Murray Rothbard

From Saul to Murray

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Since my review of a Nicholas von Hoffman book appeared on the site today, I thought I'd post a fun curio from 1973: a syndicated von Hoffman column that sings the praises of the libertarian writer Murray Rothbard. Read it and try to imagine an era when it was possible for a prominent liberal columnist not just to recommend the radical vision of an anarcho-capitalist economist, but to write this sentence in the process: "One of Rothbard's best, new ideas is to shut down the police departments of America."

NEXT: Shaquille O'Neal, Lawman

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  1. Good column. Terrible page layout. Good riddance to dead trees.

  2. Who’d take over shooting dogs?

  3. That one sentence makes Rothbard sound like Bozo the Clown. What a fucking idiot.

    1. ‘Cuz there’s always been police, and society can’t do without them, right?

      1. Name one successful, lasting culture that has existed without law enforcement.

        1. Name one successful, lasting culture that has existed without crime.

        2. Is-Ought fail. Rothbard isn’t talking about historical contingencies. He’s talking about conceivable social arrangements in an anarchical society.

          1. Still waiting. Hater says we can do without law enforcement. Where’s the proof? Who has done it? Can I move there? Sounds like a utopia!

            1. You just love having those po-po out there tucking you in at night, don’t you. Because without them, we might only have the Mafia to deal with in terms of being charged protection money.

            2. You’re the one making a positive argument. What’s the proof that we need law enforcement? I have yet to feel one positive impact of law enforcement on my life.

              1. No edit, but that should read “state monopoly on law enforcement”.

              2. It sounds lovely in Unicorn Village.

                1. Oh, Ben, you sound so devilish, but that is what all the slavers say.

          2. Still waiting. Hater says we can do without slavery. Where’s the proof? Who has done it? Can I move there? Sounds like a utopia!

        3. No state police is not the same thing as no law enforcment.

          1. Aha. Here comes the equivocation.

            1. Ben, it’s not an equivocation, it’s Rothbard’s WHOLE POINT. He never argued against law enforcement; like the Belgian economist Gustave de Molinari, before him, he was arguing for contractual police and legal services, competing in a marketplace.

              The first requisite of being a good debater is to be a good listener. To not even bother understanding a position and then attack it, that’s what unthinking ideologues do.

        4. Just because anarchists dislike a state monopolization of an industry doesn’t mean they don’t want to see a voluntary version of it. There are a number of creative ways for people to voluntarily organize to enforce social and civil codes without a government-sponsored aggressor.

        5. Name one successful, lasting culture that has existed without law enforcement.

          Uhh…London prior to the formation of the Metropolitan Police?

        6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P…..nd_Ireland

          Goto 3rd paragraph.

          I’ve been trying to remember another source, but I’m pretty sure there are contemporaneous accounts of the general public being just about completely enraged at the formal introduction of uniformed police patrolling the streets of London. They were (rightly) seen as spies and an uncivil intrusion by the state into the lives of the people. Way I hear it, they still are…

          1. link fixed:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P…..nd_Ireland

        7. POLICE, not “law enforcement”. Not trying to split hairs, but there’s a difference between, say, some “official” or widely recognized court or jury appointing a deputy to apprehend a specific criminal, and a fucking uniformed army of trigger happy thugs patrolling the streets, spying on the general citizenry, confronting and arresting them on their own judgment, and plaguing them with serious fines and harrassements for petty, victimless infractions and bureaucratic crimes against the state.

          I’m pretty sure what we call “police” is a fairly modern (less than a few hundred years old) phenom.

          Billy Mays: But wait, there’s more!

          Iroquois
          Inuit
          Icelandic
          Australian Aboriginal
          Suomi

          Fuck, how about just about any tribal culture anywhere on planet earth?

          1. Tribal cultures? Really?
            If that’s your idea of success, you’re welcome to it.

            1. Hey, big Ben, you going to address the examples of London, and much of the UK in general, not having any type of professional law enforcement until about 200 years ago? Think you can handle that, buddy? You want to give it a try, big guy?

              1. I’ll take a stab at it –

                The British government of that era simply turned a blind eye to a tremendous amount of theft, assault and extortion. Murder excepted, the law only took an interest if a “respectable” citizen lodged a complaint. Otherwise, they focused on keeping the poor in the slums and out of the way of the middle class.

                It is possible to maintain order (more or less) under those circumstances, but not equal protection of the law. For that you need professional investigators and you need sufficient force to reach into the rougher areas of a city and enforce the law there too.

                I’m not going to pretend that we do a particularly good job now (stupid fucking war on drugs), but the Georgian Brits didn’t even try.

