I have so many irons in the fire that I seldom have the time to form any one of them. This is a flaw of mine, and one on which I’m constantly attempting to improve. Part of this flaw manifests itself in saying I’ll respond to something, and then not actually doing it. Well, no more! I have a site now, as you know (since you’re here), and it’s time to knock some shit down. Four months ago, I got into an argument with a bunch of AnCaps. That never happens. Be shocked. And this time, it was over exposing a deep flaw in one of the gods of AnCap ideology – one which made him statist, from then on, if he wasn’t already. I’m speaking of Murray Rothbard, and a quote he can be quoted with, saying the solution to homelessness is simple. “Unleash the cops to clear the streets of bums and vagrants.” In no uncertain terms, fuck that, and fuck him for having said it. But this sentiment on my end drew ire from a bunch of self-described anarchists, somehow, and one of them challenged me to respond to an essay he wrote trying to explain this away. Fine, I said. Now, months later, I’m finally getting to it. Let’s do this.
Now, before we proceed, I need to let you know, for integrity’s sake, that this person and I are on good terms. If you want a piece on this with no possibility of bias or sway, you’re on the wrong site, to be frank. All of my pieces will likely be at least a little biased, mostly against the state. With that in mind, let’s set the stage.
The person in question is “Rollo McFloogle”, and the article in question is “Unleash the cops: Interpreting Murray Rothbard”. If you want to read that first, go right ahead. If you want to read the piece we’re both “interpreting” first as well, that’s also possible. It’s A Program for Right Wing Populism. Feel free to do that, or just jump in with my piece here.
Now, for reasons I think are probably obvious, I hated Rothbard’s piece from the moment I saw the title. I want you, dear reader, to keep on the backburner or your mind the virulent shitshow which would arise in so-called “libertarian” circles if “A Program For Left-Wing Populism” came out from a prominent figure.
The people who now love this piece the most are the same crowd which would autistically screech at the top of their lungs were that the case, demanding helicopters, woodchippers, and other treatments for what they’d likely mislabel communism. They do that a lot. Even my suggestion that anarchists should organize and work together across the spectrum, which I term AnarchoCoalitionism, is often met with insane levels of toxic vitriol from all sides, mostly the AnCap camp. Been called a commie many times since adopting that label, yet I still don’t feel like abolishing profit quite yet. Might take a while. I’ll keep you updated.
But here we are. In a discussion about an obvious and blatant appeal to the furthest right, most cancerous elements of conservative politics, and somehow people think there’s something to be discussed here… fine. More content, and I couldn’t sleep anyway, so I might as well alienate more supposed anarchists by opposing the police here, too. Consistency is a bitch, and I mean to keep it coming, even if it guts my “base”. I’m not a politician, and I will distance from obvious statism, no matter what.
So, because I think a fatal flaw in his piece is that he says “it’s important to put this in its proper context” without including nearly enough context, and that it might be helpful to get some of that, in order to thoroughly address this, let’s look at the political climate when this was written, and the whole piece. I do loathe the puppeteering of corpses, and the man in question is too dead to say “yeah, no shit I meant it”.
The year was 1992. I was born in that year, so this piece has had my whole lifetime to mature like a cheese, growing all manner of life it didn’t have at the time. The President was George HW Bush, and Bill Clinton was about to be (s)elected President. HW was already a mass-murdering, NWO, parroting, possible Nazi profiteer, and I’m only saying “possible” for that precious integrity. Clinton, a democrat who would later go on to become a mass murderer himself, and who is, and was, involved in a nearly completely criminal family, was no saint, and I do not mean, with any of this piece, to take the side of the statist left – the “options” sucked, as always and as ever.
But with the rise of Clinton came the popular appeal of said. He had what could be termed “star power”, and he rode his charisma into the hearts and occasional blowjobs of America. The left looked classy and forward thinking, and Bush looked like old news, because he was. So what was Rothbard’s response to this? Well, a hard right. For instance, a piece entitled “A Strategy for the Right” has gems like this:
“So what should we call ourselves? I haven’t got an easy answer, but perhaps we could call ourselves radical reactionaries, or ‘radical rightists,’ the label that was given to us by our enemies in the 1950s. Or, if there is too much objection to the dread term ‘radical,’ we can follow the suggestion of some of our group to call ourselves ‘the Hard Right. Any of these terms is preferable to ‘conservative’…”
And then after illustrating a victim narrative for McCarthy, of all people, he goes on to say:
“Social democracy is still here in all its variants, defining our entire respectable political spectrum, from advanced victimology and feminism on the Left over to neoconservatism on the Right. We are now trapped, in America, inside a Menshevik fantasy, with the narrow bounds of respectable debate set for us by various brands of Marxists. It is now our task, the task of the resurgent right, of the paleo movement, to break those bonds, to finish the job, to finish off Marxism forever.”
