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This is the first biography of one of the most interesting and controversial social theorists of our time. Murray N. Rothbard was the founder of the libertarian movement, a radical free marketeer who came of age in the era of collectivism and fought all his life for individualism and laissez-faire against overwhelming odds. The story of his life is at the same time a cavalcade of virtually all of the controversial events, ideas, and personalities of the latter part of the twentieth century.

The author of twenty-eight books and thousands of articles, Rothbard's life goal was to found a science of liberty, a comprehensive libertarian system of social thought encompassing philosophy, ethics, economics, and history. This book tells the story of the intellectual adventure that was Rothbard's life, his relationship with the great libertarian economist and philosopher Ludwig von Mises, and his intellectual growth and development as an economist and a thinker. While Rothbard's contributions to the history of social thought are important, his life story is interesting in itself: against almost impossible odds he managed to singlehandedly create the libertarian movement out of thin air at a time when such ideas were considered completely outside the pale.

An Enemy of the State traces Rothbard's ideological odyssey, from the Old Right of the Chicago Tribune and the "isolationist" America First Committee, to the conservative movement of the fifties and early sixties, to the New Left of the mid-sixties, and then on to the Libertarian Party and the post-Cold War return to his Old Right roots. Rothbard was that interesting combination, an intellectual system-builder and theorist who was also an intellectual street fighter, a scholar, and a man of action. Anyone interested in the history of ideas, whether or not they agree with Rothbard's ideology, is bound to be captivated by and drawn into the story of his fascinating life.Biographie de l'auteurJustin Raimondo is a senior fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, editorial director of, and a longtime libertarian activist.
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An ENEMY of the STATE The Life of Murray N. Rothbard

Justin Raimondo

Prometheus Books 59 John Glenn Drive Amherst, New York 14228-2197

Published 2000 by Prometheus Books A Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard. Copyright ? 2000 by Justin Raimondo. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or oth- erwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written per- mission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Inquiries should be addressed to Prometheus Books 59 John Glenn Drive Amherst, New York 14228-2197 VOICE: 716-691-0133, ext. 207 FAX: 716-564-2711 W W W. PROMETHEUSBOOKS. COM

0403020100 54321 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Raimondo, Justin. An enemy of the state : the life of Murray N. Rothbard / by Justin Raimondo. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 1-57392-809-7 (alk. paper) 1. Rothbard, Murray Newton, 1926- 2. Social scientists-United States-Biography. 3. Libertarians-United States-Biography. H23.R67 R35 2000 330.15'7-dc21 [B] 00-024195 CIP Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper

To Yoshinori Abe




1. The Young Rothbard

2. The Old Right's Last Stand

3. Three Encounters: Mises, Buckley, and Rand

4. Beyond Left and Right

5. 1700 Montgomery Street

6. A New Beginning

7. The Capstone

8. The Legacy

Select Books by Murray N. Rothbard



f the many people who rendered their invaluable assistance in completing this work, first and foremost is JoAnn Roth-bard, Murray's wife, whose cooperation was essential to the con-ception and writing of this book. By subjecting herself to a marathon four-day interview, she gave me the outline of this book-and the inspiration and moral support to finish it.

I ; am indebted to Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, not only for permission to quote from Rothbard's letters and unpublished papers, but also for his invalu-able assistance during the research phase of this project. I also want to thank the entire staff of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, particularly Jeff Tucker and Judy Thommesen, who rendered invaluable assistance with the photographs. I will also never forget Mardie's extraordinary kindness.

I owe a big debt to Robert Kephart, who gave me access to a great cache of Rothbard's unpublished letters and manuscripts, as well as other items of interest. He was a great friend to Rothbard, and he is a great friend of liberty.

I want to especially thank Ralph Raico for reading the manu-script and for his insightful suggestions.

I am very grateful to Williamson Evers, who gave me access to his collection of letters from Rothbard and other relevant s.

Thanks also go to Anita Anderson, for putting up with me, and to Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, for access to part of his collection of libertarian periodicals.

I especially want to thank Steven L. Mitchell, Editor-in-Chief of Prometheus Books, who believed in this book.

Those cited above contributed greatly to the completion of this project. However, the one who did the most is named on the ded-ication page of this book.

As much as they helped to make this book possible, not one of the individuals or organizations listed above can be held in any way responsible for its contents. That responsibility is mine alone.


he life and work of an ordinary man is not easily summarized in a phrase, or a book. It is difficult, even in a fairly detailed biog-raphy, to capture the complexity of the most prosaic character. How, then, to sum up the life and work of Murray N. Rothbard, author of twenty-eight books, thousands of articles-and a body of ideas that, taken together, constitutes an intellectual system encompassing not only economics and political economy, but also philosophy, ethics, history, and indeed a wide range of social thought?

The problem faced by the biographer is that human beings are creatures of such intricacy and mystery, wearing layer upon layer of personality and motivation, that their essence is rarely visible or obvious. A very few, however, are creatures of a single style, the possessors of a coherent and seemingly inherent quality of mind that imbues them with a clear sense of purpose and sets them apart, almost from the beginning, from the rest of us. This styliza-tion is the hallmark of the creative mind, of the thinker, the artist, the theoretician, the innovator in any field who does not merely rebel against the established order but counterposes his own vision of the ideal order; who, in short, embodies what Lord Acton described as the animating spirit of the classical liberal, who "wishes for what ought to be, irrespective of what is."'

If anything describes the Rothbardian mindset in a phrase, then this is it. This youthful spirit is the key to understanding the development of his character, as well as his ideas. It is the leit-motif of his life and work, implicit in his style and his approach to ideas, and made explicit at the end of one of his most politically influential essays, "Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty," which he concludes by quoting a long selection from the great Randolph Bourne, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century journalist and the conscience of American liberalism:

Youth puts the remorseless questions to everything that is old and established-Why? What is this thing good for? and when it gets the mumbled, evasive answers of the defenders, it applies its own fresh, clean spirit of reason to institutions and ideas and finding them stupid, inane, or poisonous, turns instinctively to overthrow them.2

The fresh clean spirit of rational inquiry, of testing and re-testing ideas in light of new evidence, and challenging the most fundamental assumptions, was his own method, one which never failed to yield controversial results. He dared ask the unaskable: The state-what is it good for? His answer: absolutely nothing.

"Youth is the leaven that keeps all these questioning, testing attitudes fermenting in the world," wrote Bourne. "Fermenting" precisely describes Rothbard's effect on a new generation of the freedom movement in the sense that, for many years, much of this activity was beneath the surface, a subterranean heat generated almost single-handedly by Rothbard. "If it were not for this trou-blesome activity of youth," Bourne continues, "with its hatred of sophisms and glosses, its insistence on things as they are, society would die from sheer decay "3

The course of Rothbard's intellectual odyssey, from the Old Right to the New Left and back again, is captured in this image of "trou-blesome activity." Certainly Rothbard's activities were "trouble-some," and not only to statists of every hue but often to his closest allies. Leaving aside the personal aspects of these often turbulent rela-tions, the reason was that Rothbard was constantly testing his logi-cally derived theories in the light of experience, honing and per-fecting his evolving theory of liberty, and shifting his tactics as cir-cumstances changed. Rothbard was that rare individual, a theoretician who was also a successful intellectual entrepreneur. In a book-length memo on strategy written in the mid-seventies, meant only for the inner circle of the libertarian Cato Institute and never published, Rothbard describes the importance of "entrepreneurial flexibility of tactics" and points out the key role of what he called the "intellectual entrepreneur." "Just as entrepreneurship is ultimately an art and not a science that can be learned by rote, so ideological tactics, the finding of the right path at the right time, is an entrepreneurial art which some people will be better at than others," wrote Rothbard in "Toward a Theory of Libertarian Social Change." "[Ludwig von] Mises's insight that timing is the essence of entrepreneurship" applies to "ideological as well as economic entrepreneurship."4

Rothbard's future biographers are blessed with a wealth of material; not only did he write books on a wide variety of subjects, he also left behind a voluminous correspondence. Fortunately for those who wish to trace the evolution of his thought, and espe-cially his political thought, there is an additional treasure trove of Rothbardiana in the back issues of Left and Right, the Libertarian Forum, and the Rothbard-Rockwell Report. One has only to look over his prolific output of personal journalism to see how he success-fully put the principles of intellectual entrepreneurship into prac-tice. At every crucial moment, at every point where the intellectual bodyguards of State power lost their grip on the populace and cracks in the system began to appear, Rothbard was there with his analysis and a strategy to widen the influence of libertarian ideas. As the conservative movement found itself under assault from the "New Right" acolytes of the sail-boating publicist William F. Buckley Jr. and the ex-Trotskyist theoretician James Burnham with their frankly imperial credo, Rothbard defended the legacy of a conservative movement that had once honored Old Right "isola-tionists" like John T. Flynn, Garet Garrett, and Colonel Robert McCormick, who opposed the New Deal and FDR's drive to war. Just as the United States began to get bogged down in an unwinnable and immoral war in Vietnam and the first stirrings of the student rebellion of the sixties hit the nation's college cam-puses, Rothbard founded Left and Right, a quarterly journal of opinion and analysis. He addressed the rising tide of youthful dis-content not by pandering to their prejudices but by carefully and colorfully explaining the roots of their angst-in the tyranny of a centralized national security state apparatus, which had embedded itself in the universities and slowly taken them into its orbit. Long before the New Left burnt itself out, Rothbard turned his sights on the task of consolidating the gains of the sixties into a cohesive and doctrinally independent movement, with its own organizations and institutions. As the Cold War ended, and the predictions of Mises and the Austrian School* that socialism must collapse came true, Rothbard made yet another turn-a home-coming, in a sense, back to the Old Right of his youth.

