I probably shouldn’t waste your time with a long, drawn-out introduction when I’m about to ask you to watch an hour long video. Then again, I don’t necessarily expect many of our readers to take the full hour out of their busy Monday just to watch a Murray Rothbard speech, and those that do are probably as big of liberty geeks as I am.
So for the diehards, I present to you this fantastic Murray Rothbard speech from the 1982 Libertarian International Convention in Zurich, Switzerland (does this still exist? Road trip, anyone?) in which he discusses the six stages of the libertarian movement in the United States. If that weren’t enough to entice you to watch the entire thing, Rothbard’s fantastic suit and bow tie should seal the deal.
I found Rothbard’s breakdown of the history of the libertarian movement in the United States from his perspective fascinating as in many ways the various stages he describes parallel my own journey through the libertarian movement. To recap:
Stage 1: The Lone Nut Stage
This stage is when there is simply one person, alone in the world, thinking his wacko libertarian ideas to himself. I felt this way for much of my life, from a young age when I found myself questioning my parents about this law or that law. Even after I later found the writings of my early influences such as Harry Browne and Ron Paul, in my own life I often felt like the “lone nut” – the only one in my immediate surroundings that held strong libertarian views, sitting around reading Rothbard and Hoppe while the rest of the Statist world chugged right along.
Stage 2: The Buddy Stage
This describes the stage where the “lone nut” finds or converts another “lone nut” to share their passion for liberty with.
Rothbard describes how people are often converted to the ideas of liberty not through a “verbal bludgeoning”, but rather through a “shock of recognition” – a moment where something is articulated that they always believed but could never quite put into words.
I believe such a “shock of recognition” occurred several years ago during a conversation I had with my friend and now-fellow-Lion of Liberty John “Odie” Odermatt. This was during the early stages of Ron Paul’s 2007-2008 Presidential run. After going on a lengthy anti-war diatribe, Odie was shocked to find out that it wasn’t some Democrat candidate I was a fan of, but a Republican from Texas named Ron Paul! I believe this moment was a “shock of recognition” that helped awaken him from his neoconservative coma, break out of the left-right paradigm and start him down the path towards liberty.
Stage 3: The Third Buddy Stage
Once a third “buddy” has been found, a significant leap has been made. It is no longer just a couple of “lone nuts”, but is now a “school of thought”. As Rothbard puts it, while it might be easy to dismiss a couple of lone nuts, once you have a third buddy people are inclined to say “Gee, three people believe this crazy thing, maybe there’s something to it!”.
This again reminds me of the early stages of Ron Paul’s 2007-08 Presidential campaign; fellow future writers Brian and Odie were both becoming interested in the ideas of liberty around this same time and the three of us would begin to have frequent discussions about Ron Paul and libertarianism in general. While one extra person may not seem like much, the psychological effect of now having more than just a “buddy”, but an actual “group” beginning adds a level of confidence and encouragement to further discussion and development of the ideas.
If two other people are interested in liberty, why not four? Or five, six, seven? This is how we get to…
Stage 4: The Circle Stage
Rothbard describes this as when a small discussion group begins to form among a circle of friends – a “libertarian study group”, if you will. In the 1950′ s and 1960′s Murray was part of such a group called the “Circle Bastiat”, which would meet in a living room to discuss the ideas of liberty. In this stage, there are relatively few problems. While there may be disagreements, everyone in the group is generally interested in the ideas. There is no discussion of strategy, no accusations of “selling out”, nor concerns about growing the size of the group. As Murray says, “In a good year, there would be one per year” addition to the group.
This parallels what we called the “liberty chain”, a virtual living room through an email chain that was started by myself and my fellow libertarians from the “third buddy” stage. Every once in a while, one of us would find another friend interested in the ideas and would add him to the group, and it grew slowly and organically over the years. It’s from this “liberty chain” that the Lions of Liberty would eventually emerge.
Stage 5: The Movement Stage
This is the stage where many others are beginning to adopt the ideas of liberty, and grassroots activism begins to take place. This is when things are taking off very rapidly, where one begins to find other libertarians he never knew of before, as the ideas begin to seep into the culture. I found it interesting that this is the stage that Rothbard believed the United States to be in at the time – and that was in 1982! Imagine if he had been alive to see the ’08 and ’12 Ron Paul campaigns!
One humorous observation Rothbard makes about this stage is that he realized that libertarianism had become a movement when he would read a libertarian article and say “Who wrote this?” It was that rare to find a piece of libertarian literature that was written by somebody that Rothbard didn’t already know! This is similar nowadays, where it seems like a day doesn’t go by that I don’t stumble upon a new libertarian blog or website I’d never heard of before.
Another interesting note about this stage is Rothbard’s discussion of how libertarians were beginning to see themselves as a separate movement, whereas previously they had often just been bundled in with conservatives. This is a particularly intriguing observation as it relates to the libertarian movement today, in which many libertarians are actually entering or reuniting with the more traditional “conservative” movement in an effort to become more mainstream. I’d be curious as to what Rothbard would think about this perhaps unforeseen development.
