A great speech by Hoppe that was the keynote address presented at the Mises Institute’s 35th Anniversary Celebration in New York City on October 7, 2017. Transcript below
I first met Murray Rothbard in the summer of 1985. I was then 35 and Murray was 59. For the next ten years, until Murray’s premature death in 1995, I would be associated with Murray, first in New York City and then in Las Vegas, at UNLV, in closer, more immediate and direct contact than anyone else, except his wife Joey, of course.
Being almost as old now as Murray was at the time of his death I thought it appropriate to use this occasion to speak and reflect a bit on what I learned during my ten years with Murray.
I was already an adult when I first met Murray, not just in the biological but also in the mental and intellectual sense, and yet, I only came of age while associated with him — and I want to talk about this experience.
Before I met Murray I had already completed my Ph.D. and attained the rank of a Privatdozent (a tenured but unpaid university professor), the same rank incidentally that Ludwig von Mises once held in Vienna. Apart from my doctoral dissertation (Erkennen und Handeln), I had already completed two books. One, (Kritik der kausalwissenschaftlichen Sozialforschung) that revealed me as a Misesian, and another, about to be published in the following year, (Eigentum, Anarchie und Staat) that revealed me as a Rothbardian. I had already read all of Mises’s and Rothbard’s theoretical works. (I had not yet read Murray’s voluminous journalistic work, however, which was essentially unavailable to me at the time.) Thus, it was not my personal encounter with Murray, then, that made me a Misesian and Rothbardian. Intellectually, I was already a Misesian and Rothbardian years before I ever met Murray personally. And so, notwithstanding the fact that I am myself foremost a theoretician, I do not want to speak here about the grand Austro-libertarian intellectual edifice that Mises and, in his succession, Rothbard have handed down to us, or about my own small contributions to this system, but about my long personal experience with Murray: about the practical and existential lessons that I learned through my encounters with him and that turned me from an adult to a man who had come of age.
I moved to New York City, because I considered Murray the greatest of all social theorists, certainly of the 20th century and possibly of all times, just as I considered Mises the greatest of all economists, and, with Mises having long gone and out of the picture, I wanted to meet, get to know and work with this man, Rothbard. I still hold this view concerning the greatness of Mises and Rothbard. Indeed, even more so today than 30 years ago. And since then, there has been no second Mises or Rothbard. Not even close, and we may have to wait for a long time for this to happen.
So I moved to NYC knowing Murray’s work, but knowing almost nothing about the man. Remember, this was 1985. I was still writing in longhand and then using a mechanical typewriter, acquainting myself with a computer for the first time only during the following year at UNLV. And Murray never used a computer but stayed with an electric typewriter until the end of his life. There were no cell-phones, there were no emails, no internet, no Google, no Wikipedia, and no Youtube. At the beginning, even fax-machines did not exist. My correspondence with Murray preceding my arrival in NYC, then, was by old, regular snail-mail. Murray expressed his enthusiasm about my wish to meet and work with him and immediately offered to enlist the help of Burton Blumert, and indeed, Burt then was of instrumental help in facilitating my move from Europe to the US. (The wonderful Burt Blumert, owner of Camino Coins, and founder of the original Center for Libertarian Studies that would ultimately be merged with the Mises Institute, was one of Murray’s dearest friends and confidants. He was also a great benefactor and dear friend to me.)
I had seen some photos of Murray, I knew that he, like Mises, was Jewish, that he taught at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute (subsequently renamed New York Polytechnic University and nowadays Polytechnic Institute of NYU), that he was the editor of the much admired Journal of Libertarian Studies, and that he was closely associated, as its academic director, with the Ludwig von Mises Institute that Lew Rockwell had recently, 35 years ago, in 1982, founded. That was about it.
And so, both unprepared, we met for the first time in Murray’s university office. Here was I, the ‘cool blonde from the North,’ to cite a popular advertisement for bitter tasting northern German beers, young, tall and athletic, somewhat unsociable, dry and with a dry sense of humor, and more on the blunt, sarcastic and confrontational side. Perfect Wehrmacht-material, if you will. And there was Murray: the ‘big-city neurotic,’ to use the German title of Woody Allen’s comedic Annie Hall, a generation older, short and round, non-athletic, even clumsy (except for typing), gregarious and hilarious, never moping but ever joyful, and, in his personal dealings (quite unlike in his writings), always non-confrontational, well-tempered or even tame. Not exactly Wehrmacht-material. Personality-wise, then, we could hardly have been more different. Indeed, we were quite an odd couple — and yet, we hit it off from the start.
