The M.I.A.-Rothbard Pro-Redhead Axis


Radley Balko wrote about M.I.A.'s disturbing video for "Born Free" featuring a violent government crackdown on redheads in Reason magazine's August-September issue. At Gonzo Times, they note the strange link between the Sri Lankan pop controversialist and the American economic and philosophical controversialist, libertarian Murray Rothbard, with this quote from page 201-202 of his Ethics of Liberty:

Suppose a society which fervently considers all redheads to be agents of the Devil and therefore to be executed wherever found. Let us further assume that only a small number of redheads exist in any generation – so few as to be statistically insignificant. The utilitarian-libertarian might well reason: "While the murder of isolated redheads is deplorable, the executions are small in number; the vast majority of the public, as non-redheads, achieves enormous psychic satisfaction from the public execution of redheads. The social cost is negligible, the social psychic benefit to the rest of society is great; therefore it is right and proper for society to execute the redheads.

UPDATE: Comments thread reveals that it was mistaken of me to assume any familiarity with Rothbard's work, or to note that I was linking to Gonzo Times' floating of the notion that this peculiarly Rothbardian example just might have influenced M.I.A. He is critiquing and mocking such utilitarian thinking here, not endorsing it; the same way that M.I.A. is trying to paint such a government crackdown on redheads with disappoval, not presenting it as something nifty or to be emulated.


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  1. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think this was Rothbard’s argument AGAINST utilitarianism.

    1. Who said it was FOR utilitarianism?

      1. This was preimptive on my part. Given an answer below it was justified to assume some would not understand the context.

    2. I am not familiar with Rothbard, but I hope that was the case.

      1. I would say that the phrase “might well reason” points towards Rothbard setting this up as a putative argument against utilitarians.

        Another hypothetical along the same lines is ever more increasing versions of the five organ hypothetical.

        1. I would say that the phrase “might well reason” points towards Rothbard setting this up as a putative argument against utilitarians.

          Yeah, no shit. Personally, I think the whole thing is inane.

          And on the five organ hypothetical, what person of any stripe– yes, even progressives would buy into the fact that Dr. Dan did the right thing?

      2. Pick up some of his stuff. Most of it is available at mises.org if your interested. Anatomy of the State has to be my favorite anarcho-capitalist screed.

    3. Where’s my oven mitt? My forehead can’t take it.

  2. Anyone who legitimately could conclude that “The social cost is negligible, the social psychic benefit to the rest of society is great; therefore it is right and proper for society to execute the redheads” needs to be bludgeoned with a two-by-four until their life functions cease.

    “Psychic benefit”?

    Jeezly crow.

    1. You will be receiving a summons to civil court for the pain and suffering you are causing my forehead.

    2. And yet, I had a Sociology professor in college that tried to make the argument that in Chinua Achebe’s book, Things Fall Apart, because society was OK with executing any twin babies that were born (evil!), it was OK, and who the hell were the British to tell them such practices were ignorant and monstrous?

    3. Psychic benefit is a term coined by Mises to describe the psychological or mental benefit(as opposed to material benefits).

  3. therefore it is right and proper for society to execute the redheads.

    I am interested in your ideas, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    1. Wow, RC Dean misses the point *and* demonstrates his ignorance of Libertarianism 101.

    2. you should check out hotair.com. The founder wrote a fascinating book about throwing japs and brown people in concentration camps.


    3. a, you might want to calibrate your sarcasmometer, and perhaps check the fluid levels on your humorizer.

  4. For anyone that doesn’t know Rothbard (shame on you!), he is showing that utilitarians must come to ridiculous, anti-liberty conclusions

    1. utilitarians must come to ridiculous, anti-liberty conclusions

      Like left-libertarian fusionism?

      1. Probably.

    2. Not true – miniarchists like me would argue that anarchocapitalism would result in less liberty than under the most minimal state functioning solely to protect everyone’s liberty equally and punish violators of liberty. Rothbard is taking the miniarchist/utilitarian argument that taxation may be necessary to fund such a minimal state and trying to conflate that with advocating murder, thus turning those of us who, until the State is even remotely under control, should be his allies, into just another enemy of liberty to be fought (perhaps more strongly than real statists).

      Rothbard is a disgrace and the primary reason why libertarianism, and the LP in particular, became a closed cult that refused to accept incrementalism, political pragmatism or any means by which to accomplish their ends.

  5. Also, yu screwed up your links Doherty.

    1. Not my links, Heller, but ones in the text I was cutting and pasting from the link. But they should be gone in moments.

  6. Feel free to take this personally. Some of you need a home lobotomy kit.

  7. I thought it was conclusively established gingers have no souls.

  8. How can commenters on a Libertarian site not be at least somewhat familiar with Rothbard? C’Mon! That is like a Republican saying “who is William F Buckley?”. It jsut doenst happen.
    twilight zone…but without vampires

    1. Hit & Run commenters are at best familiar with Hit & Run posters. Assume zero knowledge of libertarianism on their part.

