David Gordon is hopeful. “Surely it is grounds for optimism when one finds a knowledgeable account of [Murray] Rothbard in The New Republic!” he remarks. David is referring to “Rand Paul Will Break Libertarian Hearts, Just Like Reagan Did” by Jeet Heer. An excerpt:
… The late Murray Rothbard, a towering intellectual and political activist in libertarian circles, was a striking example. During the 1940s, he belonged to New York’s Young Republican Club, but during the Cold War he concluded that the GOP’s militarism was a betrayal of the traditional anti-war and isolationist principles of the Old Right. During the 1950s, Rothbard preferred Democrat Adlai Stevenson to Eisenhower, and while some other libertarians like Milton Friedman jumped on the Goldwater bandwagon in the early 1960s, Rothbard still distrusted the Republicans. “Goldwater and the Conservative Movement are not only not libertarian, but the preeminent enemies of liberty in our time,” Rothbard wrote in 1964 in a letter to a small libertarian magazine called the Innovator. “For the Goldwaterites are, first, aggressive and ardent champions of American imperialism and intervention in political affairs all over the globe; and, second and most important, are eager advocates of nuclear war against the Soviet Union.” During the heady days of the late 1960s, when he dreamed of a new politics cutting across the traditional left-right spectrum, Rothbard even forged an alliance with the Maoist Progressive Labor Party, preferring them to Nixon’s Republicans.
Although Rothbard had a propensity for extremist gestures, he shouldn’t be dismissed as a fringe figure, at least not among libertarians. His application of Austrian economic theory to America, formulating a critique of the Federal Reserve as a central source of bad policy, was widely influential, not least on Rand Paul’s father, Ron Paul. Moreover, Rothbard’s allergic reaction to the Republican Party was widely shared within the libertarian movement, culminating in 1971 with the formation of the Libertarian Party (LP).
The party—founded by David Nolan, an anti-statist advertising man who was disgusted by Nixon’s embrace of wage and price control—quickly gained the support of a wide swath of the libertarian movement, including generous subsidies from David and Charles Koch. David Koch was even the LP’s vice presidential candidate in 1980. In the 1970s, the Koch Brothers seemed to have shared Rothbard’s hope that libertarians forge a partnership with the radical left. In the mid-1970s, Charles Koch made a bid to buy The Nation magazine, hoping to use it as a wedge for an opening to left-of-center opinion. When that attempt failed, Koch financed Inquiry, a libertarian journal that published many left-wing radicals like Noam Chomsky.
For Rothbard, the mission of the LP was to be a “party of principle,” as against the GOP, a party of expediency. This disgruntlement with the GOP remained core to the LP’s identity. Andre Marrou, who was the LP’s presidential candidate in 1992, despite his checkered history of not making child care support payments, voiced the common consensus when he said in 1991 that Nixon “really disappointed me. He didn’t cut government like he said he would—just like Bush and Reagan.” After a lifetime of spurning the GOP, Rothbard returned to the Republican fold in 1992, just three years before his death, giving his blessing to George H.W. Bush. Rothbard became a born-again Republican because he saw Pat Buchanan’s success in the primaries as proof that there was a still a vital anti-establishment wing to the party. Ron Paul, who was deeply swayed by the ideas of Rothbard and his ideological mate Lew Rockwell, made a similar return to the GOP. The Koch Brothers, perhaps out of pragmatism, have also turned their energies toward the Republican Party.
Yet if there has been a Republican turn among libertarians, it is worth remembering that this movement has come from people who don’t see the GOP as their ideal vehicle but rather as a necessary evil. Moreover, Rand Paul is not necessarily one of those people. Unlike his father, he didn’t leave the Republican Party and return as a blistering libertarian voice. He has always been a Republican, albeit one that spoke with a libertarian lilt …