Category Archives: Murray Rothbard

Legal Foundations of a Free Society

Excerpt from Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s foreword to Stephan Kinsella’s new book, “Legal Foundations of a Free Society”.

The objective for a human ethic or a theory of justice, then, is the discovery of such rules of human conduct that make it possible for a—indeed, any—bodily person to act—indeed, to live his entire active life—in a world made up of different people, a “given” external, material environment, and various scarce—rivalrous, contestable or conflict-able—material objects useable as means toward a person’s ends, without ever running into physical clashes with anybody else.

Essentially, these rules have been known and recognized since eternity. They consist of three principal components. First, personhood and self-ownership: Each person owns—exclusively controls—his physical body that only he and no one else can control directly (any control over another person’s body, by contrast, is invariably an in-direct control, presupposing the prior direct control of one’s own body). Otherwise, if body-ownership were assigned to some indirect body-controller, conflict would become unavoidable as the direct body-controller cannot give up the direct control over his body as long as he is alive. Accordingly, any physical interference with another person’s body must be consensual, invited and agreed to by such a person, and any non-consensual interference with his body constitutes an unjust and prohibited invasion.

Second, private property and original appropriation: Logically, what is required to avoid all conflict regarding external material objects used or usable as means of action, i.e. as goods, is clear: every good must always and at all times be owned privately, i.e. controlled exclusively by some specified person. The purposes of different actors then may be as different as can be, and yet no conflict will arise so long as their respective actions involve exclusively the use of their own private property. And how can external objects become private property in the first place without leading to conflict? To avoid conflict from the very start, it is necessary that private property be founded through acts of original appropriation, because only through actions, taking place in time and space, can an objective—intersubjectively ascertainable—link be established between a particular person and a particular object. And only the first appropriator of a previously unappropriated thing can acquire this thing as his property without conflict. For, by definition, as the first appropriator he cannot have run into conflict with anyone else in appropriating the good in question, as everyone else appeared on the scene only later. Otherwise, if exclusive control is assigned instead to some late-comers, conflict is not avoided but contrary to the very purpose of reason made unavoidable and permanent.

Third, exchange and contract: Other than per original appropriation, property can only be acquired by means of a voluntary—mutually agreed upon—exchange of property from some previous owner to some later owner. This transfer of property from a prior to a later owner can either take the form of a direct or “spot” exchange, which may be bi- or multi-lateral as when someone’s apples are exchanged for another’s oranges, or it may be unilateral as when a person makes a gift to someone else or when someone pays another person with his property now, on the spot, in the expectation of some future services on the part of the recipient. Or else the transfer of property can take the form of contracts concerning not just present but in particular also prospective, future-dated transfers of property titles. These contractual transfers of property titles can be unconditional or conditional transfers, and they too can involve bi- or multi-lateral as well as unilateral property transfers. Any acquisition of property other than through original appropriation or voluntary or contractual exchange and transfer from a previous to a later owner is unjust and prohibited by reason. (Of course, in addition to these normal property acquisition rules, property can also be transferred from an aggressor to his victim as rectification for a previous trespass committed.)

Drawing on the long, but in today’s world largely forgotten or neglected intellectual tradition of natural law and natural rights theory with its three just briefly sketched principal components, then, the most elaborate, systematic, rigorous and lucid presentation of a theory of justice up until then had been developed in the course of the second half of the 20th century by economist-philosopher Murray N. Rothbard, culminating in his Ethics of Liberty, originally published in 1982. Unfortunately, but not entirely surprisingly, however, his work was typically either completely ignored or else dismissed out of hand by the gatekeepers and high priests of academia. The anarchist conclusions ultimately arrived at by Rothbard in his works appeared simply outlandish in an ideological environment molded overwhelmingly by tax-funded intellectuals and steeped to the hip in statism or étatisme. Among academic big-shots, only Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick in his Anarchy, State and Utopia acknowledged his intellectual debt to Rothbard and seriously tried to refute his anarchist conclusions—but miserably failed.

While Rothbard’s work largely fell on deaf ears within academia, then, it exerted considerable influence outside of it, in the public at large. Indeed, through his work Rothbard became the founder of the modern libertarian movement, attracting a sizable popular following far exceeding that of any mainstream academic in numbers. As for the further development of a natural-law and -rights based theory of justice, however, this very success turned out to be a rather mixed blessing. On the one hand, the movement inspired by Rothbard likely helped dampen and slow down the popularity and growth of statism, but it manifestly failed in halting or even reversing the long-run historical trend toward ever increasing state-power. On the other hand (and that may well be one of the reasons for this failure), the larger the movement grew in numbers, the greater also the confusion and the number of intellectual errors spread and committed by its followers. The pure theory of justice as presented by Rothbard was increasingly watered down, misunderstood, misinterpreted or downright falsified, whether for short-run tactical gains, out of ignorance or plain cowardice. As well, all too often sight was lost of the fundamentally important distinction between the core, the foundational principles of a theory on the one hand and its application to various peripheral—often far-fetched or merely fictional—practical problems on the other; and far too much effort and time, then, has been spent on debating peripheral issues the solution of which may well be arguable, but which is of minor importance in the larger scheme of things and helps distract public attention and concentration away from those questions and issues that truly matter and count.

