Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

June 12, 2000


It's time to celebrate, to break out the champagne – or whatever – and give a great big unrestrained hoot of pure unadulterated joy: The Irrepressible Rothbard is finally out! Hot off the presses, and hotter (in a politically incorrect sense) than John Rocker on a New York City subway, this book is Rothbard at the top of his form. For those of you familiar with his work, that is very high up there indeed. For those unfamiliar with Rothbard – economist, historian, social theorist, and leading champion of pure free market economics who wrote dozens of books, and, in his spare time, founded the modern libertarian movement – check out my May 3 column, and my forthcoming biography of Rothbard, out next month from Prometheus Books. But if you've never heard of the man who was one of the great minds of the century – and the chief ideological inspiration behind – and even if you're not particularly impressed with what you know about libertarianism, and are just looking for a good read – buddy, go no further. And get ready for plenty of politically incorrect fun . . .


Even though I read these essays when they were first published – years ago, in the pages of the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Murray's monthly periodical put out by the Center for Libertarian Studies – I had a ball re-reading them, laughing out loud at least once a page, and wishing (to no avail, alas) that Rothbard could be with us again, if only for one day. He died in 1995, and those of us who knew him have yet to recover – or to even believe that he's really gone. With The Irrepressible Rothbard, Murray is back – his unique voice reverberates throughout these pages, merrily debunking the shibboleths of ideological fashion and mocking them so mercilessly, and with such uproarious humor, that the reader can only sit back and give himself up to gales of appreciative laughter. In the pages of the Rothbard-Rockwell Report – or the Triple R, as it was known – Rothbard dealt with practically every topic under the sun, and then some, and the wide range of the excellent selections made by editor and Ludwig von Mises Institute President Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., reflects the broad scope of Rothbard's interests. From politics to culture, from foreign policy to the ins-and-outs of a New York City mayoralty race, from the Nationalities Question behind the latest foreign crisis, to the latest movies and the juicy details of the latest scandal – from the solemn to the absurd – with every issue of the Triple R, Rothbard took his readers on a walking tour inside the mind of a man who combined both the depth of knowledge and gravitas of a man like Ludwig von Mises with the zestfully ironic spirit of an H. L. Mencken – to liken him to two of his biggest heroes. Here is a man who could write Man, Economy, and State, and the two-volumne History of Economic Thought, and such scintillating polemics as "PC Cinema: Psychobabble Gets Nasty," without missing a beat.


Rothbard's very personal form of journalism was a habit acquired early in life, and indeed it was one of his chief joys. It was, for him, a form of relaxation, a break from his real work of constructing an integrated theory of liberty, from methodology and ethics to economics and political economy – and his sense of fun is combined, in these pages, with a passion for liberty that illuminates every word of his prose. There are many gems in this treasure trove, and here's one I especially remembered, although I guffawed anew as I re-read it – In examining the arguments put forth by the advocates of the Gulf War, Rothbard obliterates the contention that Saddam Hussein is "another Hitler":

"Oh, come on, knock off the Hitler analogy already. What are you saying, for God's sake? That if we don't stop him on the Euphrates, we'll have to fight him in the streets of New York? Wouldn't it be great, by the way, if everyone observed a moratorium on Hitler for at least a year? No more "another Hitler" every time someone starts a war someplace, no more bellyaching about Hitler in general. There is more hysteria now, 45 years after his death, than when he was still alive. Isn't this the only case in history where the hysteria against the loser in a war continues, not only unabated but intensified, 45 years after the war is over? And consider too, the guy was only in power for 12 years! In a sense, Hitler will achieve his '1000-year Reich' after all, because it looks as if we'll be hearing about him for another 900 years or so."


How fearlessly true. The barrage of propaganda continues unabated since Rothbard's death, and it seems the endless search for a new Hitler has picked up speed and urgency of late, with candidates ranging from Robert Mugabe to Milosevic to Vlad "the impaler" Putin. Yet Rothbard, far from making us despair of the current state of affairs, lets us laugh at the foibles of our rulers, whose schemes he exposes so trenchantly and with such style. In an incisive analysis of "The Post-Cold War World," written in April 1990, he foresaw the escalating "war on drugs" that would lead us down the slippery slope of intervention in Colombia. For now that the cold war is over, and the Soviets are no longer a threat, the War Party will have to find some fresh approaches, some new way to justify the large military expenditures and our foreign policy of global policing, and various candidates for the position of Global Threat to Democracy have been proposed:

"One of them is 'international narco-terrorism.' As long as the drug hysteria holds up, this menace is useful in justifying any and all invasions of third World countries, since there are usually drugs grown and traded somewhere in each of these nations. The phrase is useful, too, since it combines fear of dark, bearded Terrorists . . . with the drug menace. It is doubtful, however, that narco-terrorism can justify all those super-expensive missiles and nuclear weaponry, since one hopes, at least, that the US government is not contemplating H-bombing Colombia or Peru out of existence."


