The American Conservative: Rothbard’s Practical Politics
Norman Singleton is Rep. Ron Paul’s Legislative Director. He has worked for Dr. Paul since 1997. Once a month, Norm and I meet at Bailey’s Pub & Grill in Arlington, Virginia to discuss two subjects—pro wrestling and libertarian politics.
The first is the primary reason for our meetings. Bailey’s offers monthly WWE pay-per-views which we enjoy thoroughly over cold beer and chicken wings. It is by far the most serious subject we discuss.
Our discussions of libertarianism, or the Ron Paul-inspired “liberty movement,” to which Norm and I both belong, are always interesting. Norm is a diehard libertarian. I am more traditionally conservative. How radical we are in our politics sometimes differs. How practical we are in advancing what some might consider “radical” politics does not.
Austrian economist Murray Rothbard was one of the most brilliant libertarian minds of all time. Rothbard was also considered one of the most radical libertarians of his time. Today, Rothbard’s pure, unadulterated anti-statist philosophy is celebrated by libertarians as heroic and unequaled.
But Rothbard was also very practical about politics. Based on a recent discussion we’d had about the inevitable tensions that come with moving the liberty movement into the mainstream, Norm brought to my attention some old Rothbard columns from his personal collection.
While some radical libertarians eschew politics altogether, believing it compromises their philosophical purity, or that education alone will eventually bring a majority of people to the philosophy of liberty, Rothbard disagreed. He wrote in 1981:
I see no other conceivable strategy for the achievement of liberty than political action. Religious or philosophical conversion of each man and woman is simply not going to work; that strategy ignores the problem of power, the fact that millions of people have a vested interest in statism and are not likely to give it up… Education in liberty is of course vital, but it is not enough; action must also be taken to roll back the State…
The above quote should be of no surprise to anyone remotely familiar with Rothbard. My favorite aspect of Rothbard is that for his entire life, it was never enough to simply be more radical than his fellow libertarian—Rothbard wanted to take political action.