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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Murray Rothbard March 2, 1926 – January 7, 1995

A Founder of the Modern Right Wing

In April of 2014 I wrote a blog entry on the Mt. Pelarin Society, but the figure who intrigued me at the moment was Murray Rothbard, who was tied to both Milton Friedman and Ludwig Von Mises, and who was a disciple of Ludwig Von Mises. Reading his various hagiographies I encountered narratives all over the place, but mostly they provided an image of a man who was incredibly influential with the right wing of this country.
Murray Rothbard from

Who was Rothbard?

Murray Rothbard was born March 2, 1926, in New York City. He started with public school in the Bronx, but due to his father being a Chemist was able to move into an Apartment in the Upper East Side and attend the Birch Wathen private school. He seems to have picked up a sense of privilege from that experience that would never leave him. The Wikipedia article claims to have grown up as a :

"right-winger" among friends and neighbors who were "communists or fellow-travelers." [Wiki]

The Von Mises Biography states:

"He was a brilliant student even as a young child; and his academic record at Columbia University, where he majored in mathematics and economics."

It was at Columbia University that his contrarian nature led him to seek out alternatives to the economics he was being taught and that led him to seek out Right Wing Economists like Friedman and the Austrians:

"In a course on price theory given by George Stigler, however, he encountered arguments against such then popular measures as price and rent control. These arguments greatly appealed to him; and he wrote to the publisher of a pamphlet that Stigler and Milton Friedman had written on rent control. [Mises]

Rocky Relationship with other Economists

Rothbard would get his bachelor's degree in 1945 and his PHD in 1956. It took him so long to get his PhD because of his problematic relationship with Joseph Dorfman and Arthur Burns. Arthur Burns would reject his Doctoral Thesis. He would have a problematic relationship with establishment economists for most of his life. [Wiki]. The Stigler publisher that he wrote to about price theory, however, was recruiting and this led to him developing a career that would allow him bypass establishment "liberal" economics and establish the right wing institutions that would be able to fight, and for a time vanguish them. The Mises Article goes on:

"The publisher in question was the Foundation for Economic Education; and visits to this group’s headquarters led Rothbard to a meeting with Ludwig von Mises. Rothbard was at once attracted to Mises’s laissez-faire economics, and when Mises’s masterwork Human Action appeared in 1949, it made a great impression on him. He was henceforward a praxeologist: here in Mises’s treatise was the consistent and rigorous defense of a free economy for which he had long been in search. He soon became an active member of Mises’s seminar at New York University. Meanwhile, he continued his graduate studies at Columbia, working toward his Ph.D. His mentor was the eminent economic historian Joseph Dorfman, and Rothbard received the degree in 1956, with a thesis on The Panic of 1819 that remains a standard work. Mises

He managed to get his Doctorate despite his rocky relationship with Dorfman and his thesis would become "a standard work" at least among Libertarians. Among economists of the time he was considered a flake.

The William Volker Fund

The Volker Fund was established as a charity to help people in the Kansas area. Volker had gotten some fame as "Mr. Millionaire" as he sometimes handed out checks of a million dollars to random individuals. But under Harold W. Luhnow, who took control over Volker's money and charity until 1962

"the fund shifted its focus away from charities in the Kansas City area and began pursuing a number of strategies for increasing the acceptance of Old Right and Austrian economics thought in the United States." Wiki Article

And it recruited Murray Rothbard in 1951 while he was still working on his thesis. Rothbard would never want for money thereafter. He worked for them directly researching and writing "book reviews for the Fund until 1962." Wiki Article

The Volker Fund also enabled him to write his book. They gave him a project to write "a textbook to explain Human Action in a fashion suitable for college students":

"a sample chapter he wrote on money and credit won Mises’s approval. As Rothbard continued his work, he transformed the project. The result, Man, Economy, and State (1962), was a central work of Austrian economics." Mises Bio

The publication of his book probably allowed him to survive after the Volker Fund collapsed from economic mismanagement and internal fights until

"He was offered a part-time position teaching economics to the engineering students of Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1966, at age 40." wiki

He would remain their until 1986. Thereafter he transfered to the "Butt Business School at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he held the title of S.J. Hall Distinguished Professor of Economics" until his death.

Rothbard as an "Austrian Economist."

The Von mises Site claims:

"Rothbard was no ivory-tower scholar, interested only in academic controversies. Quite the contrary, he combined Austrian economics with a fervent commitment to individual liberty. He developed a unique synthesis that combined themes from nineteenth-century American individualists such as Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker with Austrian economics. A new political philosophy was the result, and Rothbard devoted his remarkable intellectual energy, over a period of some forty-five years, to developing and promoting his style of libertarianism. In doing so, he became a major American public intellectual." [Mises bio]

Rothbard as a Counter Revolutionary

Working for the Volker Fund to build a cadre of (well funded) "revolutionaries", Rothbard writes in 1961:

"we are offering the public a radical change in their doctrinal views and we are offering it from a firm and consistent base of principle that we are trying to spread among the public." [Libertarian Papers]

In doing so they would adopt the methods, strategies, if not the final goals of the Bolsheviks:

"I think that here we can learn a great deal from Lenin and the Leninists—not too much, of course, because the Leninist goals are the opposite of ours—but particularly the idea that the Leninist party is the main, or indeed only, moral principle. We are not interested in seizing power and governing the State, and we therefore proclaim, not only adhere to, such values as truth, individual happiness, etc., which the Leninists subordinate to their party’s victory." [Libertarian Papers]

Subsequent to the demise of the Volker Fund there would be other organizations using a similar approach to pushing economic change. Rothbard pioneered many of the ideas and during his time at the Volker Fund was related to and sometimes fought with or criticized many of the intellectuals who would lead the fight. These included Ayn Rand, Von Mises, Frederick Hayek, Milton Friedman and many others. His "historical revisionism"... "as an antidote to what he perceived to be the dominant influence exerted by corrupt" ... "court intellectuals" over mainstream historical narratives." woud lead to even more corrupt historical narratives taking their place and are echoed in continuing efforts to control textbooks and rewrite history that are ongoing. The Koch's:

Rothbard was a bit of an objectivist and was very Spencerian. He was, in a lot of ways, the intellectual founder of much of what the modern Right Wing. Though he wasn't alone.

One nice thing you can say about him, is he always seemed upbeat.

Biographies, Sources and Further readings
Strictly Confidential
Additional Commentary related to this subject:
I started this post back in 2014, sorry it took so long to finish it.

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