Friday, October 11, 2019

Would It Ever Makes Sense to Form a Libertarian Rothbardian-Style Alliance With AOC?

Murray Rothbard
Brian T. emails:
In the same manner as Rothbard might, can a libertarian ever partner on sound topics with someone like AOC who holds many other dangerous positions?...
Tactically I think it could be important except that unlike other Rothbardian alliances, keeping quiet about areas of disagreement would be turned on its head. Every opportunity should be taken to call out the most dangerous position and it’s flaws alongside whatever aligning issue is being worked on together.
RW response:

The short answer is yes an alliance could be formed, if there is an important issue upon which to form one.

On a more detailed look, it doesn't appear that there are many issues, if any, that libertarians could form an alliance with AOC on at this time. 

She is a pretty hardcore statist.

That said, it should be remembered that Rothbard once joined the New York City Maoist wing of a Leninist-Trotskyite party during the Vietnam anti-war movement.

He wrote:

 I found that the preliminary platform and the only requirement for membership contained only two planks: the first was immediate U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, and the second was some plank so vague about being nice to everyone that almost anyone, left, right, center could have endorsed it. Great: here was a coalition party dedicated only to immediate withdrawal from Vietnam and requiring no commitment whatever to statism! As a result, our entire libertarian group in New York poured happily into the new party.
My suspicion is that Rothbard was a political junkie and so he wanted to find some way to get in on the action and hence this alliance.

But as for how to deal with a non-libertarian partner on issues not part of the alliance, Rothbard had a very complex view.

On one level, you don't want to bludgeon your alliance partner with all the views where you differ that will shut them off to you. So, for the most part, you don't want to attack them on issue of disagreement but you can't be a sell out.

As Rothbard wrote in Strictly Confidential:

But this doesn't mean you can't look for opportunities to flip some as Brian is suggesting. In fact, Rothbard's take is pretty close to that of Brian's.

Rothbard saw the potential for recruits within the alliance partner. From my copy of Rothbard's unpublished paper on strategy:

Here is a Google conversion of the page to text:

Which issues the cadre chooses to form alliances and work in depends on a judgment of importance in relation to the real world content at the given time and place. Thus, it would be an evident waste of time and energy for current libertarians to find shipping interests with whom we could make a united front agitation in the cause of denationalizing lighthouses. But coalition strategies for: repealing OSHA or the income tax, or legalizing marijuana, or (in the late 60's) pulling out of the Vietnam war or repealing the draft, might have a high priority in the mass agitation of the libertarian movement.

While using coalitions with numerically larger allies on concrete issues, the libertarian cadre is also pursuing a double strategy: namely, to recruit more people, if not for top cadre immediately, at least for a few rungs up the libertarian pyramid. These recruits can come from the allies themselves, or from the mass of the public who are being informed about the specific issues. 

Normally, the proper tactic will be to begin with the concerns of the people being worked on, to show that you are with them on this particular issue, and then to "widen their libertarian consciousness" by showing them that to be really consistent on the issues they favor they must also adopt the other libertarian positions. Thus, while working with left-wing civil libertarians on common issues, it can be pointed out to them that libertarians are the only consistent civil liberties advocates, that personal

freedom cannot exist without private property rights, etc. Similarly, conservative advocates of free enterprise can be shown that outlawing pornography or drugs violates the very system of private property and free enterprise that they profess to favor.

It is a skill to be able to present views that are different from that of the listener but it can be done.

In my case, I believe, it almost always makes sense for me to readily reveal my libertarian perspective when I have an intellectual discussion with anyone. When I have discussions with Fed members who don't know me, I always start off with, "I am one of those guys that think you are going to crash the economy again" or "I am one of those guys who thinks the Fed should be shut down."

When I am introduced to a government official, I usually start with, "Well, I am an anarchist but I sure do like to meet the people in power." 

These kinds of openings let people know where I stand and it actually, in most cases, causes them to pay even closer attention.

One very high-level person in a former administration who I talk to occasionally and knows my views, once asked me a question about a very delicate international crisis, "Bob, what would the Austrians do?" 

I consider just that question being asked by this person as a major victory.

So, yes, if there is something that makes sense form an alliance with AOC, there is no reason not to do it.

However, it must be done in a way where the issue is front and center and does not become a promotion of what a wonderful person AOC is. And as part of such an alliance, it generally does not make sense to immediately shove a lot of libertarian perspectives on, in this case, AOC followers.

Over time, as Rothbard put it, we can "widen their libertarian consciousness."



  1. Rothbard was a genius at economics and a talented and compelling writer about the subject. But he was a complete failure at political tactics or strategy. That failure is manifest in the present day libertarian movement of which he was a founder. It is not dominated by large political organizations or D.C. lobbyists and think tanks. It consists of a multitude of entrepreneurial information sources. And that's a good thing. If Rothbard had been a successful political strategist that would mean he was willing to gain power over people to force them to his point of view. That's what politics is all about...Power over people. Fortunately,that was not Rothbard. He was clearly intrigued, even obsessed with the study of human action including politics. But I think he eventually realized that politics was not the answer.

    If you embrace a pig you will get dirty and be disappointed while the pig will enjoy it. Don't do it.

  2. All of that is nonsense. Rothbard was a leader but not in any way a founder of the libertarian/classical liberal movement that goes back centuries.

    Rothbard would not argue with a "let a thousand flowers bloom" movement structure, see for his argument on this within the Libertarian Party before he left the party because it ceased to be libertarian.

    Politics is not always about "power over people". It can be just as much about removing power over people. Examine the record of Ron Paul. To foster this direction in the LP I proposed a "Rothbard Pledge" at for LP candidates. But by that time (2003) most members of the LP had never heard of Rothbard or any of his important ideas on strategy. The party had been lost.

    Rothbard would never have embraced the idea that "politics is not the answer" in the sense you suggest, disengaging from whatever electoral and other political activities are allowed by the State; that would have been giving up. As an anarchist he would agree that "politics is not the answer" to organizing society, but that is something altogether different.

    Was Rothbard a successful strategist? If by "strategist" we mean someone who, at a high level, allocates resources toward an end, then the question does not apply, Rothbard was not a resource allocator. But as a strategic thinker producing the high level ideas necessary for strategic work, he brought clarity to the subject that, as with most of what he wrote, surpassed others. See Rothbard's short paper 'Strategies for a Libertarian Victory' at for more of his ideas.