Given the long, special relationship between Germans and Jews, especially during the 12-year period of Nationalsocialist Party rule in Germany, from 1933–45, I, as a young German meeting an older Jew in America, had been afraid that this history might become a potential source of tension. Not so. Quite to the contrary.
On the subject of religion itself, there was general agreement. We were both agnostics, yet with a profound interest in the sociology of religion and quite similar views on comparative religion. Yet Murray greatly deepened my understanding of the role of religion in history through his unfortunately uncompleted great work, during the last decade of his life, on the history of economic thought.
Moreover, in our countless conversations, I learned from Murray about the importance of complementing Austro-libertarian theory with revisionist history in order to come up with a truly realistic assessment of historic events and global affairs. And it was I, then, as someone who had grown up in defeated and devastated post-WWII West-Germany with the then (and still) ‘official history’ taught across all German schools and universities of (a) feeling guilty and ashamed of being German and German history and (b) believing that America and America’s democratic capitalism was ‘the greatest thing’ since or even before the invention of sliced bread, who had to revise his formerly still, despite all Austro-libertarian theory, rather naïve views about world affairs in general and US-American and German history in particular. As a matter of fact, Murray made me fundamentally change my rather rosy view of the US (despite Vietnam and all that) and helped me, for the first time, to feel consoled, content and even happy about being German, and to develop a special concern for Germany and the fate of the German people.
To my initial surprise, then, — and ultimately my great and pleasant relief — Murray was quite a Germanophile. He knew and highly appreciated the German contributions to philosophy, mathematics, science, engineering, scholarly history and literature. His beloved teacher Mises had originally written in German and was a product of German culture. Murray loved German music, he loved German baroque churches, he loved the Bavarian beer-garden atmosphere and the from-church-to-beer-garden-we-go tradition. His wife Joey was of German ancestry, her maiden-name being JoAnn Schumacher, and Joey was a member of the Richard-Wagner-Society and a lifelong opera buff. As well, most of Murray’s friends that I would eventually meet turned out to be Germanophiles.
Foremost among them Ralph Raico, the great historian of classical liberalism, who I had hoped to see again at this occasion but who sadly left us forever almost a year ago now. I met Ralph only a few months after my arrival in NYC, at a party held at Murray’s apartment on the upper Westside. I immediately took to his caustic sarcasm and over the years we developed a close friendship. Apart from our many meetings at various Mises Institute events, I still fondly remember in particular our extended joint travels in northern Italy and especially when, at a conference in Milano, sponsored by some friends and affiliates of the once (but no longer) secessionist Lega Nord, some self-proclaimed — who would have guessed that?! — “anti-fascist” demonstrators appeared in front of the conference hotel to denounce us, to our great amusement, as ‘libertari-fascisti.’ Ralph was also the one who introduced me to the revisionist scholarship concerning WWI and WWII as well as the entire interwar period, and it was Ralph, who taught me about the history of German liberalism and in particular its radical 19th century libertarian representatives that had been almost completely forgotten in contemporary Germany.
Incidentally, Lew Rockwell, too, early on showed his Germanophile credentials. When we first met in NYC in the fall of 1985, he drove a Mercedes 190, he then went astray for a few years, driving an American-made pickup truck, but ultimately returned to the fold by driving a Mini-Cooper, produced by BMW.
But above all it was Murray, who taught me never to trust official history, invariably written by the victors, but to conduct all historical research instead like a detective investigating a crime. Always, first and foremost and as a first approximation, follow the money in search of a motive. Who is to gain, whether in terms of money, real estate or sheer power from this measure or that? In most cases, answering this question will lead you directly to the very actor or group of actors responsible for the measure or policy under consideration. Simple as it is to ask this question, however, it is much more difficult and requires often arduous research to answer it, and to unearth, from under a huge smokescreen of seemingly high-minded rhetoric and pious propaganda, the hard facts and indicators — the money flows and welfare-gains — to actually prove a crime and to identify and ‘out’ its perpetrators. Murray was a master in this, and that at a time when you did not have access to computers, the internet and search machines such as Google. And to do this detective’s work, as I learned from Murray, you must go beyond official documents, the MSM, the big and famous names, the academic ‘stars’ and the ‘prestigious’ journals — in short: everything and everyone deemed ‘respectable’ and ‘politically correct.’ You must also, and in particular, pay attention to the work of outsiders, extremists and outcasts, i.e., to ‘disrespectable’ or ‘deplorable’ people and ‘obscure’ publication outlets that you are supposed to ignore or not even know about. To this day, I have heeded, and indeed relished following this advice. Anyone who could see my list of bookmarks of frequently visited websites would likely be surprised, and any establishmentarian or leftist in particular would likely be shocked and shudder in disgust.