    2. In fairness, it was John who said he wasn’t familiar with Rothbard. And John’s not a libertarian, he’s a conservative with some libertarian leanings.

    3. You know, there are quite a few libertarians who don’t think that Rothbard is worth bothering with.

      1. If you haven’t read his work how do know he isn’t worth bother with? And if you have read his work you would get the reference. Fuck even if you only had a passing knowledge of Rothbard you should know what the point of the quote above was. There really is no excuse.

        1. Yeah, I knew what the point of the quote was.

          Wasn’t impressed with what I’ve (briefly) read of his and prefer to spend my time on other thinkers and subjects. Do you read everyone extensively before deciding whether they are worth bothering with?

          Just because you don’t read a significant amount of Rothbard doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy to be a libertarian!

          1. No, but I atleast know the position of the person writing. You don’t need the nuanced detail to know the person’s position. A person would assume that a libertarian board would for the most part know Rothbard and his positions and not assume the exact opposite from taking a quote out of context.

            I don’t play the purity test game. this is more of a general knowledge argument than the pure libertarian. I actually detest the purity game.

    4. Because Rothbard is a disingenuous ass who constructs straw men of such enemies to liberty as miniarchists? Oh, and then he becomes a card carrying Republican after turning the LP into a cult.

  9. I’d of loved to have watched Rothbard and MIA work together at the Libertarian Party convention in 1983 – where Rothbard worked with MIA to get a pro-Tamil Tiger libertarian candidate to head the ticket as a way of reaching out to all those disgruntled middle America Tamils disgusted with the liberal politically correct agenda creeping into American life at the time. The LP nominated the marginally buddhist Bergland and Lewis on the ticket instead – of course MIA and Rothbard came to blows as Rothbard did in all matter of personal relationships having sacrificed any human empathy in his pact with the devil at age 19 to become a really brilliant economist and political thinker – he later started serving his sentence in hell early by going to teach at UNLV in hot-t Nevada hoping like Michael Vick that showing up early to serve your sentence might find leniency from from the great horned one below or the State of Virginia in Vicks case – same difference really8

    1. Sorry, you lost me at “I’d of”.

  10. I have no problem with rounding up the redheads, so long as the women are brought to me.

  11. Rothbard in this case was clearly using a straw man argument against utilitarian libertarians. The argument might be valid in regard to utilitarian collectivists, but no libertarian would accept such an argument, especially a utilitarian like Dr Ludwig von Mises.

    1. Correct. Utilitarian Libertarians are operating under the the assumption that the society in question is somewhat more advanced than “Redheads are the agents of the Devil”. Clearly if we’re talking about such a society, a utilitarian position wouldn’t be appropriate.

      And two can play that game anyway. Strict natural rights Libertarians will have to conclude private citizens should have the right to own nuclear weapons. You guys care to defend that or you want to soften up a bit and take a “utilitarian” stance?

      The thing is, if Libertarians end up falling into the Rothbard vs. Friedman squabble then the statists win.

      I read something recently where Rothbard wrote a scathing critique of Ronald Reagan, most of which was true and hit the nail on the head. His main point was that he hated Reagan for hijacking the libertarian populist sentiment of the late 70s and twisting it with all the conservative garbage. Problem is, what would his critique have looked like if we’d have gotten Mondale? Probably worse.

      My point here is Libertarians can’t afford this argument right now. We’re still the minority. Wasn’t it Rothbard, after all, who agreed with Marx that the object wasn’t just to describe the world but to change it? I don’t see how bickering over the finer points helps that.

      1. “Strict natural rights Libertarians will have to conclude private citizens should have the right to own nuclear weapons.”

        Yes, they do.

        1. And two can play that game anyway. Strict natural rights Libertarians will have to conclude private citizens should have the right to own nuclear weapons. You guys care to defend that or you want to soften up a bit and take a “utilitarian” stance?

          Sure. I’ll defend it as soon as you point something out that is wrong with the idea.

        2. See, this is what I can’t comprehend about my more radical libertarian friends: government is not the only force that can take away liberty, and it is not the only coercive force in society. Informal government by a rich sociopath with nuclear arms holding society hostage is far, far worse than a formal miniarchist state.

  12. Rothbards work on cartels and the power elite are great, his lectures on mises are great for long drives.

  13. @ heller and hmm

    If private citizens were legally allowed to own nuclear weapons, what could the government (or anyone) do to prevent a person who wanted to wipe out an entire city (sociopaths/jihadist terrorists/etc.) from doing so?

    Take the aspiring jihadist martyr for example. The person would not need to announce his intention to commit mass murder beforehand – he could merely decide privately to do so. Once the bomb is in his house, we won’t know that the person is walking over to press the “detonate” button until we see the mushroom cloud on the news (if we are fortunate enough not to live in the city being destroyed).

    Would you really want to live in a world where any idiot or fanatic can murder millions of people, and any small faction of fanatics can end civilization?

    I would also note that nuclear weapons (unlike handguns) have no self-defense value for an individual.

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