is, of course, his escape, but it is also his wonderful achievements in economic philosophy. The bad news is that he lived only 49 years, probably because of obesity coupled with the fact that he lived before capitalism made a long life span possible.

I look forward to reviewing Rothbard's two-volume set, Economics Before Adam Smith and Classical Economics, for this blog and do regret that it will have to wait a winter or two before I can.

But the main thrust of Chapter 1 of Ethics is actually the dispute on whether one can reach these rational conclusions without divine help, or even the dispute on whether God created natural law or was it just “there.”

My own opinion is that God created the entire universe and therefore created the laws of nature. As to whether one can discern these laws without divine help, well, yes and no. Yes we can since all we must do is apply our ability to think things through. The fiercely atheistic (methinks they doth protest too much) followers of Ayn Rand and pursuers of other atheistic belief systems have done quite well, I believe. However, on the other hand, we cannot reason without God's help, since it was God who created each and every human being with varying abilities to reason and, without that, man would be the same as dog. Well, actually, most of us would be the same as dead.

Natural law defines the difference between right and wrong according to what is best for man and fulfills man's nature (3). This is vindicated by the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and other scripture. “Thou shalt not kill,” for instance, vindicates the right to life. “Thou shalt not steal” vindicates the right to property.

I believe the Bible is the only source of information on the nature of God. It is also a source of information about the nature of man and the difference between right and wrong, but it is not the only source. God gave us the ability to figure things out and we are expected to use that ability.

In Chapter 3 of Ethics we learn that natural law is a jump-off point for the criticism of “positive” law (government-made law which might or might not jibe with natural), or the great old American tradition of questioning authority. This is why it is such a threat to the establishment.

Great. I slept like a baby, and the next morning before aerobics class I opened the book to Chapter 4, “Natural Law and Natural Rights.” I already had learned that natural-law theory had descended (at least partly) from Aristotle who had said that man is a “social animal.” This is certainly true as individuals cooperate and exchange goods and services and also interact for the fun of it. But then, in Chapter 4, Dr. Rothbard starts out by saying that Aquinas followers (“Thomists”) down to Leo Strauss had interpreted “social animal” or cooperation to mean subordinating the individual to society in general or to the State.

I wondered why so many footnotes referred to Leo Strauss, who was not on our side and whom I treated in an essay a couple of years back. Now, I was beginning to see why. Of course I was now very confused at this first paragraph in the chapter and during aerobics class I was shaking my head as much as my feet. Well, I'll just have to go on reading.

Then the name of John Locke (1632 - 1704) comes up! Now, this thinker was right on, or at least as right on as an early pioneer could expect to be. Definitely one of the good guys, he was a major influence on our Founders. Locke turned everything right-side up again, putting the individual first. It is this correct interpretation of natural law that Rothbard is basing his book on, and what the Founders based the country's Founding on (4).

So now Dr. Rothbard goes about establishing the proper sphere of law, property rights, and the State.

Rothbard then turns to a concept that is critically important, one that we can expect to see in Man, Economy and State and one that is shunned by the establishment. That is “Crusoe Economics.” Why is this so terribly important? It is because it illustrates an economy on a very small scale; one person, in fact, which is about as small as an economy can get. The one person, Crusoe (surely we all remember the story of Robinson Crusoe) is stranded alone on an island with only the land, his mind, and his muscle to keep him alive. What does he do? He decides his priorities and goes about trying to satisfy his most urgent needs first. He looks for food and shelter (consumer goods). Depending on how much of these he can find and how soon, he is able to allocate time to pursue less urgent wants. He may be able to set aside some food and other goods for tomorrow (saving). If he can do that, he can allocate time and effort to fashion a tool (capital) to aid in obtaining food and other necessities faster. For instance, at water's edge I have seen this particular tree, some of whose branches hang down like strings. If that tree is present, he can fashion a fish net to increase his catch. The net is “capital.” Or, in the presence of maple trees, the wide leaves could be a help in shading the ground where food is buried to keep it cool and fresh.
He has his aptitudes, his scale of priorities, and the ability to learn. He behaves in compliance with the laws of nature and his own rational self-interest as he sees it. Whether it be simple Crusoe economics or a complex developed society, all individuals behave according to what they see as their rational self-interest.