With this general perspective and outlook on things, revisionists such as Murray (and myself) are regularly charged, contemptuously, as some nutty conspiracy theorists. To this charge, Murray would typically respond: First, put bluntly and sarcastically, even if one were a certified paranoid this cannot be taken as proof that no one was actually after you and your money. And second and more systematically: Conspiracies are less likely, of course, the larger the number of supposed conspirators. Also, it is naïve to assume the existence of just one big all-encompassing conspiracy run by one all-powerful group of conspirators. But conspiracies, often rival or even contradictory conspiracies, i.e., confidential efforts of various groups of people acting in concert in the pursuit of some common goal, are indeed an ever-present feature of social reality. As any action, such conspiracies can succeed or they can fail and can lead to consequences that were un-intended by the conspirators. But realistically speaking, most if not all historical events are more or less exactly what some identifiable people or group of people acting in concert intended them to be. Indeed, to assume the opposite is to assume, incredibly, that history is nothing but a sequence of unintelligible accidents.
Moreover, in learning from Murray about the necessity of complementing Austro-libertarian theory with revisionist history so as to gain a complete, realistic picture of the world and worldly affairs, I also received constant training from him in the art of prudent and judicious judgment and evaluation of people, actions and events. Pure theory allows us to make rather clear-cut judgments of true or false, right or wrong, and effective, leading to the goal intended, or ineffective. But many if not most actions and events provoking or eliciting our judgments do not fall into the category of matters that can be thusly evaluated. We are surrounded, or better still: encircled, by a class of people — politicians and state-agents — that, day-in and day-out, renders and enforces decisions that systematically impact and affect our property and consequently our entire conduct of life without our consent and even against our explicit protestation. In short: we are confronted by an elite of rulers, instead of, in contradistinction, an elite of agents. And confronted with politicians and political decisions, then, our judgment concerns the evaluation of, at best, second-bests. The question is not true or false, right or wrong, effective or ineffective. Rather, it is this: Given that political decisions are per se false, wrong and ineffective, which of these decisions is less false, wrong and effective and comparatively closer to the truth, the right and the good, and which person represents a lesser evil or a greater one than another. Such questions do not allow for a scientific answer, because answering them involves the comparative evaluation of countless immeasurable and incommensurable variables. And in any case, newly discovered facts about the past or future developments may well reveal any such judgment as mistaken. But the answer is also not arbitrary. What is true, right and effective is given, as fix-points, and reasons must be supplied, whether based on logic or empirical evidence, for locating various second-bests as closer or more distant to such points. Rather, judgment-making in matters such as these is a difficult art, much like entrepreneurship is not a science but an art. And just as some people are good at entrepreneurship and others bad, indicated by monetary profits or losses, then, so are some people good at judging political events and actors and others bad, gaining or losing in the reputation as wise and prudent judges.
Murray was of course not unfailing in his judgments. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, for instance, he misjudged the anti-war stand of the New Left as more principled than it really was, something that he afterwards readily admitted as a mistake. And I know of at least one, rather personal case, where Joey’s judgment was better and more on the mark than his. This notwithstanding however, I have not encountered anyone of sounder, subsequently vindicated judgment than Murray.
With this I want to come to the second major lesson I learned during my long association with Murray. While the first lesson in revisionism concerned matters of practice and method, the second lesson concerned existential matters.
Before I met Murray, I knew of course that he was a radical outsider in a predominantly leftist-liberal academia and I expected (and was willing to accept for myself) that this would involve some sacrifices, i.e., that one would have to pay a price for being a Rothbardian, not only, but also in terms of money. But I was quite surprised to realize how high this price was. I knew that Brooklyn Polytechnic was not a prestigious university, yet I expected Murray to occupy there a comfortable, well-paying post. Moreover, at the time I still fancied the US as a bastion and bulwark of free enterprise and consequently expected that Murray, as the foremost intellectual champion of capitalism and the personified anti-thesis to Marx, would be held in high esteem, if not in academia then certainly outside of it, in the world of commerce and business, and accordingly be rewarded with a certain degree of affluence.
