The Presumption of Government Failure

I would add a few more conditions to the very useful list Don drew up yesterday. These are

  1. the principle of proportionality
  2. the principle of consistency
  3. the principle of the “unseen” and unintended consequences of this intervention
  4. the principle of the impossibility (or great unlikelihood) of rational economic calculation by government planners
  5. the “precautionary principle” concerning state intervention

The principle of proportionality is that all risks should be treated according to the degree of their severity and their likelihood of occurring. One of the things that became clear very early on in the covid epidemic was that different age groups were affected very differently by the virus, and that some groups’ risk of serious illness or death was statistically insignificant (children and young adults), while others were at considerable risk of death (those over 70 who had other severe health problems). As with every other government regulation, a one-size-fits all policy is crude and unjust and usually causes more harm than good. Hayekian “local knowledge” is needed in order to address this issue and this is something government most unlikely to be able to provide. Furthermore, the effort and cost we should spend to counter a risk should be proportional to that risk, and in the case of old and sick people near the end of life, they and their families should make that decision not the state.

The principle of consistency is that like risks are treated alike. It has struck me as absurd that people would overreact to a risk which is less dangerous than other things the risk of which they have accepted for years or have only taken minimal steps to mitigate or avoid. In the case of covid, for most people it does not rank at the top of risky activities (such as driving a car, or walking down a dark street in the inner city) or the most common causes of death (over eating and drinking, lack of exercise, suicide) which they routinely engage in or accept. To be consistent, if the state is allowed to ban risky behaviour it should start at the top of this list and work its way down. If more people will die from heart disease or car accidents, for example, than covid, then the state should start by regulating or banning what food we can eat or liquids we can drink, or how much exercise we should have each week; or impose a “lockdown” on car usage to reduce car accidents; only then should it address the problem of covid by making the wearing of masks compulsory and imposing draconian “lockdown socialism” to restrict movement or public gatherings.

The principle of the “unseen” and unintended consequences of this intervention. According to this principle, it is almost certain, though not entirely predictable in all its details, that there will be Bastiat-ian “unseen” consequences to any state intervention. These may range from “economic” (increased costs, distortions in production and consumption), to “political” (the politicians who enact the legislation come to like their increased power and may well become corrupted as Acton predicted ted), or “moral” (individuals become increasingly used to and dependent upon government to “do something” to make them “safer”, and voluntary solutions are not undertaken as a result), to “medical” (resources which would have been devoted to assisting those who will die in large numbers of other diseases such as malaria, TB, diarrhea, or aids, are now diverted to finding a rushed vaccine for the new corona virus), and the now increasingly recognized “domestic” consequences (lockdowns increase death and injury within the home from depression, drug abuse, domestic violence, suicide).

The principle of the impossibility (or great unlikelihood) of rational economic calculation by government planners applies just as much to government public health and hygiene planners as it did to Stalinist central planners. Thus, it is up to advocates of government intervention to demonstrate how the central planning of the health economy in particular and the broader economy in general can avoid the fatal problems identified exactly 100 years ago by Mises in his essay “Economic Calculation under Socialism” (1920). Fort example, how is the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” economic activity even possible in an economy as complex as ours? How do you avoid the problem of the overproduction of ventilators (which turned out not to be needed and in fact harmed the patients who were forced to use them), or the overproduction of temporary “Nightingale hospitals” in England or the underused naval vessels in New York harbor?

The “precautionary principle” concerning state intervention
is that great caution should always be applied to permitting any acts of intervention by the state. We as libertarians and free market economists know that government intervention is coercive and thus violates individuals’ rights to liberty and property, that it often fails to achieve its objectives or even produces results the opposite of those it intended, that by the “ratchet effect” the state increases in size and power with every crisis and never returns to its previous level, that its actions often produce “collateral damage” including loss of life, etc. Thus, according to my new libertarian “precautionary principle” we should avoid at almost any cost allowing the state to intervene to “solve” problems. That is of course, if we value liberty, peace, and prosperity, and this gets to the nub of the problem, since it is now quite obvious that most people rank “safety” far ahead of liberty in their list of preferences. This has been the tragedy of 2020 which has made this preference abundantly clear.

