Rothbard on Strategy

While I was researching Murray Rothbard’s theory of class for a monograph I am writing on The Libertarian Theory of Class Draft I came across some of his other writings on the strategy/ies needed to bring about a free society, which I thought would be useful to gather together for further analysis and discussion. Some were new to me; others I had read decades ago.

When I first made personal contact with the American libertarian movement in August 1978, when I attended a Cato Summer Seminar and Stanford University (at which Rothbard lectured), and a bit later in the summer of 1981 when I began studying for my Masters at Stanford (when I met Rothbard several times as he was then living and working in San Francisco at the Cato Institute), the libertarian movement was in the throws of a bitter debate about strategy which ultimately led to Rothbard’s expulsion from Cato.

This debate had to do with the function and role to be played by the Cato Institute, the Libertarian Party (LP), and the Center for Libertarian Studies (CLS). The Cato Institute had been founded by Ed Crane, Charles Koch, and Murray Rothbard in 1974 and had its HQ in San Francisco; the American Libertarian Party had been founded at the end of 1971, and it too had moved its HQ to SFO sometime in the mid- or late-1970s; and the CLS had been founded in New York City in 1976 by Rothbard and Burt Blumert, and it too moved to moved to Northern California at much the same time.

Rothbard was very active in all three groups as part of his overall strategy of developing and promoting libertarian scholarship (the role of the CLS and its journal the Journal of Libertarian Studies (founded 1976)); reaching intellectuals and other well-informed people and policy makers (the role of Cato and its flagship magazine Inquiry (founded 1977)); reaching ordinary voters and political activists (the LP).

In order to map out the proper functions and strategies to be adopted by these three different groups within the libertarian movement Rothbard and Charles Koch organised a conference on strategy in 1976 in NYC. A number of libertarian scholars and intellectuals were asked to deliver papers which analysed how other ideological groups in the past had organised themselves, and to evaluate the strategies they had used with the idea of applying what they learned to the libertarian movement. The following is a list of the papers I have so far heard about (but not yet seen or read):

  • Joseph R. Stromberg, “Fabianism and Social Change: The Perpetuity of Gradualism” (Unpublished MS., 1976)
  • Charles G. Koch, “The John Birch Society” (unpublished MS., 1976)
  • Ralph Raico, “Liberal Revolutions in Europe in the 19th Century”, (unpublished MS., 1976)
  • (Charles Koch?) “The Fabian Society” (unpublished MS., July, 1976)
  • Williamson M. Evers, “Lenin and his Critics on the Organizational Question”, (unpublished MS.)
  • Joseph R. Stromberg, “Fabianism and Social Change: The Perpetuity of Gradualism” (Unpublished MS., 1976)
  • Leonard P. Liggio, “National Socialist Political Strategy: Social Change in a Modern Industrial Society with an Authoritarian Tradition”, (Unpublished MS, 1976)
  • Walter Grinder and John Hagel III, “Towards a Theory of Social Transformation”, (unpublished MS., 1976)
  • Edward H. Crane III, “Analysis of the Prospects for the Libertarian Party”

Rothbard probably delivered an early version of his long paper “Toward a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change” in which he attempted to synthesise what the other papers had discovered and put forwards his own proposals. His paper was later circulated (the copy I have is dated April, 1977) among other libertarians (which is how I got hold of may copy). I have had online my old copy (missing a few papers and of poor quality because it had been circulated around the movement like a Russian samizdat publication (Russian самизда́т, lit. “self-publishing”). Even though it has been online for 10 years it has stimulated very little reaction (or perhaps I should say “no response” whatever). I recently came across a clean and complete copy which I have put online in a facs. PDF version and an HTML version so it is now searchable.

In August 1978, the month I arrived in the U.S. to attend the Cato Seminar, the magazine Libertarian Forum (edited by Roy Childs) had “A Special Section on Strategies for Achieving Liberty” with the following essays:

  • Milton Mueller, “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Revolution,” pp. 14-17
  • Murray Rothbard, “Strategies for a Libertarian Victory,” pp. 18-24
  • Ed Crane, “Taking Politics Seriously,” pp. 26-27. HTML version ; PDF version
  • Leonard Liggio, “The Disenchanted Electorate: Capturing the Independent Voter,” pp. 28-29
  • Charles Koch, “The Business Community: Resisting Regulation,” pp. 30-34
  • Bill Evers, “Party Newsletters: No more Kvetching,” pp. 36-37
  • David Theroux, “Lessons for Libertarian Campus Radicalism,” pp. 38-41

See the entire issue of Libertarian Review with articles by Milton Mueller, Ed Crane, Leonard Liggio, Charles Koch, Bill Evers, and David Theroux: PDF version .