Rothbard's March 1991 take on the "Nintendo War" is prescient in its focus on the question of Iraqi civilian casualties, in contrast to the televised hi-tech pyrotechnics put out by CNN and the Pentagon (or do I repeat myself?):

"And yet, every once in a great while, some bit of truth manages to peek through the facade: Iraqi refugees in Jordan note that blood is running in the streets in residential neighborhoods in Baghdad; and Ramsey Clark reports that in the major Southern Iraqi city of Basra civilians are being targeted and killed in great numbers. Concerned that more of these reports might shake the 'Nobody Dies' theme, the Pentagon has issued a preemptive strike against such revelations by assuring us that we never, ever, target civilians, that our pilots have gone out of their way and even sacrificed themselves to avoid hitting civilians, but that sometimes – even with 'smart' precision bombs – there is unavoidable 'collateral damage' (sort of like 'side effect' in medicine?) to civilians, and anyway it's all that evil Saddam Hussein's fault for putting military targets near civilian areas."


I thought of Rothbard's phrase, "the 'Nobody Dies' theme," during the Kosovo war, and again after reading Seymour Hersh's stunning revelation of "drug czar" Gen. Barry McCaffrey's war crimes in the Gulf conflict. "Nobody dies" – yeah, right: in the wars of the future, nothing will die but the truth. This will never happen, however, as long as a single copy of The Irrepressible Rothbard is to be found. As the War Party celebrated their non-victory over Iraq, Rothbard enumerated seven tongue-firmly-in cheek "Lessons of the Gulf War," including at the top of the list: "War is Wonderful," followed close on by:

"Don't let them surrender. Too many times Americans have won a splendid war only to lose the peace. One problem is the end game, the whole problem of surrender, who we accept surrender from, on what terms, etc. during the Gulf War, we approached perfection by not letting them surrender. First, we set the goal of 'unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.' When Iraq accepted these terms, we complained that they didn't accept reparations, they weren't clear about coming out with their hands up, and besides, we wanted to hear it from Saddam himself. When Saddam himself complied, we raised all the above objections, and we kept bombing, or 'pounding.' (Hey guys, how about coming up with a synonym for 'pound'? If I had a dime for every time the media used 'pound,' I'd be a very rich man)."


The imagery evoked by Hersh's exposure of McCaffrey's Massacre – half-starved Iraqi soldiers mowed down while trying to surrender – was conjured in Rothbard's prescient prose almost before the smoke cleared, in April of 1991. While commentators on the left as well as the Bushian Right were hailing the Anglo-American "rescue" of poor little Kuwait, Rothbard was zeroing in on the grisly truth – exposed in all its ugliness nearly a decade later. For students of the Gulf War – the first of a long line of wars waged on behalf of the so-called New World Order – I would direct your attention to "Why the War? – The Kuwait Connection," in which the author combines his detailed knowledge of economic history with a libertarian class analysis of the economic and political actors in the Gulf War drama. But the best stuff, from my own viewpoint and interests, in the section entitled "War" is the material dealing with the Balkans. With stunning accuracy, Rothbard – who died years before our "humanitarian" conquest of Kosovo – saw it all coming, and what's more, he saw why and how it would come. . . .


In "US, Keep Out of Bosnia!" Rothbard noted the complete turnaround of the New World Order crowd and in Social Democratic circles on the Serbian Question: these guys were all for keeping Yugoslavia intact before the fall of the Soviet Union, and it was the poor Croats who suffered the ignominy of being the regional "Nazis." But suddenly the leftists, notably the Clinton-Gore campaign team, discovered that the Serbs, too, were "Nazis," and attacked the Bush camp for not – at a minimum – launching immediate air-strikes. If war comes, Rothbard predicted, then it will be in large part a war made by the media:

"The problem is that increasingly we have government by TV clip. All the media have to do is to send some newsmen to a war-torn area, show pictures of torture or detention camps or starvation, and the sentimental fools who constitute Western public opinion, especially in the US, where sentiment and demagogy have long replaced thought, will pressure the US government to 'do something' to set everything right. As usual, it is the fat-cat civilians, the 'experts' and media elite sitting in their plush, air-conditioned offices and bars, that are thirsting for blood, and the youth of the armed forces and the taxpayers who are supposed to supply it."