So, why does the establishment shun Crusoe economics? For the very same reason! It evidences, nay proves, that individuals always see to their rational self-interest!

Of course the left, and other collectivists such as the neoconservatives, are quick to point out that a simple economy with only a few people or one person is entirely different from a complex economy with hundreds of millions of very diversified people. They are right about that, of course. The more people there are, the greater the interaction, and it is the interaction that is important.

I personally think that all the interactions there are in the world boil down to a lot of one-on-one interactions. I might work for a huge multi-national corporation or the U.S. government. You might work for a different huge private or governmental entity. When we are conducting business, such as the purchase of supplies or the setting-up of a meeting, I am dealing with you primarily, and you are dealing with me, one-on-one. I may then go to my boss to report on the deal. I am now dealing with the boss, one-on-one.

There is no group! There are only individuals dealing with one another, one-on-one. Even if a job is a cooperative group effort, each individual has his or her own individual part in that effort.

As we have just learned from the isolated Crusoe, production must precede consumption. He had to catch the fish or pick the berries in order to eat them. He finds out that some tasks are easier than other tasks, but he must do the tasks (produce) in order to reap the rewards (consume). A grown person can reach a lot more fruit on the trees than a child can, but a child can move faster so he can probably catch more fish with his bare hands than the adult can.

Possibly a new arrival on Crusoe's island is a ten-year-old. There are lots of ways Crusoe can deal with this new arrival, but the most profitable would be cooperation. Both are better off if the child catches the fish while Crusoe picks the fruit. They then trade fish for fruit. Later they may decide that the child is old enough to be left alone to plant wheat or potatoes while Crusoe goes after big game. With this cooperation, both can obtain more food in less time, so both can think of the future. The garden is planted, and big-game hunting devices are fashioned. You have a good little free-market economy going, complete with production, exchange, and setting aside for the future.

There is no government regulation! They don't need it! They are acting in their rational self-interest, and quickly learn that exchange is key. If you think exchange is unimportant, try going without it for a while. When you run out of food and try making your own out of whatever you have and nothing else, I think you might reconsider. It is a good thing we all have diversified abilities, since there are certain tasks you cannot do, but somebody else can, and certain tasks that you find easy that others cannot do.

The left makes so much of “diversity,” but this is in reference to racial, ethnic, or gender diversity, which really does not count in the face of important ability and aptitude diversity.

If more people arrive on the island, a greater diversity of abilities will occur and therefore more such exchanges will occur. Each, working in his or her rational self-interest, will produce whatever he or she is able to produce and is needed the most by the others present. These products, of course, will be used by the person who produces them, but as the person becomes really good at producing these goods, there are enough left over to give away in exchange for other goods others do not need. This is “division of labor.”

Nobody needs to be told what to do! Each knows what is in short supply and, if he can, he goes ahead and supplies that, in hopes of obtaining something he needs. The shorter the supply of what he produces, the more he can obtain in exchange. He makes a profit.

Exchange is a key concept, but even more key is the concept of ownership. Each person owns and has the right to control his or her body and the fruits of his or her labor. Being the owner, one has the right to offer these fruits in exchange. When the exchange takes place, the owner gives up ownership of the item exchanged and becomes the owner of whatever the item was exchanged for.

I come into your store and buy a loaf of bread by giving you the amount of money you ask for. After the exchange, the bread is mine and the money is yours. It is clear that I wanted the bread more than I wanted that amount of money or I wouldn't have bought it. It is also clear that you wanted the money more than you wanted the bread or you would not have sold the bread.

Your wants and mine are not the same. While we might both like money and both like bread, on your scale of values, that amount of money is more valuable than that amount of bread. On my scale of values, the opposite is true. Rothbard makes it plain, however, that saving a portion of what one produces is of utmost importance, as this is how one becomes wealthy.

We all have different scales of values. This is why exchange is so important. We all have different abilities. This is why division of labor is so important. We all act in our rational self-interest as we see it. This is why government should stay out of our lives unless and until someone actually infringes on the rights of another.

