Our entry into World War II was the crucial act in foisting a permanent militarization upon the economy and society, in bringing to the country a permanent garrison state, an overweening military-industrial complex, a permanent system of conscription. It was the crucial act in creating a mixed economy run by Big Government, a system of state monopoly capitalism run by the central government in collaboration with Big Business and Big Unionism.
During his years at graduate school in the late 1940s, Murray Rothbard considered whether a strict laissez-faire policy would require that private police agencies replace government protective services. He visited Baldy Harper, a founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, who doubted the need for any government whatsoever. During this period, Rothbard was influenced by nineteenth-century American individualist anarchists, like Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker, and the Belgian Economist Gustave de Molinari who wrote about how such a system could work. Thus he "combined the laissez-faire economics of Mises with the absolutist views of human rights and rejection of the state" from individualist anarchists. In an unpublished memo written around 1949 Rothbard concluded that in order to believe in laissez-faire one must also embrace anarchism.
He attended Columbia University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics in 1945 and, eleven years later, his PhD in economics in 1956. The delay in receiving his PhD was due in part to conflict with his advisor, Joseph Dorfman, and in part to Arthur Burns rejecting his doctoral dissertation. Burns was a longtime friend of the Rothbard family and their neighbor at their Manhattan apartment building. It was only after Burns went on leave from the Columbia faculty to head President Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisors that Rothbard's thesis was accepted and he received his doctorate. Rothbard later stated that all of his fellow students there were extreme leftists and that he was one of only two Republicans on the Columbia campus at the time.
As a young man, Rothbard considered himself part of the Old Right, an anti-statist and anti-interventionist branch of the Republican Party. In the 1948 presidential election, Rothbard, "as a Jewish student at Columbia, horrified his peers by organizing a Students for Strom Thurmond chapter, so staunchly did he believe in states' rights."
In an article for Rothbard's 50th birthday, Rothbard's friend and Buffalo State College Historian Ralph Raico stated that Rothbard "is the main reason that revisionism has become a crucial part of the whole libertarian position."
In 1953, in New York City, he married JoAnn Schumacher (1928–1999), whom he called Joey. JoAnn was his Editor and a close adviser, as well as hostess of his "Rothbard Salon". They enjoyed a loving marriage, and Rothbard often called her "the indispensable framework" behind his life and achievements. According to Joey, patronage from the Volker Fund allowed Rothbard to work from home as a freelance theorist and pundit for the first fifteen years of their marriage. The Fund collapsed in 1962, leading Rothbard to seek employment from various New York academic institutions. He was offered a part-time position teaching economics to the engineering students of Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1966, at age 40. This institution had no economics department or economics majors, and Rothbard derided its social science department as "Marxist." However, Justin Raimondo writes that Rothbard liked his role with Brooklyn Polytechnic because working only two days a week gave him freedom to contribute to developments in libertarian politics.
In 1954, Rothbard, along with several other attendees of Mises' seminar, joined the circle of Novelist Ayn Rand, the founder of Objectivism. He soon parted from her, writing, among other things, that her ideas were not as original as she proclaimed but similar to those of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Herbert Spencer. In 1958, however, after the publication of Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged, Rothbard wrote a "fan letter" to her, calling the book "an infinite treasure house," and "not merely the greatest novel ever written, [but] one of the very greatest books ever written, fiction or nonfiction." He also wrote, "you introduced me to the whole field of natural rights and natural law philosophy," prompting him to learn "the glorious natural rights tradition." Rothbard rejoined Rand's circle for a few months, but soon broke with Rand once more, over various differences, including his defense of anarchism.
Though he self-identified as an Austrian Economist, Rothbard's methodology was at odds with many other Austrians. In 1956, Rothbard deprecated the views of Austrian Economist Fritz Machlup, stating that Machlup was no praxeologist, and calling him instead a "positivist" who failed to represent the views of Ludwig von Mises. Rothbard stated that in fact Machlup shared the opposing positivist view associated with Economist Milton Friedman. Mises and Machlup had been colleagues in 1920s Vienna before each relocated to the United States, and von Mises later urged his American protege, Israel Kirzner, to pursue his PhD studies with Machlup at Johns Hopkins University.
By the late 1960s, Rothbard's "long and winding yet somehow consistent road had taken him from anti-New Deal and anti-interventionist Robert Taft supporter into friendship with the quasi-pacifist Nebraska Republican Congressman Howard Buffett (father of Warren Buffett) then over to the League of (Adlai) Stevensonian Democrats and, by 1968, into tentative comradeship with the anarchist factions of the New Left." Rothbard advocated an alliance with the New Left anti-war movement, on the grounds that the conservative movement had been completely subsumed by the statist establishment. However, Rothbard later criticized the New Left for supporting a "People's Republic" style draft. It was during this phase that he associated with Karl Hess and founded Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought with Leonard Liggio and George Resch, which existed from 1965 to 1968.