                1. Well, you might be right, but they still had a history of private law enforcement (from Irresponsible Hater’s link above):

                  “The British police function was historically performed by private watchmen (existing from 1500 on), thief-takers, and so on. The former were funded by private individuals and organisations and the latter by privately funded rewards for catching criminals, who would then be compelled to return stolen property or pay restitution.”

                  The point is that Ben asked for an example of a successful culture that functioned without professional law enforcement. England was unquestionably a successful culture. In fact, professional police forces are only relatively recent in human history.

                  All of which makes Ben a moron, but I think that was pretty clear from the get-go.

                  1. The point is that Ben asked for an example of a successful culture that functioned without professional law enforcement. England was unquestionably a successful culture. In fact, professional police forces are only relatively recent in human history.

                    I don’t understand why you are being so generous to the imbecile and doing his homework for him. He wants to know where there existed societies without law enforcement he should look it up for himself instead of assuming something is owed to him. You are enabling his bad habits in terms of human interactions. He is just going to get more demanding in his uncouthness which inevitably leads to higher tax rates.

                  2. Episiarch|9.17.10 @ 9:03PM|#
                    ” …who would then be compelled to return stolen property or pay restitution.”

                    Not taking sides right now but asking:
                    Compelled by whom? If the government compelled those actions, is there a difference between private and public cops?
                    And what happened if they couldn’t do either of the options?

                2. Well, you had to make up some history to get there but still a valiant effort.

                  1. that was directed at heedless

                    1. It is possible to maintain order (more or less) under those circumstances, but not equal protection of the law.

                      To be more specific because I see that there was more backhand than compliment in my response, heedless, so I feel a bit of an obligation towards stating my objection. The Metropolitan Police force was not created for the purpose of providing equal protection. There were very good reasons why the masses objected to its creation.

            2. You said name one. I named five. Tribal cultures don’t count? Says you. Who’s “equivocating” now?

              1. La de da la de da UNICORNS! snort.

                Yeah, well, I bet they never thought of the fact there has never been a society in the history of man kind that has never had a police force. That will stunp them!

                Wait . . . they probably get that question all the time.

                Surely their thinkers have never thought of the objections a pragmatist like me has to their pie in the sky liberdopia. I’ll show ’em!

                Maybe if this Rothbard spent fifty odd years writing on this stuff, he might have thought up an answer or two. Maybe if I went in there willy-nilly spouting shit off the top of my head I would look like an idiot.

                What am I worried about, I am an idiot!

                UNICORNS! Ha Ha Ha.

              2. Irresponsible Hater|9.17.10 @ 9:25PM|#
                “You said name one. I named five. Tribal cultures don’t count?”
                Are you serious? Tribal cultures don’t count in that you can’t honestly claim they didn’t have the equivalent of cops.
                More importantly, they don’t count because even if you could support the claim, what works in tribal cultures doesn’t translate into what works in modern city/state cultures.
                Care to go to the tribal chief every time there’s a mugging?

              1. Did you read your own link?:
                “It took the vision of 41-year old statesman Robert Peel, later a two-time Prime Minister of England, to establish the world’s first permanent police force. In 1829 Peel sponsored the Metropolitan Police Act which passed Parliament.”
                You’re pointing out that ‘bobbies’ are a *government* establishment. You knew that, right?

                1. Right with ya man. Did you read it? Or did you just copy & paste it? (Cuz that’s not the same thing)

                  Specifically, did you read the part you quote which explains that “the world’s first permanent police force” (aka “Bobbies”) wasn’t established until as late as 18fucking29? Catch that part? UK pre-1829 didn’t have a full time army of police. The UK, pre-1829 counts as a “successful society”, right? Which is the point of this sub-thread, that police are a relatively recent development, under the main thread, that cops fucking suck and should be abolished and only completely unimaginative stooges can’t imagine a functioning society without armed goons patrolling the streets for the state.

                  1. Ben|9.17.10 @ 6:24PM|#
                    Name one successful, lasting culture that has existed without law enforcement.

                    One city at one particular time in history is not a “culture,” and the London Metropolitan Police certainly were not the first and only type of law enforcement the British Isles had known. Regardless, the British Isles before and during the early years of Parliament were anything but tranquil and prosperous for the majority of its inhabitants, if “success” may be measured that way. 2000 years of incessant warfare, mayhem and lawlessness preceded the British Empire of the 18th century onward. It was anarchy in all its mindless brutality, barely held together by the feudal system. There was no successful British culture or nation, only competing mobs at war with one another and their foreign counterparts. It wasn’t until Britain became a proper state with objectively defined laws supplanting the arbitrary will and force of the landed gentry and royalty that it began to prosper, but only a few reaped the rewards until much later. Britain did not achieve real and lasting success until the gradual and eventual codification of British common law and the emergence of the parliamentary system of government, i.e. the state.

