If a man could be judged only by the friends he has kept and the enemies he has made, Murray Rothbard was one of the best men produced by the American right. Some of Murray’s friendships go back, without interruption, to the 1950’s, and his collection of personal enemies constitutes a rogues’ gallery of conservative turncoats and con-men. He was the declared enemy of every form of tyranny, including the tyranny of fashionable opinion, and from the beginning he was hated by the magazines and newspapers that are so many bases for the occupying army that has been imposed upon a once free people. Whenever one of the locals dares to speak out or paints a mustache on the Leader’s posters, they dispatch their little band of character assassins to haul the dissident off to “the booby hatch,” (What style these latter-day Goebbels have!) From a thousand miles away I can already hear the Manhattan slander machine cranking up, clearing its collective throat to muster enough saliva to spit upon a good man’s grave.
Of course, it was easy for good conservatives to take issue with Rothbard’s strong opinions on, for example, the Vietnam War, the Federal Reserve System, or the privatization of everything from lighthouses to armies, and Russell Kirk could never bring himself to appreciate the value of Rothbard’s anarchism or the purity of his commitment to the principle of liberty. But his criticisms were ideological, not personal, and conservatives even more traditionalist than Dr. Kirk—the late M.E. Bradford, for example, and Paul Gottfried (alive and still kicking)—got to know Murray and esteemed him both as a scholar and as a friend.
Professor Rothbard was well-known for his economic history and libertarian philosophy, although to the press he was mostly cited for his polemical expressions on every subject under the sun. He read everything he could get his hands on, knew an enormous amount about a great many things, and although he moved from alliance to alliance like Eliza hopping across the ice floes, he never deviated from his central commitments: a defense of individual liberty and a lifelong war against our enemy the state.
My friendship with Murray Rothbard was one of the fruits of communism’s collapse. I do not recall just when it happened, but some time before the demolition of the Berlin Wall or the secession of the Ukraine, it became clear to many of us that we had been had, that as conservatives we were constantly being asked to play the sucker’s game of supporting liberal wars after the liberals were smart enough to get out. Our writings on these subjects attracted Rothbard’s attention, and he wrote me the letter which began the correspondence which led to a series of meetings that resulted in the formation of the John Randolph Club.
I was about to write “ultimately resulted,” when I realized that there is nothing ultimate, either in life or in death. Murray’s legacy—his books, the memories his friends cherish, his fighting spirit—will last as long as there arc Americans willing to speak truth to power. I dreamed I saw Rothbard last night, alive as you or me . . .