December 27, 2011 by galudwig
The first time I heard of Murray Rothbard was years ago. I had only just made my first intellectual steps towards liberty by reading and becoming somewhat obsessed by Ayn Rand, first her fiction and then her non-fiction. One of her essays –I can’t remember which– on libertarianism had the rather opposite effect on me of looking up the groups she was disparaging for what amounted to philosophical impurity. I learned that Rothbard was a libertarian subjectivist, which then sounded bad to me as I was very ignorant back then of economics, had no notion of the subjective theory of value and thought of capitalism more as a moral system than anything else. I also learned that he was an anarchist, which abhorred me and made me shun his and other austrian writings for a long time to come.
Some 6 years later, my Objectivist “phase” long behind me and having become more and more interested in economic science, particularly those using methodological individualism and the praxeological method, I finally decided to read some Rothbard. I was a very convinced limited government libertarian then, the writings of such eminent scholars as Friedman, Stigler, Hayek, Hazlitt and Mises providing a firm intellectual shield against what I thought would be Rothbard’s insane anarchist ramblings. How wrong I turned out to be. Not only did he convince that anarchism is a legitimate political philosophy, he drove the message home that it is the only viable consistent and realistic approach to changing the status quo. Anyway, enough on my own experiences of reading the great libertarian economists, here are some passages from Rothbard’s short, well-written and extremely powerful essay Anatomy of the State.
Briefly, the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion.
The essay is also full of quotes by great men like Lysander Spooner, Bertrand de Jouvenel and Franz Oppenheimer and can be read for free here.
Since production must always precede predation, the free market is anterior to the State. The State has never been created by a “social contract”; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation. The classic paradigm was a conquering tribe pausing in its time-honored method of looting and murdering a conquered tribe, to realize that the time-span of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant, if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.
Just as the two basic and mutually exclusive interrelations between men are peaceful cooperation or coercive exploitation, production or predation, so the history of mankind, particularly its economic history, may be considered as a contest between these two principles. On the one hand, there is creative productivity, peaceful exchange and cooperation; on the other, coercive dictation and predation over those social relations.