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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Thinking About Dead Libertarians

Murray Rothbard
By Bill Kaufman

I have been thinking about dead libertarians.

The proximate cause is the recent death of historian Ralph Raico. He was a mordant wit and a fiery orator—his talk at the Cato Institute on the 70th anniversary of the Russian Revolution remains the most searing indictment of Soviet tyranny I have ever heard. But he remains a mystery to me.

Our friendship was epistolary. Though Ralph taught and lived in Buffalo, 40 miles to our west, I saw him but once in the last quarter century. Ralph was company-averse. Now, it could be that I am a peculiarly unpleasant lunch companion, but others who knew him better had the same experience. I once spoke at an awards ceremony for the Buffalo State history department—held in a hail-fellow downtown bar—and yet his colleagues could not persuade Ralph to venture the five blocks for a beer and a hello.

I figured Ralph must have been ill when last year he dropped me a note saying that he was disposing of his library and asking if I’d like to come by and select some books. Would I ever! I can only imagine the anarcho-esoterica lodged on those shelves. “How about next week?” I replied—and of course I never heard from him again.

I wish I’d known what made him tick. But had I ever asked Ralph such a trite question, he’d have parried it with a devastating witticism.

Ralph was one of a coterie of older libertarians who sailed letters my way when I joined the staff of Reason magazine in 1985. Though my background was populist liberal, they quickly kenned that I was unapologetically antiwar in the isolationist, quasi-pacifist tradition of the Lost America. 

Besides Ralph, my welcome wagon consisted of the ebullient Murray Rothbard, the gentlemen Leonard Liggio and Joseph Peden, and the massive and complicated Roy Childs.

Like the early neoconservatives, the libertarian graybeards were mostly Catholics and Jews and largely New York City-bred or based. Some had met during the Robert Taft presidential campaign. Who’d have guessed that Youth for Taft ins ’52 was hipper than a John Clellon Holmes-Allen Ginsberg-Jack Kerouac rent party? (Kerouac, a good Catholic Taft supporter, would have understood.)

I liked their incongruities. The mild-mannered Liggio, long-time president of the Institute for Humane Studies, had been a prominent member of the Vietnam-era Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal. Ralph, who authored the fledgling Libertarian Party’s rousing defense of gay rights, mailed lovely Madonna and Child Christmas cards.

Then there was Murray Rothbard.

Read the rest here.

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