Never a Dull Moment: A Libertarian Looks at the Sixties
© 2016 Murray Rothbard, ed. Justin Raimondo
I first encountered Murray Rothbard in 2013, when reading Radicals for Capitalism, a history of market libertarianism. As I was someone who had come into libertarianism from the left, Rothbard struck me as particularly interesting because of his attempts to communicate with the student left in the 1960s, to forge an alliance between the anti-war protestors, the Civil Rights movement, and the then-nascent libertarians through a new journal, Left and Right. Although I’ve never properly read Rothbard in the years which have followed, that’s mostly owed to competition: I’ve had plenty of interest in his work, and have in fact acquired three titles during various sales. Never a Dull Moment focuses on that work which first brought Rothbard to my attention, collecting some of his articles from the LBJ years, responding to events both foreign and domestic — for ’67 and ’68 were tumultuous years across the globe.
The title of this collection may refer to period that inspired their writing, what with the Vietnam war, student protests, and the riots of ’68 happening in the background, but such a description is equally apt for Rothbard’s writing itself. Few people would agree with him on every point throughout the book, for he turns a few sacred cows into medium-rare meals for the mind. One of his series included here is on “Anti-Slavery”, and addresses not only the draft, but the operations of the military itself, regulatory burdens, and jury duty. There are a couple of economic pieces, but much of the content is taken up with the rising tide of dissent that swept across the United States in these years. Although the unrest of the sixties is a huge topic, here Rothbard concentrates on the racial and student fronts — the latter particularly interesting because protests against the draft, and the war, fomented into a general contempt for authority and the state in general. It was that hope that drove Rothbard to begin traveling in their circles to begin with.
Rothbard is very charitable toward the left, defending even the Viet Cong on the basis that they were an alliance of various interests groups, and not all Communists: he also excuses student idolization of the ilk of Mao and Guevara on the grounds that they were celebrating not communism, or mass murder, but rather the hope that revolution was possible — that the oppressive order, the police brutality and conscription and the rest of the War State’s deep shadow — could be overcome. It was on those grounds that Rothbard hoped to foster an alliance, to use outrage against obvious abuses of power to build a broader grassroots alliance against the state’s more subtle abuses. Despite his common-cause status with many on the student left, Rothbard isn’t blind to their excesses and does have some sharp words for protestors, particularly the environmentalists who hold, he writes, an anti-human social philosophy. (Given that the enviro movement is invariably tied to expanding the state’s control over behavior, businesses, and resources, wielding restrictions and throwing around taxpayer money as subsidies, it’s not surprising that Rothbard has little use for them.) One of his articles is an extensive evaluation of then-current environmental doomsday predictions, all of which have evaporated to be replaced by new doomsday predictions in our own age.
The shortness of this collection belies its immense interest, for I was fairly spellbound by Murray — not always in agreement, but almost always engaged. Some of the contents here were later developed into full books: in one article, he discusses the post-WW2 merger of the Republican and Democratic parties into one “Corporate State” party, and particularly the warping of the ‘right’ into the neo-cons, what he’d later call The Betrayal of the American Right. Rothbard writes that there wasn’t a wit of difference between Nixon and Humphrey, and his analysis of Nixon and Agnew bore a depressing similarity to critiques of Romney and Clinton — the recycling of old tired elites. There’s little in this book, in fact, that renders it too dated to apply to our own age. Replace the president’s names, make Rothbard’s essay on inflation concern the dollar rather than the pound, and every word throws light onto the present. As introductions to authors go, Never a Dull Moment was an extremely effective first Rothbard read for me, ensuring that I’ll continue in his works – -beginning with The Betrayal of the American Right or The Progressive Era.
Next up: The New Left (Return of the Primitive), a collection of Ayn Rand’s responses to the student movement with some additional essays by Peter Schwartz. She was not as….charitable, to say the least, despite the links between Rothbard and Rand’s individualist philosophies, though this is partly explained by her writing at a later date (early seventies) in which she was responding to pro-state rather than anti-state urgings of those movements.
The Mises Institute hosts free-to-read copies of much of Rothbard’s work. (I prefer buying them for the Kindle highlights, but hey!)
Tom Woods’ podcast, which covers history, economics, culture, and current events, frequently mentions Rothbard and has done quite a few Rothbard-specific shows. It’s how I found quite a few superb authors, including Brad Birzer, who frequently appears there to discuss political themes in literature.