Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) was an economist at UNLV and is considered to be one of the most important figures of the post-war libertarian movement. Rothbard earned his BA and PhD from Columbia (his dissertation on the banking panic of 1819 is still cited by economic historians), so it’s not like he was some hack with an unwarranted vendetta against the government. His contributions to a more libertarian world can be felt in numerous ways, from think tanks to economics graduate programs to the presidential campaigns of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012. His daring foray into anarchy is, of course, his most important contribution to the scholarly world. However, I don’t see why this man has such a cult classic following within the libertarian movement. Could somebody explain this to me?
My best guess is that Rothbard’s strategy of appealing to the intelligent layman with well-disguised fallacies instead of discussing his research with the scholarly community has something to do with it, but this is only a guess.
His work just has “Cold War” written all over it. For instance, the first book of Rothbard’s that I cracked open, Conceived in Liberty Volume 1, read like a 1970s Marxist diatribe on economic development (by the way: see Dr Delacroix’s “The Export of Raw Materials and Economic Growth: A Cross-National Study” in the American Sociological Review for an excellent rebuttal of Marxist development theory). Again, I think part of this can be blamed on the time period he was writing in (mid-1970s), but even though it must have really sucked to be a scholar during the Cold War era there is really no good excuse for Rothbard’s present-day status as a saint within libertarian circles.
Not only has his scholarship become a stepping stone rather than a shrine (as all scholarship inevitably becomes), but the cult-like attitudes of some of his fans makes me cringe as a libertarian. At any rate, I’d really like to know why he has such a devoted following, and why his followers seem to think that their devotion to him is a good thing for the movement.