Apr 2, 2008

Lew Rockwell's rebuttal of William F. Buckley's obituary of Murray Rothbard

Buckley Defames Rothbard
In his obituary of Murray N. Rothbard, William F. Buckley, Jr., attempts to blacken a great man's life and work (*National Review*, 2/6/95). His essay, entitled "Murray Rothbard, RIP," should actually be called, "I Hate Rothbard and I'm Glad He's Dead." Worse, it is error-ridden, confused, and dishonest.

The day after Rothbard's death, Buckley received--through *National Review* and his personal machine--a three-page announcement on Rothbard's professional career, complete with citations to his major works. There can thus be no excuse for errors of fact, especially in an obituary, and *National Review* must correct them immediately.

Buckley claims that Rothbard wrote a "four-volume history of thought, the final two volumes of which will appear in the spring." "From all appearances," Buckley then announces, scholars
are "paying it the attention it deserves"--that is, they are ignoring it.

But Rothbard's *two volume* history of economic thought (published by Edward Elgar) appears this ~lVeek. Scholars can't ignore a work before it is available. Not even Rothbard lived to see it. What appears later this year is a much-awaited two-volume collection of Rothbard's best journal articles published in Elgar's "Economists of the Century" series.

Buckley may think such details are unimportant, but then he was wrong to feign an interest in scholarship, make up facts to suit his bias, and use them to defame a dead man whose life was
devoted to the highest academic ideals.

In a book review appearing "in 1957," Buckley writes, "Henry Hazlitt observed that [Rothbard] suffered from 'extreme apriorism. '" Hazlitt, a close friend and lifelong colleague of Rothbard's, cannot protest this mischaracterizatiofl. He died in 1993.

Hazlitt reviewed Rothbard's *Man, Economy, and State* in 1962, the year the book was published. By citing the year 1957, Buckley makes verification difficult, and for good reason.

Wrote Hazlitt (*National Review*, 9/29/62): Rothbard "has succeeded.... It is brilliant and original and profound.... It is in fact the most important general treatise on economic principles since Ludwig von Mises' *Human Action*."

Buckley also misquotes Hazlitt. The phrase "extreme apriorism" is not Hazlitt' s, but Rothbard's, as the original review made clear. It is drawn from his highly influential article published five years earlier in the *Southern Economic Journal*, "In Defense of Extreme Apriorisln."

Hazlitt's remark reflects his judgment that deductive methodology should apply to economics and not to legal theory; in the literature, *apriorism* is not a synonym for dogmatism, as Buckley seems to think.

Like one of Buckley's earlier attacks on Rothbard (*New York Times*, 2/16/71), this one falsely maintains that private lighthouses were central to Rothbard's economic program, and then
ridicules the idea. Most likely, Buckley has confused Rothbard with Ronald Coase, the Nobel laureate who showed that lighthouses have historically been private.

Buckley also claims that "in recent years [Rothbard] disavowed Milton Friedman on the grounds: that in endorsing the idea of school vouchers, Professor Friedman had sold out to the enemy, the State." In fact, Friedman and Rothbard clashed on the voucher question in 1974.

And vouchers trivialize their differences. As economics students know, Friedman is a Chicago School Monetarist and Rothbard is an Austrian School Misesian. They disagree on everything from monetary theory to methodology. But to understand this requires a modicum of study and intellectual patience.

There is also Buckley's claim, "which pains even to recall it," that "Rothbard physically applauded Khrushchev in his limousine as it passed by on the street." The year was 1959, and Dwight D. Eisenhower had invited Nikita Khrushchev--who had repudiated Stalin and emptied the Gulag of millions of political prisoners--to tour the U. S. The visit raised the possibility of peace. Said a young Richard M. Nixon: it was "justified and wise" (*New York Times*, 9/21/59).

But Buckley would have none of it. He devoted issue after issue of *National Review* to denouncing the event, sold "Khrushchev Not Welcome Here" bumper stickers, orchestrated a letter-writing drive, ran a press campaign on "What YOU Can Do About Khrushchev's Visit Now," and put on a rally the day of his arrival. In the pages of *National Review*, he attributed any anti-war sentiment to the tiny U. S. Communist Party.

Rothbard, in the tradition of the Old Right, saw the warfare state as part and parcel of the welfare state: both diminish our liberties. For Rothbard, peace might mean a return to normalcy, and an end to the "totalitarian bureaucracy" that Buckley had called necessary to fight the Cold War. Thus Rothbard, like Nixon, never signed on to Buckley's heated crusade.

But did Rothbard actually stand on the streets of New York to applaud Khrushchev? Of course not, and no one who knew him could imagine him fighting a crowd for a peek at a politician. The last time Buckley raised the issue-·-in the 1971 *New York Times* article--he wrote that "Rothbard broke with *National Review* eleven years ago on the question of Khrushchev's visit." There
was no claim that Rothbard "physically applauded." That is a posthumous invention.

Rothbard was the only *National Review* writer who refused to join Buckley's hopped-up effort. Yet far from having "broken" with *NR*, Rothbard reviewed economics books for the magazine until
1961; Khrushchev came in 1959.

The break actually occurred during the Vietnam War, and Rothbard wasn't the only one cast out. Buckley expelled all the skeptics of empire from his magazine and the conservative movement.

Once outside the *National Review* circle, Buckley concludes in his obituary, Rothbard died "huffing and puffing" with "as many disciples as David Koresh. "

That's a delusion. Rothbard became nlore prolific than ever, influencing three generations of economists, philosophers, historians, journalists, and activists the world over.

When historian and journalist E.J. Dionne deciphered the intellectual influences on the November 1994 election and the new Congress, he named Murray N. Rothbard and his mentor Ludwig von
Mises.

William F. Buckley's name didn't appear, and no one would expect it to. The Cold War, now over, was Buckley's life. Everyone else has moved on.

~ Lew Rockwell, "Buckley Defames Rothbard," January 30, 1995

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