« Song of the Day #1524 | Main | Song of the Day #1525 »

Rothbard, Rand, and "How I Became a Libertarian"

A discussion on Facebook on the relationship between Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand prompted me to post a few observations:

Just as an aside, it must be noted that in The Passion of Ayn Rand, Barbara Branden writes: "Though disagreeing with Ayn Rand's key concept of limited government, Murray Rothbard has stated that he 'is in agreement basically with all her philosophy,' and that it was she who convinced him of the theory of natural rights which his books uphold" (page 413). I should also note that while the Circle Bastiat (which consisted initially of Rothbard, Robert Hessen, Leonard Liggio, George Reisman, and Ralph Raico) had their infamous interactions with Rand, Rothbard is on record as having defended Rand and Atlas Shrugged in print, in the publication Commonweal, back in 1957, where he stated: "The difference between Miss Rand’s concept and the usual Christian morality is that there is compassion for a man’s fight against suffering, or against unjustly imposed suffering, rather than pity for suffering per se.” (Quite a different view than that presented in "Mozart was a Red" or "The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult".)

Whatever his faults, and whatever his twists and turns, from the New Left in the 1960s to the paleo-libertarian days of his later years, I think it should be noted that Rothbard was among the most prolific writers of his time, and his works on Austrian economics and history (from the colonial period to the Progressive era to the emergence of the "Welfare-Warfare" state) present some of the most significant, insightful, and integrated radical analyses of the emergence of statism in the United States. I devote a considerable part of my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, discussing the positive and negative aspects of his system of thought, which is certainly worth serious study.

[Now,] it is entirely possible, from the stories I've heard, that he certainly did everything he could to avoid citing Rand as any kind of influence on his ethics, as there was a lot of bad blood between the two figures (but as that 1957 quote from Commonweal suggests, this was something that happened after the break between them).
But in looking at his whole body of work, though I am highly critical of him in Part Two of Total Freedom, I don't think it can be denied that he was remarkable at integrating the insights of Mises (especially Mises's view of the boom-bust cycle: see his monumental Man, Economy, and State and Power and Market) and those of the New Left (especially Gabriel Kolko, James Weinstein, and others--see especially his books on the colonial era, Conceived in Liberty, and his analyses of The Progressive Era, and America's Great Depression, not to mention his work as coeditor, with Ronald Radosh of A New History of Leviathan), in coming up with a very radical, libertarian perspective on the emergence of statism in the United States. He also presented a more thoroughly developed understanding of a libertarian "class analysis" (which has influenced a whole generation of thinkers, including Walter Grinder and John Hagel, who, themselves, made important contributions to this perspective.)
I think one can learn from his approach, even if one rejects key aspects of it (as I do---and make no mistake about it, I am extremely critical of what I view as the "utopian" and "nondialectical" aspects of Rothbard's approach).
I should add a little "truth in advertising" because Rothbard certainly made a personal impact on my own intellectual odyssey on "How I Became a Libertarian."