Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) was America’s greatest radical libertarian author — writing authoritatively about ethics, philosophy, economics, American history and the history of ideas. He presented the most fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of government, and he refined thinking about the self-ownership and non-coercion principles.
Rothbard’s writings have been translated into Chinese, Czech, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portugese, Romanian, Russian and Spanish. In 1994, he received the $20,000 Richard M. Weaver Award for Scholarly Letters from the Illinois-based Ingersoll Foundation.
His articles appeared in the The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Fortune and other major publications, and he was interviewed in Penthouse. He contributed to such scholarly journals as American Economic Review, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Economic History, Columbia Journal of World Business, Journal of the History of Ideas and the Journal of Libertarian Studies.
His first major work was Man, Economy, and State (1962), a two-volume treatise which one might describe as a more radical version of Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action, then came America’s Great Depression (1963) which makes clear that the Great Depression was caused not by reckless stock speculators or other alleged malefactors in the private sector, but by the government itself — which had inflated bank credit, blocked trade with the notorious Smoot-Hawley tariff and throttled enterprise with big tax hikes. Rothbard’s Power and Market (1970) picks up themes developed in Man, Economy and State and shows that private individuals can do whatever needs to be done.
Rothbard’s most popular book, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (1973) presents a stirring brief history of libertarianism along with a candid chronicle of statism. He explains how education, crime, poor relief, environmental protection, and other issues could be better resolved by relying on private initiative. The book was expanded and updated in 1978.
Conceived in Liberty (1975-1979), in four volumes, provided a lively account of how liberty developed in early America. Rothbard joyously celebrated libertarians and skewered intolerant and/or corrupt politicians. His comprehensive bibliographies alone make these books worthwhile.
The Ethics of Liberty (1982) is his most vigorous attack against the state. Here he pursues to its radical conclusions the principle that neither the government nor anybody else should interfere with a peaceful individual who is minding his or her business.
Soon after Rothbard died, a project he had been working on for years was published as An Austrian History of Economic Thought, in two volumes. He identifies the individual he believes to have been the first libertarian thinker. He traces libertarian ideas through ancient Greece and Rome. He discusses a long-neglected “hotspot” of libertarian thinking in early modern Europe. He offers a critique of Adam Smith, then talks about his heroes — who include laissez faire champions Jean-Baptiste Say and Frederic Bastiat.
Rohbard’s other books include The Panic of 1819 (1962), The Anatomy of the State (1974), Education, Free and Compulsory (1975), The Mystery of Banking (1983) and Ludwig von Mises: Scholar, Creator, Hero (1988). His 1974 book, Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature represented some of Rothbard’s most advanced and radical theorizing on topics impacting on human liberty. A pamphlet, What Has Government Done To Our Money? (1963), is one his most widely circulated writings.
Tributes to Rothbard’s contributions to economics, history, and the philosophy of liberty were published in Murray N. Rothbard: In Memoriam (1995).
Reprinted with permission from Laissez Faire Books.
“The libertarian creed…offers the fulfillment of the best of the American past along with the promise of a far better future. Libertarians are squarely in the great classical liberal tradition that built the United States and bestowed on us the American heritage of individual liberty, a peaceful foreign policy, minimal government, and a free-market economy.” — Murray N. Rothbard in For a New Liberty (1978)
“The conditions are therefore ripe, now and in the future in the United States, for the triumph of liberty. All that is needed is a growing and vibrant libertarian movement to explain this systemic crisis and to point out the libertarian path out of our government-created morass.” — Murray N. Rothbard in For a New Liberty (1978)