Rothbard called for the elimination of "the entire 'civil rights' structure" stating that it "tramples on the property rights of every American." He consistently favored repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, including Title VII regarded employment discrimination and called for overturning the Brown v. Board of Education decision on the grounds that forced integration of schools was aggressive. In an essay called "right-wing populism", Rothbard proposed a set of measures to "reach out" to the "middle and working classes", which included urging the police to crack down on "street criminals", writing that "cops must be unleashed" and "allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error". He also advocated that the police "clear the streets of bums and vagrants", and quipped "who cares?," in response to the question of where these people would go after being removed from public property.
From 1969 to 1984, he edited The Libertarian Forum, also initially with Hess (although Hess's involvement ended in 1971). The Libertarian Forum provided a platform for Rothbard's writing. Despite its small readership, it engaged conservatives associated with the National Review in nationwide debate. Rothbard rejected the view that Ronald Reagan's 1980 election as President was a victory for libertarian principles, and he attacked Reagan's economic program in a series of Libertarian Forum articles. In 1982, Rothbard called Reagan's claims of spending cuts a "fraud" and a "hoax", and accused Reaganites of doctoring the economic statistics in order to give the false impression that their policies were successfully reducing inflation and unemployment. He further criticized the "myths of Reaganomics" in 1987.
Imbibing Randolph Bourne's idea that "war is the health of the state", Rothbard opposed all wars in his lifetime, and engaged in anti-war activism. During the 1970s and 1980s, Rothbard was active in the Libertarian Party. He was frequently involved in the party's internal politics. He was one of the founders of the Cato Institute, and "came up with the idea of naming this libertarian think tank after Cato's Letters, a powerful series of British newspaper essays by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon which played a decisive influence upon America's Founding Fathers in fomenting the Revolution." From 1978 to 1983, he was associated with the Libertarian Party Radical Caucus, allying himself with Justin Raimondo, Eric Garris and Williamson Evers. He opposed the "low-tax liberalism" espoused by 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ed Clark and Cato Institute President Edward H Crane III. According to Charles Burris, "Rothbard and Crane became bitter rivals after disputes emerging from the 1980 LP presidential campaign of Ed Clark carried over to strategic direction and management of Cato."
In an essay condemning "scientism in the study of man", Rothbard rejected the application of causal determinism to human beings, arguing that the actions of human beings, as opposed to those of everything else in nature, are not determined by prior causes but by "free will". He argued that "determinism as applied to man, is a self-contradictory thesis, since the man who employs it relies implicitly on the existence of free will." Rothbard opposed what he considered the overspecialization of the academy and sought to fuse the disciplines of economics, history, ethics, and political science to create a "science of liberty." Rothbard described the moral basis for his anarcho-capitalist position in two of his books: For a New Liberty, published in 1973, and The Ethics of Liberty, published in 1982. In his Power and Market (1970), Rothbard describes how a stateless economy might function.
Rothbard was a strong critic of egalitarianism. The title essay of Rothbard's 1974 book Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays held, "Equality is not in the natural order of things, and the crusade to make everyone equal in every respect (except before the law) is certain to have disastrous consequences." In it, Rothbard wrote, "At the heart of the egalitarian left is the pathological belief that there is no structure of reality; that all the world is a tabula rasa that can be changed at any moment in any desired direction by the mere exercise of human will."
Rothbard's The Libertarian Forum blamed the Middle East conflict on Israeli aggression "fueled by American arms and money." Rothbard warned that the mid-East conflict would draw the U.S. into a world war. He was anti-Zionist and opposed U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Rothbard criticized the Camp David Accords for having betrayed Palestinian aspirations and opposed Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. In his essay, "War Guilt in the Middle East," Rothbard states that Israel refused "to let these refugees return and reclaim the property taken from them." He took negative views of the two state solution for the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, saying:
Rothbard split with the Radical Caucus at the 1983 national convention over cultural issues and aligned himself with what he called the "right-wing populist" wing of the party, notably Lew Rockwell and Ron Paul, who ran for President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988. "Rothbard worked closely with Lew Rockwell (joined later by his long-time friend Burt Blumert) in nurturing the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and the publication, The Rothbard-Rockwell Report; which after Rothbard's 1995 death evolved into the website, LewRockwell.com."
Rothbard continued in this role for twenty years, until 1986. Then 60 years old, Rothbard left Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute for the Lee Business School at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he held the title of S.J. Hall Distinguished Professor of Economics, an endowed chair paid for by a libertarian businessman. According to Rothbard's friend, colleague and fellow Misesian Economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Rothbard led a "fringe existence" in academia, but was able to attract a large number of "students and disciples" through his writings, thereby becoming "the creator and one of the principal agents of the contemporary libertarian movement." Rothbard maintained his position at UNLV from 1986 until his death. Rothbard founded the Center for Libertarian Studies in 1976 and the Journal of Libertarian Studies in 1977. In 1982, he co-founded the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and was vice President of academic affairs until 1995. The Institute's Review of Austrian Economics, a heterodox economics journal later renamed the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, was also founded by Rothbard in 1987.
