Rebirth of Reason

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Post 20

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 6:07amSanction this postReply

Ten thousand argumentative words between us, and you have finally pulled it off!

At last, we are synchronized! (with a little help from the 'Trane)


(Edited by George W. Cordero on 3/07, 6:08am)

Post 21

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 6:40amSanction this postReply
Linz wrote of Rothbard:

Rothbard was a treasonous, commie-hugging bastard. Small wonder that all Saddamites pay homage to him. If I were God, he'd be burning in hell & I'd be forever turning up the heat. The low-life prick.

My only problem with this is that Linz isn't being hard enough on the S.O.B. I read quite a bit of his stuff way back when, and contra Sciabarra, I find that Rothbard's analytical methodology (as an economic and political theorist) was the very model of a prioristic rationalism: the guy was a marvel at generating grand deductive models from "axioms," with all the real-world pitfalls that approach leads to.

Not being an historian, I can't comment on his acuity on that count; but his most enduring contribution to the libertarian movement was as a sheepdog leading much of the flock toward anarchism. The paleo-libertarian Rockwellites as well as most libertarian anarchists pay him homage as their patron saint.

As one who read his various newsletters and articles in the late '60s and early '70s, I watched in disgust as Rothbard the political activist descended from mere crackpot theorist to traitor. He apparently fashioned himself as the Lenin of the anarchist intellectual elite, and in his ever-shifting Grand Strategies and tactical alliances he became a pal and/or cheerleader for everyone from communists like Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong, to New Leftist thugs like the Black Panthers, to right-wing nationalist nutcases. These various dalliances apparently depended solely on his latest analytical "insights" du jour.

But there was one absolutely unswerving consistency in all of it: his unremitting hatred of the U. S. government. To Rothbard, America was the Great Imperialist Satan, and he had no problem excusing totalitarians or terrorists as long as they were fighting U. S. troops.

Finally, for those on this site it's relevant to note Rothbard's strident hostility to Objectivism. Whatever personal issues between himself and Rand led to their break, his subsequent published diatribes against Objectivism were anything but fair or accurate. And I take him at his own word that what he represented was contrary to Objectivism.

Murray Rothbard was, in short, one of the worst intellectual and moral influences on the "freedom movement." Such valid theoretical insights as he may have stumbled upon during his decades of stringing together sentences must be placed within the anti-U. S. context in which he always wrote.

Those tempted to excuse him because of those insights ought to remember that Rand's fictional character, Robert Stadler, was supposed to be a noted theorist, too.

Post 22

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 6:53amSanction this postReply
Chris - congratulations on this momentous achievement! That's assuming you think being synchronised with George is a desirable achievement...;-)

As for Rothbard, speaking only for myself and speaking only of the material I've read so far, I've found the greatest value in the economic stuff where he places praxeology on an Aristotelian foundation and the warfare-welfare state material, much of which seems to come from basically the same premises on which Rand based her analysis. Yes there are major problems with Rothbard (as Chris himself is the first to admit), but just imagine what could have happened if Rothbard had founded this massive and wide ranging body of work on more firmly Objectivist principles. That would've been a sight to behold.

Sadly Rand and Rothbard fell out (for whatever reason) and it didn't happen. But, we can do the next best thing: take what's of value from Rothbard and (for want of a better term) synergise it with our own firmly Randian foundations.

In the case of all pro-freedom thinkers, be it Rand, Rothbard, Mises, Hayek or even Margaret Thatcher(!) we should be primarily concerned not with their errors (though we should of course recognise and if necessary refute these), but with what they get right. Rejecting all of Rothbard's work because he stuffed up in a number of areas is simply throwing out the baby with the bathwater.


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Post 23

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 6:59amSanction this postReply
I disagree with you, Robert. 

The only problematic "axiom" in Rothbard's analysis is his "nonaggression axiom," which relates to the political realm and which, indeed, has a rationalist component.  I have criticized him extensively in Total Freedom on that score.  But his restructuring of the "action axiom" in Misesian praxeology is fully Aristotelian, and commendable.

Unfortunately, in the other aspects of your post, you are focusing on Rothbard's polemical writings and his discussions of strategy---not on his bona fide theoretical or historical work, which, I believe, is important for those of us who believe in the value of freedom.

