For a New Liberty
by Murray Rothbard
by Murray Rothbard
Early on in the book, after a brief discussion of the American Revolution (which, truth be told, I am not sure was quite as libertarian as Rothbard suggests, since one of the most important priorities of the relatively wealthy was to hang on to what they had as opposed to securing freedom for everyone), Dr. Rothbard asks why our freedom was lost little by little between then and now. It is because freedom is a major threat to entrenched political and economic interests which are today called “the establishment” (1). President Bush and Vice President Cheney (particularly, in the minds of many, the latter) personify this evil establishment. In earlier projects on this blog I have repeatedly pointed out how the Bush administration is the most dire enemy of freedom of the twenty-first century so far (2).
The description of the comeback of the old order in the guise of a “new order” reminds me of the old The Who classic that says “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” and shows how the old order is just what we have today. The future looks like more of the same taken to a new level never achieved before. And it is priority number one for the establishment to keep the majority fooled into believing Big Government (or Big Brother) is on the side of the little guy. It is necessary to keep some people fooled all the time and everyone fooled some of the time, which they can.
The government favors those intellectuals who are willing to advocate more government intervention. For example, look at how Al Gore has rallied the left and others with his An Inconvenient Truth! This book illustrates the claim that global warming is destroying the planet and that government needs to act to turn it around. It is being praised by scientists and others, and has gotten a great deal of lapdog media attention. There are other sides to this argument which are getting virtually no attention at all. To learn all angles to this issue, one must turn to the Internet.
This is only one example of how the intellectuals are recruited and led, and the lapdog mainstream media follows.
Dr. Rothbard frequently points out that, in historical times, the “old order” would con people into obedience by teaming up with the Church, which would teach the divine right of kings. This is one reason the Founders thought the separation of church and state was so important.
Have we really graduated from divine right? I think not. Watergate awakened a lot of people (3) but not for long. Today's neoconservative still believes that George W. Bush can do no wrong. He still has about a 30% approval rating. We who question him are “unpatriotic.” The left believes that Al Gore (whose book to them is the bible) and Hillary Clinton can do no wrong. As pro-war and anti-civil-liberties as she is, they still support her. And, then, there are those I am inclined to agree are “feminazis” who support her because she has no Y chromosome. As for Barack Obama, his anti-war credentials are questionable at best, and there are those who will support him just because he is black, with no regard for his stands on various issues. He is young and dynamic, and reminds some of JFK.
But do gender and race really count? Of course not. Rather, the new boss is the same as the old boss. I could just scream.
And one important reason people are so gullible is that education is mostly in government hands, and Dr. Rothbard thought (4) the teaching of obedience to the State was deliberately planned.
Some terminology has been altered as well. If you read on this blog my 2005 essay, The Three Worst American Enemies of Freedom, perhaps you will recall how Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay fooled people into supporting them by calling themselves “Whigs.” The Whigs had been more of a libertarian bent, but Clay and Lincoln wanted to turn the country back to the old mercantilist system the American Revolution had overthrown. And people were fooled. More recently, words like “liberal” and “progressive,” which would have meant libertarian and forward-looking, have come to mean the opposite. And people, especially the droves of young “leftists,” are being fooled. Today's young modern “liberals” are not so naive as the ones of the 1960s as I believe that today many know they advocate socialism and gun control while they also advocate non-interventionism and civil liberties. How one can ever claim to advocate civil liberties and also advocate the outlawing of private gun ownership is something I will never understand; is there any way one can have liberty and not be allowed to defend it? In any case, they call themselves “liberal” and “progressive” and although, according to the dictionary, I, the very opposite of a socialist, am very liberal and progressive, and would have been on the extreme “left” two hundred years ago, when libertarians were called “classical liberals.” I can no longer self-describe in these terms. In fact, there are really no terms left to use except “libertarian,” and even then I have to explain that a libertarian is not a libertine, librarian, or Liberian, that a libertarian could have any belief system and wants only to be free of government.
And, to the left, “the people” are to rule “democratically.” This really means that some people, on behalf of “the people,” would make decisions for everyone. So, the “liberal progressive left” is actually a rerun of the old monarchy and/or feudalism and/or mercantilism with a modern face (5).
Actually, I have already learned and said, the present economic system is mercantilism and bears only superficial resemblance to capitalism. But, true to form, the establishment insists on describing the system as “capitalism.”
Not only has the establishment taken over education and co-opted our terminology, but it has also taken over our money by instituting a central bank which we will see much later (mostly in future essays) as I discuss Rothbard's work in this important area. People do not realize how critical the difference is between free market commodity money (usually gold) and the fiat paper money backed up by nothing. The critical difference is that commodity money (or certificates of ownership) has actual substance and intrinsic worth while fiat paper money is just that: paper.