Now, at some point, I may respond to that whole piece, but suffice it to say, he had some great points, not to be discounted. He discussed how the elites are the true agents of social sickness and how Hayek would have things change by a more gradual model, inducing people at the top of societal hierarchy to adopt more libertarian ideas, as he saw them, anyhow, so they trickle down to the eventual benefit of the masses. Of course, as the rest of the piece elucidates, his idea of libertarian ideas is hard-rightism. He was saying “conservatism is the new counter culture” before it was cool. Actually scratch that – it’s still not cool.
No concession can be made for the left, and no nuance to their points was provided. It’s this unilateral division upon which his piece hinges, and he makes it perfectly clear why Hayek’s model didn’t play his Jazz… “the strategy at best will take several hundred years, and some of us are a bit more impatient than that”. Well, he’s dead now, and his short game didn’t play out so well, because no matter how impatient he was, the neocons and far political left, enhanced by what could be termed “pre 9-11 post-McCarthyism” and “post 9-11 panic”, have wrested more power than ever, and his precious “populist” paleoconservatism didn’t preserve the right from becoming a perpetual strawman of everyone with a degree or an elitist seal of approval. Hell, Trump only had populist appeal because he swung wild, making campaign promises he knew he was going to lie about, and smearing Hillary as the leader of the only group which merits concern. This brings me well to the point of his piece here, and the piece this article is actually about…
“Therefore, in addition to converting intellectuals to the cause, the proper course for the right-wing opposition must necessarily be a strategy of boldness and confrontation, of dynamism and excitement, a strategy, in short, of rousing the masses from their slumber and exposing the arrogant elites that are ruling them, controlling them, taxing them, and ripping them off.”
Yeah, well the problem with that is that in order to do this, you must accept a trusting relationship with a politician, of all things. As someone impatient with waiting for the top to absorb his particular approach to “liberty” at the time – that is, “far right good, all else bad” – he relegated himself, and anyone adopting of this particular supposed solution to being the lackeys of politicians in order to achieve goals. No way that could go poorly.
Except it has. We have a potentially criminal, scheming con artist, hedonistic apparent narcissist, and xenophobe in office. The fact people don’t consider him a neocon like he is is the fault of the Paleos and the conceders… so wrapped up in their desire to shortcut to the finish, they mistook the whoosh of the weeds past their sprinting of their feet for the roar of thunderous audience applause. They swung wild, and the same elite they allegedly sought to destroy gave them shadows to box in place of hard targets, much less a hard right, and even less than that, actual liberty. And they bought it, hook, line, and sinker, loving the boat they were thrown on as the last gasps escaped.
SOLUTIONS AND FURTHER CRITIQUE
So what of it? What is the solution he missed, if there even is one?
Well, to put it bluntly, he played on the revolutionary mindset, not only in this piece, but in the rest of his career, without ever going all the way to suggest anything truly revolutionary. Because, as has become a common joke, “trickling down” is pissing on my leg, and telling me it’s raining, and because trusting politicians and state employees to be your “guerillas” is fucking disastrous, we end up here, time and time again. Why? Because power corrupts, and almost nobody is pure enough so as not to exploit all elements of the pyramid once they’re the capstone. The solution here is simple – subvert the pyramid. Don’t “trickle down” anything if it means consulting the powers that be (which it almost always does). Instead, give the masses the tools with which to free themselves, and if they want it, freedom can be theirs. Stick your power as close to the bottom of the hierarchy as possible, and abolish any structure or leader which would disempower it.