I would argue then that all of the above “principles” inevitably leads us to conclude that there should be “the presumption of government failure” to complement “the presumption of liberty” when assessing whether or not the state should intervene in public health, or in any other matter.

Note: Don Boudreaux picked it up and published it on Café Hayek – “And a Presumption Also of Government Failure” Café Hayek (31 Dec. 2020) – with the following comment: I’m honored that the Australian political philosopher and historian of ideas David Hart expanded so wisely and so fruitfully on my recent post on Covid-19 and the presumption of liberty . I share below, in full, David’s essay, which he sent to me my e-mail.

The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism (2008)

An outstanding resource for students and teachers of the classical liberal / libertarian tradition is the Cato Institute’s Encyclopedia of Libertarianism (2008) which, in its 600 pages of double-columned type, has articles on the key ideas, important figures, and historical movements of this tradition. After a very long wait it is available online.

The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Editor-in-Chief Ronald Hamowy. Assistant Editors Jason Kuznicki and Aaron Steelman. Consulting Editor Deirdre McCloskey. Founding and Consulting Editor Jeffrey D. Schultz. (Los Angeles: Sage, 2008. A Project of the Cato Institute).

My small contribution to the project was a series of 9 articles on French classical liberals which I have now put online at my own website. They are on:

  1. Comte, Charles (1782-1837),
  2. Condorcet, Marquis de (1743-1794),
  3. Constant, Benjamin (1767-1830),
  4. Dunoyer, Charles (1786-1862),
  5. French Revolution,
  6. Molinari, Gustave de (1819-1912),
  7. Say, Jean-Baptiste (1767-1832),
  8. Tracy, Destutt de (1754-1836), and
  9. Turgot, Anne-Robert-Jacques (1727-1781).

I thought the book provided such a good survey of the CL tradition in a compact and easily accessible form (except for the very high price of the physical book, before it went online and free of charge) that I designed a series of lectures I was asked to give on the history of the classical liberal tradition around readings taken from the Encyclopedia. My series of lectures needs to be rewritten and revised but here is the overall structure of them:

The Classical Liberal Tradition – A History Of Ideas And Movements Over 400 Years

  1. Introduction
    1. The Problem of Definition: Liberalism vs. Hyphenated Liberalism
    2. Is Liberalism “Left” or “Right”?
    3. The Relationship between Ideas, Interests, and Action
    4. Liberalism and the State
      1. The Problem of Class and Class Struggle
      2. The Problem of Revolution
      3. The Problem of Keeping the State Limited
      4. Why people obey the State?
    5. The Methodology used in this Paper
  2. I. Ideas
    1. What Liberals were For and what they were Against
    2. Twelve Key Concepts of Liberty
  3. II: Individuals, Movements, & Political Events
    1. The Pre-history of Liberalism
    2. The Four Main Periods of Liberal Activity/Reform
      1. 1640s: the English Civil War/Revolution
      2. 1750s-1790s: the American and French Revolutions
      3. the long liberal 19th century 1815-1914
      4. the post-WW2 liberal renaissance
    3. Key Thinkers (Texts), Politicians and Activists (Movements, Documents)
  4. III. Key Political Documents
  5. IV. Strategies to Achieve Liberal Reforms
  6. V. The Achievements and Failures of Liberalism

The reading for this series of lectures is listed here with links to the online version of the Encyclopedia for information on “Key Ideas” and “Key Movements and People”

Overview of “The Classical Liberal Tradition – A History Of Ideas And Movements Over 400 Years”

  1. A History of Classical Liberalism I: Twelve Key Concepts of Liberty (with “concept maps”)
  2. A History of Classical Liberalism II: The Ideological Movements & Key Political Events which made The Classical Liberal Tradition possible
  3. Quotations about Liberty & Power (from the classic texts)

The Classical Liberal Tradition – Readings from The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism

What is to be Done? The Rise of Hygiene Socialism and the Prospects for Liberty

When I think about the great free trade movement in England in the 1840s, what drove its supporters to oppose protectionism was not a deep knowledge of the intricacies of comparative advantage or the geographical specialisation of production, but a moral sense which we lack today. This moral sense cuts in two different directions. On the “positive side” there was the idea that you looked after yourself and your family and did not go looking for government handouts, that you got paid for supplying someone with a benefit in some voluntary exchange, and that nobody owed you a job or a living.

