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essays

Oct 1, 1974

Murray Rothbard and the Bitch Goddess

Erwin Strauss reviews both Rothbard and “Mother” Nature.

The main thing I’ve liked about BFL is that it has published incisive criticism of books rather than just the gushy blurbs you get from most book clubs. Your review of Murray Rothbard’s Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature, however, read more like the latter.

In the title essay, Rothbard goes a few more rounds with his favorite straw man of egalitarianism: egalitarians deny any differences among people. I know of none who maintain that all people are the same color, or height, or weight, et cetera. (Though most have wistfully dreamed of being able to make this so, since it would simplify their lives considerably.) What they do say is that these differences don’t “count” in any socially, politically, et cetera, important sense. This is just as much nonsense as saying the differences don’t exist, of course, but the difference between the two positions is important in understanding the appeal of egalitarianism and formulating a coherent alternative. Looking into the question of what differences “count” in what senses, though, leads us deep into psychological questions like the role of the dominance hierarchy in human history and prehistory—questions whose answers are unsettling to conventional philosophic notions, and thus not likely to sell many books or recruit many members.

It’s ironic that you dredged up early Rothbard tracts on the need to be on guard against “utilitarian incrementalists.” Exhibit A of this nefarious species is the current Murray Rothbard. He has embraced the Libertarian Party not because he supports every one of its tenets without reservation (God, I should hope not!), but (presumably) because it was better than other political parties. The party, in turn, supported people like Steve Symms—again, I presume, not because they embraced everything he stands for, but because he was hopefully better than his opponent. Symms, in turn, supported Richard Nixon and accepted his endorsement—again under the same rationale. Thus we see the highest libertarian ideals sold off piecemeal in the name of political expediency. Each step may only have been a “little” compromise, but the net effect was the pitiful spectacle of seeing Murray Rothbard throw his prestige into the struggle on the side of Nixon and his supporters. Thus passes the glory of “a thoroughgoing, uncompromising individualist.”

Murray’s problem is the same one that infects most thinkers who question the basic assumptions of their culture. For basic psychological reasons that I’ve discussed at length elsewhere, they become imprinted at an early age with the fixation that “their society” or “their country” or “their culture” is the ultimate fount of all judgment and vindication. If “the people” or “history” (the conventional history of the times, not any offshoot revisionists) holds one’s views to be correct, then one has achieved victory. If this acceptance is not forthcoming, then one has failed. The trouble is that the masses are a bitch-goddess—they are stupid, shallow, fickle. Like the traditional bitch-goddess, they are flashy and attractive (i.e., they dangle the promise of power and acclaim before those who court them), but they are intrinsically incapable of true love (i.e., they cannot or will not truly understand a philosophic system and guide their lives by it—after all, “philosophy” comes from the Greek “love of knowledge,” so the analogy isn’t so farfetched). To be sure, after an exceptional experience with a suitor who has used her badly she may come to you and cry on your shoulder and promise to be true from now on, but as soon as the next Lothario comes by in flashy clothes and promises her the moon (i.e., more handouts, cradle to grave security, something for nothing, et cetera, et cetera), she’ll be off to the races again.

To those who are hopelessly hooked, I can only offer my pity. But if you can break the habit, I suggest marrying the homely girl next door and settling down; get together with the small minority who are willing to think things through and take the long view, and work out a good life. This may involve going off and forming a new country or staying in this one; it may involve physically separating oneself from the mob, or living in the city. In any event, the psychological aspects are more important than the physical. The homely girl next door can’t offer you the thrills that the bitch-goddess can (fame, power, et cetera), but she can offer the one thing the goddess can’t—a satisfying, free life.