If each person and his or her property are free of invasion or molestation by other people, regardless of the size or sophistication of the society, then we have a condition of freedom. Dr. Rothbard has shown in this chapter (Chapter 7) that this is what will bring about abundance of wealth. While this means equality under the law, it does not mean equal wealth. It does mean everybody could be far wealthier than they are in an un-free society.

I would rather have a small slice of a big pie than a big slice of a small pie.

Rothbard discusses the alternatives to 100 percent self-ownership which are all incompatible with life. If you do not own yourself (and the fruits of your labor), then who does? Some other person or group? “Society” in general (as the Communists declare)? At the end of the day, production would come to a grinding halt. There must be at least some concept of self-ownership, and there is, or we would not be here.

If “society,” or everybody, owns everybody and everything, since it is impossible to take a vote on every decision, then a few people have to be chosen to be delegated the responsibility of making decisions. Now we have some people (in effect) owning everybody and everything and that would mean the ruling of the many by the few, and all or most of the wealth being in a few hands. This is not freedom and I doubt that I have to explain why. It is basically because individuals use their minds to make decisions based on their rational self-interest, and any interference will force them into choices that are inferior to the choices they prefer. They are worse off. In my opinion, this all by itself proves that natural (God's) law calls for a free will and freedom.

Freedom is moral. There was a time when I thought that socialism would alleviate poverty by taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have nots.” But, despite that belief, I did not advocate that because to steal is immoral. I would have rather have poverty than theft. Of course as time went by (5) I realized that individual liberty, private property, and a free market do more to alleviate poverty than starry-eyed socialists can ever hope the government can. In fact, government, which is by nature greedy, wasteful, and corrupt, has done more to perpetuate poverty than all the private greed and laziness on the planet has! And Dr. Rothbard has proven this with finesse, in simple language that the average high school graduate, even dropout, can understand.

And that is the real reason the monopolistic establishment tries so hard to keep us from being heard.

Freedom works! I could have believed in freedom because it works, even had I not believed that natural rights accrue to the individual. I could have thought that rights are collective or that there are no natural rights. There are those who think that way. Freedom works and that is the only reason they believe in it. I cannot make sense of that (“collective rights” is an oxymoron), and it seems as if these people have one foot in a collectivist camp and the other on a banana peel.

Chapter 11, “Land Monopoly, Past and Present” (we must remember that the “present” Rothbard was writing in was 1983) is particularly important as it shows that when you have one owner with huge tracts of land, as in feudalism, there is no freedom. I have to wonder if the left realizes that de-privatization of land, placing all land under the control of “the people” (read the government), will actually place it under the control of a few bureaucrats. How does this differ from feudalism?

To really claim unowned land in a libertarian society, Dr. Rothbard says along with John Locke, one must do something with it, or “mix one's labor” with it. Crusoe could not land on a big island and say, “It's all mine! Mine! Mine!” He could only claim the land that he could work. This way, no one person can own huge, vast tracts.

Once the concept of individual property ownership rights is firmly established, Dr. Rothbard applies it. We take a long stride forward from For a New Liberty in sophistication, but we progress along the same lines. He discusses justice: What can ethically be done to exercise the right to defend and protect property and how justice may be served.

Prophetically in Chapter 12, “Self-Defense,” he treats the evil of gun laws again very briefly (6), and also treats torture, wiretapping, presumed guilt, and slavery (which the draft and compulsory jury duty actually are). He makes the bold (but completely true in my opinion) statement that the police should be allowed to use coercive methods against the guilty only and, in a free society, unless and until a suspect is found guilty, the police should think twice before employing coercion.

In today's Amerika, police can almost write their own ticket. Fortunately, most of them still have some pride in their work, but a few behave as if they were on steroids. While our Federal tax dollars are at work arming them with tasers and other paramilitary gear, many innocent people have had their lives turned upside down, and some have even died.

I wonder if Dr. Rothbard, who died in 1995, had any idea what we were and are headed for in Bush's Amerika, especially when, looking at the 2008 presidential front-runners, it will not get any better; in fact it is likely to get worse.