He didn't live to see the bombs fall on Belgrade – he was spared that, at least – but he saw it in his mind's eye as clear as if it were happening in the summer of 1993. The endless loops of tearful Kosovars, the phony charges of tens of thousands supposedly slaughtered by the Serbs, the self-righteous braying of our laptop bombardiers in the media – he saw it all coming, not too far down the road. In "Hands Off the Serbs." a magnificent paean to the just demands and defiant heroism of the Serbian people, Rothbard predicted that none of the methods traditionally applied by the War Party would work on this brave people, because, as he put it:

"The Serbs are a magnificently gutsy people, a 'primitive' folk who don't give a tinker's damn for 'world opinion' the 'respect of the international community,' and all the rest of the pretentious cant that so impresses readers of the New York Times. What do the Serbs want? It's very clear what they want, and there is no need for the sort of eternal kvetching that Freud indulged in about 'what do women want?' The Serbs want all the Serbs in former Yugoslavia to be part of a new Greater Serbia being carved out of the ethnic mess in the Balkans. They want a Serb nation, and they don't give a rap for any of the considerations that so intensely motivate Establishment World Opinion, and God bless them for that. World Opinion, in turn, doesn't give a rap for a Serb nation. But why should World Opinion hold sway anywhere?"


Why, indeed. Why, to enforce political correctness and "anti-racism" on a global scale, the raison d'etre of the so-called Clinton Doctrine – and naturally the Left jumped on board and signed on to this prescription for perpetual war. As I have often pointed out in this column, the leftist embrace of Clinton's war was practically unanimous. Not since World War II and the bygone days of the "anti-fascist united front" had so many socialists, lefties, and outright Commies donned battle gear and marched off to fight a "good" war – and Rothbard nailed them in advance and by name: the sainted Noam Chomsky, Israeli Hegelian political theorist Shlomo Avineri, social butterfly and Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens, Michael Lerner of the "pro-peace" Tikkun magazine; Michael Foot, "dotty guru of the left-wing of the British Labor Party"; left-wing financier Peter Weiss; Edward Said, "Chilean pest Ariel Dorfman," Todd Gitlin, and various smalltime Trotskyists of the "Third" Camp variety. All signed a whiny letter to In These Times [April 19-May 2, 1993] calling for arming the Bosnian Muslims against Serbian "aggression." This was the beginning of the pro-war sentiment on the Left, and in summing up his opinion of these early cheerleaders for "humanitarian intervention" – most of whom were in the leftist vanguard of the War Party six years later – Rothbard declared: "May they all wind up in Srebenicia as the Serbs come marching in!" Go, Murray, go – let 'em have it with both barrels! I could go on quoting from just this one section of the book for quite a while, but let me just add one final note. . . .


The essay entitled "Invade the World" is alone worth the price of this volume. When the suppression of Hate Crime on a global scale becomes the chief "national interest" of the US, there's only one thing left to do . . .


For antiwar activists, for whom the logic and consistency of the anti-imperialist position is a matter of high importance, at least one essay in this volume is an indispensable godsend: "The Nationalities Question" is an exhaustive and illuminating survey of the post-cold war explosion of ethnic tensions from Bosnia to Burundi to the former Soviet bloc nations; against the centralizing Lincolnian principle of preserving national boundaries at any cost, Rothbard held up the radical decentralist principle of secession, defining the right to national self-determination in libertarian terms. Libertarians will be particularly interested to read his critique of what he calls the "modal libertarian" anti-cultural (and anti-religious) hostility to all nationalism (p. 233). His analysis of the breakup of Yugoslavia, the meaning of Slovenia's successful road to nationhood, his take on "The Cyprus Question" – a separate Northern Cyprus Republic for the Turks, and the rest to Greece – and his fascinating sorting out of the turmoil in the Caucasus – here are plenty of reasons for readers of this column to click on the order form and buy this book online right now.


The Irrepressible Rothbard – a volume well-named – is the kind of intellectual ammunition that the antiwar movement cannot afford to be without. Here, in effervescent prose, is a master polemicist at work – one whose dedication to the cause of peace and liberty was total and unequivocal, and whose knowledge of history was encyclopedic. Lew Rockwell's perceptive Introduction does an excellent job of setting the broader context of Rothbard the social theorist, and giving us a sense of his charmingly unique personality. I envy you, because you're in for a treat: you get to read this stuff for the first time. But you'd better hurry, because this book is flying off the shelves fast . . .

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