Murray Rothbard: In Memoriam by Harry C. Veryser
straightforward description of human ac- tion in his great tome, Man, Economy, and State, using the fundamental ideas of hu- man decisions which are identical to those of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas: every human action has a purpose, is directed to a good, and is done under an idea of cause and effect in the actor.
Rothbard did, however, agree with Mises that the fundamental test of economic theory is the correctness of the premise and the logical chain of reasoning. He, like his men- tor, eschewed the masses of statistics and reams of equations of the other schools of contemporary economic thought.
In addition to his academic work, Murray Rothbard will be remembered for his par- ticipation in contemporary politics. He was perhaps the last of the “old right” giants. This branch of conservatism, represented by such thinkers as William Graham Sumner, Albert J. Nock, Garet Garrett, and John Flynn, believed in minimal govern- ment and a maximum of individual liberty. They disdained government activities abroad and thought that the United States should mind its own business, and they opposed both welfare and defense expendi- tures. Their views would not fit comfortably within the present political division of left and right. Partisans of the old right might agree with the present day left on protecting civil liberties and in harboring suspicion of government intelligence activities, yet they would also support the present day right on issues relating to economic freedom.
Murray Rothbard sought to bring the politics of the old right back into vogue. In a sense he was a man of both the left and right. Rothbard thought that the worst en- emy of liberty was the state. He thought that government interference in private lives caused most of the evils in the world. Like other members of the old right, he saw what he called the “welfare/warfare state” not
THE INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW—Fall 1995
only bankrupting civil society, but also de- stroying the individual lives of the citizenry. Significantly, he also saw government ac- tion as wrecking individual moral character and culture.
Rothbard became estranged from a large part of the American conservative move- ment over his disagreement with U.S. for- eign policy. While looking askance at the extension of U.S. power abroad, he was not an isolationist in that he believed in free trade and was very cosmopolitan in his cul- tural expression. What he feared was the effect of overseas involvement, because it might lead to higher taxes and larger gov- ernment at home.
Rothbard believed that conservatives moved away from this position in the late 1950s because of the growing threat of com- munism. Some members, particularly those associated with National Review, argued that the presence of this threat required a new strategy. They argued that communism was the greatest threat to liberty and therefore must be opposed by an activist foreign policy. Rothbard responded that communism was by its nature unstable, and that its economy would eventually collapse. Rothbard stated that the new conservatives obviously did not understand free-market economics and the inability of a socialist economy to sur- vive. He believed communism would fall much faster by its own economic failings than by outside military pressure.
This disagreement came to a head with the Korean and Vietnam wars. Leonard Read, then president of the Foundation for Economic Education, wrote a pamphlet entitled, “As I Lay Dying.” It was the death- bed testimony of a young American who had been drafted to fight in Korea question- ing the entire proposition of using Ameri- can force to stop communism. Continuing this questioning, Rothbard was one of the few members of the right who actively op- posed the Vietnam War on the grounds that