With the impatience of youth, which, Bourne writes, "drags skeletons out of closets, and insists that they be explained," Roth-bard persisted in challenging the conventional wisdom no matter whose ox was gored. He loved nothing more than dragging skele-tons out of the deepest, darkest closets, revising the official version of historical events with new facts and a fresh perspective on the machinations of power. He found the myths surrounding the great wars of the twentieth century, including the two world wars, par-ticularly vexing. Opposition to war, as the apotheosis of state coer-cion, was central to Rothbard's philosophy and always at the top of his ideological-political agenda. As a champion of Harry Elmer Barnes, the dean of world-war revisionism, he contributed a notable essay to the memorial volume published in honor of Pro-fessor Barnes, in which he noted that "there have been, after all, but two mutually exclusive roles that the intellectual can play and has played throughout history: either independent truthseeker, or kept favorite of the Court." Barnes coined the term "Court Historian," and Rothbard broadened the concept into the "Court Intellectual" who "spins the apologia" for the state and its agents as they loot, repress, and murder "in return for wealth, power, and prestige"-courtesy of "the State and its allied 'Establishment.' "5

If ever the antipode of the Court Intellectual existed, then surely his name was Murray Newton Rothbard. The author of the magisterial two-volume History of Economic Thought-a work that raises the question: how could one man know so much?-was for thirty-five years a teacher at a school for engineers who were not in the least interested in economics.6 A true polymath, and a writer of unusual speed and facility, his income from his academic work and his literary output combined was sometimes barely enough to make ends meet.

Bourne made another important point strongly reminiscent of Rothbard's psychology: "Our elders," he wrote, "are always opti-mistic in their views of the present, pessimistic in their views of the future; youth is pessimistic toward the present and gloriously hopeful for the future. And it is this hope which is the lever of progress-one might say, the only lever of progress." While this latter sentiment expresses Rothbard's views exactly, he also pointed out that this sort of optimism "may be very long range." While he clearly believed that the liberal revolutions of the eighteenth century are irreversible, in his essay Left and Right Rothbard warns that, since man is endowed with free will, it is not enough to have truth and right on one's side, nor is it sufficient that the crisis of statism is upon us. What is needed is full exposure of the state as a murderous para-site, and this requires the right leadership: intellectual entrepreneurs with a nuanced sense of timing, a deep intellectual commitment to libertarian principle, and, most importantly, an even rarer quality: what Rothbard called "a passion for justice."

In his unpublished strategy memo to the Cato Institute leader-ship-in which he gave free rein to his real hopes and aspirations, as well as venting his major frustrations with the libertarian move- ment-Rothbard emphasized the importance of making the vic-tory of liberty the goal. "This may seem axiomatic," he writes, with a sigh of exasperated wonder, "for if victory is not the goal, then why even bother joining a movement whose goals can never be met?" And yet, he noted that some "prefer the libertarian ideal as an intellectual game," while others are infected with "a profound pessimism" that precludes the possibility of victory. "Holding the victory of liberty as one's primary goal is only likely in those per-sons whose libertarianism is motivated and moulded by a passion for justice: by a realization that statism is unjust, and by a desire to eliminate such a glaring injustice as swiftly as possible."7

This is what motivated Rothbard. Not just as an abstract con-cept, but as a deeply felt personal credo. His passion inspired many, but especially the youth, who crowded around him at sem-inars and conferences, eagerly imbibing knowledge that seemed to overflow from the man in a veritable torrent. Many a time he had to be literally pulled away from an intense conversation with a gangly twenty-year-old student who was privileged to hear one of the best minds of the century explain the Austrian theory of the business cycle at 4:30 in the morning. At academic conferences and political conventions, Rothbard was always the last to call it quits, holding court in the hotel bar, and then trooping over to whatever greasy-spoon diner was open at that late hour to continue the dis-cussion until the wee hours of the morning.

Young people were drawn to Rothbard, and he received them gladly, generously ladling out great dollops of his time and hospi-tality while still managing a rate of high-quality literary output that would be hard to beat. The reason for this magnetism was, first of all, his passion, and not only for justice but for good conversation, good laughs, good food, and a good time. Exuberant, vociferous, his laughter easily heard above the din, Rothbard was welcomed by the young because he was, in at least one important sense, one of them. Like Lord Acton, Rothbard grew more radical as he grew older, and this, combined with his intractably bourgeois tastes and mode of living, so distinctly old culture, charmed the young. He appealed to the best in them: to their idealism, their fearlessness, and their sense of life's unlimited possibilities. Rothbard was a man who knew what Bourne touted as "the secret of life," which is

that this fine youthful spirit shall never be lost. Out of the tur-bulence of youth should come this fine precipitate-a sane, strong, aggressive spirit of daring and doing. It must be a flex-ible, growing spirit, with a hospitality to new ideas and a keen insight into experience. To keep one's reactions warm and true is to have found the secret of perpetual youth, and perpetual youth is salvation.,

In the context of this essay, this part of the Bourne quote is clearly meant as a portrait of Rothbard's ideal libertarian. In retro-spect, he more than lived up to his ideal.

Rothbard's spirit, far from dimming with age, burned ever brighter. In the last decade of his life, Communism, the great bogeyman whose looming presence had cast its long shadow over the domestic political scene, caught all the experts by surprise and imploded with stunning rapidity. A wave of what is today referred to as an "antigovernment" populism swept the nation, culmi-nating in the great Republican Revolution of 1994. The resulting realignment on the Right, with a whole section abandoning the Buckleyite devotion to global interventionism, gave him an opening to do what (I would argue) he was aching to do all along: return to his Old Right roots. Breaking with many of his followers, and adopting a new strategic outlook, Rothbard, having reached his mid-sixties, moved into a new social and political milieu. Devoted to principle, but devoid of dogmatism, he kept his reac-tions warm right up until the last day of his life.

At a time when all the wrong people are whining about the alleged lack of "role models," the phrase itself has become odious. In the original sense, however, it is a concept worth reclaiming: For budding young individualists, Rothbard is the perfect role model in the old-fashioned sense: the story of his life is not only fascinating but also instructive, and this is frankly my intent in this book.

Here it is necessary to confess my own bias: for many years I was associated with Rothbard, in one way or another, through our mutual activity in and devotion to the libertarian movement. We met in 1978, and, for a good part of my life since that time-except for one long interregnum during which we had almost no personal contact-we were friends and political allies. While we didn't always agree, Rothbard and I were aligned closely and consistently enough to qualify me as a Rothbardian, a description accurate to this day. However, like Bourne's archetypal youth, and Rothbard himself, I hate "glosses," and so will put none on my subject. Here is a portrait of Rothbard in all his brilliance and eccentricity: hopeful, yet sometimes despairing, heroic if often quixotic. This book is hardly meant to be the full-scale biography its subject deserves: my purpose is neither to appraise Rothbard's thought (a task for which I am hardly qualified) nor to weave the events of his life and work into a pattern made obvious somewhere near the end of the third volume. I hope, instead, in what is little more than an extended biographical sketch, to capture the essential Rothbard, not only his ideas but also his personality and some sense of his his-torical significance. To those readers unfamiliar with the man and his works, this book is meant as a doorway to discovering the most important and interesting development in the modern history of ideas: the Rothbardian system or paradigm of pure liberty.

The complexity of even the most ordinary individual makes the art of biography a difficult form to master. In reconstructing both the subject and the context in which he operated, the writer is faced with an overabundance of material. In building a narrative, the problem becomes one of what to include and what to omit. To err in favor of inclusion is to risk boring the reader with a shapeless and rambling tome of outsized proportions: the danger of omitting too much is that important facts will be lost in the interest of the story, which has somehow become divorced from its ostensible subject.

This problem of complexity is even more pronounced in Roth-bard's case. Here was a man of so many dimensions that it would be virtually impossible, in a conventional biography, to cover all of them in any depth. The writer's job is to tell a story, but Rothbard's biographers are faced with the question of which story to tell.

There is the story of Rothbard the theorist of the Austrian School, who not only systematized and perfected the insights of Ludwig von Mises and his school of pure free-market economics, but also fought to establish an American beachhead for the Mis-esian school-and did it almost single-handedly.

There is the story of Rothbard the political philosopher: while others have defended private property in the name of justice and prosperity, he was the first to identify the centrality of private prop-erty to the concept of human society. He showed that it was not only necessary to the free and prosperous commonwealth, but also that the principle-if it has any meaning-must be consistently applied to all spheres of human activity. The state, as the primal plunderer, is by its nature the main violator of property rights, and therefore, Rothbard concluded, the main enemy of liberty.

He reached this conclusion not solely by means of armchair spec-ulation, but also through his extensive researches into history, and here is another story: that of Rothbard the historian. His History of economic thought is in a class by itself, and the series of books on the origins of the American Revolution alone would put him in the first rank of historians. Whether it was the history of the Federal Reserve system, or the origins of the New Deal in Herbert Hoover's policy of economic interventionism, he saw through the propaganda of well-paid mouthpieces and fearlessly debunked the modern concept of history as a chronicle of the alleged glories of our rulers.

Yet another tale that needs telling is the story of Rothbard the observer of the political and cultural scene, the scholar of liberty on a par with Mises and Hayek* who was nevertheless very much engaged in the battle of ideas on a day-to-day basis. The remark-able record of his prolific political journalism, dating from the early fifties and continuing throughout his life, charts the rise over four decades of a libertarian movement that challenges the con-ventional orthodoxies of the Left and the Right.

His role as a publicist and political commentator merges effort-lessly into yet another major aspect of his story: Rothbard the orga-nizer and intellectual fountainhead of an ideological movement. From his days as an embattled Old Rightist, to his New Left period, through the years with the Cato Institute and the Liber-tarian Party, and his rapprochement with the Right in the post-Cold War era, a clear pattern emerges: wherever the enemies of war and collectivism rallied to fight the good fight, he was at their side. Rothbard was an idealist, but no utopian: he saw his vision of liberty as fully realizable, and acted accordingly, allying himself with whatever popular movement against state power was in the field at the moment. His strategic perspective changed with the circumstances, but his principles and their application remained constant almost from the very beginning.

To merge all these stories into a single, seamlessly integrated portrait of the man and his thought is the task awaiting Rothbard's biographers. It is a job that even the most ambitious writer would find daunting. Two factors are key in motivating anyone to take on such a project: hubris and an overwhelming interest in the subject. In my case, it is both.

Scholars will long discuss his contributions to economic thought and political philosophy, and I will leave to them the defin-itive word as to his place in the history of ideas. Given the limita-tions of space, and my own inclinations, what is peresented here is an overview of his life, not only as a scholar and prolific writer, but as a man. For my purpose is as much to inspire as to instruct.

Somewhere a student is wandering through the library stacks, in search of he knows not what: perhaps some small clue to the mystery and meaning of human freedom. It could be that he won-ders at the lack of it, especially when everyone professes their great love of it. If he or she should come upon this book, in a sense the search is ended-and, in another sense, it has just begun. The rising generation of libertarians has much to learn from Rothbard. If this modest volume does its part to make his social and political thought more accessible and readily available to a wider audience, it will have accomplished its purpose.