For what it's worth, Rand did not "bed down" (theoretically speaking) with either New Leftists or modern conservatives, but like Rothbard, Rand's own analysis of the "New Fascism" of American political economy and US foreign policy shares much with the New Leftist critique.  And whatever one's stance on the current war, Rand was fundamentally opposed to US entry into World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  And I don't see anyone here accusing her of being a "Hitlerite" for having opposed US entry into World War II, on the side of the Soviets.  (In anticipation of Jason P's question:  You can find such references in Journals of Ayn Rand, in Stephen Cox's biography on Isabel Paterson, in Barbara's Passion biography, and in Robert Mayhew's new book on Song of Russia.)

Critics can certainly take Rand to task for "historical myopia"---if that's what they believe---but there remains a serious anti-interventionist streak in the foreign policy writings of many thinkers in the 20th century freedom movement, Ayn Rand included most certainly.

Post 24

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 7:26amSanction this postReply
Ah, Chris, you know Iím just over your right shoulder, figuratively speaking, reading as you write! Of course, I'll check those references out. My question, however, was: ďWhere in Randís published writings does it say that we were wrong to get involved in WWII?Ē Thus, I assume the answer is: nowhere. However, non-published writings and private conservations are of interest. I have a recollection of her HUAC testimony where she expressed reservations about how we fought and collaborated with the Soviets. But that fighting Germany was ultimately a mistake? That I don't recall. Iíll have to review the references.

Post 25

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 7:39amSanction this postReply
Chris Sciabarra writes:

The only problematic "axiom" in Rothbard's analysis is his "nonaggression axiom," which relates to the political realm and which, indeed, has a rationalist component. I have criticized him extensively in Total Freedom on that score. But his restructuring of the "action axiom" in Misesian praxeology is fully Aristotelian, and commendable.

If by the "action axiom" you mean his opening axiom in Man, Economy and State -- "man acts" -- and his development of all of economics from this, I found it as rationalistic as his "nonaggression axiom." Perhaps more Aristotelian than in Mises, but still rationalistic.

For what it's worth, Rand did not "bed down" (theoretically speaking) with either New Leftists or modern conservatives, but like Rothbard, Rand's own analysis of the "New Fascism" of American political economy and US foreign policy shares much with the New Leftist critique.

Which is an issue we can debate entirely separate from the ones I raised against Rothbard: his cavorting with the likes of the Black Panthers and totalitarians in Southeast Asia. Unlike you, Chris, I see this as a logical outgrowth of the theoretical premises he espoused...a topic for MUCH longer treatment at a time when I have MUCH more time.

As for Rand's or Rothbard's views vis-a-vis "noninterventionism," again, that is an issue apart from that which I raised against Rothbard: his anti-Americanism. In this regard, let me quote from a message I just sent to Tom Palmer, who on this thread has been participating in an online dissassembly of the Rockwell-Raimondo Axis of Evil:

"Tom, you and I donít agree on the 'non-intervention' issue in foreign policy, or perhaps the merits of invading Iraq. But thereís a world of difference between a policy disagreement and vicious anti-Americanism. Thank you so much for knowing where to draw the line, and when to say, 'enough is enough.'"

I put you in the same category as Tom, Chris. We can debate the merits of "noninterventionism" as friends, civilly and to our hearts' content. But my core disputes with Rothbard was his seminal role in promoting the rampant anarchism and anti-Americanism now threatening to destroy what's left of the libertarian movement.

Post 26

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 9:45amSanction this postReply

No one is denying that some of Rothbard's writings are seriously problematic - Chris stated he had "profound differences" with him and I made clear what I think of some of his comments on foreign affairs, including his apparent sympathies for dictators (as a Brit I find his comments on the Falklands war particularly galling).

Does that really mean that libertarians ought not to appreciate any of Rothbard's work?

As for the "anti-Americanism" charge, I stress that I haven't read all of his work but my reading of him so far is that he opposed the build up of the warfare-welfare state and supported a return to the principles of the "Old Republic" (which he seemed to think was the next best thing to all out anarcho-"capitalism"). Some of the positions he arrived at as a result of that view are purely and simply flat out wrong, but surely that's something which calls for Objective (capital O deliberate...) examination of his work in order to peel away his mistakes?