Well, meanwhile back at the ranch, Dr. Rothbard discusses the punishment of criminals. The purpose of this is really to restitute the victim. The disproportionate punishment that we are seeing today is reprehensible and, he believes, wrong in the eyes of almost everybody. Maybe that was true in Rothbard's day. However, today we are seeing mind-bogglingly harsh punishments, such as expulsion from school for wearing an inch-long gun pendant or crucifix, or life sentences for LSD possession, or even the serious discussion of (and, come to find out, presidential approval of and actual use of) what can only be described as torture to wring information out of “terror” suspects. Suspects, not convicted terrorists.

Some C.S. Lewis quotes dealing with our punitive psychiatric system are used. If “treatment” is viewed as punishment by the recipient, then it's punishment, especially when it is combined with the cruelest of all tyrannies: the “it's for your own good” mantra. And it is indeed a mantra, since the recitation of this mantra absolves the person doing the “treating” from any wrongdoing.

As an aside, I am so sad and angry about the psychiatric drugging of children and young adults with Ritalin and other drugs to calm behavior becoming more prevalent. I will not belabor the harm this is doing, nor will I belabor the fact that were I a youth today I would be in complete and total rebellion. I am, in fact, beside myself in complete and total rebellion against the present day treatment of young people under 18. Having always been a fierce opponent of corporal punishment for children, I have to admit that even that is better than the drugs. A beating will make a child angry and hostile for a few days, or (worse) intimidate him into slavish obedience, which is not a good thing, but brain drugs can damage a person both physically and mentally for life (7).

Dr. Rothbard treats the rights of children. They do have rights. I absolutely agree with that, being a lifetime opponent of “minor” status laws. He has said many times that there can be no justice without equality under the law. Now equality under the law does not mean sameness. We are not the same. Dr. Rothbard was my superior when it came to libertarian economics and philosophy. If he had not been, why would I use his work to hone my skills as a libertarian writer and activist? But then, when it comes to musical composition, Brian Wilson is his superior (probably). Rothbard is superior to Brian Wilson (probably) – and me -– in libertarian economics and philosophy. Both are way superior to me in the ways mentioned. Possibly I am superior in some other way.

However, under the law (meaning natural law or libertarian law), we are and should be the same, and so is the child. Each has the right to life, liberty, and property, but each must respect that right in the others.

There are, however, problems in the case of children, especially infants who cannot even turn over in bed, much less feed, clothe, and shelter themselves or trade in the marketplace. Can they really own themselves, or do their parents own them? Does it really matter to the tiny child? As for the pre-born, Dr. Rothbard takes the “pro-choice” position. A mother, he says, cannot be forced to carry a baby to term. I will have to admit that his rationale is compelling, but I am “pro-life” myself. I will not go into that here, as I discussed that in other essays. The discussion here is about the born infant and smaller child. There is no way a baby can exercise self-ownership rights, so his or her care-takers (presumably his parents, through whom God created him) must exercise these rights for him in the capacity of trustee or guardian.

Of course, this trusteeship cannot go on forever (ask any teenager). As long as it continues and the child lives under the parents' (or someone's) roof, he or she must obey the parents' rules. Of course, anyone who is a guest on private property (and “guest” does include family members who do not own the property) must obey the rules or leave. A child who has matured to the point of wanting to and being able to leave must be free to go. Then there is no question about ownership. He may then try to make it on his own, seek another home, or return (if permitted back).

Conversely, parents may adopt children out. In a free market, a transfer of funds may occur between the birth and adoptive parents. In fact, Dr. Rothbard even condones “buying” and “selling” of children. I personally do not believe that human beings can be bought and sold, but, again, does it really matter if you call it “buying” a baby or paying to adopt? As long as the baby is not neglected, assaulted, tortured, mutilated, or otherwise has his rights infringed, he believes that it is OK.

It is certainly better than foster “care” and Child Protective Services, that is for sure. A list of infringements on the rights of parents and children is listed in the chapter (8). Of course, the book was written in 1982 (although I am using the 1998 edition) and, as we know, this situation has grown worse with the increase in the size and scope of government, not to mention the rise of private behavior-changing schools and camps that can only be described as prisons, where parents can send their teenage kids without a speck of due process.

Come to think of it, I cannot find any mention of age restrictions in the Constitution. If I am right, then any Federal minor status law is unconstitutional. I have a hunch that the BATFE and DEA will not like my observations very much. Well, I do not like them any better, so were it not for the fact that they have all the guns, I'd say we were even.