On the other hand, there was a kind of “negative” side to this moral feeling, namely that the people who sought benefits and government protection were part of an exploiting class who were looting ordinary people for their own “sinister” interests, and that these interests controlled the Parliament and would continue to exploit ordinary people until they were stopped. This provoked moral outrage among people back then, but not now. I see neither of these moral sentiments being expressed anywhere today, which is my main reason for despair.

What happened in the 1840s was the rise of a handful of skilled “intellectual” and “political entrepreneurs”, like Richard Cobden in England and Frédéric Bastiat in France, who were able to bring together the theoretical economic ideas on free trade of Adam Smith and Jean-Baptiste Say, the moral outrage of large numbers of people at the injustices of the policies of trade subsidies and protection for a few at the expence of the many, and a political organisation which was able to mobilise these people and successfully lobby Parliament for change. The result was success in England in 1846 with the abolition of the Corn Laws, which ushered in a unprecedented period of of free trade in England which lasted up until the First World War, and a somewhat later success in France in 1860 with the passage of the Cobden-Chevalier Trade treaty between France and England

Fast forward to the present, and when we look out over the political playing field the most prominent and most successful players are those who are playing in the “Socialist League” not the “Liberty League”. In my opinion, the seven very strong teams playing in the Socialist League are, in order of historical precedence, the military socialists (who run the Military-Industrial-Complex, fight wars overseas, and run the bases), the intelligence and surveillance socialists (or perhaps they would be better termed “fascists”), the Keynesian Socialists, the Cultural Marxists, the Green Socialists, and a new team called the “Hygiene Socialists”.

It is instructive to reflect on how these groups came to be the powerful players they now are, and why “our” team seems to have foundered. So, I look back to when I was at high school in the early 1970s when the Green (environmentalist) movement was just getting started and what they have achieved 45 years later. One could probably trace the key ideas of the movement back to seminal books published in the 1960s like Rachel Carson Silent Spring (1962) and Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (1968). The first “Earth Day” took place in 1970 and when I was at high school teachers were organising “teach ins” to spread the ideas of the environmental movement among the students. Eventually these students went on to start Green Parties in Europe (Germany in 1980) and Australia (1992) which grew into very influential political players, sometimes controlling the balance of power in the legislature. The German Greens got 9% of the vote in 2017, and the Australian Greens had the balance of power in the Senate with 9 senators in 2016. Thus, the “green socialists” are now reaping what they sowed back in the 1960s and 1970s and have cultivated assiduously ever since.

What do we have to show for all our intellectual and political activity? Remember Friedrich Hayek won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1974 and the Harvard political philosopher Robert Nozick published “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” in the same year so we had reasons then to believe that “our wave” might be close to reaching its crest. And then Thatcher and Reagan came to power in 1979 and 1980. But these signs of change soon fizzled out.

A second powerful group has also been with us since the 1960s, namely the “Keynesianian” socialists who have taken over the economics departments of the universities and the central banks in every country. The intellectual roots of this group is of course John Maynard Keynes’ influential treatise The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money published in 1936. The strength of Keynesian ideas were revealed very clearly during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-9 when any notion of sound money and restraint in the issuing of debt was swept aside in the mad rush to “save” the banking and financial system. This is now being repeated in 2020. What is depressing is how every single person in the West has accepted at face value that the government can and should hand out trillions of dollars of “relief” for the duration of the Covid-induced lockdown, even so-called “conservative” governments like Scott Morrison’s in Australia. This boils down in my view to the popularly held idea of “economic magic”, that governments can wave their Keynesian monetary wand and create wealth out of nothing and give it to the voting masses, who lap it up and want more. The polls show that public support for these measures are very high – in the 60s and 70s%

This is not the time nor the place to discuss the other groups who threaten liberty, the “Cultural Marxists”, who have taken over the universities since they first began infiltrating them in the late 1960s and 1970s; the members of the “warfare state” and the intelligence services which emerged during and after WW2 and have never gone away.