Post 27

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 9:59amSanction this postReply

Jason, you wrote about Rand:"But that fighting Germany was ultimately a mistake?"

No, that's not what she said. Before Pearl Harbor, she was against America entering the war. But once we were attacked, she had no further objections.


Post 28

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 10:17amSanction this postReply
Matthew, of course I don't mean to imply that one can't derive benefits from the writings even of someone whom one finds morally repugnant. Almost every thinker's works are "mixed," with good and bad. With enough digging, you can probably find something of value in Dewey or Rawls or Marx; Fred Seddon can even find it in Kant. And the questions raised by seminal thinkers alone can prompt fruitful lines of inquiry.

I certainly won't deny that you can find value in Rothbard's writings on economics or history. For example, his history of the American revolutionary period has considerable merit, as does his America's Great Depression. But his rationalism mars even his treatment of strictly economic issues, both in his lines of reasoning and in his conclusions (I recall, for instance, writings on fractional reserve banking that were a mess.)

And in assessing Rothbard's overall impact on the cause of freedom -- gauged by how his intellectual legacy is today embodied within the libertarian movement -- I conclude that, on balance, it has been bad. VERY bad.

I'm referring to his intellectual legacy alone. The less said about his legacy of anti-Americanism, the better.

(Edited by Robert Bidinotto
on 3/07, 10:19am)

Post 29

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 4:20amSanction this postReply
Lindsay Perigo writes:

All joking aside, I think Rothbard is a waste of space. The cause of liberty owes him absolutely nothing. Diabolical is too easily influenced by the proposition that size matters. The real issue is the content of the output, not its amount, nor the length of its sentences. Rothbard was a treasonous, commie-hugging bastard. Small wonder that all Saddamites pay homage to him. If I were God, he'd be burning in hell & I'd be forever turning up the heat. The low-life prick.

I take it that you've read much of his work to be able to say this. So, I'll ask you, would you think that Nietzsche is of any value? As much as I love Nietzsche's writings, I know it's treading on thin ice. He was read by Mussolini, the Russian Bolsheviks, and we can certainly say by some of the Nazis. Nietzsche is also, I believe the true father of postmoderism, Possibly Rosseau, Kant or Hume.(I think Kant was more trying to counter Hume). But, no one displayed more crushing relativism or nihilism than Nietzsche. Would you say he's a low life prick? I think we can safely say that he wrote about getting rid of the weak, and he wasn't exactly big on "rights".

Would you say Rothbard's Conceived In Liberty, or his Man, Economy and State with Power and Market are trash? Is it not good to know the weaknesses of the state even if we think there should be one? Would you say we are better off picking up Keynes or better yet Marx than him?

Post 30

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 1:27pmSanction this postReply
Chris, thanks very much for the fuller detailing of where you find Rothbard to have made major contributions. (Unfortunately, I'm less interested in reading further in the field of economics right now than in pure history.)

Robert, I will await your eventual decryptizization of this tantalizing but abstract summary: "Perhaps more Aristotelian than in Mises, but still rationalistic...I see this as a logical outgrowth of the theoretical premises he espoused..." But I take it you're, again, referring to his work in economics. Not his work in history.

In a way, a writer who writes many books and articles and at great length often discourages many people from doing an evaluation of his entire oeuvre. If he's a bad thinker, it can be difficult to nail him...people can always say, you haven't read volume ninety-three or footnote 21356.

Unless they have an overriding interest or a dissertation to complete. My reason for wanting this to be less elusive and with more specifics or concrete examples and less grand abstract summary (which Objectivists love to stay at the level of) in a post or three is that I am so far not interested enough to read Chris's entire book on this subject.

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Post 31

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 2:54pmSanction this postReply
A few thoughts in response to various comments:

1.  Jason:  In her published writings, Rand did not say she was against US entry into WW 2, but there is a serious implication in her "Roots of War" essay that US entry into WW1 led to the genesis of fascism, Nazism, and communism, making WW2 virtually inevitable, but that WW2 made the Soviets the only true "winners," leading to a generation of conflict between the Soviets and the US.