In fact, at Brooklyn Polytechnic Murray occupied a small, grungy and windowless office that he had to share with a history professor. In Germany, even research assistants enjoyed more comfortable surroundings, not to speak of full professors. Murray ranked among the lowest paid full professors at his school. Indeed, my German National Science Foundation grant at the time — a Heisenberg scholarship — turned out to be considerably higher than Murray’s university salary (something that I was too ashamed to reveal to him after I had discovered it). And Murray’s apartment in Manhattan, large and filled to the ceiling with books, was dark and run-down. Certainly nothing like the penthouse that I had imagined him to occupy. This situation improved significantly with his move in 1986, at age 60, to Las Vegas and UNLV. While my salary went down there as compared to my previous compensation, Murray’s went sharply up, but was still below 100K, and he could afford to buy a roomy but spartan house. Even as the holder of an endowed chair at UNLV, however, Murray did not have command of any research assistants or a personal secretary.
Yet Murray never complained or showed any bitterness or signs of envy but always plugged along joyfully and pushed ahead instead with his writings. This was a hard lesson for me to learn and I am still having difficulties following it at times.
A propos, Joey and Murray once told me laughingly how, at the time when they were still dating, both had expected the other to be a good catch. Joey, because Murray was Jewish, and Murray, because Joey was gentile — only to then find out that they were both wrong in their expectations.
Moreover, despite his towering achievements as an intellectual champion of free market capitalism, Murray never won any prizes, awards or honors to speak of. That he did not win a Nobel prize in economics was not surprising, of course. After all, the great Mises also did not win it. But in the US alone there existed dozens of institutions — think-tanks, foundations, business associations, research centers and universities — that professed their dedication to free markets and liberty, and yet none of them ever awarded Murray any significant prize or honorary award, all the while they showered people with money and awards who had done little more than to suggest — “daringly” — some incremental reform such as, let’s say, lowering the marginal tax rate from 35% to 30 or cutting the budget of the EPA by some percentage points, or who had simply expressed their “personal love” of “freedom” and “free enterprise” often, loudly and emphatically enough.
None of this fazed Murray in the slightest. Indeed, he expected nothing else, for reasons that I still had to learn.
What Murray realized and I still had to learn was that the most vociferous and ferocious rejection and opposition to Austro-libertarianism would not come from the traditional socialist Left, but rather from these very self-proclaimed “anti-socialist,” “limited government,” “minimal state,” “pro-private enterprise” and “pro-freedom” outfits and their intellectual mouthpieces, and above all from what has become known as the Beltway-Libertarians. They simply could not stomach the fact that Murray had demonstrated with plain logic that their doctrines were nothing but inconsistent intellectual clap-trap, and that they were all, to use Mises’s verdict vis-a-vis Milton Friedman and his company, a “bunch of socialists,” too, notwithstanding their vehement protestations to the contrary. For, as Murray argued, once you admitted the existence of a State, any State, defined as a territorial monopolist of ultimate decision making in every case of conflict, including conflicts involving the State itself, then all private property had been effectively abolished, even if it remained provisionally, qua State-grant, nominally private, and had been replaced instead by a system of “collective” or rather State-property. State, any State, means socialism, defined as “the collective ownership of factors of production.” The institution of a State is praxeologically incompatible with private property and private property based enterprise. It is the very anti-thesis of private property, and any proponent of private property and private enterprise then must, as a matter of logic, be an anarchist. In this regard (as in many others) Murray was unwilling to compromise, or “intransigent,” as his detractors would say. Because in theory, in thinking, compromise is impermissible. In everyday life, compromise is a permanent, and ubiquitous feature, of course. But in theory, compromise is the ultimate sin, a strict and absolute ‘no no.’ It is not permissible, for instance, to compromise between the two incompatible propositions that 1+1=2 or that 1+1=3 and accept that it is 2.5. Either some proposition is true or it is false. There can be no “meeting in the middle” of truth and falsehood.
Here, regarding Murray’s uncompromising radicalism, a little anecdote told by Ralph Raico seems apropos. To quote Ralph:
Murray was someone special. I recognized that fact the first night I met him. It was after the Mises seminar; a buddy of mine and I had been invited to attend, and afterwards Murray suggested we have coffee and talk. My friend and I were dazzled by the great Mises, and Murray, naturally, was pleased to see our enthusiasm. He assured us that Mises was at least the greatest economist of the century, if not the whole history of economic thought. As far as politics went, though, Murray said, lowering his voice conspiratorially: “Well, when it comes to politics, some of us consider Mises a member of the non-Communist Left.” Yes, it was easy to see we’d met someone very special.
Unlike Murray, quite a few individuals who had learned essentially everything they ever knew from Murray, in particular his Man, Economy and State, were willing to make such intellectual compromises, and they were richly rewarded for their intellectual “flexibility” and “tolerance.” But that was not Murray! And consequently, he was (and still is) ignored, excluded or denounced by the chieftains of the “limited-government-free-market-industry.” And he was essentially left without any institutional support, as a lone fighter, until the arrival of Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute.
