Murray Rothbard: In Memoriam by Harry C. Veryser
the more liturgical churches tended to op- pose government-directed attempts to se- cure “social security.”
Against the “liturgicals,” Rothbard op- posed the “pietists.” Pietist churches be- lieved that government existed to stamp out sin and create a new Jerusalem on earth. They tended to be very simple in their wor- ship, and instead stressed social action— particularly government action—to secure justice in the here-and-now. They wanted to remove restraints on government such as the gold standard, free trade, etc., thus al- lowing governmental institutions more free- dom in helping to bring about an earthly utopia. Paradoxically, in the mid- to late- twentieth century, one finds an inversion of this relationship between liturgicals and pi- etists in their attitude toward the role of government. One might say that the “pi- etists” have learned through experience the havoc government can bring to their at- tempts at securing peace and happiness, while the “liturgicals” have been seduced by government promises of securing security in this life.
Rothbard took seriously the effects of businessmen who sought advantage by se- curing government protection following the Civil War. The aftermath of the Civil War marked a turning point in U.S. economic history with the beginning of the expansion of the federal government. The so-called “progressives” argued that this expansion was necessary to protect the proverbial “little guy” from the ravages of unbridled capital- ism. Rothbard exploded this myth, proving that this expansion was not predicated on the idea of helping the “little guy,” but rather was a movement of businessmen to assert control of government for their own pur- poses.
With meticulous scholarship, Rothbard demonstrated that the so-called “progres- sive reforms” that gave government a greater role in the economy were really the machi-
THE INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW—Fall 1995
nations of a small but powerful group of businessmen who wanted government to shield their industries from competition. They simply used the “progressive” move- ment and ideas as a mask behind which they achieved their economic objectives. In short, these businessmen believed that govern- ment could become another resource to be used against competitors, rather than an objective protector of the common good.
Murray Rothbard was not satisfied with vague explanations of economic history. He insisted upon a microscopic examination of those who pushed particular policies, and an equally close study of why they pushed them and how they benefited from them. In doing this, he stirred up controversy, at- tacking such icons as Abraham Lincoln, T.R. “Teddy” Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and Woodrow Wilson. He criticized these men severely for, in varying degrees, the inflation of currency, the imposition of income taxes, the establishment of central banking, and the change of U.S. foreign policy from one of minding one’s own business to adventurism abroad.
In essence, Murray Rothbard pointed out that in public affairs there are two rea- sons for undertaking public policy: the good reason, that argument used to sell the pro- gram; and the real reason, the argument for those who will directly benefit. He deftly and convincingly unmasked the hypocrisy of those “progressives” who claimed to be working on behalf of the common good while manipulating government policy to their own benefit.
Another and perhaps more important con- tribution to the understanding of economic history was his use of the Austrian trade cycle theory to explain the prevalence of trade cycles in American history. The Aus- trian explanation of the trade cycle was de- veloped from the works of economists like Eugene von Boehm-Bawerk, Henry