On the question of WW2, Ayn Rand was in agreement with Isabel Paterson, of this there is no doubt.  Paterson was Rand's mentor, in many ways, on questions of politics.  Paterson wrote at the time, concerning a Nazi-Soviet slugfest:  "Whichever destroys the other, leaves a destroyer the less for the world."  As I point out here, drawing from Stephen Cox's superb biography of Isabel Paterson, The Woman and the Dynamo:

Paterson's largest influence [on Rand] ... was unquestionably political.  Cox writes about Paterson's attitudes toward "war and the intellectuals"---attitudes, no doubt, shared by her compatriot:  
One of her strongest points of agreement with other intellectuals of her generation was a concern that America would be drawn into a war by its weakness for minding other people's business. The precedent was the Great War. Like most of the others, [Paterson] took that war as a benchmark of criminal stupidity; like many of them, she became an isolationist, of a certain kind, because she did not want to repeat the experience.

Neither Paterson nor Rand were pacifists; but both were of the belief that the greatest horrors were perpetuated by the war-time attempts to collectivize human beings. "People are very seldom murderous as individuals; they become murderous when they become gullible followers of that monster, the state," writes Cox of Paterson's view. Paterson therefore opposed both the fascists and the communists and advocated intervention against neither Germany nor Russia.  Cox quotes Paterson:  "Whichever destroys the other, leaves a destroyer the less for the world."  Paterson was hardly amazed when Stalin and Hitler signed their "Communazi" 1939 pact, demonstrating their totalitarian commonality. And even as U.S. entry into the war became a foregone conclusion, Paterson was still fighting that "spirit of collectivism," which war inspired. On these grounds, she rejected military conscription, wartime censorship and propaganda, and attacked FDR relentlessly.

Like Paterson, Rand had supported FDR in 1932. Rand actually called Roosevelt the more "libertarian" candidate, for his stance on prohibition (Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand, Doubleday, 1986, 158). But by 1940, both Paterson and Rand, so violently opposed to the New Deal, and to FDR's unprecedented third term desires, supported the Republican candidate Wendell Willkie. Both women became increasingly disillusioned with the Republican Party and with Willkie's weak campaign, however. In later years, Rand's disillusionment with the GOP extended even to Ronald Reagan; she repudiated him not only for his stance on abortion and his ties to the religious right, but also because he had "exaggerate[d] the power of the most incompetent nation in the world," manipulating Americans with "fear" of a Soviet military build-up, something that was "not a patriotic service to the United States" ("The Moral Factor").

BTW, I think Barbara is correct, in a sense:  "Before Pearl Harbor, she was against America entering the war. But once we were attacked, she had no further objections."   She had no further objections because she knew that an attack required, as Paterson put it, "a commensurate counter-attack," and that Japan was, after all, in a formal alliance with the Axis powers.  That said, I'm still not entirely sure she would have wanted the US to aid the Soviet Union in its bout against Hitler.   If I may cite my own article, Understanding the Global Crisis:  Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy (which quotes Barbara Branden circa 1962):

[Rand's] Objectivist Newsletter had featured a series of review essays by various writers who had argued that the parasitic Soviets had stolen military and other technology from the West, and that it was U.S. foreign policy that had stabilized the regime. Drawing from John T. Flynn's book, The Roosevelt Myth, Barbara Branden stressed that FDR was inspired by Bismarck, Mussolini, and Hitler in establishing a liberal corporatist "New Deal" that further devastated a depressed economy (The Objectivist Newsletter, December 1962). Provoking war in the Pacific, Roosevelt used "national defense" as a pretext for resolving the unemployment problem by drafting American boys to fight and die in foreign wars, while sending $11 billion in Lend-Lease assistance to the Soviets, and developing secret post-war agreements with Stalin to surrender nearly three-quarters of a billion people into communist slavery. (Rand herself believed that this strategy made Russia "the only winner" of World War II ["The Shanghai Gesture, Part I"]. She also questioned the wisdom of entering that war's European theater on the side of the Soviets---suggesting that a Nazi-Soviet conflict might have severely weakened the victor [e.g., see "Communism and HUAC" in Journals of Ayn Rand].)