Samuel Edward Konkin III saw what was coming. He had split from Rothbard, who he considered an ally and teacher for a long time, writing his own libertarian manifesto, in response to Rothbard’s, detailing a new “agorist” theory of emphasizing black and grey markets as a modus of getting that subversion I mentioned. Rothbard went on to miss the point of it, which was that the more people participate in the “black market”, the less stigma it will carry, and the broader it will expand, until it chokes the state, and the terms “black, white, and grey” markets will become historical artifacts and modern misnomers. Rothbard used an old argument he’s had, that political parties and action are the way forward, and that “antiparty people” as he calls them, simply don’t have solutions. Remember: he does not want to subvert the pyramid, but leave it where it is, and hope he can leash the people commanding its tip, and by extension, eventually cage the behemoth. But that was a convo had in the 80s. Let’s get back to 1992…
… Where he happily endorsed another four years of Bush as opposition to Clinton. “Hold Back the Hordes for 4 More Years : Any sensible American has one real choice–George Bush.” That’s a literal goddamned thing he said. Long before morons like “Liberty” Hangout were saying:
- “For libertarians, there is only one real option in 2020. Re-elect Donald Trump as President of the United States of America.” [source]
- “If you don’t love Donald Trump you don’t love liberty.” [source]
- “If you’re not a fan of Donald Trump after his successful first year in office, you’re probably a communist.” [source]
… and more, and long before the dumbass helicopter “memes”, Rothbard was shortcutting yet again. He’d been extremely harsh on GHWB, many times, and now that he was faced with a population which seemingly wanted Clinton, he penned in his regular column for the LATimes, of all places, a rosy picture of GHWB, and a demonic image of Clinton, and the Clinton family and legacy. He says Bush was great in the Middle East, and references not a thing even remotely similar to the Highway of Death, much less the incident itself. He referenced GHWB’s reconciliation with competitor Pat Buchanan, who got some love from the other piece Rothbard then wrote, as well.
“No one has been more critical of George Bush than I, but yes, dammit, I am working my way back to the President. What? “Four More Years?” Yes, there is only one rational answer for the conservative, the libertarian, or indeed any sensible American.”
I’ve been less-and-less popular with many supposed “anarchists” for resurfacing stuff like this, and giving it the scrutiny its due. From actually reading the fuller works of many of the authors I used to revere from surface level quotes or their mass-appeal books (which I did read), I found that these were not gods of ethics, much less liberty. That’s not to say that they weren’t hugely valuable to liberty in one way or another, but it is to say that they are mortal, and they both bleed and make mistakes. It’s a constant retort I have when people tell me I’m only anarchist because I’m young and inexperienced, that I learned most of my ideas from the writings of old dead people. But there’s the mortality – dead people were once living, imperfect creatures, and anyone with a shred of intellectual consistency will admit that.
It’s when I recognized that many of the prominent libertarian figures of the past were the authors of many of the sentiments I loathe today that I began to see the appeal of panarchy and bottom unity, and among the reasons I eventually started AnCoal. We need bottom unity – that being, all wings of the least authoritarian end of the political compass – not simply “left is bad and communist and far right isn’t”. But we need it organized and militant, ready to respond with force and violence to aggression against people in the ranks. An anarchist coalition, dedicated first to ending the state, is the only way it will ever end, lest we perpetually remain locked in the throes of whatever squabbles the elites use against us. Rothbard wasn’t wholly wrong in his piece:
“A second crucial point: society is divided into a ruling elite, which is necessarily a minority of the population, and lives off the second group — the rest of the population…
If a minority of elites rule over, tax, and exploit the majority of the public, then this brings up starkly the main problem of political theory: what I like to call the mystery of civil obedience. Why does the majority of the public obey these turkeys, anyway?…
Even in the most despotic dictatorship, the government can only persist when it is backed by the majority of the population. In the long run, ideas, not force, rule; and any government has to have legitimacy in the minds of the public.”
But we must get to the point where the masses are not fighting each other, in order to break this legitimacy. When Kanye West wore his Trump hat and started a global conversation on whether or not love would prevail over hate, behind a politician, he was summarily disproven. The world reacted with a vitriol on either side that carried for months! To a hat! Rothbard’s endorsement of GHWB, and the modern “libertarian” endorsement of Trump, are wearing that hat, symbolically, demonstrating widely that expecting those holding much of the reins of power to be beholden to the will of libertarians, or ever actually surrender their death grip on society, is a fool’s errand only fools undertake. Politics made a fool of Rothbard, and they’ll make a fool of you, too.
THE RESPONSE – NOW THAT FACTS ARE IN
Up to and until this point in my piece, we’ve learned that Rothbard was on-board for whatever politician opposed the left, and whatever tactic would stop what he perceived as the Marxist scourge. He was aligned with whatever he though could give him access to the top of the pyramid, attempting in his impatience to shortcut his way to the society he wanted. He wasn’t being subtle. He wanted control, as he saw control as the only way to freedom, ironically vieing for a transitionary government to his rightist utopia, not unlike the same idea of a transitionary government to get to a stateless communist paradise, and both proven about as effective in their end goals. That sarcasm of “what-could-possibly-go-wrong” which I had earlier should not go unrecognized – this strategy is deeply flawed and disastrous in consequence.