The Movement Stage is one where some problems do begin to arise. As with any large scale organization or movement, there will be many disagreements over strategy on how to spread the message and grow the movement. We see this in full force today, as
libertarians (ourselves included!) are often found bickering over everything from Rand Paul to whether or not libertarians should like cupcakes. This is when other libertarians realize they might not actually like every other libertarian on the planet, and that “a lot of jerks are libertarians too”, as Rothbard describes it. Of course, you don’t need to like someone personally to share their ideas about liberty.
“The libertarian movement doesn’t offer a rose garden, only liberty…and that’s enough!” – Rothbard.
Stage 6: The Political Stage
Murray saw this stage beginning to emerge in the United States at the time of this speech in 1982. After Ron Paul’s two recent Presidential runs, and considering the current surge of libertarian Republicans in Congress along with more mainstream discussion of libertarian issues, it’s safe to say that at this point we are firmly in the political stage.
Rothbard believed that politics was a necessary part of the movement, despite the fact that he believed that real solutions to societal problems would be found outside of politics. He describes the following benefits to the “political stage” of the movement:
- Mass Education – This was an important element of the Ron Paul campaign. For the first time, the national debate became focused on topics such as the Federal Reserve, undeclared wars, the War on Drugs and the emerging police state – topics well outside the mainstream and long considered taboo. This is beneficial because most people only think about issues in the context of a political debate or campaign. Since there is greater interest in the issues in these forums, it is a great chance to bring the ideas to masses.
- Increasing the libertarian climate – Many people that are exposed to libertarian ideas through the various political campaigns will not actually get involved in politics at all. But many will become libertarians in their views regardless, and this helps to increase the libertarian climate in the country.
- Political Pressure - A large movement helps to create a strong political pressure group. Even with only a small amount of the vote – Rothbard cites 5%, a number that I believe it is safe to say the Ron Paul Republicans and libertarians clearly have – this is enough to create pressure upon politicians to cater to that group. Politicians care about their survival, and will often vote the way of a pressure group simply to appease them. Interestingly, Rothbard points out how in this regard, libertarians should be thrilled when their message is “co-opted” by the Establishment. Even if establishment politicians merely begin using libertarian rhetoric, this is a good thing! They can now have their feet held to the fire on these issues, and as Rothbard puts it, “we can continue to make even more demands, until the State finally goes away!”
- Winning Office - It may not happen often, but when a libertarian does win office, some terrific things can happen. If a political candidate has a forum to spread ideas, imagine the forum a certified Congressman has! Ron Paul certainly had a greater platform to spread the ideas of liberty as a Congressman than he would have if he had simply been a candidate a few times and never actually won a seat. And if enough libertarians ever really do get elected, they could pass laws to roll back the State. Even if this isn’t likely, it is always a positive to through monkey wrenches into the State’s machinery.
Overall, Rothbard believed the libertarian movement should remain multi-faceted. There should be mass educational campaigns – as we aim for on this website – and mass political movements, which we see today through the Libertarian Party, the “Ron Paul Republican” / libertarian wing of the Republican Party, and issues-based movements such as the ongoing fight against NDAA.
Towards the end of the speech, Rothbard describes the 5 key questions that libertarians should attempt to reach broad agreement on. But seeing as this is the longest edition of Mondays with Murray to date, I think we’ll save that for next week. Until then, you have a full week to check out the speech, or…
Check out our past installments of Mondays with Murray:
- 3/11/13 - Rothbard on Lysander Spooner
- 3/4/13 – Rothbard on Statism
- 2/25/13 – Rothbard on John Bolton and Ann Coulter
- 2/18/13 – Rothbard vs. Krugman on $9 Minimum Wage
- 2/11/13 – Time To Hoard Nickels
- 2/4/13 - The Death of Keynesian Economics
- 1/28/13 – Competition and Monopoly
- 1/21/13 – Rothbard Down The Memory Hole?
- 1/14/13 – We Are Not The Government
- 1//7/13 – Why Does Someone Become A Statist?
- 12/10/12 – Rothbard on Conspiracy Theory
- 12/3/12 – Rothbard on Secession
- 11/26/12 – Rothbard on the Drug War
- 11/19/12 – Rothbard on the Euro Crisis
- 11/12/12 – Rothbard on the Lions of Liberty
- 11/5/12 – Rothbard on Voting and Gas Lines
- 10/29/12 – Mythbusting the “Free Market Cartel”
- 10/22/12 – Rothbard on the Two Party Charade
- 10/15/12 – Rothbard on Private Roads
- 10/8/12 – Rothbard on Private Law
- 10/1/12 – Rothbard on Ron Paul
- 9/24/12 – Rothbard on QE