(Note to DT:  I'm not going to debate Rand's wisdom with regard to this issue.  I'm merely stating that this was Rand's position.)

2.   We'll put aside all those theoretical questions that Robert correctly views as requiring a "MUCH longer treatment"---and much more time than either of us has at present.

But I'm not entirely ready to give in on Rothbard's "anti-Americanism."  Was Rothbard against the US government?  Yes. He was an anarchist, after all.  I do not believe, however, that opposition to the US government is, per se, opposition to "Americanism."  Not unless we are ready to identify the US government with Americanism. 

But if we go by Rand's own "Textbook of Americanism," wherein she identifies Americanism with individualism, individual rights, and an opposition to all "mixed" social systems, and wherein she rejects the utilitarian principle of "the greatest good for the greatest number," how can we possibly put Rothbard on the other side of that equation?

On the wider issue of the libertarian movement, I'm afraid I'll have to put that civil debate on the side for now.  I do think, however, that much of what you say about the corruption of "libertarianism" as a term to describe a political position can be applied as well to the corruption of "liberalism," "capitalism," and, indeed, "Objectivism" itself.  But we'll save that one for another day.

3.  Finally, Phil, on this point:  "I am so far not interested enough to read Chris's entire book on this subject."

Total Freedom is actually not only about Rothbard; Rothbard is the second half. The first half is a discussion of the history of dialectical thinking, followed by a definition and defense of its principles.  I then use these principles to dissect and critique Rothbard in Part Two.


Post 32

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 4:42pmSanction this postReply
Hi Chris!!!

Fine essay as always!!!

Those interested in Rothbard and the other Austrians and the relationship of Austrian economics to Ayn Rand and Objectivism will certainly want to get hold of the forthcoming JARS issue on "Ayn Rand among the Austrians"!!!!




Post 33

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 5:29pmSanction this postReply

Now Chris, thatís a far cry from the unqualified statement that Rand opposed our involvement in WWII. Without qualification, it implies she opposed it before, during and after. Iím not surprised certain people (who will go nameless) leave such implications but itís not worthy of you. Iím glad you clarified and corrected this.


During the run-up to the war, some people were weary if not outright opposed to FDRís actions bringing us closer to the day of military action. And even after Pearl Harbor, some had wanted us to fight Japan first or only fight Japan. Finally, how we fought and in which way we aided Stalin was an issue; it became a greater issue after the war. I even remember, as a boy in the 1950s, hearing the adults in my working class neighborhood still debate FDRís relationship with Stalin and what happened at Yalta.


Rand was certainly an FDR critic. However, to jump to the conclusion that she had unqualified and unchanged opposition to our being involved in the war is not true. You and Barbara have confirmed that. The exact nuance of her opinion Iíll leave to others more knowledgeable. Thanks for the lengthy reply.

Post 34

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 7:41pmSanction this postReply
Chris puzzles: "(...though I am surprised by Michael N's sharing of your concern; perhaps this article was short on specifics, but I was under the impression, Michael, that you had read and quite enjoyed Total Freedom, no?)"

Hi Chris, yes I enjoyed Total Freedom, and I really do love scholarship, and your one of the greatest. Maybe I am getting a little cranky...but I don't think that is it, what I love about good scholarship is the fact finding and putting the information into a clearly defined context, I guess that is usally historical. But I get a little frustrated with scholar's normative abstractions i.e. their opinions, not because they have opinions but because their reasoning is not clear. (For examble Fred Seddon's reasonings for why he thinks a paragraph of Galt's speech should be deleted so that a Spainish translation can happen! That should be a really nasty discussion here on solo!) Perhaps that is why many people will toss away a intellectual's body of work because they make some upsurd conclusions?


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Post 35

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 8:53pmSanction this postReply
My thanks to Mr. Sciabarra for his commentary about Murray Rothbard, especially as concerns Rand's influence.

