A Spy in the House of LSD


From today's installment of Murray Rothbard's The Betrayal of the American Right, currently being serialized on LewRockwell.com:

[M]y total break with the Right came with the Stevenson movement of 1960….I was not politically active in the drive for the Stevenson nomination, but a strange concatenation of events was to thrust me into a prominent role among Stevensonians in New York. After Kennedy was able to scotch the Stevenson drive for the nomination at the Democratic convention, I saw a tiny ad in the New York Post for a Stevenson Pledge movement: an attempt by particularly embittered Stevensonians to try to force Kennedy to pledge that he would make Adlai Secretary of State. On going to the meeting, which included the eventually famous campaign manager Dave Garth, I suddenly found myself a leader in a new political organization: the League of Stevensonian Democrats (LSD), headed by the charismatic John R. Kuesell, who was soon to become prominent in the Reform Democratic movement in New York….

An amusing incident symbolized my political shift from Right to Left, while continuing to advance libertarianism. Wearing my extreme right-wing hat, I published a letter in the Wall Street Journal urging genuine conservatives not to vote for Richard Nixon, so as to allow conservatives to regain control of the Republican Party. When Kuesell saw the letter, he reasonably concluded that I was some sort of right-wing spy in the LSD, and was set to expel me from the organization. Coming in to see him, I was prepared to give him an hour lecture on libertarianism, on my hegira from right to left, and so on. As it happened, I was only able to get a few words out of my mouth. "You see," I began, "I'm a…'libertarian'." Kuesell, always quick on the mark, immediately cut in. "Say no more," he said, "I'm a libertarian, too." He immediately showed me a pamphlet he had written in high school, Quo Warranto?, challenging government on their right to interfere with people's lives and property. Since the word and concept of libertarian were scarcely household words, especially in that era, I was utterly astonished. From then on, Kuesell and I worked in happy tandem in the LSD until it withered away after the start of the Kennedy administration. This experience confirmed my view that left-wing Democracy rather than right-wing Republicanism was now the natural field for libertarian allies.

A libertarian cabal within the Adlai Stevenson movement: Now there's a grouplet you won't find in the standard political histories.

Kennedy and his successor, of course, proved even more interventionist than Eisenhower, not just in the domestic sphere but abroad. Rothbard's days among the Democrats didn't last long, and within a few years he was moving further leftward, to Students for a Democratic Society, Ramparts, and other New Left institutions.

Four decades later, a nanny-state hawk dominates the Democratic race, to the establishment's delight and the radical left's dismay. If she holds her ground, I won't be surprised if some of today's liberaltarians end up retracing Rothbard's march to the left.

NEXT: Riding the Screed

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  1. Downside to being libertarian: you don’t fit in anywhere and your kind will never be in power.

    Upside: you get to freely criticize both parties, piss off everyone you work with, and spend your free time polishing your snark skillz.

  2. I wish there was a faction around these days with a handle as cool as “LSD”.

    I won’t be surprised if some of today’s liberaltarians end up retracing Rothbard’s march to the left

    What, both of them?

  3. Is this the same Murray Rothbard who claimed that the Soviet Union was better than America, because they shot Beria, and we didn’t shoot J. Edgar Hoover?

    Nonsense typical of a “liberaltarian.”

  4. Is this the same Murray Rothbard who claimed that the Soviet Union was better than America, because they shot Beria, and we didn’t shoot J. Edgar Hoover?

    No, but it is the same Murray Rothbard who knew a man named Karl Hess, who did indeed make a wisecrack somewhat similar to the one you recounted, minus the part about the Soviet Union being better than America.

  5. This experience confirmed my view that left-wing Democracy rather than right-wing Republicanism was now the natural field for libertarian allies.

    I laughed so hard I blew hot coffee out my nose! Now help me clean off my monitor…

    Seriously, though. While I admire Rothbard’s economics, his political naivete was shocking. It was embarassing reading his history in RfC. Was there any leftist group advocating extreme statism that he didn’t associate with during the 60’s and 70’s.

  6. How is it that this minutia of movement history is not Brian Doherty’s beat?

    Jesse Walker: imperialist.

  7. Did somebody call Rothbard a “liberaltarian”?
    Is that because he wasn’t hawkish enough for you?
    Because he didn’t want to destroy our “enemies”?

    #1 issue, motherf*ckers: War.
    If you can’t see that the government is exercising its ultimate power by killing or threatening to kill people (excluding purely in its citizens’ defense, of course, and we can talk more about that, as I’m sure Rothbard would want us to), I don’t know why you call yourself a libertarian. You are a socially liberal, fiscally stingy statist. There! I’ve said it.

    At least I didn’t call you “Dondero.”

  8. I don’t think “liberaltarian” is considered an insult anymore, HN. It may have originated as one, but now people are applying the word to themselves.

  9. Jesse,
    I don’t really have any problems with the label or with people using it for themselves, but considering that Rothbard was so, so, so anti state, it seems way off for him. (I was referring to commernter Hans Bader’s use of the word.)

  10. The Extispicator wInzzz!

  11. Hey, I’m all down with the Extispicator, so possibly, in his infinite wisdom, he can tell us which of the two parties a person should join if they, say, believed in smaller government, free markets and personal Responsibility.

    Then maybe he could explain his choice, using current examples. Hell, if he can make a decent argument I might even vote that way.

  12. HN: One can be libertarian and against war without having to get in bed with communists (and all the lube that necessitates). Was there any lefist totalitarian state that Rothbard didn’t cheer on?

  13. Er, what totalitarian states did Rothbard cheer on? I know that Leonard Liggio and Stephen Holbrook had some kind words for Lenin and Mao during their New Left days, but I don’t think Murray Rothbard ever moved in that direction. (He did oppose the Cold War, but that’s quite different from cheering for the other side.)

  14. Jesse: in “Betrayal of the American Right” Murray has kind words for Tito and Mao – about how they carried out their revolutions independent of of the Soviet Union. He contends that Stalin curbed the foreign Communist Parties to curry favor with Roosevelt.

    In “Left & Right” (the journal) Murray praised Che Guevara, and penned an editorial about how the situation in the Middle East has improved since “anti-imperialist” governments came to power in Iraq and Syria.

    There was one statist group on the far left that Murray criticized – the Schachtmanite “Third Camp” Independent Socialist Clubs, because they considered Soviet imperialism as bad as US imperialism.

  15. I don’t think the Tito/Mao reference counts, Gene. He was describing their relationship to Stalin, not cheering them on. Rothbard did express pleasure after Tito introduced some market reforms to Yugoslavia, but I think most libertarians would agree with him about that.

    The Che Guevara piece is much more embarrassing for him. But even then I’m not sure it counts as cheering on a totalitarian state, since (as I recall) it was interested in Che as a revolutionary symbol, not a government official. Unlike Holbrook, Rothbard never had any kind words (that I’m aware of) for Cuba’s revolutionary state.

    I don’t remember the Iraq/Syria piece. You may well be correct about it. Can you give a link?

  16. Jesse – there was also his famous glee at the “death of a state” when South Vietnam fell. Admittedly, South Vietnam was very corrupt, and no model for libertarians, but cheering Ho, Ho, Ho was a bit much.

  17. Re title: Ana?s Nin or dB’s reference?

  18. it was interested in Che as a revolutionary symbol, not a government official.

    When are you no longer able to claim you couldn’t see the two merging?

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