1. Murray N. Rothbard, "Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty," Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought 1, no. 1 (spring 1965): 8. Reprinted by the Cato Institute in 1979 as a pamphlet; the notes refer to this edition.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Murray N. Rothbard, "Toward A Theory of Libertarian Social Change," unpublished ms. in possession of author, April 1978, pp. 22-24. The reference is to Ludwig von Mises, the leading figure of the "Aus-trian" or pure free-market theory of economics, Rothbard's teacher and mentor.

5. Murray N. Rothbard, "Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War," in Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader, ed. Arthur Goddard (Colorado Springs: Ralph Myles, Publisher, Inc., 1968), p. 314.

6. Murray N. Rothbard, An Austrian Perspective on the History of Eco-nomic Thought, 2 vols. (London: Edward Elgar, 1995).

7. Rothbard, "Toward a Theory of Libertarian Social Change," p. 4. Rothbard's emphasis.

8. Rothbard, Left and Right, p. 31.


escribing the political atmosphere in which he was nurtured, Murray Rothbard was characteristically blunt: "I grew up in a Communist culture. The middle-class Jews in New York whom I lived among, whether family, friends, or neighbors, were either Com-munists or fellow-travelers in the Communist orbit. I had two sets of Communist Party uncles and aunts, on both sides of my family."'

On March 2, 1926, the man who would become the antithesis to Marx was born in the Bronx, into a milieu of left-wing Jewish immi-grants. There is in this fact the kind of irony that the modern "psy-chological" school of biography would no doubt make much of. Yet there is an alternative explanation for Rothbard's evolution into the foremost libertarian thinker of his era, other than to ascribe his rad-ical antistatism to murky motives and unknowable psychological processes, one that is simpler and also has the advantage of fitting the facts: the quality of Rothbard's mind. He was remarkably artic-ulate from a very early age-he once recalled debating the capital gains tax, which was just coming in, "in the eighth grade"-and this manifested a level of intelligence that far surpassed his peers.2 That such a youth should rebel against the socialist orthodoxy that prevailed in New York City left-wing circles during the "Red Decade" of the thirties is not surprising. Intellectuals and writers are inherently averse to what George Orwell called the "smelly little orthodoxies" of political parties and ideological movements. Orthodoxy of any sort is the bane of reason and critical intelligence, and so it became Rothbard's lifelong bete noir.

In the late thirties, young Rothbard was not only old enough to have political opinions, he was also bold enough to express them with unusual verve. At one family gathering, when the adults in solemn conclave were pledging devotion to Spain's "Loyalist" (i.e., Communist) government, he piped up to ask: "What's wrong with Franco, anyway?" He described the incident in a short memoir published in 1994: "It didn't seem to me that Franco's sins, however statist, were any worse, to put it mildly, than those of the [Spanish] Republicans. My query was a conversation-stopper, all right, but I never received an answer."3


In looking for antecedents, personal as well as intellectual roots, his father-whom he describes as "the one exception to this com-munist milieu"-was a major source of inspiration. A bourgeois petroleum chemist who differed in politics and general disposition from his leftist relations, David Rothbard was born near Warsaw and had emigrated from Poland in 1910, intent not only on quickly learning English, but also "abandoning Yiddish papers and culture and purging himself of any foreign accent."4

David Rothbard had been born into the insulated world of the ghetto, or, as his son put it, raised "in an environment of orthodox and often fanatical Jews who isolated themselves from the Poles around them, and steeped themselves and their children in Hebrew lore." In a remarkable memoir entitled "My Autobiog-raphy" written in his last year of high school, young Murray reveals that his grandmother, on his father's side, was an exemplar of the family spirit, who rebelled against the prevalent insularity of the closed community in which they lived. Rothbard attributed this seemingly congenital individualism to the "lower middle-class" status of the family, which impelled them "to better their lot and acquire culture and Western civilization. One example was my grandmother, whose ambition was confined primarily to her chil-dren, whom she imbued with her own unfulfilled cravings."

When David Rothbard set foot in the New World, the narrow mindset of the Polish ghetto was quickly shed, albeit not without a certain amount of struggle. His son tells us that young David "had a great handicap in that he did not know any established lan-guage, since he had spoken only Jewish [Yiddish] in Poland. The isolation of the Jews precluded any possibility of their learning the Polish tongue."5 This remarkable essay was obviously written as a school assignment, for on the back of the last page there is his grade, A-plus, and the following annotation by his teacher: "A splendid piece of work-carefully organized, clearly and interest-ingly presented. This gives indication of thought, observation, evaluation. College should offer no insoluble problems for you."

Overlooking this notation, the casual archivist will be forgiven if he mistakes Rothbard's youthful analysis as the work of an adult near fully formed. Its clarity and tone of authority, the easy narra-tive rhythm, as well as the style and sophistication of this autobio-graphical essay clearly marks its author as a prodigy. He shows a remarkable grasp of the psychological subtleties of human moti-vation, for a seventeen-year-old, in his insight into his mother's character and development. Murray's mother, Raya Babushkin, was born in a tiny Jewish village near the Russian-Polish border and came to America with her mother and sister in 1916. She "had been brought up without any necessity of facing the realities of life," writes her young son, "and consequently she shut herself up in a dream world of books and literature, much as Keats had escaped to a dream world of beauty."6

The Rothbard family's determined effort to integrate them-selves into American life meant political as well as cultural assim-ilation; or, as Rothbard put it, "devotion to the basic American way: minimal government, belief in and respect for free enterprise and private property." Noting that "Russian and Polish Jews before World War I were swept with communist, socialist, and Zionist ideologies and movements, or blends of the three," Roth-bard was obviously proud of the fact that "my father never fell for any of them." Far from being the archetypal rebellious adolescent who rejects his family on general principles, Rothbard was very close to both his parents throughout their lives.' According to his own testimony, the moments in his young life that had thus far afforded him "the greatest enjoyment and instruction are the long discussions which I frequently have with my parents. The mutual understanding is so strong," he writes, "as to be ever silently pre-sent, a mute god seen appreciatively by us all."'

His father was a major source of political and ideological as well as psychological influence and support. While Rothbard blames the baleful influence of Russian literature and its "negative idealism" on his mother's inability to completely free herself from the stultifying hand of the old country and its dangerously inbred traditions, his father embraced America wholeheartedly. Murray took pride in his father's quest for freedom: despite many obstacles, David Rothbard "broke away from old nationalistic ties, and through sheer will and force of character, he has obtained an extensive knowledge of the English language, has no trace of an accent, and displays a vocabu-lary that would shame many native Americans. Furthermore, he has, by dint of ability and perseverance, risen from an impoverished immigrant to a citizen of value and responsibility.""

His father was a strong believer in science and rationalism, and named him Murray Newton. The Rothbards nurtured their son's precocious intellect: family discussions ranged from literature to philosophy and current events, and included "character analyses and self-analysis." When the conversation came to politics, father and son were simpatico: "My father was a radical at twenty, but he was quick to profit by his folly. Strange as it seems, I always attempt to gauge my beliefs and actions by his experience." The youthful Murray reveals that "my father taught me the intricacies of politics without prejudice." Having become "mature enough to form my own conclusions," he says, "I was not too much surprised to find that I agreed with my father on basic political principles"-although, he adds, with endearing bluntness, "sometimes, in my opinion, my father becomes a little imperialistic.'?

In spite of this shortcoming in his father's political outlook, "our attitude toward socialism is a common one. A belief in free enterprise is basic with my father, and has remained with me ever since I have formed a political philosophy." Socialism, he averred, destroys incen-tive and "inevitably leads to a great concentration of power in the government, which leads irretrievably to totalitarianism." The intel-lectual stance projected here-a love of liberty, a hatred of collec-tivism, and a refusal to be absorbed by the "religious fanaticism" of the Old World Jews-was to remain constant throughout his life."

The resemblance between father and son extended from the psychological to the physical plane: pictures of the young Roth-bard replicate to an amazing degree the type represented by his father: an open face, clean-shaven, with eyes that seem both absorbed by and delighted with the sight of the world around him. The high forehead, the nose prominent but finely formed, the half-smile exuding an earnest intelligence. In Murray, the features were sharper, finer, the chin more decisive: the overwhelming impres-sion aside from a luminous intelligence was of a fearless honesty.


Murray Newton Rothbard was a bright, vivacious child, whose intelligence and independence of mind showed itself early on. He reports that, from infancy, "if I saw anything which puzzled me, I didn't rest until I had received a satisfactory answer"-a mental habit that stayed with him all his life. He learned to read by the age of five, and was soon using the dictionary and the Encyclopedia Brittanica to navigate his search for knowledge.12

Although he received consistently good grades, he was neither a "grind" nor the intellectual loner type: Murray was always gre-garious, and, if he could not be a star player on the athletic field, he found his niche as a topnotch scorekeeper and calculator-of-odds. He showed a penchant for drama and music during grade school, yet he confesses that "I was not much of a social success. I was always cowed and bullied by my playmates, until I finally took recourse in books. Each succeeding year this situation became more acute." The Rothbards moved to Staten Island, a locale at that time "abounding in race prejudice," i.e., anti-Semitism, and this added to Murray's troubles: "My social maladjustment per-sisted through public school," he reports. His collision with "the evils of a public school system" marked "the unhappiest period in my life." Rothbard's opposition to egalitarianism was forged through his bitter experience of the "leveling" effects of the public school system, which

wreaks havoc on a child of superior ability. The entire method of teaching, the poor quality of the courses, the prevalent regimen-tation and narrow-mindedness, all contrived to hamper me greatly. I felt myself imprisoned in a steel cage. My mind, which wanted to soar onwards, was chained to the earth by an endless repetition of things that I knew, as well as by trifling but amazing public school restrictions.... The individual was completely for-gotten in this system.... He was swallowed up in a mass of fifty other souls. How well I remember how I chaffed at the multipli-cation cards which the teacher held up before the class. Two times two equals four, three times two equals six; to me it all seemed a futile waste of time."

