William Buckley on Murray Rothbard

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William Buckley puts Murray Rothbard in his place. Pages xxiii to xxv from the introduction to American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century by William Buckley.

There exists a small breed of men whose passionate distrust of the state has developed into a theology of sorts, or at least into a demonology, to which they adhere as devotedly as any religious fanatic ever attempted to adhere to the will of the Lord. I do not feel contempt for the endeavor of either type. It is intellectually stimulating to discuss alternatives to municipalized streets, even as it is to speculate on whether God's wishes would better be served if we ordered fried or scrambled eggs for breakfast on this particular morning. Yet conservatives must concern themselves not only with ideals, but with matters of public policy, and I mean by that something more than the commonplace that one must maneuver within the limits of conceivable action. We can read and take pleasure in the recluse's tortured deliberations on what will benefit his soul. Bemanos's Diary of a Country Priest was not only a masterpiece; it was also a bestseller. And we can read with more than mere amusement Dr. Murray Rothbard's suggestion that lighthouses be sold to private tenants who will then chase down the light beam in speed boats and collect a dollar from the storm-tossed ship whose path it illuminates. Chesterton reminds us that many dogmas are liberating because the damage they do when abused cannot compare with the damage that might have been done had whole peoples not felt their inhibiting influence. If our society seriously wondered whether to denationalize the light-houses, it would not wonder at all whether to nationalize the medical profession.

But Dr. Rothbard and his merry anarchists wish to live their fanatical antistatism, and the result is a collision between the basic policies they urge and those urged by conservatives who recognize that the state sometimes is the necessary instrument of our proximate deliverance. The defensive strategic war in which we have been engaged over a number of years on myriad fronts cannot be prosecuted by voluntary associations of soldiers and scientists and diplomats and strategists, and when this obtrusive fact enters into the reckonings of our state-haters, the majority, sighing, yield to reality, whereas the small minority, obsessed by their antagonism to the state, refuse to give it even the powers necessary to safeguard the community. Dr. Rothbard and a few others have spoken harshly of National Review's complacency before the twentieth-century state in all matters that have to do with anticommunism, reading their litanies about the necessity for refusing at any cost to countenance the growth of the state. Thus, for instance, Mr. Ronald Hamowy of the University of Chicago complained about National Review in 1961: "... The Conservative movement has been straying far under National Review guidance ... leading true believers in freedom and individual liberty down a disastrous path ... and in so doing they are causing the Right increasingly to betray its own traditions and principles."

And Mr. Henry Hazlitt, reviewing enthusiastically Dr. Roth-bard's magnum opus, Man, Economy, and State for National Review in 1962 paused to comment, sadly, on the author's "extreme apriorism," citing, for instance, Dr. Rothbard's opinion that libel and slander ought not to be illegalized, and that even blackmail,

"would not be illegal in the free society. For blackmail is the receipt of money in exchange for the service of not publicizing certain information about the other person. No violence or threat of violence to person or property is involved." . . . When Rothbard [Mr. Hazlitt comments] wanders out of the strictly economic realm, in which his scholarship is so rich and his reasoning so rigorous, he is misled by his epistemological doctrine of "extreme apriorism" into trying to substitute his own instant jurisprudence for the common law principles built up through generations of human experience.

"Extreme apriorism"—a generic bullseye. If National Review's experience is central to the growth of contemporary conservatism, extreme apriorists will find it difficult to work with conservatives except as occasional volunteers helping to storm specific objectives. They will not be a part of the standing army, rejecting as they do the burden of reality in the name of a virginal antistatism. I repeat, I do not deplore their influence intellectually; and tactically, I worry not at all. The succubi of world communism are quite active enough to compel the attention of all but the most confirmed solipsists. The virgins have wriggled themselves outside the mainstream of American conservatism. Mr. Hamowy, offering himself up grandly as a symbol of the undefiled conservative, has joined the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.