Rothbard points out that juvenile “justice” is justice turned on its head, and he was right then as he still is today. In fact, even running away is treated as a crime, the treatment for which being itself a good reason to run again. I have to think back to the teenage St. Thomas Aquinas ... This, in my own opinion, coupled with an arbitrary age of majority much higher than it should be, amounts to an apartheid system.

Having demolished the whole concept of the government-mandated apartheid called “minority,” Dr. Rothbard turns to equally discredit one of the left's favorites, the opposition between “property” rights and “human” rights. They are not mutually exclusive; actually they are one and the same. Human rights are property rights. How can one have the right to food if one does not own or rent, or obtain by gift, a place to put the food? If one does not own one's own body, how can he be allowed to eat? This goes back to the early part of the book and the discussion of who owns one's body. If one does not eat the food, one must have access to a place to put it. In fact, without the right to own land, or rent it, where would a person stand? The freedom of the press assumes access to a press or printer and a place to put it. If “society” (read government) owns just the land, the press owner must seek (read beg for) permission to place the press on that land. The owner of a privately owned building on the “public” land must beg for permission to allow the press inside. A government can say “no” for any reason or no reason. A dissident is far less likely to be able to use the “human” right of a free press in the absence of private property.

Private landowners compete for tenants and as long as rent is paid on time and tenants do not damage property, the red carpet is out and landowners could not care less about the tenant's politics. I should know. I am a flaming dissident and make no secret of it, but could drive up in my bumper-sticker laden car and rent an apartment almost on the spot because I have always taken pains to pay the rent early and minimize wear and tear. But if housing were socialized, as it is in the “projects,” it would be very different as I rock the boat by questioning silly rules and expressing non-conformist opinions such as drug and gun legalization, and the right to own land. The right of free speech and press cannot stand alone without property rights.

The same goes for the Internet. God forbid that the Internet becomes censored. Privately owned Web pages do not have to allow postings they do not want. There are blogs that I have been barred from because of my opinions or because I did not know I wasn't supposed to list my blog. Blogspot generously allows anyone to set up a blog free of charge. It does not have to do that. I have to approve replies to my work before the replies are posted. I set those rules. I will allow to be posted any opinion, or anything that does not contain language that is offensive as I want everybody to read this. I have had some pretty derogatory comments. That's fine. If Blogspot or other such companies had no property right to allow me to post here, and I could not buy my own domain, I might be out of luck. All the “human rights” in the world would count for nothing.

As it is, property rights are greatly attenuated. I could go on forever: property taxes, zoning, forfeiture, and eminent domain are obvious. Less obvious is government's ability to use your tax money to harass someone it does not like, until attorney fees take so much of what victims have that their homes are foreclosed when they fall behind on their payments. Because of this, the government is actually at least a partial owner and has a great deal of say-so about what happens on private property. Why do you think it can outlaw guns, drugs, and certain other activities, and micromanage the rest?

It is because property rights are not as strong as they would be in a libertarian, free-market society!

Dr. Rothbard treats the problem of immigration here very briefly. I am not sure I completely agree with him, but, again, he was very brief and only treated the issue of property rights. It is OK, he says, for persons to immigrate if they can enter private property with the owner's consent. In a free society, this would work. Anyone who can pay his way is welcome to immigrate.

However, the problem with that is, and this is the main reason I respectfully disagree with the Libertarian Party and other libertarian organizations and favor legal immigration only, that we have very liberal social programs and birthright citizenship here. Anyone who is born in the United States is an American citizen, as of the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Now it is a relatively simple matter for foreign women to come to the U.S. (legally, illegally, or overstaying their visa), have a baby here (on the taxpayer dime). The baby is a citizen and now makes it possible for family members to enter the country.

Judging from what I have seen, it is not difficult for illegal aliens to get on our social programs, on our tax money.

These are the main reasons I do not support open borders. Unlike many others who oppose illegal entries, however, I do not favor laws that forbid the hiring of or renting to illegals, as this is certain to give rise to a system whereby employers and landlords must check with the Federal (or other) government before hiring or renting to anyone. That is the equivalent to being required to have government permission to hire or to rent, and that is reminiscent of Communist Russia.