Another great problem for Rothbard was that his intellectual precocity meant that he skipped grades "with disconcerting rapidity." Suddenly he was in the midst of an older crowd, and, "in my case the result was disastrous. Instead of overcoming my preschool shyness, I was more bullied and beaten, this time by boys much older than I was. Consequently, the unhappiness which I felt in early childhood was nothing compared with the misery which I bore in public school. "'4

Rothbard's personal crisis apparently reached a climax in the fourth grade: "The need for immediate action was apparent," he writes, but it took a while for his parents to come up with a real-istic solution. Their first reaction was to hire on a boxing instructor for their beleaguered and battered son: "I believe he was a trainer of some lightweight champion. But it soon became apparent to all concerned that my career was not along pugilistic lines."15

The notes of his public school teachers on Rothbard's develop-ment reveal as much about the authors as they do about young Murray. A teacher's report notes that young Murray "has devel-oped a combative spirit which frequently has to be checked. While this attitude in itself is bad, still it is encouraging to see that his courage is increasing. Although this pugnacity has been devel-oped largely in protecting a smaller child in a game against a larger group, it should be watched very carefully for it might very well lead to an antagonism toward the larger group."16

His parents soon realized that the problem was "more emo-tional than physical," and soon related their concerns to the school authorities, who were markedly unsympathetic: "The reason I was unhappy, they said, was that I persisted in thinking and playing differently from the rest of the group. If I would only conform to the rest of the class, my adjustment would naturally follow." The extent of his dissatisfaction was perhaps exaggerated for its dra-matic effect in his essay, or else did not manifest itself outwardly, for a report from his fourth-grade teachers declares that "Murray seems so exceedingly happy that it is sometimes difficult to control his activities in the class." One teacher wrote that "His reading is understanding, deeply appreciative and dramatic. His conversa-tion is amusing, informative, wise!" Rebuffed by administrators who "concluded that the fault was all mine, and that I exaggerated my troubles," Rothbard's parents embarked on a systematic attempt to resolve the crisis of their son's education. They con-sulted "psychologists, friends, journalists acquainted with the sub-ject, and student and parent associations." Finally they consulted Dr. John Levy, eminent psychologist in the field of child guidance. "I clearly recall the actual contour of the room where I sat alone and the unintelligible murmur of voices emanating from the next room. The most momentous decision that has yet affected my life was being reached. Dr. Levy recommended unequivocally that I be transferred to a private school.""


Levy recognzed in young Rothbard a precocious and unique intel-ligence that required a lot more individual attention than any public school could or would provide. To his parents, the Riverside School, in Staten Island, with its small classes-there were seven students in its fourth grade class-and emphasis on individual attention to students' academic and emotional needs, seemed like the ideal choice. Rothbard's reaction was unrestrained joy: "My mind was at last free from all worthless intellectual and physical restrictions. I was free to think!"'R

It was the height of the Great Depression and, although David Rothbard had a good job that he managed to hold on to, even with Murray's partial scholarship, private school was an expense the family could ill afford. Yet where the welfare of their son was con-cerned, there was not question that the sacrifice was worth it.

The two years spent at Riverside were liberating both intellec-tually and emotionally. In class, he felt free to utilize and develop his powers of expression "without the psychological intimidation which oppressed" him "in public school." Here he could enjoy the company of his intellectual equals, and be appreciated in turn: "I discovered," he writes, "with gratified wonder, that the other chil-dren liked me." Rothbard's radical alienation from his peers was over, and the reason for this new spirit of cooperation is clearly stated: "In them I found equals in intelligence, and consequently, similar interests. Thus, it was easy for me to cooperate and become an indissoluble unit of the class, without, however, losing my individual identity."19

In this new atmosphere of expansive openness, he joined the glee club, and began to pursue an interest in politics and, inevitably, economics. His grades were excellent, his intellectual interests were expanding, and as a social being he was beginning to develop his own mischievious charm. At the end of the sixth grade, however, he began to discover the limitations of his new-found freedom: Riverside "had served well as a reaction to public school, but its scope was becoming too narrow." He was more crit-ical of the teachers, but the main problem seemed to be that the classes were too small. Spreading his wings, he found himself con-fined in such a small space and yearned for wider horizons.

A systematic investigation of a suitable high school for Murray was undertaken by his parents with characteristic thoroughness. His mother was particularly impressed with the Birch-Wathen School, in midtown Manhattan, which he entered in the seventh grade. "I remember my first day there vividly," he writes. "At the foot of the stairs in the hall, I was introduced to Russell Bliss, also a new student." Bliss would become one of his best friends, a rela-tionship that would last through his high school and college years. "We walked up the stairs solemnly, led by a sympathizing teacher." He was entering a different world.20

In those days, boys of the wealthier classes were usually sent away to boarding school, but girls went to nearby day schools. Birch-Wathen had threatened to go nearly all-girl, until they began offering scholarships to deserving male students: "The result," writes Rothbard, "was socially anomalous: the girls were all wealthy, driven to and from school in chauffeured limousines, whereas at least half the boys were scholarship lads such as myself." Whatever class distinctions may have existed among the student body, most of them shared a common ethnicity-Russian and Polish Jews-but also a common political outlook. "They were all left-liberals," he later lamented, "what came to be called in New York 'Park Avenue' or 'limousine' liberals-all too literally in their case. I soon became established as the school conservative, arguing strongly in the eighth grade against Roosevelt's introduction of the capital-gains tax in 1938 and later against Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's left-wing policy of coddling criminals."21


Rothbard's evolving political views were taking a consciously rightward tilt. This definitely put him in a minority, especially in the New York Jewish milieu of which he and his family were a part. A strong impetus in the development of his views was the far left-wing stance taken by his relatives, on both sides of the family. After covering his home life, school, and some unfortunate experi-ences at summer camp, young Rothbard writes that "my relatives come under a special category." This was undoubtedly the case. He grew up in an intensely political atmosphere, in which his var-ious aunts and uncles were "definitely Communist sympathizers, or pinkish radicals," if not actual Communist Party members. One older uncle was an engineer who helped build the famous Moscow subway, a showcase of Soviet efficiency and modernity. A younger uncle was an editor of the newspaper of the Drug Workers Union, a working adjunct of the Communist Party. In a family of Stalinists, David Rothbard was the individualist excep-tion; his vigorous dissent was controversial and not infrequently a cause of friction: "Consequently," Murray recounts, "my father fre-quently becomes involved in heated political debates. When they cannot help but see the logic of his arguments, they just call him a reactionary, a Republican (an abhorred word, for some reason) and hide behind the shield of those generously distributed labels. I usually take part in these discussions with vehemence and a cer-tain amount of relish."22

Rothbard's commitment to human freedom came early; it was formed in his childhood struggle with the lowest-common denom-inator egalitarianism of the public school system and crystallized in these familial debates; his father was his first ideological soul-mate and political ally. To even question the moral and practical superiority of socialism to capitalism, in those days, was a dis-tinctly unfashionable opinion held by a tiny and fast-dwindling minority. And nowhere was that minority quite so tiny as it was in New York City in the thirties, known as the "Red decade" of Amer-ican intellectual history for good reason. To speak up in such cir-cumstances was risky, even dangerous, and bound to make plenty of enemies. David Rothbard was undeterred, and his son learned from his example.

By the time he graduated from Birch Wathen, Murray Roth-bard was a self-described conservative whose overriding passions were opposition to New Deal socialism, Communism, and all forms of egalitarianism. In an unpublished memoir written in the late seventies, Rothbard writes that "exclusive contact with liberals and leftists in high school and college only served to intensify this commitment."23 While he had yet to formulate a positive and con-sistent alternative, the intellectual and emotional setting out of which his libertarianism developed was fully formed by 1940 at the latest. He was an avid reader of John T. Flynn's newspaper columns, and regularly tuned in to Flynn's radio commentaries; he enjoyed the Hearst press and "the marvelous New York Sun."24 A little later, after the war, he subscribed to his favorite newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, that old warhorse of the anti-Prohibitionist anti-imperialist Midwestern Republicans. As he prepared to leave the protected bastion of Birch-Wathen, war clouds loomed on the horizon: yet there is no mention in his juvenilia of the great debate between interventionists and "isolationists." In his youthful "Autobiography" he avers that "I do not believe that the advent of war has changed my outlook. War has only brought it into sharper focus and crystallization. I am even more determined now to do my utmost to serve this nation." Looking forward to college, he exhorts the reader to consider that "college becomes increasingly important in wartime" because "the need for a comprehensive education for youth becomes greater."25

The formative period of Rothbard's life, America in wartime, was just ahead, as was his transformation from an unreconstructed Old Rightist into a consistent libertarian. The basic ingredients were there, and were about to be superheated in the crucible of war.

His family had planned a future for him in business. There had even been an abortive experiment, one summer, when he was sent down to the Manhattan office of his father's petroleum company to do some sort of clerical work. But this arrangement did not last very long, for young Murray was utterly miserable at the prospect of working in an office, any office, especially if he had to be there at nine in the morning. Clearly, he was meant for other things. He decided to enter Columbia University and major in-but let him tell it: "As improbable as this may seem now," he writes, "I was at one time in college a statistics major. After taking all the under-graduate courses, I enrolled in a graduate course in mathematical statistics at Columbia with the eminent Harold Hotelling, one of the founders of modern mathematical economics. After listening to several lectures of Hotelling, I experienced an epiphany: the sudden realization that the entire 'science' of statistical inference rests on one crucial assumption, and that that assumption is utterly groundless. I walked out of the Hotelling course, and out of the world of statistics. "26

One of his fourth grade teachers once commented on her pre-cocious young charge's "inquiring mind," his "desire really to know reasons, origins, exceptions. He never seems to be satisfied with facts acceptable to most people."27 By the time he entered col-lege, this quality had only intensified, and because of it Rothbard managed to avoid more than one intellectual pitfall. In the case of statistics, he was skeptical of the premise that truth can be inferred from a statistical sampling based on the alleged infallibility of the normal curve, or "bell curve." The idea is that statisticians can measure everything from unemployment to political opinions, claiming absolute knowledge within a certain "confidence level," because all such characteristics are invariably distributed in the population according to the so-called normal curve, which is rep-resented in textbooks as perfectly symmetrical and bell-shaped. "Well," asked Rothbard,

what is the evidence for this vital assumption of distribution around a normal curve? None whatever. It is a purely mystical act of faith. In my old statistics text, the only "evidence" for the universal truth of the normal curve was the statement that if good riflemen shoot to hit a bullseye, the shots will tend to be distributed around the target in something like a normal curve. On this incredibly flimsy basis rests an assumption vital to the validity of all statistical inference.21


Rothbard had been an excellent student in grade school and high school, and he continued in this mode throughout his college years. While his first-year marks are mostly As and B-pluses, by the summer of 1945 he was scoring virtually all As (and a few A-pluses and only an occasional B-plus). He achieved honors-level grades in probability theory, economic analysis, and his courses in economic theory and history-except for the one subject in which he consistently received a C, and sometimes even a C-minus: Phys-ical Education.

