[NOTE: This is a post in which I continue to explore the more extremist wing of the alt-right, because I think it bears watching and comprehending. That doesn’t mean I think it’s an enormous group. Nor do I think Donald Trump or even Steve Bannon are members of it. However, this group exists, and it is a big mistake to dismiss them out of hand.]
I had never heard of Murray Rothbard before his name came up in the comments here a while ago in connection with the alt-right. Commenter “J.J.” had mentioned a libertarian strain within the alt-right, and I expressed skepticism about the alt-right’s devotion to libertarian principles.
J.J. responded by citing Wiki:
Matthew Sheffield, writing in the Washington Post, said the alt-right has also been influenced by anarcho-capitalist and paleolibertarian theorist Murray Rothbard, specifically in regards to his theorizing on race and democracy, and had previously rallied behind Ron Paul in 2008.
Those are two terms I’d never come across before, in addition to the name Rothbard: anarcho-capitalist and paleolibertarian. Sounded like some sort of especially extreme form of libertarianism.
So I got curious. And there was quite a motherlode of information on Rothbard (whom I always seem to want to refer to as “Rothbart,” as in the evil wizard/magician in “Swan Lake” named “von Rothbart”):
Michael O’Malley, Associate Professor of History at George Mason University, characterizes Rothbard’s “overall tone regard[ing]” the Civil Rights Movement and the women’s suffrage movement to be “contemptuous and hostile”. Rothbard vilified women’s rights activists, attributing the growth of the welfare state to politically active spinsters “whose busybody inclinations were not fettered by the responsibilities of health and heart”. Rothbard had pointed out in his ‘Origins of the Welfare State’ that progressives had evolved from elitist Gilded Age pietist Protestants that wanted to bring a secularized version of millennialism under a welfare state, which was spearheaded by a “shock troop of Yankee protestant and Jewish women and lesbian spinsters.”
Rothbard called for the elimination of “the entire ‘civil rights’ structure” stating that it “tramples on the property rights of every American.” He consistently favored repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, including Title VII regarded employment discrimination and called for overturning the Brown v. Board of Education decision on the grounds that forced integration of schools was aggressive.
So far that seems to be describing a very extreme form of the sort of objection a few people on the far right have to what they consider federal overreach, although Rothbard adds some extra-snarky tones.
However, that’s just the beginning.
Rothbard also urged the (state) police to crack down on “street criminals”, writing that “cops must be unleashed” and “allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error”. He also advocated that the police “clear the streets of bums and vagrants”, and quipped “who cares?,” in response to the question of where these people would go after being removed from public property.
I’m not sure exactly what to call those points of view, but although they seem to resemble an extreme wing of the alt-right I wouldn’t identify them as libertarian. And most people wouldn’t, either. That “paleo” prefix must cover an awful lot of territory.
J.J. offered more from Rothbard’s Wiki entry, and this bears especially strongly on the alt-right and its backing of Trump:
Paleolibertarianism sought to appeal to disaffected working class whites through a synthesis of cultural conservatism and libertarian economics. According to Reason, Rothbard advocated right-wing populism in part because he was frustrated that mainstream thinkers were not adopting the libertarian view and suggested that former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and Wisconsin U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy were models for an “Outreach to the Rednecks” effort that could be used by a broad libertarian/paleoconservative coalition. Working together, the paleo coalition would expose the “unholy alliance of ‘corporate liberal’ Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass.” Rothbard blamed this “Underclass” for “looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America.” Rothbard noted that David Duke’s substantive political program in a Louisiana governor’s race had “nothing” in it that “could not also be embraced by paleoconservatives or paleo-libertarians; lower taxes, dismantling the bureaucracy, slashing the welfare system, attacking affirmative action and racial set-asides, calling for equal rights for all Americans, including whites.”
That explains some of the strategy. Since Rothbard died in 1995, we’re not talking about a recent idea, either, but it’s an idea that has recently borne fruit. Rothbard’s liking for David Duke doesn’t necessarily transfer to a Trump approval of Duke, but it certainly indicates that within the alt-right there’s a strain that is very David Duke friendly, and that this strain has been working hard for a long time.
And here’s some more:
Rothbard’s colleague Joseph Stromberg notes that Rothbard made two exceptions to his general condemnation of war: “the American Revolution and the War for Southern Independence, as viewed from the Confederate side.” Rothbard condemned the “Northern war against slavery”, saying it was inspired by “fanatical” religious faith and characterized by “a cheerful willingness to uproot institutions, to commit mayhem and mass murder, to plunder and loot and destroy, all in the name of high moral principle”…
Rothbard’s The Libertarian Forum blamed the Middle East conflict on Israeli aggression “fueled by American arms and money.” Rothbard warned that the mid-East conflict would draw the U.S. into a world war. He was anti-Zionist and opposed U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Rothbard criticized the Camp David Accords for having betrayed Palestinian aspirations and opposed Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. In his essay, “War Guilt in the Middle East,” Rothbard states that Israel refused “to let these refugees return and reclaim the property taken from them.”…
He was influenced by and a champion of the historian Harry Elmer Barnes, a Holocaust denier. Rothbard endorsed Barnes’s revisionism on World War II, favorably citing his view that “the murder of Germans and Japanese was the overriding aim of World War II”.
That also does not fit Trump in the least, as far as I can see. But it certainly fits some on the alt-right vis a vis Israel and the WWII Holocaust.
But if you think that’s extreme, wait till you see this:
In the Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard explores issues regarding children’s rights in terms of self-ownership and contract. These include support for a woman’s right to abortion, condemnation of parents showing aggression towards children, and opposition to the state forcing parents to care for children. He also holds children have the right to run away from parents and seek new guardians as soon as they are able to choose to do so. He asserted that parents have the right to put a child out for adoption or sell the rights to the child in a voluntary contract in what Rothbard suggests will be a “flourishing free market in children”. He believes that selling children as consumer goods in accord with market forces, while “superficially monstrous”, will benefit “everyone” involved in the market:
Now, that I can see as a very extreme version of libertarian thought, but one that I doubt most libertarians would support (although nothing would surprise me at this point). My guess is that it’s not a big winner with the alt-right, either, although I can’t say I have my finger on the pulse of every policy they support. Rothbard seems like one of the fathers of what one might call loony libertarianism—that is, libertarian thought taken to its ultimate extreme, the dark place where libertarians meet the far left and where far left anarchism meets far right anarchism in a murky horror show.
There’s so much more in Rothbard’s Wiki entry—including this:
Writes Rothbard, “Suppose … police beat and torture a suspected murderer to find information (not to wring a confession, since obviously a coerced confession could never be considered valid). If the suspect turns out to be guilty, then the police should be exonerated, for then they have only ladled out to the murderer a parcel of what he deserves in return; his rights had already been forfeited by more than that extent. But if the suspect is not convicted, then that means that the police have beaten and tortured an innocent man, and that they in turn must be put into the dock for criminal assault”…Rothbard’s scheme gives the police a strong motive to frame the suspect, after having tortured him or her.
It also means that no one would become a policeman except sadists, because the police themselves would have no protection from being accused of wrongdoing. It also ignores a little something called the rule of law, and the entire idea of basic rules to protect the rights of the accused. And this guy is a libertarian?