We must enforce immigration laws at the border, not in the interior. The only exception should be that if an arrested suspect turns out to be an illegal alien, that person should be deported. Otherwise, though I realize that there are possibly millions of illegal aliens in the country, eventually they will all leave or die. All efforts should be towards guarding the borders to keep more from coming in.

And we must work towards a more free and prosperous country, so that social programs will not be so needed and charitable giving will be increased to meet the decreasing need.

Dr. Rothbard continues on to discuss speech, press, truth, falsehood, libel, slander, boycotts, contracts, bribery, life-boat situations, and other such issues. Though I am not totally on his page in every area, he shows that it all boils down to property rights, and things would be much better if property rights were respected.

A very brief piece on animal rights (9) shows rights accrue only to the human being because the human being is rational and has a free will; therefore rights are part of man's nature.

Now that natural libertarian law has been described (briefly), Rothbard turns to the interference of the State. He believed (10) that the success of the State may be the biggest hoax on mankind ever. In fact, no state, however oppressive, will last without at least a passive support of the majority. And this support is bolstered by propaganda. As mentioned in For a New Liberty, this used to be religious propaganda. Now that Christians and others are too knowledgeable for this, government schools, science, and bad, unsound economics are used. And, of course, scare tactics are used. As support for the Bush administration flags, “terrorism,” gun violence, and economic distress, both traceable to guess who, are trotted out to scare people into giving up more liberty to be “safe.” The State must have the support of the majority! Even in this country, with a fiercely anti-gun president (which has been proven by many, including fiercely pro-gun me) and its 20,000 plus federal gun laws, its possibly hundreds of thousands of state and local gun laws, a BATFE which is way out of control, and mythology about guns having wills of their own, a citizen who wants to be armed badly enough can find a way. This is true in any country no matter how strict its gun laws are. Without the support of the majority, an armed uprising can occur, so it behooves a state to convince citizens of its necessity.

Nowadays the State relies on intellectuals. I touched on this earlier. Al Gore is an example of someone who is using science (how much of his science is good science and how much isn't I don't know). Of course, Al Gore is very rich and will never have any trouble getting the bills paid even if the whole world's population became libertarian overnight, throwing him out of work. But, generally speaking, intellectuals do poorly in the marketplace. They have to work regular jobs but would far rather earn their keep disseminating ideas. They are more than happy to accept government funds, and are willing to conform to the ideas of the establishment to keep these funds.

There are a lot of Al Gores out there who will do this, and not many Mary Ruwarts who will not (11). Why do you think you have heard of John Maynard Keynes but not Murray Rothbard before now?

Rothbard really drives the point home, repeatedly, and we had better listen up good, that if government has the power it will use it and try to expand it. It is human nature. People who have power want more. Let's consider what the Bush administration has done, the laws that have been passed by our so-called “do-nothing” Congress (don't I wish) without so much as reading them (12). This is why knowledgeable people are so worried today. We are not “paranoid.” We know that the Bush administration and the next one (barring a libertarian or Libertarian victory) will use these powers against us.

Not only that, but people in power will not even obey their own laws! When government makes all these laws that are obviously unconstitutional and when we have politicians and bureaucrats, including police, who do not follow their vow to defend and protect the Constitution, and do not follow their own due process procedures because they believe they are better, then we have a real problem.

There is a word for government people who break their vow to defend and protect the Constitution. It begins with a “T.”

Rothbard continues on to treat relationships between countries. It boils down to Founder George Washington's admonition for friendship and commerce with all and entangling alliances with none. The libertarian must oppose wars of aggression such as the war in Iraq. Disarmament of weapons of mass destruction is called for, since even in a “just war,” which the present war is most decidedly not, these weapons are certain to harm the innocent. The taking of innocent life must not be condoned under any circumstances, as these innocent individuals own their lives, so the only permitted weapons in a just war are the ones that can be aimed in such a way as to hit only what is being aimed at, and leave the rest alone.

As a side note, I must reiterate that advocating a country's disarmament of weapons of mass destruction in no way, shape, or form affects my view that individual citizens must have complete freedom to exercise their God-given right to keep and bear arms.

The way things are today, the libertarian would have to oppose all war. After all, war is the health of the State, not of individuals. Our liberty is being destroyed, and it is not being destroyed to be saved, regardless of the blatherings of the Bush administration.

