[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Today is Murray Rothbard’s birthday; and tomorrow, as Dan D’Amico reminds me, is Gustave de Molinari’s. Seems to me this conjunction deserves commemoration, a sort of market anarchists’ equivalent of Presidents’ Day – without Massa George or Emperor Abe. (Murrlinari Day? Perhaps it’s appropriate that it falls roughly between Presidents’ Day and the Ides of March.)
The parallels between Molinari, “the law of supply and demand made into man,” and Rothbard, “Mr. Libertarian,” are interesting. Both were leading representatives of the major free-market traditions of their day (the French Liberal and the Austrian respectively) who dismayed their mentors by pushing the logic of market principles to the point of replacing the full range of government services entirely. Both were extremely prolific writers who had broad interests in, and made important contributions to, economics, philosophy, history, sociology, and political theory. Both sought to bridge traditional left/right divides. Both were fierce critics of imperialism and war. Both wrote with engaging clarity. Molinari pioneered market anarchism in the 19th century, while Rothbard was its foremost proponent in the 20th.
The differences in their reception are somewhat puzzling: Molinari gained mainstream recognition and respect (while an obscure figure in our day, he was quite celebrated in his own), but won very few converts to his free-market version of anarchism (Benjamin Tucker’s version seems to have been developed independently); Rothbard gained relatively little mainstream recognition or respect – but many more converts. Go figure.
Anyway – happy birthday, Gustave and Murray!
This interestingly points to a strange, almost Dickensian dualism I’ve noticed in history… when the state becomes more predatory, the people become more libertarian in their sentiments, even though they may not understand it very well. But on some gut level they realize “we’ve been robbed”…
So in Molinari’s day, he could be accepted by the mainstream because he was no real threat to the status quo. Whereas Rothbard, even considered “a fringe libertarian”, managed to at least put a small thorn in the state’s side.
If Rothbard had been celebrated widely as a genius, there might have been a real threat to state hegemony. And since the state has more control over the ideological machinery as well these days, he was relegated to the fringe.
I think this also explains why technocratic liberals and neo-conservatives seem so desperate and strident in their writings… looking around you, your first impulse might be to tell them “relax, you’ve totally gotten everything you wanted already, so chill out a bit…”
But in reality, they know deep down that their system is extremely fragile and on the brink of collapse at any moment.
I learn from B. K. Marcus that March 3rd was also the birthday of William Godwin. He wasn’t exactly a market anarchist — though he wasn’t exactly an anti-market anarchist either. (His views on property and commerce were more complicated than most of the textbook summaries, and I won’t try to summarise him here; go read him yourself.) But certainly he was a major influence on subsequent anarchism of all flavours.
Actually that’s a link to the first edition; Godwin’s somewhat clearer in the revised edition. See especially this section for Godwin’s views on property.