But the main problem, Dr. Rothbard seems to think, is that the old classical liberals (libertarians in the Founders' time) ceased to be radical and to demand the immediate shedding of shackles, and they began to accept incremental change, or even the status quo to hold on to whatever freedoms they still had, which were a heck of a lot more than what we have today. Maybe if they had remained radical and had dug in their heels, we would have been better off today.
Of late, however, there has been a resurgence of the libertarian movement. At the end of the book Dr. Rothbard explores the reasons for this. I must hasten to point out that Dr. Rothbard himself is one of the reasons. Of course, very recently, Ron Paul has given new life to our movement.
The libertarian movement, or any other movement for that matter, has one central need that has to be met for success. That is education (6). People have to learn what it is all about, and understand it. Dr. Rothbard's life was devoted to this education. Slogans and sound bites do not cut it. Independent thought and scholarship are required. The mainstream lapdog media know this and that is why Ron Paul's efforts are being stonewalled. Paul is provoking people to learn and to think.
I have always been an advocate of teaching children to read and following up on their progress in reading ability, including comprehension, throughout school, even in college. One who can read can think. Reading puts ideas into people's heads and these ideas are the raw materials that help individuals think of new ideas of their own. This is an individual endeavor, not a group one. (I am very concerned about schools nowadays having children work in groups rather than individually. This does not teach self-reliance or self-starting.) And, it must begin by reading to the pre-schooler and then allowing the child to brainstorm. A fun-filled trip to the library in a stroller is a good way to start! A child’s prattling is boring to the adult, but to bear with it is part of the job of being a parent or teacher. It is important to listen to a child bounce ideas around as it helps develop his or her thinking and expression skills. Later in life, these same skills will help him or her become independent and not vulnerable to bad influences. This is not even to mention that curiosity is developed, and the love of learning is an addictive behavior, the right kind of addictive behavior.
If your child or teenager has to become addicted to something, shouldn't it be learning? Learning addicts are the very people who are most likely to become libertarians.As libertarians, we must always place education, not only the education of others as an outreach project, but also the continuing in-house education of ourselves, in a priority position. The main purpose of this project is really to beef up my own knowledge of the philosophy, but at the same time, I hope I will spread the word.Dr. Rothbard emphasizes self-education and the mutual education of libertarians (6). We need to keep our eye on the ball. This means we need always to keep in mind what we are ultimately trying to do, and mutual idea-swapping and encouragement is vital.
Ideas are powerful! And Murray Rothbard was a walking encyclopedia of radical libertarian ideas!However, as Dr. Rothbard points out (7), education is not the end but a means to an end. Once people are educated and hop on board with us, then what? How will we get government out of our lives? The big guys will not simply say “Oops, we goofed” and step down. The fat cats in the bureaucracies and at private concerns like Halliburton and Blackwater will step down about the time Dick Cheney becomes a libertarian. It ain't happenin'! Our M.O. will have to be determined by practicality, limited by the parameters of our principles themselves. Toward the end of the book I realized what an optimist Dr. Rothbard was! He always did look on the bright side, and when the book was written he believed that victory was assured, if only we could educate enough libertarians to spread the word among the millions. Of course when the book was written, there were some hopeful signs, as he pointed out (8). The problem is, the millions do not want to learn. Most people think inside the box and just cannot (or will not) see their way clear to get out of the box. Just listen to what you hear in discussions on drive-time radio! They have been taught to obey authority, and that if we all cooperate, obey the rules and end the dog-eat-dog competition, we will all live happily ever after. They believe that more government, and things like more restrictions on youth, thundering obscenities from police, and tasering will straighten youth out. They believe that goods and services are “just there,” if only the government will print out and give the money to buy them. None of that is true, but people do not seem to want to believe differently. While victory might be ours some day, it will not be until people break out of that box and realize that Big Brother is not on the side of the little guy. It will happen but not as soon as Dr. Rothbard thought. He died during the Clinton era. I doubt that in his worst nightmares did he ever imagine a George W. Bush administration or the countless examples of how government officials are walking all over citizens as though they were better than the ordinary citizen. I still think that were he alive today he would say keep on keeping on, but we will have to bottom out before we can really move towards the restoration of liberty.My only real question is, Just how much further down is the bottom?Before Dr. Rothbard described the resurgence of our movement, he devoted most of the book to aspects of the libertarian creed itself. If you have read my other essays on this blog, or other works by libertarians or about libertarianism, then you know the whole philosophy is based upon the rights of the individual, these rights being absolute and unalienable, and being derived from God or nature. No government can change these rights or take them away. It can, however, and does, forcibly prevent individuals from exercising their rights.Libertarian positions are consistently in favor of the individual’s owning and therefore controlling his or her life and all non-procreative products thereof: One may do as one pleases with this property and that includes voluntary exchange with other individuals. Since one's property might be guns, drugs, Bibles, gold, silver, porn, labor, land, or ideas, the libertarian position might be considered either “far left” or “far right” by today's standards, since all positions on the traditional left-right spectrum are inconsistent vis-à-vis individual rights. All positions on the spectrum respect rights in some areas but not in others. The libertarian position (which cannot be found on the traditional spectrum) consistently respects rights in all areas (9).