Opposition to foreign aid (on the part of government) is also libertarian, as not only does foreign aid bilk the taxpayers in the country that sends the aid, but also helps the recipient government to oppress its own people. Look at all the foreign aid we have had to pay for! Is there any less poverty in the world because of it? If you believe that U.S. foreign aid helps to relieve poverty in recipient countries I have some ocean-front property in Kansas I would like to sell you cheap. Foreign aid goes to recipient governments, not to the needy.

In the final part of the book, Dr. Rothbard critiques some alternative libertarian or classical liberal philosophies. One of these is utilitarianism. Freedom is good because it benefits so many. Well, that is true. It does benefit everyone or nearly everyone (except maybe politicians, but who cares about that?). But to advance freedom as “the greatest good for the greatest number” is to miss the point. For actually the greatest number is one. The individual. And, additionally, how is “good” defined? You might find out it may not be defined as you believe it should be when someone harms you and tells you they are doing it for your own “good.”

Individual “good” and “harm” are subjective, as has been shown by Ludwig von Mises and other economists. Therefore you cannot “add up” the goods and “subtract” the harms to arrive at any “social” good or harm.

Dr. Rothbard then turns to the theories of other prominent free market economists, some of whom are also studied at the Mises Institute, and points out areas where he believes they are wrong. These include Ludwig von Mises himself, F.A. Hayek, Robert Nozick, and Isaiah Berlin. The reader is encouraged to check these out for yourself.

Towards the end of Chapter 26, “Utilitarian Free-Market Economics,” Rothbard takes Ludwig von Mises himself to task on the idea of value-free economics. I will have to admit, he left me a bit confused. While reading Mises' Human Action and other Mises works, I got the idea that it was not Mises that was value-free but economics that is value-free.

For example: The law of supply and demand applies across the board. It applies to meth and it applies to Bibles. If you drop meth out of an airplane it, obeying the law of gravity, will hit the ground. If you drop a Bible out of an airplane it will hit the ground. And economic laws apply to all commodities regardless of your opinion of the commodities. Or, regardless of the reality about them. This is what I think Mises was saying.

So I am not sure exactly how Rothbard differs. Rothbard seems to think that Mises could condone strict statist measures if the populace were aware of the harm to their own wealth and to the economy and still favored them. Of course, if people know what harm is to be done, they can act to mitigate the harm. Still, this seems very collectivist to me and I doubt Mises would really condone this. After all, individuals can curtail their own wealth if they believe it will do some good, but to force that on everybody would be entirely wrong.

Then Rothbard takes Austrian economist F.A. Hayek to task for denying that it is coercion when the coercive law applies across the board to everyone and that individuals can plan accordingly. I have not read any Hayek myself, but certainly will now, as this is hard to believe. If the tax laws apply equally across the board to everyone, taxation is still theft and is immoral and coercive. What Hayek is apparently saying is that rights come from government, and not from a law higher than government.

Robert Nozick is next. Rothbard is saying that Nozick claims (I have read no Nozick either, but surely will now) that the State came about as a result of what Adam Smith called the “invisible hand,” or in a non-violent way. Rothbard believes that it grew out of gangs of thugs, not unlike our present day street gangs and protection rackets. I personally do not know, but because the market is naturally peaceful and government is coercive, I am inclined to think that Rothbard is right, especially seeing that Founder Thomas Paine apparently thought the same way (13).

Dr. Rothbard ends the book with Chapter 30, “Toward a Theory of Strategy for Liberty.” In other words, human beings should be free, but we aren't. So, what are we going to do about it? A theory of strategy has not been discussed much.

Isolated individuals are doing something about it. Harry Browne did something about it. Ron Paul is doing something about it. Steve Kubby is doing something about it. Bob Barr has come over from the “dark side” and is now doing something about it. As I write this in late December, 2007, Russell Means is really doing something about it (14). All these people are putting their very lives on the line! Even I, I hope, am doing something about it. Organizations such as the Libertarian Party and the Ludwig von Mises Institute are grooming people to do something about it.

