Rothbard’s Conflationary Universe

‘Return of the Irrepressed’, my overview of Rothbard, will probably return next week.  It occurred to me that I should get more specific in my response to Rothbard, as I have been with Hayek and Böhm-Bawerk.  So I decided to critique something of his in detail.  Here’s what happened. My Patreon sponsors got advance access to an earlier draft.  Sorry about the length. I would have broken this up into several posts but it’s too unitary for that.



In his essay on conservative thought, Karl Mannheim argued that conservatives have never been wild about the idea of freedom. It threatens the submission of subordinate to superior. Because freedom is the lingua franca of modern politics, however, conservatives have had “a sound enough instinct not to attack” it. Instead, they have made freedom the stalking horse of inequality, and inequality the stalking horse of submission. Men are naturally unequal, they argue. Freedom requires that they be allowed to develop their unequal gifts. A free society must be an unequal society, composed of radically distinct, and hierarchically arrayed, particulars.

– Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind




One of the things that has always driven institutional racism is the notion that underlying these socially defined categories are real fundamental biological and genetically determined differences, which make certain groups of people superior and therefore more likely–and more justified–to be those in charge of society. And others who are genetically incapable of leading society and are therefore subordinated to those with genetic superiority.

This argument goes back to the Greeks in different forms. It appeared in ancient Chinese writing in different forms. It’s always been a chief ideological tool in the arsenal of those who are wedded to the notion of a social hierarchy which feeds the wealthy and powerful and opposes and oppresses those who work for a living.

– Joseph L. Graves Jnr, in a recent interview with Danny Katch, responding to David Reich’s recent New York Times article ‘How Genetics is Changing Our Understanding of Race’



In his famous and beloved (by nasty people) 1973 essay ‘Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Human Nature’, Rothbard argues the thesis in the title with a roundelay of fallacies, bald assertions, and eternally begged questions. (Again, I don’t link to crypto-fash site LewRockwell-dot-org, but that’s where you’ll find it.)  His most fundamental manoeuvre is to wrongly conflate inequality and difference, claim that equality thus necessarily entails uniformity, and then point to the lack of uniformity in people as proof that equality is impossible and undesirable. He strawmans egalitarians as claiming that humans are all the same, and wishing to forcibly impose uniformity on humanity in the name of equality.  As it happens, these two propositions are actually contradictory – do egalitarians think humans are all the same or do they want to make them all the same?  In the course of the essay he claims that “egalitarians begin with the a priori axiom that all people, and hence all groups of peoples, are uniform and equal”, which showcases the sneaky move openly.

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