Rothbard was draft age when he entered Columbia in Sep-tember 1942, and the only way he managed to stay out of the slaughter was his poor eyesight, which gave him a 4-F status. Everybody at Columbia during the years 1942-45 was similarly classified-but that didn't mean that the militarization process was completely avoided. The government set up a physical training and military preparedness program on campus; the idea was to get these flabby slackers into shape so they could be drafted. Attendance was mandatory. One day, Rothbard faced a network of ropes stretched between two poles, and was told to go up one side of it and down the other. Rothbard approached this contraption, looked up, and said: "You have got to be kidding!" He walked around it.

In the hopped-up atmosphere of wartime America, this might have qualified as an indictable offense. But neither could Murray pull off any of the other feats of physical strength and endurance required to pass the course, and so the authorities simply wrote him off as a hopeless case.

The political and emotional atmosphere of America at war, in the midst of the relentless barrage of wartime propaganda, made a vivid and permanent impression on young Rothbard. It was a time when his uncle on his mother's side, whom Rothbard describes as "a longtime member of the Communist Party," could magnani-mously declare to David Rothbard that he would be safe in the postwar world "provided that he kept quiet about politics."29

From that time forward, Rothbard's opposition to militarism was confirmed and solidified into a firm conviction. His deter-mined opposition to globalism and imperialism, forged in the fur-nace of FDR's quasi-authoritarian wartime regime, is the consis-tent theme that explains his political enthusiasms, from the Old Right to the New Left, down through the years.

The one beacon of Americanism and editorial independence left standing at the war's end was the Chicago Tribune, to which Rothbard subscribed for a time, eagerly devouring such articles as a series enti-tled "Rhodes' Goal: Return U.S. to British Empire," by William Fulton and others that traced the history and influence of the Rhodes Scholars program on American foreign policy. In his later writings, this early influence would be reflected not only in his absolutely con-sistent "isolationism" but also in the muckraking style and flavor of the old Tribune that runs through such works as Wall Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy,30 The Case Against the Fed,3' and indeed the whole of his political journalism. Always he asked: Who benefits? Like Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the polemical publisher of the Tribune, Rothbard was not afraid to name names: Rockefeller, Morgan, Kuhn-Loeb, the plutocracy of the statist order. Both the Colonel and the young Rothbard were agreed on the nature and motives of "the Wall Street-Anglophile Establishment that ran and still runs this country," as Rothbard put it later.32

Rothbard was, in short, a man of the Old Right-the "America First" generation of conservatives and classical liberals who were defined by their opposition to war abroad and collectivism on the home front. The problem, though, was that he was a young man, and the Old Right was already on its last legs. Not only that, but the country was lurching uncontrollably to the left under the impact of the war. The United States and the Soviet Union were marching side by side, hand-in-hand, allies against a common foe, and the idea of the free market was not even part of the discussion. As Rothbard puts it in his memoir of that time, the Right on campus was represented by the Social Democrats, with "the Com-munists and their allies on the left, and these factions set the para-meters of political debate."33

It was in what Rothbard called "this stifling atmosphere" that he first became aware that he was not alone, that a movement ded-icated to fighting collectivism and promoting freedom existed. "By the time I got to graduate school," he recalled, in the fall of 1945, "I was a sort of a Chamber of Commerce, NAM [National Associa-tion of Manufacturers] -type free marketeer. I didn't argue purely as a laissez-faire theorist, but I was getting there."m

The Republican sweep of the 1946 congressional elections was the occasion of a Rothbardian "Hallelujah" letter to the New York World Telegram, one of his earliest published writings, celebrating the "glorious victory." He exulted: "Once again there is a bright flame of hope for the cause of true liberalism. In 1948, it is my fer-vent hope and expectation that the American people shall com-plete their mandate by turning out Lame Duck Truman, so that the Republican Party can turn us off the road to socialist serfdom and on the road to individual liberty and political and economic freedom. "35 True liberalism, in Rothbard's sense, meant the clas-sical liberalism of the nineteenth century which, unlike that of the twentieth, stood for economic liberty and the minimalist state.

Rothbard joined the Young Republican Club of New York as the war ended. In 1948 he wrote a campaign report attacking the Office of Price Administration and participated in internal debates over the issue of price controls-the wartime "emergency" regula-tions that had yet to be dropped. In his paper attacking Truman's program, Rothbard asked: What can the science of economics tell us about price controls? His answer was sharp and to the point:

Let us imagine that the government passes a law that gasoline cannot be legally sold at more than two cents a gallon. Absurd? No more absurd in principle than any price control. What would happen?

1. At first, buyers are happy; their cost of living has been magi-cally cut by simple government order.

2. They soon find that no gasoline is being produced and sold.

3. Black markets form where people can get gasoline at prices that sellers are willing to accept. But now they are criminals, and prices go even higher on the black market than before to compensate the sellers for the risk of being arrested.

4. Honest people who obey laws find they can't get any gasoline.

5. The government then sets up hordes of detectives to enforce the law and crush the black markets.

6. Left-wingers proclaim that the control is a failure because gasoline producers are producing kerosene instead, and because their prices are uncontrolled. The solution is to drive all prices down to near-zero.

7. The result again is a gigantic system of black markets, a gen-eral choice between law-breaking and starving. Morals and orderly life disintegrates.

The ultimate result is a state of war between the government and the people: "If the people win out, the result is a network of black markets approximating the old free markets, though with great distortions. If the snoopers win out, people starve and must be forcibly put to work."36

Rothbard and his fellow antiprice control Young Republicans were definitely in the minority; the typical New York Young Repub-lican was an underemployed young lawyer on his way to job secu-rity in Gov. Thomas E. Dewey's machine. Yet even in that less than fruitful milieu, Rothbard tirelessly promoted free-market ideas and became an outspoken proponent of the Right in New York City Republican politics. At a series of forums with the general theme of "Which way for the Republican Party?" Rothbard represented the Right in debate with spokesmen for the Left and Center.37

When George J. Stigler, a young economics professor from Brown University, began to teach at Columbia in the fall of 1946, he caused a sensation. His first couple of lectures consisted of an attack on the concept of rent control-an idea very dear to the hearts of many New Yorkers to this day-and a refutation of the idea that a minimum wage does anything other than lock low-wage workers out of the market. The assembled leftist students were taken aback, and surrounded Stigler after class, arguing furi-ously with this heresy. Rothbard was delighted. Stigler had coau-thored with Milton Friedman a pamphlet on the subject of rent control, Roofs or Ceilings? published by the Foundation for Eco-nomic Education (FEE). Rothbard wrote to the FEE for a copy of the pamphlet and more information about the organization. This was his first contact with the organized libertarian movement. As a Ph.D. candidate in the graduate economics department at Columbia University, he had occasion to experience and be "appalled at the attitude of the great majority of intellectuals," especially exhibited by his fellow students in the social sciences, "of passionate hatred of the capitalist and private enterprise system, admiration of ... ruthless power groups ... (e.g., orga-nized labor, the Soviet Union), and a shocking ignorance of the whole tradition of Western liberalism." Bitterly noting that "anyone who dares support the principles of the Rule of Law, of political and economic freedom, is immediately accused of being a 'Fascist,' a 'black reactionary,' a 'paid agent of the NAM [National Association of Manufacturers],' and is forthwith ostracized from 'intellectual' society," Rothbard is heartened by the existence of the foundation, for "it is imperative that organizations exist which dis-seminate the principles of economic liberalism."38

Founded by Leonard E. Read in 1946, and ensconced in a large house on the banks of the Hudson River in upstate New York, FEE was staffed by a corps of free-market agricultural economists, such as F. A. "Baldy" Harper, of Cornell, and Orval Watts, formerly chief economist of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, of which Read had been the president. The organization was a beacon light to the still-tiny but growing libertarian movement, and employed a whole generation of young libertarian economists and activists, including Dr. Paul Poirot, Richard Cornuelle, William Marshall Curtis, Ivan Bierly, and Ellis Lamborn.


On the academic front, Rothbard had entered Colombia Graduate School, received his M.A. degree in 1946, graduating with honors in economics and mathematics, and became a Ph.D. candidate in economics that same year. He was also looking for work, and in some unlikely places. In March 1945, he wrote the Personnel Department of the Sperry Gyroscope Company, in Brooklyn, inquiring about a position with the firm. With one course to com-plete for his masters, and that taken at night, he was "therefore available for work immediately."39

Luckily for the cause of liberty, the Personnel Department of the Sperry Gyroscope Company was not impressed enough to make him an offer; at least, no record of any such job offer survives.

He passed his oral examination in April 1948, and was busily working on his dissertation, "National Public Opinion on the Panic of 1819." He had also met the woman who would become the emo-tional framework of his life, Virginia-born JoAnn Schumacher, who, in her words, was "just hanging around" Columbia at the time. They met through mutual friends, and eventually developed a deep friendship that would blossom into romance. They would talk for hours in the library, and soon became inseparable; he called her Joey. While isolated politically, on a more personal level Rothbard was forging an alliance that would endure through all the days of his life. "To Joey, the indispensable framework," reads the dedica-tion page of his 1963 book, America's Great Depression, an inscription that defines the centrality of their relationship.

Rothbard's letters to Joey during their courtship are passionate and funny, filled with anecdotes of New York City social and intel-lectual life in the postwar years interspersed with expressions of his undying devotion. An intellect in her own right, JoAnn Roth-bard was a cultured and highly intelligent young woman who was the perfect complement to her husband. Throughout their lives together she had a calming effect on his natural volatility. When-ever he showed signs of taking one of his enthusiasms too far, she gently pulled him back on track. He would have found this intol-erable in anyone else, but Joey was an exceptional woman. After earning her bachelor's degree in history at Columbia, she went on to get her masters at New York University. Joey had an abiding interest in music, particularly opera: she was an expert on Richard Wagner. She could have had her own career; instead, she devoted herself to the care and nurturing of Murray Rothbard.

