For many who have read this book-length essay, it marked a turning point in a new understanding.
The mainstream will forever attempt to pigeonhole belief systems based on the left-right dichotomy. The right supposedly favors economic freedom plus militarism, while the left favors socialism plus peace. Rothbard says that this breakdown is not only incoherent, it has no support in the history of ideas.
In fact, Rothbard goes further to say that traditionally, the right has been the party of the establishment, of stasis, of the status quo, while the left in history has been the party of progress, freedom, and peace. These roles have periodically reversed based on the times and the country in question. But in these reversals, the intellectual coherence of these paradigms has gotten lost and confused.
Rothbard's broad look is a mind-opening experience. It has the effect of liberating you from the prevailing paradigm.
Rothbard's main task, however, is to provide a completely new and ideologically consistent lens with which to view history and current events.
"For the libertarian, the main task of the present epoch is to cast off his needless and debilitating pessimism, to set his sights on long-run victory and to set about the road to its attainment," he writes. "To do this, he must, perhaps first of all, drastically realign his mistaken view of the ideological spectrum; he must discover who his friends and natural allies are, and above all perhaps, who his enemies are. Armed with this knowledge, let him proceed in the spirit of radical long-run optimism that one of the great figures in the history of libertarian thought, Randolph Bourne, correctly identified as the spirit of youth."
This influential essay was written in the context of the youth rebellion of the 1960s. Libertarianism is not a form of conservatism; the two worldviews proceed from nearly opposing premises, starting with an extreme pessimism underlying conservatism. The modern left, meanwhile, remains bogged down in statism and socialism. Yet as Rothbard points out, it is historically from the left - more to the point, classical liberalism - where the greatest strides toward liberty have been made, with periodic youthful rebellion against the old order being a main catalyst. Reorienting the current mistaken left-right spectrum, then, is essential to the cause of liberty. A good deal of this essay is about how liberalism came to be conflated with statism via the "progressive" movement. Here Rothbard relies on the work of New Left historiam Gabriel Kolko. A good giveaway-size paperback perfect for the Tea Party right and Netroots left alike, both of whom probably need to read this.
Great essay by Rothbard.
Some background on the publication history of this article.
It is available in "Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays", so if you have that collection or plan to, keep that in mind.
It first appeared in "Left & Right" #1, and was reprinted in "Left & Right: Selected Essays" and "The Libertarian Alternative" edited by Tibor Machan and most likely in "Left & Right: Complete".
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