The most readily controllable societies are those which, presented with false, manufactured choices by its ruling elite, still believe they are free. The idea that working for rightist power in this way wouldn’t, at best, result in a society of libertarians conned by the state into believing the tyranny with which they are shackled is not, in fact, tyranny is as absurd as it is naive. But ah… impatience. As a fellow impatient-American, I understand the struggle. It’s our job, as libertarians, however, to be the cooler heads which prevail, and it’s because of that, that plans such as this must be relegated to the dustbin of history. And let me just also point out that it’s ironic he complained about Marxists and leftist and neoconservative rags and simultaneously had a column in the LA Times. Just something to note. Whatever though… time to get to the point.
So now that we have context (and 3000 goddamned words), and Rothbard’s goals are made manifestly obvious, we can dissect his points with the temerity and accuracy necessary to smash the idea that his goals in the line “unleash the cops” were benevolent to anyone but those who completely shared his goals. Let’s start with a chunk of his piece:
“Hence the importance, for libertarians or for minimal government conservatives, of having a one-two punch in their armor: not simply of spreading correct ideas, but also of exposing the corrupt ruling elites and how they benefit from the existing system, more specifically how they are ripping us off. Ripping the mask off elites is “negative campaigning” at its finest and most fundamental.
This two-pronged strategy is (a) to build up a cadre of our own libertarians, minimal-government opinion-moulders, based on correct ideas; and (b) to tap the masses directly, to short-circuit the dominant media and intellectual elites, to rouse the masses of people against the elites that are looting them, and confusing them, and oppressing them, both socially and economically. But this strategy must fuse the abstract and the concrete; it must not simply attack elites in the abstract, but must focus specifically on the existingstatist system, on those who right now constitute the ruling classes….
…the proper strategy of libertarians and paleos is a strategy of “right-wing populism,” that is: to expose and denounce this unholy alliance [of “corporate liberal” Big Business and media elites], and to call for getting this preppie-underclass-liberal media alliance off the backs of the rest of us: the middle and working classes.”
This pretty much echoes his previous piece, and references his “right wing populist” approach, he hung onto over there, too. Basically, his other piece was his 8600 word basis for the conclusions and call to action he presents in this just over 1550 word piece. It’s safe to say that this piece serves as the “pamphlet” for the other “seminar”.
So to his points. “Slash Taxes” is pretty much acceptable, and something that, while there might be arguments as to where they should be slashed, the focus on income tax is solid. Off to a good start… which ends abruptly. “Slash Welfare. Get rid of underclass rule…” Yikes. So by getting rid of underclass rule, you won’t be strengthening the upper class? Or oh… yeah… that’s his point. Guy thought he was Ragnar Danneskjold. No wonder Ayn Rand didn’t like him. The next thing which seems to confirm this is that he goes on in item 4 to say:
Take Back the Streets: Crush Criminals.
And by this I mean, of course, not “white collar criminals” or “inside traders” but violent street criminals – robbers, muggers, rapists, murderers. Cops must be unleashed, and allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error.
So fuckin… those elites he mentioned… they suddenly get a pass because he wants an alliance with people funded by the wealthy. We’ve stripped underclass rule, crushed only criminals at a street level, leaving the ivory towers alone… and now what? And if he didn’t mean to crush white collar crime, item 7 of ending the Fed is gonna be pretty difficult. Again… yikes. He then delivers the line this piece is about…
“Take Back the Streets: Get Rid of the Bums.
Again: unleash the cops to clear the streets of bums and vagrants. Where will they go? Who cares? Hopefully, they will disappear, that is, move from the ranks of the petted and cosseted bum class to the ranks of the productive members of society.”
And since it is Rollo to whom I primarily respond today, cause, y’know, he’s still alive, I’ll post his words here now.
“To cherry pick this quote and claim it as support of the “helicopter pilot” philosophy proves to be fairly dishonest when you look at the point Rothbard makes directly above this one. Suddenly, “unleash the cops” doesn’t sound like a carte blanche permission slip for the police to do whatever they want to the bums… Rothbard pulls no punches with what he feels needs to be done and his position is perfectly clear. If someone violates another’s rights, the police ought to be allowed to defend the victim. If the police see a rape, murder, robbery, or any other violent crime, he ought to be able to use violence to put a stop to the aggression. Laws and any other government arrangement that restricts the cops’ ability to do this should be abolished. And he clarifies what he means, just in case it wasn’t obvious to any libertarian reading his words in the future, by adding the caveat of ‘subject of course to liability when they are in error.'”