These are all good. But the first, most important thing is a devotion to justice, on principle and not because of any utilitarian reason. Maybe I was on the right track as a young libertarian when I believed in freedom even though I thought it would make us all poorer.

One must be an abolitionist (15). This is the first order of business for all who are serious about a libertarian strategy, since all laws that are infringements on liberty must be abolished. Yes, for all you leftists, this would include your precious safety laws and gun control laws (we are up to 25,000 Federal gun laws now from 20,000 since Bush took office in 2001, according to Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, and this does not include state and local laws). And, for all you neoconservatives, this would include all your precious nudity laws and drug laws (we now have more than 1 percent of the population in the prison system, more than half because of drug “offenses). Out with them all!

And Dr. Rothbard wants them all gone in one fell swoop!

That would be nice, but physically impossible (no, this does not make me a utilitarian, just a realist), so I would start with programs that cost a great deal but do no good, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would close overseas bases and bring the troops home. Then, I would close the BATFE and the DEA, and pardon for immediate release all Federal non-violent drug and gun offenders.

Then I would break for lunch. This is hungry work, you know. (Let's see ... I'll have spaghetti ... carbs are good for brain activity.)

Later, but not much later, I would axe the IRS and the DHS. And, over the next few months as the economy boomed because of all these dead weights lifted, I'd swing the axe again and down would come several more agencies. The booming economy would create many productive jobs, and former bureaucrats and others whose jobs depended on government would have no problem in finding new private-sector jobs.

But, although this strategy may differ from Rothbard's (there are no two libertarians who would do it exactly the same way), the goal is the same: liberty. That goal must be absolute before we even begin. Enough people need to have the will. If we keep our eye on the ball, then the fact that we cannot reach our goal in one fell swoop will not deter us. We cannot condone the continuation of infringements on liberty, even though we know full well that they will continue at least for now. Even if it were physically possible to institute liberty in one fell swoop, other precious principles might have to be sacrificed. Politicians might have to be summarily gunned down. Even if one thinks this might not be a bad idea, one must remember that politicians do have families. I, personally, am not sure that those who would gun down the politicians are any better, as they might seize power and be just as bad. An armed citizenry could prevent that, but it is still wrong to summarily shoot people.

Transitional steps to liberty, as quickly and decisively as possible, are the best answer. This is not a perfect answer, but keeping one's eyes on the prize and not sacrificing principles may cause it to work.

But how do we get the necessary numbers of people to work as a movement for liberty? We have now come full circle; education is key.

In the end, we will prevail, says Dr. Rothbard (if I could only be so optimistic). We will, because what limited freedom there was in the past created some great leaps forward (to use the phrase Mao perverted), such as the industrial revolution, and now the Internet, which have eradicated poverty (I mean real poverty) here in North America and in Europe, and will, if we can just stop fighting all these wars and if governments will only get out of the way, reduce it in other parts of the world as well.

So the book ended on a positive note. I hope he was right.

(1) These classes radicalized me.

(2) Rothbard, Murray, The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press, New York, 1998 Edition, P. 6 - 7.

(3) Ibid. Chapter 2.

(4) Founder Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, “It is not only vain, but wicked, in a legislature to frame laws in opposition to the laws of nature, and to arm them with the terrors of death. This is truly creating crimes in order to punish them.”

(5) I have Henry Hazlitt to thank. Hazlitt, Henry, Economics in One Lesson, a new printing of which is to be produced by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. See

(6) Rothbard P. 81.

(7) See and (Parents Against Teenscreen).

(8) Rothbard P. 105 - 112.

(9) Ibid. P. 155 - 157.

(10) Ibid. P. 168.

(11) See Ruwart, Mary, Healing Our World: The Other Piece of the Puzzle, SunStar Press, Kalamazoo, 1992. This book is very well documented and I believe it is one of the best libertarian books ever published. There is at least one more recent edition, but I possess only this earlier one.

(12) The USA PATRIOT Act, the Real ID Act, and the Military Commissions Act make up a very incomplete list. These add up to paving the way for a presidential declaration of martial law if the president desires. I would suggest that dissidents tie loose ends. Also see

(13) Rothbard P. 231 - 232.

(14) See Also do a Google search on Lakota for a wealth of information on the brave actions of this Indian tribe.

(15) Rothbard P. 259.

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