Rothbard was my biggest hero in college many years ago, a time during which I devoured everything of Mises, Rothbard, and Rand, and a little of Hayek. What I appreciated about his writing was his unique ability to clarify complex ideas; and his talent for stating clearly the essential assumptions in some idea of neo-classical interventionists, proving the absurdities built into that idea, and then re-refuting it in about 13 dufferent ways. I loved that Rothbard could examine, dissect, and then demolish all this Keynesian mythology that pseudo intellectuals and big government blowhards (and "everyone else") "knew to be true"!

I still recall during this time an argument I had with my older, Dartmouth College graduated brother, during Christmas break. He was throwing at me all the standard cliques, cannards and misconceptions about the supposed evils of advertising in a free market, and the "wickedness" of Madison Avenue as it allegdly exploited helpless American shoppers.
Having just reread volume II of "Man Economy and State", I astonished my brother (and myself!) by easily examining and then refuting every idea he threw my way. Naturally, I was happier than he was about this new development.
I feel a great debt of gratitude to Murray Rothbard, who shone the light of reason on the complex subject of economics in a way that was illuminating and so encouraging. Please recall that during the sixties, Keynesian interventionist economics was at the zenith of its prestige. All colleges and universities (with two or three exceptions across the whole of the United States) taught the Keynesian orthodoxy. Anyone who questioned this dogma was considered a little crazy. During this bleak period a tiny group of Austrians stood alone against this fraudulent, psuedo-intellectual, officially-sanctioned tide. Murray Rothbard was an exemplary writer, teacher, and mentor to struggling, isolated libertarians searching for answers.

Post 36

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 10:07pmSanction this postReply
Rothbard was probably the greatest Libertarian. As a US state worshiper I can see why Linz hates him so.
Rothbard always argued from consistent philosophy and with good humour. Can the same be said of Rand?
He is the only thinker who was consistently anti-state with a no-exceptions attachment to private property rights, a profound concern for human liberty, and a love of peace, with the conclusion that society should be completely free to develop absent any interference from the state, which can and should be eliminated.
For those unfamiliar with this mans work I recommend the book An Enemy of the State by Justin Raimondo.

Post 37

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 11:22pmSanction this postReply
No6, you don't read a lot of Solo posts, do you?


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Post 38

Tuesday, March 8, 2005 - 5:21amSanction this postReply
I have a lot to say this morning. 

Given Jason's observations above, I thought it would benefit SOLO readers if I reproduce a couple of pages worth of commentary and quotes from a fine book by Robert Mayhew, entitled Ayn Rand and Song of Russia:  Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood.  In the book, Mayhew examines especially Rand's contentions with regard to World War II and US involvement.  Aside from amplifying points already made, my ulterior motive for posting this is to remind readers that one's opposition to US involvement in a war is not a sure sign of "anti-Americanism." 

In politics, especially for those of us who seek to transcend left and right, we will sometimes be put into categories that we share with the America-hating left or the religious-loving right.  But it doesn't mean that we are therefore "America-haters" or "whim worshippers."  Take the Iraq war as an example.  It is simply not the case that those of us who opposed the US invasion of Iraq were "Saddamites" all.  Are there those in the "antiwar" movement who had turned "a deaf ear" to the plight of Saddam Hussein's victims?  Are there those in the "antiwar" movement who are market-hating, reason-hating opponents of Western values? Yes to both questions. 

And there are those on the "pro-war" side of the divide whom I would not characterize as closet neo-Wilsonians or ex-Trotskyites---but to deny the presence of neoconservative ideologues among pro-war advocates is simply wrong.

Back in the days preceding World War II---the "Good War" of the "Greatest Generation"---there were plenty of America-lovers who opposed US entry for a variety of reasons.  Were some of the opponents of US entry Nazi sympathizers?  No doubt.  But to have painted all the opponents of US entry into WW2 as "Hitlerites" would have been wrong.

As I have already pointed out, Isabel Paterson was one of those who opposed US entry into WW2.  Paterson knew that there were a variety of pacifists and also Nazi sympathizers who opposed US entry into the war, but that didn't stop her from voicing her own objections.  And Paterson, like Rand, also knew that many Communists were pushing for America's entry into the European theater to aid the Soviet Union but that didn't stop either of them from recognizing the poison that was Nazi Germany.