On the other hand, libertarians are very diverse in every other way. I notice this whenever I go to a libertarian gathering. I, as a born-again Christian with a conservative life style, may sit next to a homosexual transvestite atheist and we get along fine. I am very likely to discover that he or she (I may not even be sure which) is very knowledgeable and that I can learn a great deal by listening. Sitting at my other side might be a straight-laced Ayn Rand follower, and that is all right too. A banker, dressed like an undertaker, is chatting amiably with a hippie-type about how a return to the gold standard would help in stifling the DEA's anti-drug efforts by hitting them where it hurts: in the pocketbook. As diverse as we are, we all want our freedom back; we are all libertarians. While some are radical like me, others lean toward pragmatism and, while I think this is a mistake, I respect them. Dr. Rothbard begins his description of our creed in Chapter 2 by demonstrating that all things accrue to individuals and not to “society.” This includes our bodies and other things found in nature. He shows that if any resource is commonly “owned” by “society,” then it would be necessary to appoint a small number of people whose job it is to administer the use of that resource. This would boil down, at the end of the day, to the rule over the many (lower class) by the few (upper class) and we would all be back where we started from. And, thanks to government, that's where we are.So the cornerstone of the libertarian philosophy (10) is the individual's ownership of his or her own body and of whatever he or she finds in nature that is previously unowned, or whatever he or she can exchange with others for. Freedom is the condition in which these ownership and exchange rights are not interfered with. There is no distinction between “human” rights and “property” rights. All rights are property rights and human rights. But if the many are ruled and the few are rulers, why do people obey? Because the majority do not have the time or the inclination to think things through, they rely on “opinion molders,” such as “authority figures” and mass media, most of which is in the government's pocket (or sometimes vice versa), to do their thinking for them. Fortunately, nowadays we have the Internet where there are literally millions of blogs like this one with just as many viewpoints, and numerous pages where news items are found, some of these items being equally as important as the most important ones on TV but never make it to the mainstream. Many of these items underscore the legions of cases of police, bureaucrats, or other government agents trampling some innocent citizen's rights, or they show how the war in Iraq is only making matters worse there. Other Internet news items have brought to light new draconian laws that empower the government and weaken the Constitution even further. Still others cover non-establishment political candidates such as Ron Paul and new party candidates who get very scant mainstream coverage. At the end of my 2007 essay, How the Bush Administration is Destroying Our Country and Damaging the Christian Church, I listed a few sources of these important Internet news items. YouTube has recently become a source of videos of government officials caught in the act of abusing citizens.
However, because of the heavy tax load soaking up time, most people simply do not have the time to read or view all that (I can only read only about one article out of 25 I get and I see very few videos) and if one can only see a few such things one is likely to believe these things are rare. They are spoon-fed TV or radio news while on the fly, or, if they are lucky, they have a few minutes for all the news that's fit to slant in the newspaper. And, whether the news is “right” or “left” leaning, you can bet your last shrinking dollar that (with a handful of exceptions) it is centered on the actions of government and/or how government can solve problems.There are also the experts, or intellectuals. As I mentioned above, Al Gore exemplifies this. Some of these intellectuals wind up in high-paying and prestigious government jobs. These would have us believe that economics and political philosophy are too complicated, so we are better off leaving these subjects to the “experts.” And, of course, Romans 13 has been trotted out by the Bush supporters and I discussed that briefly in the last essay. Even if their interpretation is correct, they need to realize the supreme law of the land that Romans 13 admonishes us to obey is the Constitution, not laws that go against the Constitution or bureaucratic edicts.New, or non-conforming, ideas, particularly “conspiracy” theories, are met with discouragement to say the least. The State wants to seem eternal and inevitable, and therefore unquestionable and irresistible.