In this situation, then, more than 40 years after the first publication of Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty and characterized by much practical disappointment and increasing theoretical confusion, the publication of Stephan Kinsella’s present work must be considered a most welcome sign of renewed hope and new, refreshing intellectual inspiration. Indeed, with this work, that has been in the making for more than two decades, Kinsella has produced no less than an intellectual landmark, establishing himself as the leading legal theorist and the foremost libertarian thinker of his generation. While following in Rothbard’s footsteps, Kinsella’s work does not merely rehash what has been said or written before. Rather, having absorbed as well all of the relevant literature that has appeared during the last few decades since Rothbard’s passing, Kinsella in the following offers some fresh perspectives and an innovative approach to the age-old quest for justice, and he adds several highly significant refinements and improvements and some centrally important new insights to the theories of personhood, property and contract, most famously some radical criticism and rejection of the idea of “intellectual property” and “intellectual property rights.”

Henceforth, then, all essential studies in the philosophy of law and the field of legal theory will have to take full account of the theories and criticisms expounded by Kinsella.

What Adam Smith had to say about conspiracies

They are quite common, especially if they are given protection by government regulation

We often hear people being dismissive about “conspiracy theories”. Yet one of the most eminent thinkers of the 18th century, who is often called the founder of economics (although there were others, see here), Adam Smith, knew that they were commonplace. Here is what he wrote in his famous book with the (abridged) title “The Wealth of Nations”:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. 

– The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter X. 

Most people who remember reading this however don’t know that the really interesting part comes after that. Smith goes on to say:

It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary. A regulation which obliges all those of the same trade in a particular town to enter their names and places of abode in a public register, facilitates such assemblies. . . . A regulation which enables those of the same trade to tax themselves in order to provide for their poor, their sick, their widows, and orphans, by giving them a common interest to manage, renders such assemblies necessary. An incorporation not only renders them necessary, but makes the act of the majority binding upon the whole.

– The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter X.

Regarding this, Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute writes:

As Eamonn Butler has written, Smith’s point is that the only way businessmen can succeed in a ‘conspiracy against the public’ is if they are given protection by government regulation. If not, the pressures of competition will ensure that conspiring businesses are quickly undermined by their competitors.

Birthday of a great economist

Murray Rothbard

Today would have been the 97th birthday of Murray Rothbard, considered by those who know of him and his writings as the greatest economist of the second half of the 20th century. (The greatest economist of the first half was Ludwig von Mises. There is a great organisation dedicated to the work of both of them and other economists of their “Austrian” school of thought.)

On this occasion, Allan Stevo writes in a newsletter:

Never heard of him?

There’s a reason for that.

Sometimes the establishment wants you to hear about the losers, the court jesters, and court economists who will doubtless serve the interest of the establishment.

To hear from someone who gives you recipes for success and freedom alongside basic principles for using economics to enfeeble government — well, the establishment doesn’t want that. They do not want you strong.

If you’ve never heard of Rothbard and have a favorite economist, I can almost guarantee you that your favorite economist is a buster, a court jester, a court economist, someone who will only take the argument so far.

That is not Rothbard.

​Confined to a no-name school in an outer borough of New York for part of his career and then sent out to the deserts of Las Vegas to teach economics at UNLV for another portion of his career (the best American school that would accept this incredibly intelligent and prolific economist), the man was blackballed by academia for not having off limit topics.

The Libertarian Christian Institute

Just discovered this

From their “About” page:

If you have never heard of libertarianism before now, it is a very simple philosophy based on the non-aggression principle, which states that the initiation of physical force and the threat thereof is inherently illegitimate. In other words, everyone has the right to engage freely in whatever activity they choose so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others.

For those familiar with libertarianism already, you might be asking can a Christian also be a libertarian? At LCI, we boldly answer YES! Christian libertarians believe that libertarianism is the only political philosophy that is truly consistent, that makes any rational or moral sense at all, and that agrees with what we understand in the Bible and Christian history. Read more about what it means to be a Christian libertarian by clicking here.

Central banks and wars

There is a connection between the two

“It is no coincidence that the century of total war coincided with the century of central banking.”

So said Ron Paul, a humble man, great role model, honoured American elder statesman and honest thinker.

His quote goes a long way in explaining why we need to “repeal the 20th century”, as Murray Rothbard and Gary North have said. Along with central banks, of course.

Repealing the century of collectivism, mass destruction and genocide

Our hope resides in a resurrected God

“We shall repeal the 20th century.” These were words spoken by American economist Murray N. Rothbard (1926 – 1995) near the end of an article he wrote in 1992. Another American economist, Gary North (b. 1942), who is a historian and theologian as well, used these words near the end of a lecture he gave in 2010.

Rothbard made clear why he wants to repeal it, when he asked, ironically:

“Who would want to repeal the 20th century, the century of horror, the century of collectivism, the century of mass destruction and genocide, who would want to repeal that! Well, we propose to do just that.”

With “we” he meant what he hoped would be a resurrected movement which in America is called the Old Right, a movement that was libertarian in its core, supported decentralised structures, laissez-faire economics and minimal interference of the government into private lives. This movement was effectively killed off around the year 1900 and replaced by interventionist, imperialist, big-government and big-business supporting politics.

Similar things had happened, or were happening, in Europe. Nationalism was the name of the game, and that sentiment lead to centralised governments continually increasing their interventions into the economy to suit their lust for power. Imperialism was the natural outgrowth of this development. This in turn lead to the original catastrophe of our time, World War One.

Considering that we are by now one fifth into the next century, it is clear that we have been unable to repeal the 20th century. For, as an idea, or phenomenon, the 20th century, in all its awfulness, is still firmly with us. So, how can we go about “repealing” it?

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