Rothbard’s essay on “Libertarian Victory” was a condensed version of his essay “Toward a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change” which had been published the previous year. He is very confident in this paper that both the “objective conditions” (economic crisis, political scandals, defeat in an unpopular war) as well as the “subjective conditions” (a great increase in interest in and support for libertarian ideas) meant that Marx’s conditions for a successful “revolutionary” change had been met. It must be noted that by “revolution” Rothbard did not mean violent revolution since free elections were the best way to change the course of the government.

Rothbard kept coming back to the topic of strategy in a number of other writings over the years which I plan to put online as well. His last essay on strategy was published in October 1994 – “A New Strategy for Liberty” HTML version; facs. PDF version. He died a few months later on January 7, 1995. They include In chronological order):

  • 1965: “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty”, Left and Right. A Journal of Libertarian Thought, Spring 1965, no. 1, pp. 4-22. Facs. PDF version; HTML version .
  • 1973: Chap. 14 “A Strategy for Liberty” in For a New Liberty (New York: Macmillan, 1973), pp. 301-17. PDF version; HTML version (from the 2006 edition).
  • 1977: “Toward a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change” (April, 1977). facs. PDF version and an HTML version.
  • 1978: his 1977 paper was summarised and published with a collection of other essays on libertarian strategy in Libertarian Review (Aug. 1978) – “Strategies for a Libertarian Victory”. HTML version ; PDF version
  • see the entire issue of Libertarian Review with articles by Milton Mueller, Ed Crane, Leonard Liggio, Charles Koch, Bill Evers, and David Theroux: PDF version .
  • 1982: “Toward a Theory of Strategy for Liberty” in The Ethics of Liberty, with a new introduction by Hans-Hermann Hoppe (New York University Press, 1998), chap. 30, pp. 257-73. PDF version ; and HTML version .
  • 1986: Murray N. Rothbard, “Concepts of the Role of Intellectuals in Social Change Toward Laissez Faire”, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, vol. IX, no. 2 (Fall 1990), pp. 43-67. [Paper given in Poland in March, 1986.] Facs. PDF version.
  • 1992 Jan.: “Right-Wing Populism: A Strategy for the Paleo Movement,” Rothbard-Rockwell Report (Jan. 1992) pp. 5-14. facs. PDF version; HTML version. A truncated version of this essay was republished in The Irrepressible Rothbard: The Rothbard-Rockwell Report Essays of Murray N. Rothbard. Edited with an introduction by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.. Preface by JoAnn Rothbard (Burlingame, California: The Center for Libertarian Studies, Inc., 2000), pp. 37-42.
  • 1992 Jan.: “A Strategy for the Right,” Rothbard-Rockwell Report (January 1992). HTML
  • 1994 Oct.: “A New Strategy for Liberty,” Rothbard-Rockwell Report (October 1994). HTML version; facs. PDF version.

I have also written on strategy, using past intellectual and political movements as object lessons for us today. They are:

  • March 2015: a Liberty Matters discussion I hosted in 2015 at the OLL website: “The Spread of Classical Liberal Ideas” (March, 2015) in HTML.
  • June 2015: a Discussion Group “On the Spread of Classical Liberal Ideas: History, Theory, and Strategy” which I organised at an IHS Advanced Studies Summer Seminar “Liberty & Scholarship: Challenges and Critiques” at Bryn Mawr College in June 2015;
  • Nov. 2015: a paper on this called “Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Scribblers: An Austrian Analysis of the Structure of Production and Distribution of Ideas” which I gave at the Southern Economics Association, New Orleans, November 21-23, 2015. HTML.
  • Feb. 2018: a couple of position papers I wrote which were part of Liberty Fund’s “Strategic Refresh” during 2018-19
  • “An Historical Examination of Past and Present Strategies used to bring about Ideological and Political Change” (Feb. 2020) HTML .
  • “How the Online Library of Liberty follows the Strategies outlined by Pierre F. Goodrich” (Feb. 2018) HTML
  • “Pierre F. Goodrich’s Goals and Strategy for the Liberty Fund: A Reconstruction” (Feb. 2018, 23 June 2019). HTML .

I hope others will find this material interesting and perhaps think a bit more deeply about strategies for achieving liberty, in these difficult and hostile times for libertarians.