As I was writing this, on November 3, 2007, I saw the program CNN Presents. The program that weekend was titled “Out of Gas.” This program illustrated what Dr. Rothbard was discussing. First off, it was sounding alarms on energy consumption and how gasoline will go up to $6.00 a gallon or be unavailable in a couple of years if something isn't done. “The sky is falling!” is what I heard. I heard the very same rhetoric thirty and thirty-five years ago! And I have been hearing it all this time. Now who do you suppose is assumed to be the one to do something about it? Government, of course! The government has been meddling in the oil market for as long as I remember, but this “crisis” remains. Has anybody (other than the libertarians) suggested that maybe, just maybe, government action has caused the situation we are in? The price of gasoline is outrageous as I do not need to tell anyone. Why? For one thing, when you next go to the gas station, see how much of that price is actually tax. And gas prices are raised by the fact that supply is curtailed by regulatory prevention of the building of refineries. It has been decades since any new refineries have been allowed.And, the program discussed alternative fuels such as corn ethanol, and alternative car engines such as the “hybrid.” These may be viable but they have been trotted out by the mainstream news too many times, while other, equally likely, alternatives seen on the Internet are not even mentioned. Why? Alternatives mentioned pander to establishment interests in one way or another.Then, to top it off, the program tossed out the bromide that tugs at the heart strings of all who emote rather than think (the Al Gore crowd and the neo-con Bush crowd come to mind). We absolutely must, they implored, all set aside self-interest in favor of national interest, nay, in favor of global interest!Good thing I have both a strong background in economics and a strong stomach. But I wonder how many people who can remember as far back as I can will fall for this baloney?It is tempting to say we are protected from this expansion of government by the Constitution. We should be, and we are supposed to be. But, as Rothbard points out (11), sometimes the Constitution is actually used in the opposite way. We need to remember that the courts and the Judicial Branch are still part of the government, and therefore when the courts rule on the Constitutionality of a law we have the government deciding its own case. Guess which way the decision is likely to go! Not only is the “impartial” judicial part of the same government that is likely to be your opponent in court, but this government (at least on the Federal level) is in charge of the value of your money, a topic Dr. Rothbard has discussed at length in this and other books, and shows this is vitally important to our loss of liberty. I will have a lot to say about it below. Right now, suffice it to say that money and banking is a difficult subject, but Dr. Rothbard makes it understandable. The difficulty means a lot to the establishment because as soon as We the People begin to understand economics, particularly monetary economics, the establishment is doomed and freedom is nigh. Dr. Rothbard's main purpose was to teach you and me economics (12).As the book progresses and Rothbard discusses the various issues such as involuntary servitude, education, welfare, foreign policy, and the environment, he applies the principles of individual rights to one's life and the fruits of one's labor. One recognizes how he could almost foresee the egregious infringements on rights by the present and recent administrations.
Each issue discussed applies to libertarian principle. And, in each case, the conclusions are that government meddling and rule-making do not solve problems but invade property rights, which is not only wrong but harmful. Individuals are far better off making their own decisions in a free marketplace where rights are respected. But the government looks out for its own interest (meaning, of course, the interests of the elite rulers), and that is to get the people to pay top dollar to do what they are told.The bulk of the book is chock full of example after example after example of how a free market solves problems and meets people's needs, and Dr. Rothbard explains them with the ease that shows he really understood how human beings work.Chapter 9, “Inflation and the Business Cycle,” is particularly important since the bedrock principles of supply and demand (of money and of goods and services) are spelled out in such a way as to turn on a light in your head on monetary policy. The Bush administration's spending policy is alarming and here you see why. The chapter even tells us a little bit about how money came in the first place, and why government muscled in on it. To reiterate, monetary economics is a critically important subject that most people know nothing about it or, worse, they believe what the establishment has taught them. We must know this subject to avoid being snookered by the establishment into turning over our productivity. As I went through the book, many times my stomach just turned over realizing yet again that government, which has the power of life and death, does not have the slightest regard for the rights of welfare of the individual. Even though I have believed and known this since early adulthood, Dr. Rothbard drives the point home very clearly in example after example. The first edition of the book was printed in 1973 and the examples were current at that time, but the principles, and many of these examples, still apply. This especially hit home in Chapter 14, “War and Foreign Policy,” when you compare Rothbard's remarks with the truth about the current Bush administration's foreign policy and mercantilist domestic policy.The book is recommended as a start for someone who already knows a little bit about free market economics (from Hazlitt, for example) and wants to begin to dig deeper into the libertarian philosophy.
(1) Rothbard, Murray, For a New Liberty, Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006, P. 10 - 17.
(2) See the segment on Bush about three-quarters of the way down in The Three Worst American Enemies of Freedom at http://alicelillieandher.blogspot.com/2005_05_01_archive.html.
(3) Rothbard, P. 400.
(4) Ibid. P. 15.
(5) Ibid. P. 17.
(6) Ibid. P. 373-375.
(7) Ibid. P. 386-387.
(8) Ibid. P. 398-401.
(9) You could check out http://www.lp.org/ and take the “World's Smallest Political Quiz.”
(10) Rothbard P. 47-48, 85.
(11) Ibid. P. 82.
(12) A good beginning book is Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, soon to be published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.