                    The origin of the British police lies in early tribal history and is based on customs for securing order through the medium of appointed representatives. In effect, the people were the police. The Saxons brought this system to England and improved and developed the organisation. This entailed the division of the people into groups of ten, called “tythings”, with a tything-man as representative of each; and into larger groups, each of ten tythings, under a “hundred-man” who was responsible to the Shire-reeve, or Sheriff, of the County.

                    The tything-man system, after contact with Norman feudalism, changed considerably but was not wholly destroyed. In time the tything-man became the parish constable and the Shire-reeve the Justice of the Peace, to whom the parish constable was responsible. This system, which became widely established in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, comprised, generally, one unarmed able-bodied citizen in each parish, who was appointed or elected annually to serve for a year unpaid, as parish constable. He worked in co-operation with the local Justices in securing observance of laws and maintaining order. In addition, in the towns, responsibility for the maintenance of order was conferred on the guilds and, later, on other specified groups of citizens, and these supplied bodies of paid men, known as “The Watch”, for guarding the gates and patrolling the streets at night.

                    In the eighteenth century came the beginnings of immense social and economic changes and the consequent movement of the population to the towns. The parish constable and “Watch” systems failed completely and the impotence of the law-enforcement machinery was a serious menace. Conditions became intolerable and led to the formation of the “New Police”.

                    This new force superseded the local Watch in the London area but the City of London was not covered. Even within the Metropolitan Police District there still remained certain police establishments, organised during the eighteenth century, outside the control of the Metropolitan Police Office: The Bow Street Patrols, mounted and foot, the latter commonly called the “Bow Street runners”; Police Office constables attached to the offices of, and under the control of, the Magistrates; The Marine or River Police.

                    You may examine history objectively and honestly or you may engage in adolescent name-calling. I suspect you’ll choose the latter. Prove me wrong.

                    1. This entailed the division of the people into groups of ten, called “tythings”, with a tything-man as representative of each; and into larger groups, each of ten tythings, under a “hundred-man” who was responsible to the Shire-reeve, or Sheriff, of the County.

                      Interesting that even you admit that policing began with the dominance of the most organized thugs in a given area. You even believe that to be a necessary requirement for civilization and trade to occur, whereas, it is in the example you give what it has always been and continues to be, an impediment.

                      It was anarchy in all its mindless brutality, barely held together by the feudal system. There was no successful British culture or nation, only competing mobs at war with one another and their foreign counterparts. It wasn’t until Britain became a proper state with objectively defined laws supplanting the arbitrary will and force of the landed gentry and royalty that it began to prosper, but only a few reaped the rewards until much later. Britain did not achieve real and lasting success until the gradual and eventual codification of British common law and the emergence of the parliamentary system of government, i.e. the state

                      That is merely conventional narrative that you attempt to serve as some kind of proof. It doesn’t even serve for the purpose of an argument. Feudalism, the same thing as anarchy? Where do you get this stuff! When one mob became dominant all the previous problems went away and civilization was the result? Laughable. The common law developing through brute force. No, that is not historically correct either. Arbitration is not a modern phenomenon. It is a legal remedy that has come back to the fore after long suppression by the competing state as a legitimate means of settlement. The courts originally acquired their legitimacy through reputation because civil settlement was the only means for most people to redress their grievances with one another as the laws then even more so then than now (but not by much) only served the interest of the political elites. It was that court system that became the bulwark of civilization and commerce, not the one you bend your neck toward. This history is well known but purposely obscured by statist.

                      You left out the only thing that really mattered in the equation. Capitalism. The state was an impediment to the growth of capitalism then just as much as it is an impediment now. To deny that is ludicrous. You would have to believe that the state served a radically more positive purpose then than it does now, and there is nothing from history nor legitimate economics that would lead me to believe that to be the case. Societies that most successfully chained in the cruel edifice of the state were the ones that ultimately flourished. Strong states of arbitrary power like Spain and France built most impressively on the model you exalt (your use of Britain in your example is intentionally disingenuous), whereas states that came into being where societies valued individualism and free commerce, Britain and the Germany of Goethe flourished.

                      You may examine history objectively and honestly or you may engage in adolescent name-calling.

                      It forced you to at least attempt to step up your game after that display of smug stupidity in your previous post.

                    2. Ben|9.17.10 @ 6:24PM|#
                      Name one successful, lasting culture that has existed without law enforcement.

                      To sum up:

                      “Interesting that even you admit that policing began with the dominance of the most organized thugs in a given area.”