We now come to the newest group which has emerged with such suddenness and force over the past few months, what I have called “hygiene socialism”. This is nothing new. Hebert Spencer warned about a similar threat to liberty in 1851 in his book Social Statics by what he called “sanitary supervision” (See Herbert Spencer on the State and “Sanitary Supervision” (1851) .) In the 1970s the American psychiatrist Thomas Szasz warned us about the misuse of psychiatry with the rise of “the therapeutic state” where he argued that the state frequently and increasingly was using “mental health” to incarcerate and control people, in particular “dissidents” in the Soviet Union. It is not a big step to extend his analysis to the emerging “hygienic state” where the state for “public health” reasons claims justification to control every aspect of our personal and economic lives. And it silences dissidents with the help of Twitter and Facebook and not the political police – although the Victorian police in Australia have recently acted as though they were such a police force.

When one lines up the groups which are now appearing to come together in a “united front” against individual liberty – environmental, monetary, cultural, and hygiene socialism – with talk of the need for a “global reset” one wonders “what is to be done?”. This was the title of an important pamphlet Lenin wrote in 1901 which inspired Rothbard to ask the same question in 1977.

I have spent the last month thinking a lot about strategy for the libertarian movement in these depressing times (see the list of additions to my website for the month of November. I have my own theory of the “structure of production of ideas” and the kinds of institutions and activity which is required at each of the stages, starting with the “higher stages” of the production of pure theory (organisations like the “old” Liberty Fund and the universities) , down to the “lowest stages” of the “consumption” of ideas in popular culture and in elections.

Back in 1976-77, Rothbard, Ed Crane, and Charles Koch were exploring strategies for the development of organisations in the “middle” to “lower” end of this structure of production with the Cato Institute and the Libertarian Party which would operate out of that hotbed of Libertarian activity, the city of San Francisco. This flurry of activity produced a series of papers given at a conference Rothbard and Charles Koch organised in NYC in 1976. I have recently acquired copies of these papers which are very interesting and thought provoking.

I was given a copy of Rothbard’s long paper on strategy which he wrote in 1977, “Toward a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change” (April, 1977), in the early 1980s. I put my copy online (missing a few pages unfortunately) about 10 years ago which has been completely ignored. I also recently acquired a new clean and complete copy of Rothbard’s paper which I put online in facs. PDF as well as HTML which I hope will get greater circulation. Rothbard drew upon the research produced in the 1976 conference papers and added his own thoughts about the model for successful political change which was provided by the rise of popular mass parties like the Bolshevik Party in Russia and the Nazi Party in Germany. His “Leninist” political strategy is deeply flawed in many ways, but to his credit, he was and still is one of the very few libertarian theorists who has thought about these issues in any coherent fashion.

So, I am not sure where that leaves me or the libertarian movement. Perhaps where I started in 1972-73. What a depressing thought.

The Cover Art of Voluntary Servitude

The Cover Art of Boétie’s Discourse

I was drawn back to Étienne de la Boétie’s wonderful essay on “Voluntary Servitude” (written c. 1550, published 1576) because of recent events. Boétie asked perhaps the most fundamental question of political theory, namely, why does the majority allow itself, even asks for it , to be ruled by a small minority of people (a sovereign monarch, politicians in Parliament, the bureaucrats who run things, and the technocrats who advise the government). They allow this rule over them even when it is at their own expense in terms of their own property, the jobs they work or businesses they run, their freedom of movement and congregation, and even the ideas they are permitted to believe in or discuss.

As he put the question at the beginning of his essay:

I would only understand how it is possible and how it can be that so many Men, so many Cities, so many Nations, tolerate sometimes a single Tyrant, who has no Power but what they give him; who has no Power to hurt them but only so far as they have the Will to suffer him; who can do them no Harm except when they chuse rather to bear him than contradict him. A wonderful Thing, certainly, and nevertheless [5] so common, that we ought to have more Grief and less Astonishment, to see a Million of Millions of Men serve miserably, their Necks under the Yoke, not constrained by a greater Force but, as it were, enchanted and charmed by the single Name of one, whose Power they ought not to be afraid of, since he is alone, nor love his Qualities, since he is with regard to them inhuman and savage. Such is the Weakness of Mankind.
… BUT, good God!—what can this be? How shall we call this? What Misfortune [7] is this? What sort of unhappy Vice is it, to see an infinite Number, not only obey, but serve, not governed but tyrannised, having neither Goods, Parents, Children, nor Life itself which can be called theirs? To bear the Robberies, the Debaucheries, the Cruelties, not of an Army, not of a barbarous Camp, against which we ought to spend Blood, nay even our Lives, but of one Man : not a *Hercules* or *Sampson*, but a little Creature, and very often the most cowardly and effeminate of the whole Nation : One not accustomed to the Smoak of Battles, but scarcely to the Dust of Tilts and Tournaments

