Friday, November 15, 2013

Thinkers in Disagreement: Admitting Flaws (and Worse)

English: Murray Rothbard in the 90's
English: Murray Rothbard in the 90's (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the questions I've been asked is how I can reconcile drawing bits and pieces of my personal views on economics and politics from individuals with disagreements. The answer is simple: we each create a personal philosophy drawing from experiences and those thoughts to which we are exposed. We embrace some ideas and reject others, even the ideas of someone we admire.

Some of the ideas and views expressed by thinkers I admire deserve to be rejected — that's true in economics, philosophy, and other disciplines.

I lean towards Austrian economic theories, but not without skepticism.

A name that comes up when I mention Austrian economics is Murray Rothbard. He's dismissed in the same way some dismiss Ayn Rand. (Rothbard quickly rejected Rand as a "cult" leader.)

"Rothbard was a fascist, racist, conservative." I'm paraphrasing, but that's the charge against him. I suppose I could mention the flaws of Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt in response. Humans are imperfect, and some of those imperfections are repugnant looking backwards.

The shame is that Rothbard was a serious, thoughtful economist. And he could be wrong on many things.

I admire some of the works of Murray Rothbard, but I don't agree with his radical libertarianism and rejection of popular democracy. Not that I endorse direct democracy, either: I like the republican form of the U.S. Constitution and its protection of minority opinions. The Ludwig von Mises Institute and Cato Institute both produce interesting scholarship, reflecting Rothbard's co-founding of each, but they also tend to assume investors and producers are always "good" for society. There are some serious problems with the von Mises Institute — and to deny those would be wrong.

I am not a social conservative, and the von Mises Institute was shaped by a conservatism I reject. There's little doubt that some of the institutes supporters are racists or at least "racialists" of some sort. If you can stand anywhere near David Duke, I don't understand you. ("Scholars" associated with the institute praised Duke — feel free to "Google" the topic of "racism von mises institute" or read about Lew Rockwell, former head of the institute.)

It is not my personal classical liberalism. But, I do not reject all that the institute publishes. I read critically.

My friends know that I read everything I can, from anarchists to socialists, and all thinkers between. Politics and economics are intertwined, in unpredictable ways. Libertarians occupy the entire political spectrum, as I've mentioned before in this space. I can learn from all, if I'm skeptical.

Ludwig von Mises wrote against racism, but many of the people associated with the Institute that bears his name at least tolerate the worst in our society. Rothbard did not actively reject racists or racist ideas. Sadly, neither did von Mises. Both men took "libertarianism" to allow and even empower racism through the notion of free association. If a private business can exclude clients, that does permit and encourage racism.

Rothbard defended Malcom X, while criticizing Martin Luther King, Jr. He supported the idea that free association should allow races to voluntarily segregate. I firmly believe the opposite, that integration and variety leads to a more creative and adaptable society.

Do I support free association? Sure, but I don't like groups based on race, religion, or gender. I do believe business operate in a "public space" and are subject to some restrictions. I'm not a believer in "anarcho-capitalism."

I can appreciate Rothbard in the same way I might appreciate Nietzsche, Sartre, or Heidegger: by taking bits and pieces to form my own philosophy. On racism, Ludwig von Mises did write the following during WWII:
Omnipotent Government
by Ludwig von Mises
VIII. ANTI-SEMITISM AND RACISM

The present war would never have originated but for anti-­Semitism. Only anti-Semitism made it possible for the Nazis to restore the German people's faith in the invincibility of its armed forces, and thus to drive Germany again into the policy of aggression and the struggle for hegemony. Only the anti-Semitic entanglement of a good deal of French public opinion prevented France from stopping Hitler when he could still be stopped without war. And it was anti-Semitism that helped the German armies find in every European country men ready to open the doors to them.

Mankind has paid a high price indeed for anti-Semitism.

http://mises.org/etexts/mises/og/chap8.asp

How Rothbard and von Mises could later tolerate racism in the name of freedom escapes me. At the very least, even in a "free market of ideas" you need to speak out against racism and other forms of hate.
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