I know Lindsay has no patience for those of us who like to dabble in nuance, those of the "yes, but..." crowd, who will always qualify an answer.  Read Rand's words below, and see the "yes, but..." approach in all its glory.  This is an Ayn Rand who was still questioning the wisdom of US WW2 policy for years after the end of that war.   From Robert Mayhew's book, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia:

Song of Russia made a small contribution toward (and is an excellent example of) the destructive alternative reality that was created in America, Europe, and around the world---a consequence of the idea that it was proper to lie about the nature of the Soviet Union since it helped defeat Nazi Germany.

Hand-in-hand with the alternative reality, supported by it, and equally destructive, was the idea that we should do anything to keep the Soviet Union as our ally against Hitler.  Aside from the impropriety and impracticality of lying to do so, was this in fact a good idea?  This is a complicated issue that cannot be sufficiently discussed here; instead, I'll simply present Ayn Rand's position, which unfortunately she did not share with the HUAC in 1947.  But first, the relevant exchange with Congressman Wood [before the House Un-American Activities Committee]:

Rand:  But if you want me to answer, I can answer, but it will take me a long time to say what I think, as to whether we should or should not have had Russia on our side in the war.  I can, but how much time will you give me?

Wood:  Well, do you say that it would have prolonged the war, so far as we were concerned, if they had been knocked out of it at that time?

Rand:  I can't answer that yes or no, unless you give me time for a long speech on it.

Wood:  Well, there is a pretty strong probability that we wouldn't have won it all, isn't there?

Rand:  I don't know, because on the other hand I think we could have used the lend-lease supplies that we sent there to much better advantage ourselves.

Wood:  Well, at that time---

Rand:  I don't know.  It is a question.

Wood:  We were furnishing Russia with all the lend-lease equipment that our industry would stand, weren't we?

Rand:  That is right.

Wood:  And continued to do it?

Rand:  I am not sure it was at all wise.  Now, if you want to discuss my military views---I am not an authority, but I will try.

Congressman Wood did not take her up on her offer.  But in the mid-1970s, Ayn Rand was asked about Lillian Hellman's Scoundrel Time and the resurgence of interest in the Hollywood blacklist.  As part of her answer, she gave a brief account of what she thought the American policy toward the Soviet Union should have been:

How many people died in this country, and in Russia or in Russian-occupied countries, because of Miss Hellman's ideas, God only knows.  Nobody could compute the evil of what those Communists in the 1930s did.  To begin with, they pushed this country into World War II.  What would have been a better policy?  Let Hitler march into Russia, as he had started to.  Let the two dictatorships fight each other, then the West---England, France, and the United States---should finish off the winner.  Then maybe, today, the world would be safe. (Except, of course, the ultimate safety of the world depends on philosophy, and nobody has the right ideas.)  People like Lillian Hellman were pushing the policy of this country to the left and in support of only one country---not the United States, but Soviet Russia.

It made no difference whether one supported our alliance with the Soviet Union because one admired the Soviets, as Hellman did, or on pragmatic grounds.  This policy, Rand believed, was wrong and destructive; it required that one accept or pretend to accept the alternative Soviet "reality."  The result was that Stalin and the Soviets were the big winners in World War II, whereas the people of Russia and Eastern Europe were the big losers.  This would not have been possible were it not for those who presented and pushed the Soviet Union---a la Song of Russia and Lillian Hellman---as a noble ally and savior.

But wherever one stands on the issue of the Soviet Union as an ally, Rand argued in 1947, lying to the American people is not justified:

We are discussing the fact that our country was an ally of Russia, and the question is:  what should we tell the American people about it---the truth or a lie?  If we had good reason, if that is what you believe, all right, then why not tell the truth?  Say it is a dictatorship, but we want to be associated with it.  Say it is worthwhile being associated with the devil, as Churchill said, in order to defeat another evil which is Hitler.  There might be some good argument made for that.  But why pretend Russia was not what it was?

This is a point that both the Left and the Right still do not get, namely, that neither the government nor anyone else should attempt to whitewash evil.  In the years since World War II, the Left has been willing to ignore the evils of leftist regimes around the world (in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, until the end, and in China and Cuba today, to give a few examples)---to pretend that they are what they are not---while supposedly being concerned about the suffering of humanity in places like South Africa, El Salvador, and the Philippines.  Similarly, the Right has been willing to ignore reality and whitewash dubious or evil regimes---to pretend that they are what they are not---in the name of combating Communism.  (A relevant example is President Reagan's support of the anti-Soviet Islamic "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan.)