Whose rights are being violated when the streets have bums, Rollo? Rothbard was an overwhelmingly precise person in his writings, and you now imply he simply left out what would have made this case? On what planet is that explanation credible? Not this one to be sure. He aimed to disempower the lower classes he felt leeched off society, and it showed in this piece, and all other pieces he was writing at the time. Many even previously reified this point! Rollo continues:
“What would be an error? If Rothbard is saying that the police should be able to ‘administer instant punishment’ for ‘violent street criminals,’ i.e. a property rights violator, then clearly it would be an error to commit violence against someone who is not a property rights violator. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s an expression of the Non-Aggression Principle, which is not uniquely applied to cops; it is applied to everyone. So Rothbard is only holding the police to the same ethical standards that he would be holding anyone else to. This is a standard libertarian principle. This is implicit in his words later in the essay when he says:
So far: every one of these right-wing populist programs is totally consistent with a hard-core libertarian position.
The hard-core libertarian position is that violence is not justified against peaceful individuals and that agents of the state have no special rights or privileges, period. So to claim that ‘Rothbard actually agrees with us, not you NAP-thumbing losertarians’ does not compute very well.”
He said that in two separate points. It was the SAME solution to two DIFFERENT problems, and if it weren’t, he’d have listed them in the same line item to save space and preserve reader attention – this was a pamphlet, not the seminar… remember that. When he was listing “violent street criminals”, why would he not include bums if he was simply speaking on the same category? What even is this “reasoning”?
“This further clarifies Rothbard’s point about what he means by ‘unleash the cops to clear the streets of bums and vagrants.’ It shouldn’t need further clarification, though, as it is painfully obvious that these ‘helicopter pilots’ refuse to correctly interpret the plain English of part of the quote they use: ‘Hopefully, they will disappear, that is, move from the ranks of the petted and cosseted bum class to the ranks of the productive members of society.’
The goal isn’t simply to violently move people around, it is to remove the perverse incentive structures that help to create the vagrancy in society. And as it’s already been established, a bum that is staying in a place he shouldn’t be (violating someone’s property rights), then there is justification in putting an end to that. Yet this should not be interpreted that violence as a means to protect property is necessarily always the preferable action. Violence is expensive and exhausting, both in terms of resources and psychologically, so market is all but certain to pursue and find ways that can handle the problem better and more peacefully.”
Full disagree. Rothbard built a platform of resisting communism by any means necessary, and meant to include bums in the class of people who were either communists, or supported by or supporting of communists, and his solution was to tell the cops to have at them, so they clear off the streets, and what would happen to them? Literally who cares? That’s his point. It’s not to remove incentives – it’s to provide enough consequence that they become averse to the environment. a real “the garbage takes itself out” approach”.
Believe me, I’d love to think the Liberty Hangout crowd was a blip on the radar, completely unsupported by libertarian thinkers of old, but if I’m to be logically and factually consistent, I just goddamned can’t, and neither you, nor anyone else should either. And this piece isn’t an attack on you – I still respect a lot of what you do. Lines like this?
“The police are not special when it comes to any other profession employed by the government. Soldiers, politicians, teachers, etc. all have a sort of mystique surrounding their jobs. They’re called ‘servants’ and people love to claim that they don’t do their government jobs for the money. It makes perfect sense that this would be the propaganda we’re fed about government jobs. The deception is necessary to make people believe that the jobs the government offers aren’t overpaid, gravely distorted, or flat out unnecessary.” [source]
“Does a good deed by one police officer cancel out a bad deed by another? Is a good deed supposed to make me say, ‘Oh, never mind, something else that is completely irrelevant to what I’m concerned about just changed my mind’?” [source]
They’re ace. And when you said, “I don’t have respect for someone who violates the rights of others simply because they are ‘doing their job.’ I think most police officers have good intentions, but unfortunately do not understand what they’re doing even a little bit”? Nails were hit on heads.
But these go contrary to the ethics of Rothbard’s statements. Cops are, in his paradigm, “unleashed”, to do their jobs on on an economically and politically disempowered underclass, until they see significant enough problems with their lot that they “disappear, that is, move from the ranks of the petted and cosseted bum class to the ranks of the productive members of society”.
While I don’t fully know how you could take this in an NAP direction, even without all this context I provided, and even though this piece took me five hours to write, and is about 5000 words, I hope you now see what he meant was what I initially thought, and that in this goldilocks, broken-clock-right-twice-daily situation… the helicopter pilots were right. The only way we’ll prevent this sort of mishap from again occurring is if we are able and willing to take a stern eye to our heroes and models, and avoid looking at them through rose colored glasses, being frank with their intent, no matter how it looks in the end. Because in the end, if we don’t, we might see out end at the end of a helicopter ride, paid by our tax dollars, labeled – whether accurately or not – the communist threat which must be physically removed.
Let us ever vow to never let that happen, and to slay any god who dares get in our way of that, even if his name is Murray Rothbard.
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