I experienced this Rothbard-phobia second-handedly, if you will. For as soon as word had gotten out that the new German arrival was Murray’s boy and also appeared rather “intransigent,” I found myself immediately placed on the same blacklists with him. Thus, I had quickly learned a first important real-life lesson of what it means to be a Rothbardian.
Another lesson was in humility. Murray had a huge library, had read and digested an enormous amount of literature and was consequently a humble man. He was always reluctant and highly skeptical to assume or recognize any “originality” claims. “Originality” claims, he knew, are made most frequently by people with tiny libraries and little reading. In distinct contrast, Murray was highly generous in giving credit to others. And he was equally generous in giving advice to anyone asking. Indeed, on almost any conceivable subject, he was prepared, off the top of his head, to provide you with an extensive bibliography. As well, he encouraged any sign of productivity even among his lowliest students.
While I always tried to follow this example, I could not bring myself to go quite as far as Murray did, however. Because I thought and still think that Murray’s humility was excessive, that he was humble almost to a fault. His students at Brooklyn Polytechnic, for instance, mostly engineering majors (or, as Murray described Mises’s students at NYU, “packaging majors”), had no idea who he was, because he never mentioned his own works. They were genuinely surprised to find out from me who their jolly professor was when I substituted teaching Murray’s class while he was out of town. And at UNLV the situation was not much different. While I actively promoted him as his unofficial PR-agent, Murray continued in his self-deprecation. Although he had written on almost any imaginable subject in the social sciences, he would, when he suggested or assigned term-papers to his students, mention his own related writings, if at all, only as some sort of afterthought or upon specific request.
Yet Murray’s extreme modesty had also another, unfortunate effect. When we moved to Las Vegas in 1986, we had expected to turn UNLV into a bastion of Austrian economics. At the time, UNLV’s basketball team, the Runnin’ Rebels, under coach Jerry Tarkanian, were a national powerhouse, always slightly scandalous, but impossible to overlook. We had hoped to become the Runnin’ Rebels of economics at UNLV. Several students had transferred and enrolled at the university in anticipation of such a development. But these hopes were quickly disappointed. Already at our arrival at UNLV the composition of the economics department had significantly changed, and then majority rule, democracy, set in. To balance the Austrian influence, only one year later, the department majority decided, against our opposition, to hire a no-name Marxist. I urged Murray to use his position and reputation to interfere with the university’s higher-ups and prevent this appointment. Except for Jerry Tarkanian, Murray was the only nationally recognized person at UNLV. He held the only endowed chair at the university. We knew the university’s president and provost socially and were on cordial terms with both of them. Accordingly, I believed that there was a realistic chance to overturn the department’s decision. But I could not persuade Murray of his own powers.
After this missed opportunity matters became worse. The department continued to hire anyone but an Austrian or Austrian sympathizer. Our students were mal-treated and discriminated against. The department and the dean of the business college denied me tenure (which decision was overruled by the university’s provost and president, not least because of massive student protests and the intervention of several university donors). The department chairman wrote an outrageous, nasty and insulting annual evaluation of Murray’s professorial performance (upon which the university administration forced the chairman to resign from his position). As a consequence, a second chance for us arose to turn matters around. Plans were developed and were discussed with the provost to split the department and establish a separate economics department in the College of Liberal Arts. This time Murray became involved. But the initial momentum to our advantage had been lost in the meantime, and after the first signs of resistance, Murray quickly resigned and gave up. He was not willing to take off his gloves, and our secessionist project soon fizzled out in defeat.
Only to quickly finish our UNLV saga: After Murray’s death in 1995, I continued working at UNLV for another decade in an increasingly hostile environment. The once protective university administration had changed, and I felt ever more unappreciated and out of place. Even my great popularity among students was used against me, as proof of the “danger” emanating from my teaching. In 2004, I became embroiled in a scandal. In a lecture I had hypothetically suggested that homosexuals, on average, and owing to their characteristic lack of children, had a comparatively higher degree of time-preference, i.e., of present-orientation. A cry-baby student complained, and the university’s affirmative action commissar immediately, as if he had only waited for this opportunity, initiated official proceedings against me, threatening severe punitive measures if I were not to instantly and publicly recant and apologize. “Intransigent” as I was, I refused to do so. And I am certain that it was only this steadfast refusal of mine to beg for forgiveness that, after a full year of administrative harassment, I ultimately emerged victorious from this battle with the thought police, and the university administration suffered an embarrassing defeat. A year later I resigned from my position and left UNLV and the US for good.