A correspondent points me at an old piece
by Murray Rothbard criticizing me for my failure to hate the state, and asks for comment.
Rothbard's basic point is correct. I do not regard support for government as an act of willful evil but as an intellectual mistake; my arguments (and his) could be wrong, and some sort of government might be the least bad alternative among available human institutions. And even if we are correct, it is not unreasonable for other people to think we are not, as lots of intelligent people I know do.
The flip side of that is that I think one consequence of his attitude was to make him willing to be deliberately dishonest in his arguments—all being fair in war. That included being dishonest in the arguments he made to fellow libertarians.
My standard example was an exchange long ago, after a talk of his in which he claimed that Reagan did not really cut government and offered as evidence the increase in the nominal federal budget. I pointed out that, while his conclusion might for all I knew be true, his evidence combined whatever growth had occurred in the real size of the federal government with the effect of inflation over the period.
His response was that that was all right; because Reagan was responsible for the inflation, it was appropriate to use it to make his performance look worse. Think that through and he was saying that it was all right to misrepresent the evidence to his fellow libertarians as long as the result was to make them think badly of someone they should think badly of, to lead them to the correct conclusion for the wrong reason. I don't regard that as a desirable approach to political (or other discussion). Or, for that matter, a libertarian one—we are generally opposed to fraud as well as force.
I've written at some length online in the past on what I consider Rothbard's dishonesty with regard to economic history, in particular his misrepresentation of Smith (unfavorable) and his French contemporaries (favorable); see this old post
for examples and further links. And there have been other examples. Murray was bright, articulate, and could be charming, but I don't think he could be trusted.
Labels: Friedman Rothbard anarchy Smith