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Friday, March 2, 2018

33 Choice Quotes from the Great Murray Rothbard

Celebrating the birthday of Mr. Libertarian.

Mr. Libertarian. That commonly-employed term tells you of Murray Rothbard’s importance to libertarian thinking. His New York Times obituary called Rothbard “an economist and social philosopher who fiercely defended individual freedom against government intervention.” And, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe put it, “There would be no anarcho-capitalist movement to speak of without Rothbard.”

Rothbard authored not only many books, but hundreds of articles on a range of topics from ethics, philosophy, and the history of ideas to history and economics.

The website summarizes Rothbard’s contribution as “mount[ing] the most comprehensive intellectual challenge ever attempted against the legitimacy of government. During a career that spanned more than forty years, he explained why private individuals, private companies, and other voluntary associations can do whatever needs to be done,” starting from the principle of self-ownership.

Rothbard authored not only many books, but hundreds of articles (whose breadth extended from scholarly journals to the popular press to virtually every libertarian publication), on a range of topics from ethics, philosophy, and the history of ideas to history and economics.

A reviewer of one of his major works, his 1962 Man, Economy and State, wrote in the New York University Law Review that there was “no more readable treatise and no more forthright case for freedom and free enterprise.” Historian Paul Johnson called Rothbard’s 1963 America’s Great Depression “an intellectual tour de force…presented with relentless logic, abundant illustration, and great eloquence.” Those two reviews provide a good nutshell summary of his life’s work.

Rothbard’s prolific output makes it hard to narrow down any compilation of his work. But in honor of his March 2nd birthday, consider some of the following:

“If a man has the right to self-ownership, to the control of his life, then in the real world he must also have the right to sustain his life.”

“There can be no truly moral choice unless that choice is made in freedom.”

“On the free market, it is a happy fact that the maximization of the wealth of one person or group redounds to the benefit of all; but in the political realm, the realm of the State, a maximization of income and wealth can only accrue parasitically to the State and its rulers at the expense of the rest of society.”

“The essential activities of the State necessarily constitute criminal aggression and depredation of the just rights of private property of its subjects (including self-ownership).”

“The State, by its very nature, must violate the generally accepted moral laws to which most people adhere.”

“The State says that citizens may not take from another by force and against his will that which belongs to another. And yet the State…does just that.”

“To go beyond one’s right of self-defense would be to aggress on the rights of others, a violation of one’s legal duty. And yet the State by its claimed monopoly forcibly imposes its jurisdiction on persons who may have done nothing wrong. By doing so it aggresses against the rights of its citizens, something which its rules say citizens may not do.”

“The State is an inherently illegitimate institution of organized aggression, of organized and regularized crime against the persons and properties of its subjects… a profoundly antisocial institution which lives parasitically off of the productive activities of private citizens.”

“Since the State necessarily lives by the compulsory confiscation of private capital, and since its expansion necessarily involves ever-greater incursions on private individuals and private enterprise, we must assert that the state is profoundly and inherently anti-capitalist.”

“We must, therefore, emphasize that ‘we’ are not the government; the government is not ‘us.’ The government does not in any accurate sense ‘represent’ the majority of the people.”

“The great non sequitur committed by defenders of the State…is to leap from the necessity of society to the necessity of the State.”

“All of the services commonly thought to require the State…can be and have been supplied far more efficiently and certainly more morally by private persons. The State is in no sense required by the nature of man; quite the contrary.”

“Libertarians regard the state as the Supreme, the eternal, the best organized aggressor against the persons and property of the mass of the public.”

“If you wish to know how libertarians regard the State and any of its acts, simply think of the State as a criminal band, and all of the libertarian attitudes will logically fall into place.”

“The State uses its coerced revenue, not merely to monopolize and provide genuine services inefficiently to the public, but also to build up its own power at the expense of its exploited and harassed subjects.”

“The State is a coercive criminal organization that subsists by a regularized large-scale system of taxation-theft.”

“The wry coupling of the twin certainties in the popular motto ‘death and taxes’ demonstrates that the public has resigned itself to the existence of the State as an evil but inescapable force of nature to which there is no alternative.”

“There is no reason to assume that a compulsory monopoly of violence, once acquired…by any State rulers, will remain ‘limited’ to protection of person and property. Certainly, historically no government has long remained ‘limited’ in this way.”

“The more the coercive powers of the State are expanded beyond the cherished limits of the laissez-faire theorists, the greater the power and pelf accruing to the ruling caste operating the State apparatus.”

“Advocates of a limited government often hold up the ideal of a government…’umpire’ arbitrating impartially between contending factions in society. Yet why should the government do so? …the State and its rulers will act to maximize their power and wealth, and hence inexorably expand beyond the supposed ‘limits.’”

“Government was constructed neither for ability nor for the exercise of loving care; government was built for the use of force and for necessarily demagogic appeals for votes.”

“Of all the numerous forms that governments have taken over the centuries, of all the concepts and institutions that have been tried, none has succeeded in keeping the State in check.”

“The State is a gang of thieves writ large.”

“In the case of taxation, a man’s surrender to the threat of coercion demonstrates no voluntary preference whatsoever for any alleged benefits he receives. …Neither does voting establish any sort of voluntary consent…to the government.”

“The fact that a majority might support or condone an act of theft does not diminish the criminal essence of the act or its grave injustice.”

“If, then, taxation is compulsory, and is therefore indistinguishable from theft, it follows that the State, which subsists on taxation, is a vast criminal organization…according to the common apprehension of mankind, which always considers theft to be a crime.”

“Only the State obtains its revenue by coercion…That coercion is known as ‘taxation,’ although in less regularized epochs it was often known as ‘tribute.’ Taxation is theft, purely and simply even though it is theft on a grand and colossal scale which no acknowledged criminals could hope to match. It is a compulsory seizure of the property of the State’s inhabitants, or subjects.”

“The necessary result…of the unequal fiscal action of the government is to divide the community into two great classes…tax-payers and tax-consumers.”

“This…is the welfare state in action: It’s a whole bunch of special interest groups screwing consumers and taxpayers, and making them think they’re really benefiting.”

“It is easy to be conspicuously ‘compassionate’ if others are being forced to pay the cost.”

“If mankind is diverse and individuated, then how can anyone propose equality as an ideal?…But what justification can equality find in the nature of man? If each individual is unique, how else can he be made ‘equal’ to others than by destroying most of what is human in him and reducing human society to the mindless uniformity of the ant heap?”

“It is not the business of the law to make anyone good or reverent or moral or clean or upright.”

“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics…But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”

It is not hard to see why Murray Rothbard was called Mr. Libertarian. Nor is it hard to see what is attractive about a philosophy based on self-ownership when virtually every individual rejects others’ impositions on that self-ownership. Perhaps he put it best himself when he wrote:

“The libertarian creed, finally, offers the fulfillment of the best of the American past along with the promise of a far better future…libertarians are squarely in the great classical liberal tradition that built the United States and bestowed on us the American heritage of individual liberty, a peaceful foreign policy, minimal government, and a free-market economy.”

The Rothbard quotes here are condensed from Part III, Chapter 19, in Lines of Liberty (2016).

  • Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network.

    In addition to his new book, Pathways to Policy Failures (2020), his books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).