What would Rothbard think of Trump?

October 14, 2015

I spend a fair amount time (probably too much) observing what libertarians and other right-leaning ideologues are saying over blogs and social media. It is clear that a lot of libertarians have a real problem with Donald Trump, even moreso than with the mainstream GOP candidates. This is understandable, as Trump is not a libertarian by any definition. It is further understandable for those libertarians who had high hopes that Rand Paul would be the outsider this year, challenging the conventional conservative wisdom. Paul was always a long shot for the presidency, but he at least had the potential to force the GOP to address certain libertarian critiques. With Trump in the spotlight, there is not much interest in Paul, who does not suffer an abundance of charisma.

 

As I was observing the Trump phenomenon over the past few weeks, however, I could not help but suspect that Murray Rothbard (that paragon of intellectual right-wing anarchism) would have been delighted by the Trump campaign, had he lived to see it. This is not because he would have agreed with much of what Trump has to say. Rather, Rothbard tended to like just about anyone who made the mainstream intelligentsia reach for the smelling salts. This is how he could support both the Black Panthers and then Pat Buchanan without personally moving on the ideological spectrum. Rather than take my word for it, here are is a passage from The Betrayal of the American Right, where Rothbard explained his interest in Joe McCarthy (who was even less of a libertarian than Trump is today):

 

But there was another reason for my own fascination with the McCarthy phenomenon: his populism. For the ‘50s was an era when liberalism – now accurately termed “corporate liberalism” – had triumphed, and seemed to be permanently in the saddle. Having now gained the seats of power, the liberals had given up their radical veneer of the ‘30s and were now settling down to the cozy enjoyment of their power and perquisites. It was a comfortable alliance of Wall Street, Big Business, Big Government, Big Unions, and liberal Ivy League intellectuals; it seemed to me that while in the long run this unholy alliance could only be overcome by educating a new generation of intellectuals, that in the short run the only hope to dislodge this new ruling elite was a populist short circuit. In sum, there was a vital need to appeal directly to the masses, emotionally, even demagogically, over the heads of the Establishment … It seemed to me that this is what McCarthy was trying to do; and that was largely his appeal, the open-ended sense that there was no audacity of which McCarthy was not capable, that frightened the liberals, who, from their opposite side of the fence, also saw that the only danger to their rule was in just such a whipping up of populist emotions.

 

That all sounds fairly similar to what Trump is doing today. 

 

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