So, I decided to gather all the material I had on Boétie and put it online. Over the past few weeks I have put online 9 different versions of the essay – 5 in French (c. 1560s, 1576, 1577, 1892, 1922) and 4 in English translation (1735, 1942/1975, 1966). I also built two pages so one could view the different texts side-by-side. One is the 1922 illustrated version by the Catalonian engraver and typographer Louis Jou (1881-1968) with the illustrations surrounding the text on the left and a modern (also 1922) French version on the right. The second allows the reader to compare many of the different texts side-by-side, either French or English, or either on the right or on the left (depending on what is being compared).

As I searched online for various editions I came to realise two things; one, was that there have been more editions (especially in French) than I had realised; and secondly, that many of these editions had striking cover art. I arranged these covers by theme: chains and cages, classic portraits and art, oppressed figures and their oppressors, minimalist design and abstract art, cartoons and drawings, and advertising for events or performances

Below is a small sampling of what I have found. See this other page for the full collection.

An edition by Flammarion (Jan. 1993) with a roughly drawn empty bird cage with the door open. It suggest that if we could only refuse to voluntarily grant servitude to the state, then we could fly away free as a bird.

An edition by Vrin (Oct. 2014) with essays by André Tournon and Tristan Dagron. The image is Benvenuto Cellini’s statue of “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” (1545–1554). Perseus has beheaded the Gorgon Medusa whose hair is made up of snakes and who turns to stone anyone who looks at her. This is an unusual choice of image as Boétie did not advocate violent resistance to the state (like chopping its head off) but rather non0violent, passive resistance by withholding cooperation.

An edition by “Exuvie” (no date) with a preface by the Belgian anarchist Raoul Vaneigem. The image is of a very small figure of Atlas carrying on his shoulders a very large rock. It is interesting that the left have also seized upon Boétie’s essay. The German socialist anarchist Gustave Landauer translated it into German in 1910 and this Belgian anarchist wrote an introduction to this more recent edition. What struck me was the Randian connotation of the image: Boétie was in fact urging Atlas to “shrug” off the burden of the state in order to be free.

Another socialist version of Boétie. This is a German edition by Malik-Verlag (1924). It has a cover by the artist Georg Grosz which shows a submissive worker standing before a rich capitalist who is enjoying the finer things of life. Servitude according this interpretation is a result of working for wages within the capitalist system. Freedom will thus come about when the workers’ go on strike and overthrow the system in a socialist/Bolshevik revolution.

This edition by Payot (2016) shows the classic illustration from Thomas Hobbes’ book Leviathan (1652). The “leviathan” monarch’s body is composed of thousands of small figures of his subjects. If the individuals which made up the Leviathan’s body decided to walk away or do something else, then the “body politic” would collapse and the Leviathan would then no longer exist.

This is a striking but rather cryptic cover for the edition by Librio (Sept. 1993). It also contains Benjamin Constant’s “De la Liberté des Anciens et les Modernes”, and La Fontaine’s fable of “The Wolf and the Dog” (hence the cover illustration of the dog). In Fontaine’s fable the wolf was wild, free, but hungry; the dog was domesticated and well-fed but had the scars of the collar it wore around its neck. Thus people, by implication, can either lead a free but uncertain life (like the wolf), or have the security, regular meals, and shelter enjoyed by a house-trained and domesticated dog, but the sot of this is having to wear a collar and come at the master’s whistle or call.

Being a text-oriented person, I found this edition by Bouchene (Jan. 2015) beautiful, elegant, and clean. The cover shows the opening paragraphs of the Mesmes manuscript edition.

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.