I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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Some history behind those Ron Paul newsletters

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Whoever is producing the attack ads for John Huntsman is as good as any I’ve seen– witness the ad above going after Ron Paul over the newsletter issues.

Meanwhile, this whole mess has brought up very obscure doctrinal disputes among libertarians, which remind me of similar doctrinal disputes between obscure or even non-obscure far-left groups going back to the thirties, including the conviction that those old arguments somehow still matter.  In any event, if you are trying to puzzle out exactly what those Ron Paul newsletters were about (or even who the principals are– why does Lew Rockwell sound vaguely familiar?  And who is Murray Rothbard, anyway? Is that the guy pointed out as having bought the White Sox in that scene in the Great Gatsby?*), or if you were vaguely aware of some sort of blood feud among libertarians and never really knew what brought it on, this may be your moment to parse it out.

First, there’s this post on the Reason blog, riffing on Ron Paul’s remark that Rockwell (who probably wrote those newsletters, mostly) and Rothbard (Rockwell’s mentor) “enjoyed antagonizing people…” Then, from that post, there’s a link to an old review of a collection of Rothbard’s unpublished writing that goes further, explaining the border between Rothbard and Frederick Hayek (and where we learn, boy, did William Buckley hate Rothbard), and finally, from this blog post we learn that one change causing Paul and his friends to cease openly flirting with the survivalist militia folk was that “Oklahoma City put an end to many people’s brief fascination with the “militia” movement…”

Here’s how long-term Rothbard’s commitment to flirtation with the far reaches of Southern segregationists went:  In 1948, while he was a graduate student at Columbia (and having never lived in the South) he came out for Strom Thurmond’s States Rights candidacy for President.

And just to prove my point about the comparison to old left disputes, that last blog post provides a link to an early 80s article by Rothbard that (in part) explains a libertarian schism at the Cato Institute:

In the first place, bureaucratic opportunists and unprincipled technicians and would-be technicians find it difficult to engage in any sort of reasoned argument.  Argument means principles, and principles is precisely what opportunists are always weak on.  Stalin could never out-argue Trotsky or Bukharin; he just had the bureaucracy with him, which, unfortunately, turned out to be enough.

Rothbard, of course, casts himself as Trotsky or Bukharin and Ed Clark, who ousted him, as Stalin.   Personally, if I were doing a purge, Rothbard reads like a good candidate for it.

As an additional aside, reading between the lines, I think I see the outlines of the fight among libertarians alluded to but unexplained in the book Keynes Hayek, described near the end of my 2011 reading list.

Further thought:  There’s an unintentionally hilarious subtext to that early 80s article, which concerns Rothbard, who styled himself both a libertarian and an “anarcho-capitalist,” showing up at a board meeting of the Cato Institute to assert that the board had acted illegally in attempting to cancel his stock shares and throw him off the board.  He showed up at a board meeting with a lawyer, asserting that they were stealing his property rights.  From whence did this hater-of-government think those property rights originated?  And by what mechanism did he plan to enforce them should all else fail?  Is this when he’d reach for his gun?


*No.  That’s Arnold Rothstein, although Fitzgerald renames him Meyer Wolfsheim.

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