Murray Rothbard quotes on libertarianism, economics, and freedom
By Alex Horsman
“War is mass murder. Conscription is slavery. Taxation is robbery.”
Renowned Austrian school economist. Founder and former leading theoretician of anarcho-capitalism. Passionate historical revisionist. Arguably the preeminent libertarian thinker of the 20th century. Whenever you see the colors black and yellow laid side by side, the first man who comes to your mind should be Murray Newton Rothbard. And needless to say, when you read Murray Rothbard quotes you should pay attention.
Rothbard was born in 1926 to Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. He received his PhD in economics at Columbia University, noting that he was nearly the only student at the school who didn’t espouse extreme leftist ideologies. Rothbard was an active member of Mises’ seminars at New York University School of Business where he was also paid to write Man, Economy, and State, a textbook based on Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action which the author himself soundly approved of.
Following the collapse of the Volker Fund which had permitted him to work from home, Rothbard taught at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute from 1966 until 1986. He derided the school as Marxist and ultimately found better circumstances at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where he worked until his death in 1995.
Rothbard founded the Center for Libertarian Studies, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, and the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. He also co-founded the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Let us briefly summarize the theories of a man who wrote over one dozen books and spent a lifetime teaching.
Rothbard believed in studying economics through the lens of praxeology rather than econometrics, treating it like a set of fixed principles rather than a phenomenon only to be studied after the fact. Rothbard was a font of criticism for modern, mainstream economics, dismissing Adam Smith’s work as the root of Marxism and Milton Friedman as a pernicious establishmentarian. He was also a fierce opponent of egalitarianism, insisting that implementation of so unnatural a doctrine would inevitably lead to disastrous consequences.
Rothbard coined the term “anarcho-capitalism” to describe his philosophy which favored self-ownership, private property, and the free market, as well as the abolishment of the state’s monopoly of force. Rothbard’s views on women’s suffrage won’t get his face put on a postage stamp anytime soon, and his support for a powerful police force that would administer instant punishment for crimes including vagrancy wouldn’t merit charitable treatment by CNN if he proclaimed it today.
Rothbard was a staunch opponent of aggressive foreign policy, arguing that WWII in particular created an untenable military-industrial complex and state monopoly on capitalism. To Rothbard, the only justifiable American wars were the Revolution and the Civil War – but the latter only on the Confederate side.
Rothbard asserted that historical revisionism was necessary to unroot narratives which gave undue favor to the state, that judiciary authority violated natural rights, that the “eye for an eye” system of retribution was only a half measure, and that the action of every man must only be attributed to his free will.
Not content to sit in an ivory tower, Rothbard vocally supported politicians including Strom Thurmond, Ron Paul, George H. W. Bush, Ross Perot, and Pat Buchanan throughout his lifetime.
“Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal.”
“The libertarian creed, finally, offers the fulfillment of the best of the American past along with the promise of a far better future. Even more than conservatives … 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.”
“I define anarchist society as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of any individual.”
“To be moral, an act must be free.”
“Taxation is theft, purely and simply even though it is theft on a grand and colossal scale which no acknowledged criminals could hope to match. It is a compulsory seizure of the property of the State’s inhabitants, or subjects.”
“There is one good thing about Marx: he was not a Keynesian.”
“While liberals are in favor of any sexual activity engaged in by two consenting adults, when these consenting adults engage in trade or exchange, the liberals step in to harass, cripple, restrict, or prohibit that trade. And yet both the consenting sexual activity and the trade are similar expressions of liberty in action.”
“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”
“It is the state that is robbing all classes, rich and poor, black and white alike; it is the state that is ripping us all off; it is the state that is the common enemy of mankind.”
“I frankly don’t see anything wrong with greed. I think that the people who are always attacking greed would be more consistent with their position if they refused their next salary increase. I don’t see even the most Left-Wing scholar in this country scornfully burning his salary check.”
“It is curious that people tend to regard government as a quasi-divine, selfless, Santa Claus organization. Government was constructed neither for ability nor for the exercise of loving care; government was built for the use of force and for necessarily demagogic appeals for votes. If individuals do not know their own interests in many cases, they are free to turn to private experts for guidance. It is absurd to say that they will be served better by a coercive, demagogic apparatus.”
“It is in war that the State really comes into its own: swelling in power, in number, in pride, in absolute dominion over the economy and the society.”
“The fundamental political question is why do people obey a government. The answer is that they tend to enslave themselves, to let themselves be governed by tyrants. Freedom from servitude comes not from violent action, but from the refusal to serve. Tyrants fall when the people withdraw their support.”
“Whenever someone starts talking about ‘fair competition’ or indeed, about ‘fairness’ in general, it is time to keep a sharp eye on your wallet, for it is about to be picked.”
“And, indeed, what is the State anyway but organized banditry? What is taxation but theft on a gigantic, unchecked, scale? What is war but mass murder on a scale impossible by private police forces? What is conscription but mass enslavement? Can anyone envision a private police force getting away with a tiny fraction of what States get away with, and do habitually, year after year, century after century?”
“Capitalism is the fullest expression of anarchism, and anarchism is the fullest expression of capitalism. Not only are they compatible, but you can’t really have one without the other. True anarchism will be capitalism, and true capitalism will be anarchism”
“Libertarians make no exceptions to the golden rule and provide no moral loophole, no double standard, for government.”
“We may test the hypothesis that the State is largely interested in protecting itself rather than its subjects by asking: which category of crimes does the State pursue and punish most intensely – those against private citizens or those against itself?”
“Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states?”
“Since production must always precede predation, the free market is anterior to the State. The State has never been created by a ‘social contract’; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation.”
“Briefly, the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion.”