Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rothbard's "lost" masterwork

“Libertarians have given considerable thought to refining their basic principles and their vision of a libertarian society,” Murray Rothbard wrote. “But they have given virtually no thought to a vitally important question, that of strategy: Now that we know the nature of our social goal, how in the world do we get there?”

The one legendary piece of Rothbardiana that remains unpublished and out of reach for most of us is his April 1977 privately circulated Cato Institute memo Toward a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change. Justin Raimondo has called Murray’s 178-paged manuscript “a blockbuster” that “elaborated on a fully worked out strategic theory: The need for a movement, the concept of cadre, the necessity of calling for the abolition of state power as quickly as possible, the twin deviations of opportunism and sectarianism, the nature of ideological entrepreneurship, the question of leadership, the role of reason and emotion in building a movement, the error of the infallible party, and a historical analysis of the Old Right libertarian movement from the early fifties.” Toward a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change was, he added, “a masterful manifesto and political manual for activists, written from the perspective of a great libertarian theoretician who was also a hardboiled political realist, a manuscript that shows Rothbard, the philosophical man-of-action, at the top of his form.”

Unfortunately, the cover page of the manuscript, now almost three decades old, contained this note: “STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL. Not to be quoted, discussed or circulated without the written or otherwise expressed permission of the author.” As Raimondo wrote in An Enemy of the State, his biography of Rothbard:

“Rothbard was not the author of this note, although at the time he allowed himself to be convinced that it was necessary. What was in one sense Rothbard’s most immediately useful book, Toward a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change was deemed too ‘hot’ for general circulation; even to Rothbard’s closest friends and collaborators, it seemed axiomatic that any book that quoted Lenin and objectively analyzed the strategic and organizational methods of both Marxism and right-wing authoritarians (as well as the American revolutionaries, classical liberals, and others) was bound to offend all the wrong people.

“It was only natural, given human nature and especially the nature of such a small and tightly knit movement, that such a pledge of confidentiality would arouse widespread notice, not only among libertarians, but among their declared enemies. Not long after it was written, the book’s existence was revealed in an article in National Review, which implied that Rothbard was an admirer of Lenin and that he was promulgating a conspiracy of anti-American revolutionaries who sought to subvert the very foundations of the Republic, if not Western civilization.”

I think that, 11 years after Murray’s death, it is appropriate and even crucial that Toward a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change be published and circulated — especially now, when warmongering neocons so thoroughly permeate Cato and the “official” libertarian movement, and when libertarians of both the left and paleo-right variety work so desperately to build a coalition movement.

To get a taste of Murray’s unpublished masterwork, read “Strategies for a Libertarian Victory,” a condensed version that first appeared in Libertarian Review in August 1978 and is now made available by the Rothbard Caucus of the Libertarian Party. You’ll find it right here.
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At 6:25 PM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

You know, I think Mr. R. was just a bit confused on this point. We have this memo but it already appears, in a more finalized form, in Ethics of Liberty.

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