                      “Law enforcement,” not professional “policing.” And it didn’t “begin” there, but I had to start somewhere. This is hardly the place to recount the entire history of Britain. Every culture that has ever existed has had some form of law, however primitive or rudimentary, and those laws were “enforced” by a single man or a gang of men, either by force or by mutual consent of the tribal members or by decreee of a council or confederation or king (to name just three instances). And the success or destruction of their culture (omitting natural disasters and other occurrences out of their control) was wholly dependent upon their laws, their idea of man’s proper place in the world.

                      “Feudalism, the same thing as anarchy? Where do you get this stuff!”

                      Definition of ANARCHY
                      a : absence of government b : a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority

                      So, according to you, there was no anarchy in medieval Britain. And yet they were “successful.” Noted.

                      “That [British history] is merely conventional narrative that you attempt to serve as some kind of proof.”

                      History is an arbitrary “narrative” that cannot be examined objectively? That would include your own “narrative,” correct? Noted.

                      “The common law developing through brute force. No, that is not historically correct either. Arbitration is not a modern phenomenon.”

                      Not “through” or because of brute force. Despite it. And yes, you are right: whenever a dispute arose in pre-industrial Britain, the antagonists sat down and discussed it politely over a nice Chardonnay. All that internecine warfare? A misunderstanding! Part of my arbitrary narrative.

                      “You left out…Capitalism. The state was an impediment to the growth of capitalism then just as much as it is an impediment now. To deny that is ludicrous.”

                      Who “denied” it? My comments were not intended to be a treatise on economics. Not mentioning capitalism is not the same thing as “denying” it. But you knew that.

        8. Neanderthal. They lasted longer than our present culture.

      2. Name one successful, lasting culture that has existed without slavery.

    2. He’s still got you beat. It took you two sentences.

      1. well played

  4. My favorite Rothbard remark is when he said that how — in the twenty-year period starting in late 40s — he went from being considered a hard-right conservative to a far-left liberal — without changing a single position.

    1. I’m currently working my way through Rothbard’s “Betrayal of the American Right” and it’s a fascinating journey through the evolution of the libertarian movement.

      Anyone that considers themselves to be a libertarian really owes it to themselves to read at least a few of Rothbard’s works. He’s extraordinarily an extraordinarily logical thinker, very optimistic, and doesn’t compromise on principles.

  5. Is that how the internet looked back then? No wonder the 1970s has been universally panned as the worst decade in history.

    1. All of history? Wow. My parents must have lied about the 1930s.

      1. The 70s were responsible for Jimmy Carter. Never Forget.

        1. FWIW, airlines were privatized and microbrewing legalized under Jimmy. Based on that alone I would say he rates considerably higher than Bush and Obama.

          1. So is he or is he not history’s greatest monster?

            1. Which one, Bush or Obama? Or the Office of the President, in general?

              1. Michael Bay.

  6. Lefties were much better at pretending not to be across-the-board supporters of all things The Man back in the day. The job application for an upper-management slot in The System had a “Talk a little shit about me here:” blank on it. Which was the style at the time.

    1. thing is they’ve been the establishment long enough that they are now invested in preserving most of the institutions which have been shaped by their policy.

      Despite their belief that they are outsiders fighting “The System”, they actually spend most of their time defending social security, medicare, welfare, the public school system, government jobs, stimulus spending, and so on.

  7. Shut down the police department? We here in Oakland, CA are way ahead of the libertarian curve then. Who knew.

    1. There is hope for you yet, Oakland.

  8. Some funny stuff in the rest of the article.

    Interesting to peruse these old newspapers from the 70s.

  9. I read “For New Liberty” in 1992 or so, and still have it in my library. Excellent read.

    I remember liking how Rothbard compared the Supreme Court to a group of High Priests whose job it was to reconcile the ways of the All Powerful (Govt) to the populace.

  10. Huh, reminds me something I read in a recent article about Jerry Brown:

    “With Watergate and the aftereffects of the ’60s, mainstream American liberalism moved simultaneously to the left and the right; for the first time in decades, there was a quasi-libertarian current in the Democratic Party.”

    Who wrote that?

  11. Huh, reminds me a piece I recently read about Jerry Brown:

    “With Watergate and the aftereffects of the ’60s, mainstream American liberalism moved simultaneously to the left and the right; for the first time in decades, there was a quasi-libertarian current in the Democratic Party.”

    1. That will never happen again. Not while my friends and I are in control.

      POST GRADS OF THE WORLD UNITE!

      Destroy the phantom libertarian menace!

    2. Did this piece about Jerry Brown claim that he was part of that “quasi-libertarian current in the Democratic Party”?

      Now that I think about it, “quasi-” is a good word to use in describing Brown, whatever comes after. Of course, most people pronounce it with a long “a.”

  12. …and a shortish “i.”

    1. Quasi-! Quasi for feeling like voting
      . . . . . . for Jerry
      Quasi-! Quasi for feeling so State of Blue.

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