Let's not forget that Rand found herself in a similar situation with regard to the Vietnam War---arguments for which continue to have a familiar ring.  Rand opposed US entry into Vietnam---but she believed that once the US was in that war, it faced a "Catch-22" situation.  "We have sacrificed thousands of American lives, and billions of dollars, to protect a primitive people who never had freedom, do not seek it, and, apparently, do not want it."  She knew that "the proclaimed purpose of the [Vietnam] war was not to protect freedom or individual rights, it was not to establish capitalism or any particular social system---it was to uphold the South Vietnamese right to 'national self-determination,' i.e., the right to vote themselves into any sort of system (including communism, as American propagandists kept proclaiming)."  Rand knew that principled statesmen did not exist, but that if such did exist in America, the enunciation of a "radically different foreign policy," coupled necessarily with a radically different domestic one, could have made possible immediate withdrawal:  "On such a policy, we could withdraw from Vietnam at once and the withdrawal would not be misunderstood by anyone, and the world would have a chance to achieve peace."

And let's not forget Rand's own lamentation about a century of warfare:

There still are people in this country who lost loved ones in World War I. There are more people who carry the unhealed wounds of World War II, of Korea, of Vietnam. There are the disabled, the crippled, the mangled of those wars' battlefields. No one has ever told them why they had to fight nor what their sacrifices accomplished; it was certainly not "to make the world safe for democracy"---look at that world now. The American people have borne it all, trusting their leaders, hoping that someone knew the purpose of that ghastly devastation. The United States gained nothing from those wars, except the growing burden of paying reparations to the whole world---the kind of burden that used to be imposed on a defeated nation.

I've argued over many of the above points for years now---and I am not looking to re-open debate.  What I have done here, however, is to present a more three-dimensional picture---courtesy of Robert Mayhew and Ayn Rand---of Rand's own opposition to US policy from World War II to Vietnam.  As an aside, however, let me say that many of us here, myself included, advocated a "commensurate counter-attack" (in the words of Isabel Paterson) against the forces of Islamic terrorism responsible for the barbarism of 9/11, and a wider cultural war against the forces of irrationality both at home and abroad.  Our opposition to the US entry into the Iraq theater, however, is on a par with Paterson's and Rand's own opposition to the US entry into the European theater of WW2; if we are "Saddamites," I see no way of avoiding the characterization of Paterson and Rand as "Hitlerites."  Or "Ho Chi Minh-ites" for that matter.

To bring this back to the subject at hand, Murray Rothbard:   Rothbard, like Rand, opposed US entry into virtually all 20th century wars.  Most assuredly, his approach differed from that of Rand, but I don't think one can make a sweeping generalization about his attitudes as "anti-American."  He was as concerned as Rand was about the counter-productive foreign policies which emboldened the enemies of freedom both at home and abroad; he was as concerned as Rand was about the intimate connection between foreign and domestic policy (as Rand put it:  "Foreign policy is merely a consequence of domestic policy").  His political attitudes emerged from the same loosely-defined "Old Right" intellectual tradition from which Rand herself learned much (a tradition that included thinkers such as Isabel Paterson, Rand's political "mentor" and John T. Flynn---whose work Rand and her Objectivist associates cited approvingly).

Finally, on a personal note, I can agree wholeheartedly with Mark Humphreys, who remembers the encouragement and intellectual nourishment that Rothbard gave to so many of us who were budding intellectual "freedom fighters"---regardless of how much we came to accept or reject his perspective, in total, or in part.

Post 39

Tuesday, March 8, 2005 - 7:48amSanction this postReply
Thanks, Chris, for saving me the time to look up those passages. And they provide a fuller picture. By the way, note that Rand was emphatic about not lying about communism. Even if we were to work with the devil we should not lie to ourselves and pretend that evil is anything else but what it is. This is the same point I make about Islam today but let me not hijack this thread Ö again!

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