One day, she came home to find Rothbard sitting on her stoop, practically in tears: he had submitted his doctoral dissertation to his academic advisor, Professor Joseph Dorfman, who, though inclined to approve it, had been restrained by a comment from Arthur Burns, head of the department-and a future head of the Federal Reserve-that, while this was acceptable work from anybody else, more was expected of Murray Rothbard. The problem was not that of the young libertarian up against his socialist professors, as would not be hard to imagine, but "was really more personal ... intraprofessional rather than ideological," as he put it later. He had known Burns most of his life, and they had lived in the same apart-ment building since high school: "And so in graduate school," he remembered, "we got along very well. I thought he was a brilliant theorist, by the way, his ... critique of orthodox theory and so forth, was excellent.... But he didn't really use it, I mean he didn't pub-lish in that area. What happened was that he had a different view of what my thesis should be like than my professor.... [Between] the two of them-it was impossible for me to do anything since both of them ended up contradicting the other. `40

Murray was devastated at the prospect of having to rewrite major sections of his work. He thought he would never be able to do it, and was therefore finished in the world of academia. When Bums heeded the call to go to Washington, however, in 1953, the main obstacle to his progress was eliminated: he resubmitted his thesis. With Burns safely ensconced in Washington as a member of the Council of Economic Advisors, he finished his dissertation, "The Panic of 1819: Reactions and Policies," and was awarded a doctorate in economics in 1956.41

While Rothbard describes the campus political spectrum that ran from Social Democrats on the "right" to Stalinists on the left, he apparently had an easier time of it than libertarians in academia have today. In those days, colleges were not political indoctrina-tion centers but were genuinely committed to scholarship as the pursuit of truth, an idea that American academics nowadays knowingly sneer at. The all-pervasive thought-control of political correctness now strangling the nation's schools was entirely lacking. There was also a kind of distance between the professoriat and the student body that would today be considered "elitist" and archaic. "I didn't argue much with my professors," Rothbard recalled, although he did not often agree with them, because "there was not much give and take." Asked for his advice to young free-market advocates working toward their doctorates, Rothbard said, "I really sympathize with the kids nowadays who have become Austrians first and then try to combat the current ortho-doxy. I wasn't an Austrian" as yet. "I was ... increasingly liber-tarian, but as far as economics went all I knew was I was skeptical of what was going on, that was number one. So I was much better off in a sense than someone who starts in as a Misesian and tries to confront the Friedmanism and math and everything else. Second of all, there was much less math in those days. Economics was a sort of pleasure. I really don't know if I'd go into economics now if I were a young graduate student because I mean there wasn't all that math." Not that Rothbard found the math intimidating: far from it. Math was one of his best subjects from a very early age. What he means to say here is that while "econometrics had math," economics had not yet degenerated into an incomprehensible set of obscurantist equations, endless graphs, charts, and jargon. The journals were written "in good English. They had [prominent free-market economist] Frank Knight and had philosophical articles and ... it wasn't like today, it wasn't monolithic in that sense. "41

In that intellectual atmosphere, dominated by a relatively relaxed leftism, he was able to find his way to libertarianism. In what Rothbard described as "a true-and infinitely exhilarating-culture shock," one day in the Columbia bookstore, amid the usual debris of Trotskyite and Stalinist tracts, one pamphlet stood out from the others, the title emblazoned on the cover in bold letters and even bolder language: Taxation Is Robbery, by Frank Chodorov.43 A more succinct statement of the central premise and policy of libertarianism is hard to imagine: "This," said Murray, "was it; once seeing those shining and irrefutable words, my ideo-logical outlook would never be the same again."44 He had found the political lodestar that would set him on his course.45

A disciple of the literary critic and writer Albert J. Nock, Chodorov had been kicked out of the Georgist Single Tax move-ment, where he had edited their magazine, for opposing U.S. entry into World War II. He had been publishing his valiant little peri-odical, Analysis, out of a loft in Lower Manhattan, since November of 1944, barely eking out a living. Rothbard met Chodorov at an FEE cocktail party, thought he was "a delightful fellow," and started reading Analysis, "which influenced me a great deal."46 In its pages, Chodorov blasted away in issue after issue with such broadsides against statism as "Washington: A Psychosis" and "Don't Buy Bonds!" In comparing the British Empire to Imperial Rome, Chodorov detected the rise of "A Byzantine Empire of the West" in America's postwar hegemony.47 Rothbard contributed a review of H. L. Mencken's Crestomathy; it was his first published article.411 Other articles followed, and they started corresponding regularly in the summer of 1947.

Rothbard's libertarian education included the works of Nock, Garet Garrett, Isabel Paterson, "and all the greats," and he describes himself, at this point, as "not yet an anarchist yet just on the brink of anarchy." A 1949 letter to Chodorov finds Rothbard ordering books from Chodorov's book service, including Albert Jay Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man and Journal of Forgotten Days, Herbert Spencer's Man versus the State, Sir Ernest Berms Confessions of a Cap-italist, Henry George's Science of Political Economy, as well as books by Mises and Mencken. In reading Analysis and corresponding with Chodorov and others, Rothbard was coming in contact with the rich tradition of libertarian thought: he discovered Nock the lit- erateur whose elegant prose style enlivened the Freeman and such magazines as the Atlantic in the earlier part of the century. He was particularly struck with Garrett, an editor at the Saturday Evening Post, whose bitter chronicle of the decline of the old American republic, The Revolution Was, he often found occasion to quote over the years. Although busy with his dissertation, Rothbard embarked on a project seeking out libertarian voices of the past, and in his research came "across some items of interest. I've 'discovered' the American Mercury of the 1920s-there are many fascinating articles on the interventionist 'crusade' of World War I and great editorials and book reviews by H. L. Mencken." He was puzzled, however, upon reading back issues of the old Freeman of the early twenties (edited by Nock and Francis Neilson), that these self-avowed liber-tarians could possibly have published paeans to labor unions and the Bolshevik Revolution.41

With teachers like these, Rothbard "arrived at a libertarian position much more from a moral-political point of view than from a strictly economic point of view." As he put it, "I didn't arrive at a libertarian position from some sort of analysis of exter-nalities or transaction costs or anything of that sort. It was a ques-tion of justice versus criminality " 50

Chodorov's thoroughgoing antistatism led logically to anar-chism-or more precisely, as we shall see, to anarchocapitalism- but Rothbard had yet to realize the full implications of the ideas he had accepted until, one day, after "engaging in the nth, umpteenth [debate with] friends of mine in graduate school about conser-vatism versus liberalism and so forth," he remembered, "after they had left I realized that something very important had taken place." His friends had argued that if society can make and enforce a "social contract" agreeing on the necessity of a police force, then "why can't society also agree to have a government build steel mills and have price controls and whatever? At that point I real-ized that the laissez-faire position is terribly inconsistent, and I either had to go on to anarchism or become a statist. Of course for me there was only one choice there: that's to go on to anarchism."51

As his ideological outlook evolved in a more radical direction, Rothbard's contacts with the growing libertarian movement increased. Way out in Kansas City, the legendary Loren "Red" Miller, one of the earliest libertarian activists, was the source of a much-needed infusion of energy and scarce funds; Miller supplied the energy, and his friend and associate, Harold W. Luhnow, a prominent businessman, supplied much of the funding. Luhnow had been a supporter of the anti-interventionist America First Committee before the war, was now a big supporter of FEE, and was enthusiastically committed to expanding the scope of liber-tarian scholarship. As head of the William Volker Company-a nationwide wholesale distributor of household goods-and the accompanying Volker Fund, Luhnow was in a position to build a libertarian movement from the ground up, and that is precisely what he and his lieutenants proceeded to do-with fortunate con-sequences indeed for Rothbard the budding young scholar.


It was the Volker Fund that arranged for Ludwig von Mises, who had fled Nazi-occupied Austria and arrived in New York with no academic position, to teach as a Visiting Professor at New York University, where he conducted his famous seminar-an eventu-ality that would, in many respects, become the central axis of Roth-bard's intellectual development. For here was the second great dis-covery of his youth: the existence of the "Austrian" or pure free-market school of economics.

Mises was a part-time staffer at FEE, and when Rothbard first went up there "all I knew about Mises was that he had written ... Socialism ... I didn't even know that Mises was still alive. I didn't know that he had contributed to anything in economics except that." In the spring of 1949, Rothbard learned from someone at FEE that Mises was coming out with a book: "I said what's in the book? What's the book about? He said the book's about everything. So sure enough that was it."52 Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises, was published by Yale University Press in the winter of 1949. Roth-bard heralded Mises's achievements in a review of Human Action for Analysis:

The integration of the theory of money into the general frame-work of individualist "utility" economics; the demonstration that free banking leads to "hard" money rather than "cheap" money; a complete portrayal of the evils of inflationism and credit expan-sion; the superb analysis of the causes of the business cycle (the result of credit expansion; the demonstration that world socialism is economically unfeasible; the demonstration that interest is an eternal category of human action and not the wicked device of usurers; a demonstration of the possibilities of capital consumption and forced savings; and a thoroughgoing portrayal of the vicious effects of every type of governmental intervention in economic life."

All this was wrapped up in the basic Misesian insight that, as Rothbard put it, economics is a category of individual human action and not the interaction and conflict of classes, masses, and other collectivistic constructs. Although Mises never used the term "nat-ural law," for Rothbard the discovery of Mises was the bridge between his passion for justice and his equal passion for truth sci-entifically arrived at:

Economics as it emerges from his direction, is a series of "praxe-ological laws," laws which are eternally part of the nature of human action. Praxeological law, like physical laws, are always with us, and are disregarded by human beings only to their own peril. Men have learned that they cannot afford to ignore the law of gravitation, but they persist in ignoring the praxeological laws of economics.s"

In a letter to Mises, Rothbard writes of his eagerness to attend Mises's seminar on Marxism at New York University. He reports being in the midst of reading Human Action for the first time, and imparts a sense of his own excitement: "The impact is especially vivid for someone like myself who has spent all of his intellectual life at Columbia University. Although the differences of opinion among the professors there are vivid and provocative (particularly between the mathematico-Keynesians and the Veblen-Mitchell institutionalists) they all join in presenting the following view of the history of economic thought: classical theory, taught by Ricardo, advanced to neoclassical theory, represented by Alfred Marshall [and] had now proceeded onward to modern theory, con-sisting of Hicks, Samuelson, and their followers.... As a result, a Columbia graduate gets a thorough training in Marshall, Hicks, Veblen, and Mitchell, but is only dimly aware of the existence of the 'Austrians.' " Mises had clarified Rothbard's critique of the institutionalists as naive worshipers of statistics and of the mathe-maticians as outright fantasists who had completely lost touch with the real world of thinking, acting human beings: "Human Action," he wrote,

has shown me the value of both these criticisms and has pre-sented an entirely new approach to economic theory that avoids the pitfalls of the others.