In 1989, Rothbard left the Libertarian Party and began building bridges to the post-Cold War anti-interventionist right, calling himself a paleolibertarian, a conservative reaction against the cultural liberalism of mainstream libertarianism. Paleolibertarianism sought to appeal to disaffected working class whites through a synthesis of cultural conservatism and libertarian economics. According to Reason, Rothbard advocated right-wing populism in part because he was frustrated that mainstream thinkers were not adopting the libertarian view and suggested that former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and Wisconsin U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy were Models for an "Outreach to the Rednecks" effort that could be used by a broad libertarian/paleoconservative coalition. Working together, the paleo coalition would expose the "unholy alliance of 'corporate liberal' Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass." Rothbard blamed this "Underclass" for "looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America." Rothbard noted that David Duke's substantive political program in a Louisiana governor's race had "nothing" in it that "could not also be embraced by paleoconservatives or paleo-libertarians; lower taxes, dismantling the bureaucracy, slashing the welfare system, attacking affirmative action and racial set-asides, calling for equal rights for all Americans, including whites."
Rothbard supported the presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan in 1992, and wrote that "with Pat Buchanan as our leader, we shall break the clock of social democracy." When Buchanan dropped out of the Republican primary race, Rothbard then shifted his interest and support to Ross Perot, who Rothbard wrote had "brought an excitement, a verve, a sense of dynamics and of open possibilities to what had threatened to be a dreary race." Rothbard ultimately supported George Bush over Bill Clinton in the 1992 election.
Rothbard held strong opinions about many Leaders of the civil rights movement. He considered black separatist Malcolm X to be a "great black leader" and integrationist Martin Luther King to be favored by whites because he "was the major restraining force on the developing Negro revolution." Rothbard praised Malcolm X for "acting white" through use of his intellect and wit, and contrasted him favorably with the "fraudulent intellectual with a rococo Black Baptist minister style, "Dr." King". But while he compared Malcolm X's black nationalism favorably to King's integrationism, and for a time praised black nationalism, in 1993 he rejected the vision of a "separate black nation", asking "does anyone really believe that ... New Africa would be content to strike out on its own, with no massive "foreign aid" from the U.S.A.?" Rothbard also suggested that opposition to King, whom he demeaned as a "coercive integrationist", should be a litmus test for members of his "paleolibertarian" political movement.
After Rothbard's death in 1995 Lew Rockwell, President of the von Mises Institute, told The New York Times that Rothbard was "the founder of right-wing anarchism". william F. Buckley, Jr. wrote a critical obituary in the National Review criticizing Rothbard's "defective judgment" and views on the Cold War. The Ludwig von Mises Institute published Murray N. Rothbard, In Memoriam which included memorials from 31 individuals, including libertarians and academics. Journalist Brian Doherty summarizes Buckley's obituary as follows: "when Rothbard died in 1995, his old pal william Buckley took pen in hand to piss on his grave." Hoppe, Rockwell and Rothbard's colleagues at the Mises Institute took a different view, arguing that he was one of the most important Philosophers in history.
In a 2011 article critical of Rothbard's "reflexive opposition" to inflation, The Economist noted that his views are increasingly gaining influence among politicians and laypeople on the Right. The article contrasted Rothbard's categorical rejection of inflationary policies with the monetary views of "sophisticated Austrian-school monetary economists such as George Selgin and Larry White, [who] follow Hayek in treating stability of nominal spending as a monetary ideal—a position not all that different from Mr Sumner's".
Rothbard consistently advocated for abolition of the subpoena power, court attendance, contempt of court powers, coerced testimony of witnesses, compulsory jury duty, and the bail system, arguing that all these functions of the judiciary were violations of natural rights and American Common law. He instead advocated that until a defendant is convicted he or she should not be held in prison or jails, writing "except in those cases where the Criminal has been caught red-handed and where a certain presumption of guilt therefore exists, it is impossible to justify any imprisonment before conviction, let alone before trial. And even when someone is caught red-handed, there is an important reform that needs to be instituted to keep the system honest: subjecting the police and the other authorities to the same law as everyone else. If everyone is supposed to be subject to the same Criminal law, then exempting the authorities from that law gives them a legal license to commit continual aggression. The policeman who apprehends a Criminal and arrests him, and the judicial and penal authorities who incarcerate him before trial and conviction—all should be subject to the universal law." Rothbard argued that police who make wrongful arrests or indictments should be charged with kidnapping.