Mises's masterful analysis had

for the first time established a firm methodological base for eco-nomic theory in praxeology [the study of human action] and has also brought out with great clarity the difference between theory and history, and the functions each performs."

In this letter he also reveals his early interest in a project that would be the capstone of his career: a history of economic thought from the Austrian or Misesian perspective. "It would be splendid," he wrote, "if you should now undertake the task of providing us with a Dogmengeschicte that would properly evaluate all the contributions to economic thought. As far as I know, no good history of economic thought exists. Certainly the intellectual world needs one desperately."56

Rothbard became a regular participant in the Mises seminar. It was an experience that shaped his thought, and the course of his career, leading as well to many long-standing friendships, including that of Mises. The exiled giant, whose prestigious Vien-nese seminars had been the center of a flourishing Austrian school, was reduced to teaching what Rothbard called "uncomprehending business students" who took the course for an easy credit. About one-half to one-third of Mises's audience consisted of libertarians and what would become the first generation of Austrian econo-mists in America. At the end of the formal session of the seminar, Mises and his favorite students would repair to Child's Restaurant and continue the discussion in roundtable format. As Rothbard would later recall, the great Mises would address the humblest beginning student with the following friendly admonition: "Don't be afraid to speak up. Remember, whatever you say about the sub-ject and however wrong it might be, the same thing has already been said by some eminent economist."57

Through all his years at Columbia, in the course of his studies at graduate school, Rothbard had never come across any discus-sion of or reference to the subject of Austrian economics. Now he was on his way to becoming an expert on the topic. Rothbard knew-had always known-what he was against: the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the herd mentality of the Columbia University grad-uate class in those days. "It was just after the war," he recalled, and "there was a big influx of veterans," and the class was quite large: "Instead of being maybe twenty people in it or forty, it has about one-hundred and fifty. And all these people were extreme leftists and very politically oriented."58 For Rothbard, Human Action was "an enormous revelation." The twenty-three-year-old Rothbard "had a definite, instinctive feeling or insight or whatever that there was something wrong with all the schools of economics. I was very unhappy with all the [schools of] economic theory. I thought that ... when the institutionalists were criticizing the orthodox, Anglo-American economics that they were right; and, when the orthodox people were criticizing the institutionalists, they were right. The criticisms were right, and I believed that the simple supply and demand stuff was correct, but I didn't really have a good theoret-ical base. I wasn't happy with any theories offered. And when I read Human Action, the whole thing just slipped into place, because everything made sense."59

"Every once in a while the human race pauses in the job of botching its affairs and redeems itself by producing a noble work of the intellect," he opined in the September 1950 Analysis. "Throughout the history of mankind, a handful of individuals have significantly enriched the thought of man. Both creators and systematizers, they have carved out new paths in the search for truth and have integrated the truths they have found into a great edifice. It is no exaggeration to assert that Human Action is such an edifice. . . . A work of monumental grandeur, . . . [the book] demands and deserves a lifetime of study." Mises is praised as "a mind of rare power and creative ability" who "belongs in the econ-omist's Valhalla," along with Smith, David Ricardo, Carl Menger, Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, and Leon Walras. "The first half of the twentieth century has produced only a Mises to rank with the greats of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."'"

Rothbard sent a copy of the piece to Mises, who responded by thanking him for "the fine review," agreeing with him on the need for the seminar to investigate the epistemological problems of eco-nomics, and ending with the hope that Rothbard would soon finish his thesis and "have time enough to begin to write a great book on the problems you refer to in your letter. But please remember that an adequate treatment of these matters requires a reading knowledge both of German and of French."61

Rothbard wrote that he deeply appreciated his newfound mentor's "kind and encouraging words" and "I only hope that I may prove worthy of them." He promised to acquire "a reading knowledge of German" and soon followed up by taking lessons.62

In the world at large, the collectivist consensus was solid, dis-sent was inaudible, and Left and Right seemed to have merged into a single party of the Welfare-Warfare State. In the economics profession, the welfare statist Keynesians had won the day; their critics, such as Mises, were forgotten, and everywhere they were in power: in the universities, and in the councils of state.

Beneath the surface, however, in the free-market intellectual underground that had grown up after the war, things were stir-ring. The Volker Fund, dedicated to finding and funding liber-tarian scholars of promise, hired Rothbard's friend Herbert Cor-nuelle as liaison officer. Cornuelle was an administrative genius who would later go on to become CEO of Dole Pineapple and a very successful businessman in his own right; in the meantime, he directed his considerable talents to the task of nurturing libertarian scholars wherever they might be found. It was he who suggested that Rothbard write a primer for students of Austrian economics, in which the ideas of Mises would be simplified and presented in a format appropriate for a textbook. "At that time," Rothbard rem-inisced, "I was just going to Mises' seminar for a few months, and he didn't know me from Adam."63 Rothbard wrote a sample chapter that met with Mises's approval. A multiyear grant from the fund enabled him to complete his work. The result, published a decade later, was far from a textbook: this project soon became the monumental Man, Economy, and State, a comprehensive treatise on Austrian economics.

When Rothbard began working on the book in 1952, he also began working for the Volker Fund-at first part-time, then full-time-in its never-ending quest for libertarian talent of note. Along with his friend Frank S. Meyer, who was the only other "senior ana-lyst" at the Volker Fund at that time, Rothbard reviewed books, journals, manuscripts, and other material, busily scouring the world of ideas for intellectual allies or some sign of intelligent liber-tarian life. For a decade he worked for the Volker Fund in his capacity as an intellectual entrepreneur-an occupation that was always full-time with him, wherever he was employed, and a role that suited him well. "That was a great deal," he said, years later. "They subscribed to all the journals for me. They'd say your task is to see whether there are any good people. Seek out ... good arti-cles, good people and write about it. That was a really fun job."M'

And Rothbard was very good at it, not only because of his enthusiasm but due to his ability to read (and comprehend what he was reading) very quickly: he was a fast study, as they say, and he sent off reams of reviews, letters, reports, and memoranda to Volker in a fairly constant stream.

"Murray had a happy life," says JoAnn Rothbard. "He never had to get up and go to an office, and he never did anything he didn't want to do." Although the pay was low, he enjoyed his job at the Volker Fund as nurturer of the flame of liberty. With a fairly consolidated and systematic if not yet fully matured view of eco-nomics and politics, the young Rothbard was now embarked, fully armed, on a remarkable career as a thinker, philosopher, econo-mist, historian, and all-around champion controversialist.

Murray Rothbard was, over the years, involved in all of the most vigorous disputes of his day: the effect of reading his col-lected writings in chronological order would be to read the history of virtually every significant controversy in American politics and economics since World War II. It would be the history of modern times as seen through the lens of an astonishingly well-read and unashamedly partisan lover of liberty, written in a combative and colorful style. And coursing through that vivid narrative, shining through the story of liberty versus power in virtually all the social sciences, would be the indomitably joyous spirit of the author, gleefully demolishing the myths of the court intellectuals and pointing the way to the final victory of the free society. For only an indomitable spirit such as his could possibly hope to survive the decade with his principles intact.


1. Murray N. Rothbard, "Life in the Old Right," Chronicles (August 1994).

2. Interview with Walter Block and Walter Grinder, "Rothbard Tells All," p. 1, unpublished transcript in possession of author.

3. Rothbard, "Life in the Old Right."

4. Ibid.

5. Murray N. Rothbard, "My Autobiography," unpublished manu-script, no date [probably 19431.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., p. 2

8. Ibid., p. 4

9. Ibid., p. 3.

10. Ibid., p. 5.

11. Ibid., p. 6.

12. Ibid., p. 8.

13. Ibid., p. 10.

14. Ibid., p. 9.

15. Ibid., p. 10.

16. Mary Elizabeth Nells and Leah Sibley, "Report of Murray Roth-bard," 21 December 1934.

17. Ibid., p. 11.

18. Ibid., p. 12

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid., p. 13.

21. Rothbard, "Life in the Old Right."

22. Rothbard, "My Autobiography," p. 19.

23. Murray N. Rothbard, "The Betrayal of the American Right," unpublished manuscript, p. 59

24. Rothbard, "Life in the Old Right," p. 18

25. Rothbard, "My Autobiography," pp. 22, 23.

26. Murray N. Rothbard, "Statistics: Destroyed From Within?" The Free Market (February 1989). Reprinted in Murray N. Rothbard, Making Economic Sense (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1995), pp. 38-39.

27. Margaret Elizabeth Nells and Leah Sibley, "Report of Murray Rothbard," 21 December 1934, emphasis in original.

28. Rothbard, "Statistics."

29. Rothbard, "The Betrayal of the American Right," p. 60.

30. Murray N. Rothbard, Wall Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy (Burlingame, Calif.: Center for Libertarian Studies, 1995).

31. Murray N. Rothbard, The Case Against the Fed (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1994).

32. McCormick's editorial insight that Herbert Hoover was "the greatest state socialist in history" perhaps sowed the seeds of Rothbard's research into this question.

33. Rothbard, "The Betrayal of the American Right," p. 69.

34. Block and Grinder, "Rothbard Tells All," p. 1.

35. Rothbard to New York World-Telegram, 6 November 1946.

36. Murray N. Rothbard, "Price Controls," Campaign Research Bulletin no. 4 (New York: Young Republican Club, fall 1948): 5.

37. A postcard meeting announcement issued by the Junior Group of the Women's National Republican Club in midtown Manhattan adver-tises their January [1950] debate on "Which Way Should the Republican Party Go-Left, Right, or to the Center?" with Rothbard representing the Right. Another meeting notice put out by the Hamilton Republican Club of the 7th Assembly District asked "What Sort of Republican Are You?" As the point man of the conservative Republicans, Rothbard was pitted against a "Middle of the Road Republican" as well as a spokesman for Liberal Republicans. Copy in possession of author.

38. Rothbard to Foundation for Economic Education, 22 November 1946.

39. Rothbard to Personnel Dept., Sperry Gyroscope Co., 31 March 1945.

40. Block and Grinder, "Rothbard Tells All," pp. 12-13.

41. Rothbard's doctoral dissertation was published in 1962 as The Panic of 1819 (New York: Columbia University Press; Columbia Univer-sity Studies in the Social Sciences, No. 605).

42. Block and Grinder, "Rothbard Tells All," pp. 11-12.

43. Frank Chodorov, Taxation is Robbery (Chicago: Human Events Associates, 1947).

44. Rothbard, "The Betrayal of the American Right," p. 73.

45. See especially Murray N. Rothbard, "Frank Chodorov, RIP," Left and Right 3, no. 1 (winter 1967): 3-8.

46. Block and Grinder, "Rothbard Tells All," p. 3.

47. See Charles Hamilton, ed., Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov (Indianopolis, Ind.: Liberty Press, 1980).

48. Analysis (August 1949).

49. Rothbard to Frank Chodorov, 30 January 1949.

50. Block and Grinder, "Rothbard Tells All," p. 3.

51. Ibid.

52. Ibid., pp. 5-6.

53. Murray N. Rothbard, review of Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises, Analysis (May 1950): 4.

54. Ibid.

55. Rothbard to Ludwig von Mises, 22 September 1949, p. 1.

56. Ibid., p. 2.

57. Cited in Murray N. Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises: Scholar, Creator, Hero (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1988), p. 63.

58. Block and Grinder, "Rothbard Tells All," p. 2.

59. Ibid., p. 6.

60. Murray N. Rothbard, review of Human Action, Analysis (Sep-tember 1950).

61. Ludwig von Mises to Rothbard, 29 May 1950.

62. Rothbard to Ludwig von Mises, 13 June 1950. He learned to read French passably.

63. Block and Grinder, "Rothbard Tells All," p. 8.

64. Ibid., p. 9.


avid Rothbard was instrumental in shaping his gifted son's ideas, particularly his political ideas, not only by means of his words, but also by his example and experience. As a manager at the Bayonne, New Jersey, Tide Water Oil refinery, David Roth-bard had had dealings with union thugs for some thirty years: it was the great Bayonne oil workers strike during the winter of 1951-52 that gave real direction and immediacy to young Murray's nascent political consciousness. In answer to a letter from his old friend from Birch-Wathen, Russel Bliss, in which unions are praised, Rothbard relates:

It might interest you to know that my father, for the last six weeks, has been marooned, beleaguered, and virtually impris-oned in his Bayonne plant. No letup is in sight. As a result, nei-ther my mother nor myself has seen hide or ha'r of my father, since he has been there twenty-four hours a day since the Friday after New Years. All this, and much more, as a direct result of gangster-unionism (and believe me, these two words deserve a perpetual connection).'

Union power rests "exclusively on violence and the threat of violence" and the union shop means "tyranny unlimited" for the worker, who is forced to subsidize his own serfdom by paying union dues. Unions, he wrote, are fast evolving into a regime of "private industrial dictatorships" whose thuggery was vividly dramatized in Rothbard's account of the Bayonne strike:

The climax is now on at Bayonne.... The issue is that the union, having badgered and tyrannized over management for decades, now wants to take over management and decide how to operate the plant. The management, such as my father, have to stay at the plant in order to prevent an explosion or fire-it's an oil refinery-and to keep the machinery warm; otherwise it would take many months to start the machinery up again. They have to stay there all the time because the union gangster goons will not permit them to reenter. Freedom is a mockery in this country when people cannot come and go as they will. Yet, as in all other cases, the police do nothing-they remain, as they put it, "neutral." Therefore, food has to be shopped in to my father and the others by water, and that has to be smuggled in late at night.'

"Unfortunately," he remarked to another friend, "no attempt has been made to import 'strikebreakers.' "3 The union thugs were the bullies of public high school come back to threaten not only him but his whole family. In a letter to his father, held hostage in Bayonne, the son hails "the forces of Rothbard reaction" that will cause the "Red unioneers to wither on the vine." He continues:

Remember, 0 small beleaguered garrison of mighty warriors, that you are, each one of you, carrying on the good fight against the forces of Red unionism run rampant. (All unions are Red by definition.) "Red" is a term defined by expert pink-baiter Joseph P. Kamp as including communists and Socialists, and of course, unions are by their very acts, socialistic.) Shall we organize a net-work of Bundles for Bayonne?'

The failure of the police to do anything but proclaim their vaunted "neutrality" provoked young Rothbard to score points on the anarchist front: "Here, in the failure of the police force, is another living example of the necessity of Right-Wing An-.. . (oops, I mean) ... Voluntaryism."5

In another missive to the elder Rothbard, written in the mock-serious tone of a war bulletin, young Murray enthuses over his new-found cause, but not without a touch of irony: "The slogan now is: 'out of the trenches by Lincoln's birthday!' " Like a guer-rilla leader reporting to his commander, Rothbard relates the story of how he put a sympathetic reporter for the New York Herald Tri-bune on the story of the siege of Bayonne. Since this is supposed to be a morale-building letter, to perk up his father's spirits during the siege, he also sprinkles his missive with generous dollops of commentary on various other subjects: the shocking news that "a little college in New Jersey named Bloomfield College, which has officially declared that they will fire and refuse to hire any profes-sors who are Commies or Socialists" has been "refused donations by all the top New Jersey millionaires." He also mentions that John T. Flynn "commentates daily over WMGM ... at 7:30 as part of the magnificent nationwide Liberty Network" and is "now far and away the best commentator on the air.... Spread the Flynn gospel. Maw is trying to high-pressure Evelyn to listen in nightly.",

Rothbard's relationship with his family was unusually close; there was a mutual protectiveness that was often fierce. Rothbard's mother called him every day, at least once, until well after he had been married, and there is some indication that Raya Rothbard, especially, was none too thrilled when he decided to go ahead and marry Joey. In spite of initial opposition from his mother, and from her side of the family-how, they asked, could he even think of marrying a goy?-Murray and Joey were married on January 16, 1953. It was the beginning of an adventure for the both of them, and a love that never flagged.


This expansion of his personal life took place in the context of a more general expansiveness, both intellectually and politically. Rothbard's increasing interest in politics had little outlet, except for his occasional forays into local Republican party activities; but this only stimulated his real appetite for political expression. He was already engaged in an energetic correspondence with a wide variety of people, fellow Austrian economists such as Ludwig Lachmann, the eminent sociologist and revisionist historian Harry Elmer Barnes, the staff of the Foundation of Economic Education, and many others, and decided to supplement these wide-ranging contacts with an informal (typed) newsletter, variously titled the Individualist Newsletter and The Vigil. The May 1952 issue of The Vigil lauds Milton Friedman, "hitherto not distinguished for a sound approach on the subject of money," for coming out for the abolition of the Federal Reserve System and a 100 percent reserve requirement for bank demand deposits. The Vigil was filled with book reviews, "movement news," gossip, quotable quotes, essays, and polemics, such as "Buckley Revealed," a devastating review of the utter phoniness of William F. Buckley Jr.'s claim to be a "liber-tarian follower of Frank Chodorov."7 These newsletters were written with great gusto, and it is clear that he found this sort of writing enjoyable; for Rothbard, it was the beginning of a lifelong habit of political journalism. Aside from the sheer pleasure it afforded him, however, his intent was to fill a niche that had been empty for too long: with the demise of Chodorov's Analysis, the "purist" libertarianism espoused by Rothbard had no voice, no magazine, no independent presence of its own, and while he was willing (for the moment) to consider himself part of a broad move-ment of the Right, he was not the sort to mute his own views in the name of unity. In "Enemies and Friends of the Public Schools," Rothbard denounces fellow rightists Mrs. Lucille Crain and Allen A. Zoll, who "assure the public that they are not really enemies of the public schools, but merely critics of the socialism taught there." Rothbard would have none of this: "Vigil proudly takes its stand as a convinced enemy of the public schools," he wrote, because they "are socialism in action, by their very nature." While others may waffle, "it is on issues such as this that the 'radicalism' of Vigil con-trasts to the other 'conservative' publications."'

In the pages of The Vigil, Rothbard elaborated the distinctively libertarian position on the issues of the day, carefully separating it out from the program and methods of his conservative allies. In response to the announcement that the House of Representatives would be investigating "subversive activities," and specifically the left-wing activities of the Carnegie Endowment, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation, among others, Rothbard maintained that "much as we can rejoice in the possible discomfiture of the Carnegie, Rockefeller, etc. outfits, we are not too happy about such Congressional investigations" on the grounds that "if Congress can pillory Red textbooks today, they can pillory 'White' textbooks tomorrow." Having survived the blatant repres-sion of the war years, when conservative isolationists were silenced and some of them hauled into court on charges of "sedition," the Right ought to be all too well-acquainted with the dangers of such investigations: "Logically," he wrote," those gallant fighters who stood up against the Buchanan witch-hunt should be equally as critical of the Cox expedition, even though it will hit people whom we don't like." The Buchanan committee had recently dragged a bevy of right-wing organizations in for interrogation as to their activities and sources of funding: Joseph P. Kamp, of the Constitu-tional Educational League, a leading "Red-baiter," had gone to jail for refusing to divulge the names of his contributors, and even the Foundation for Economic Education had been hauled before inves-tigators. The only way to "eliminate the problem posed by special governmental privilege to foundations via income tax exemption is to remove this privilege-by abolishing income taxation!" Unlike the leftist "civil libertarians," however, Rothbard was all in favor of red-baiting: "the following types are perfectly all right and often praiseworthy: (a) voluntary exposures by private organizations, such as 'Red Channels,' etc., and (b) charges against government officials, who as bureaucrats should be considered fair game-such as the charges by Senator McCarthy." On the other hand, "the fol-lowing types of Red-baiting are bad because they involve persecu-tion of dissenting opinion by government officials: (a) persecuting acts such as the Smith Act and the McCarran Act, and (b) subpoena-armed Congressional investigations."9

Another sharp contrast to his conservative allies was the muckraking style of The Vigil, which, in speaking truth to power, did not hesitate to name names. In "The International Bankers Versus the Taxpayers," Rothbard warns against the "relatively obscure 28-nation conference" that had recently convened to con-sider the question of what to do about Germany's burgeoning external debt. Having loaned West Germany $3.2 billion since the end of the war, the United States had agreed to settle for 37 cents on the dollar, or $1.2 billion, payable over 35 years at an interest rate of 2.5 percent. Not only have th