Rothbard, Rockwell, and the Mises Institute
[This article is adapted from Claudio Grass's commentary on Lew Rockwell's acceptance speech for the Roland Baader Prize, awarded earlier this year in Hamburg, Germany.]
A few days ago, I had the pleasure to step in as an Ambassador for the Mises Institute and receive the Roland Baader Prize on behalf of Lew Rockwell, as he unfortunately wasn’t able to travel to Germany due to health issues.
He received this prestigious prize for his life-time achievements from the Institute for Austrian Asset Management, founded by my friend Steffen Krug in Hamburg. The commendation speech was given by another old friend, Rahim Taghizadegan, who founded a “real academy” called Scholarium in Vienna. All winners of the Roland Baader prize have been great personalities and individual thinkers, basing their ideas on classic-liberalism and the principles of Austrian Economics, without ever compromising them. All of the prize winners have also been influenced by the great German philosophers of the enlightenment such as Immanuel Kant. So, Lew Rockwell definitely belongs to this wonderful circle of liberty minded champions.
With the opportunity of the Roland Baader prize, I attempted to summarize the speech of Lew Rockwell with some thoughts from my side, in an article that might serve as a reminder of the values and principles that make such occasions, and such people, so important.
Lew talked about how together with Mises's widow, Margit, they had the idea to start the Mises Institute. After her husband's death, she wanted to make sure his works stayed in print and continued to be translated into other languages. She agreed to be involved and to share her counsel as long as Lew pledged to dedicate the rest of his life to the Institute. As we all know, he has kept that pledge.
When Murray Rothbard was told about the proposed institute, he applauded and said, he would do whatever was necessary to support it. Ron Paul also agreed to become the distinguished counselor and was a huge help in securing early funding, as well as in being an inspiration through his ideas and character.
Murray would later say, "Without the founding of the Mises Institute, I am convinced the whole Misesian program would have collapsed." Of course, we can't know how things would have turned out had we made different choices. Lew simply wanted to do what he could, with the help of dear friends, to support the Austrian School during some very dark times, and he was prepared to let the chips fall where they may. They promoted and kept in print the works of Mises, the Nobel Prize-winning works of F.A. Hayek, and the indispensable catalogue of Murray Rothbard. Beyond that, they've made available to the world, free of charge, an enormous library of the most brilliant and important works ever written on Austrian economics and libertarian theory. Through the years, the aim of the Mises Institute, was always to introduce students to the thought of Mises and his great student Murray Rothbard, and to spread their sound ideas that are perhaps today more relevant than ever.
Lew also spoke about Roland Baader’s strongest principles — the importance of sound money, something he learned from Mises. Both of them knew that man can only be free if he enjoys private property rights and a monetary system that allows him to save, with the certainty that his money will appreciate and not depreciate over time and that its value is not up to the willfulness of man. Lew recalled that Murray used to say “The dollar is just a unit of weight, dammit!”
Something Baader and Mises also had in common was their picture of a sound family. They saw that the radical feminist movement was just another form of the old political doctrine “Divide et Impera” and as a result, defended the natural family model strongly. What they clearly understood and defended was the importance of the family as a fundament for a sound society.
Traditional family values today are often shouted down as old-fashioned at best, or as oppressive and even fascist at worst, judged as toxic and “extreme” by our intellectual elites. It is sad to see that the decade-long propaganda by the government, the media and the education system, has left deep tracks in the minds of the people. Willfully blind to the long-term consequences, people keep buying into a political agenda that focuses on denigrating those natural family values and they have been indoctrinated to look at every topic from the perspective of the oppressed looking for an oppressor.
Parents are downgraded to so-called “caretakers” and the child is claimed as the property of the state. Just think about the fact that you have to send your child to school; if you don’t, they will come after you. Even if you want to travel with your family outside the official holiday season, it is hard (in some European countries even illegal) to get your children out of school. Imagine, it is your child, your responsibility, and even if you have a perfect, model family, still the government has more “parenting” power and rights than you do. This says a lot about individual freedom and the lack of self-ownership and self-responsibility. For if we can’t look after ourselves, how can we take care of others?
Whenever politics is involved in public discourse, with the goal of creating political minorities or any other form of mascot identity group, one of the key motivations is to get funding by the taxpayers. Whenever people are forced to give up a part of the fruit of their labor for something they do not even want to have or for the benefit of another group, it automatically and predictably creates conflict and division. This is of course the mechanism of the old Marxist doctrine of constant class struggle. It just continues under a different name. By imposing this strategy on us, we only see collective groups and the individual does not count for anything – despite the fact that the smallest minority is the individual. Nevertheless, this divisive strategy keeps us busy fighting amongst each other and leaves no time or energy to question why we are fighting in the first place and who is really benefiting from it? So distracted we are by symptoms, we forget about the disease itself.
Lew went on to highlight that the Mises Institute largely owes its success to the fact that it acts as an inspiration to all sorts of people who dig for the truth. For people from all backgrounds who just want, like Rothbard, to learn as much as possible and who would never have the intellectual arrogance to believe that we know all that we need to know. The Mises Institute and the people who stand behind it follow this model because for them, “a trip through the world of ideas is more exciting and exhilarating than the grandest excursion to the seven wonders of the world, more daring and adventurous than wild game hunting, and far more momentous than any moon shot”. They also demonstrate a rare kind of fearlessness in speaking the truth, much like Rothbard did. He never let fear of colleagues, fear of the profession, fear of editors or political cultures, stand in the way of his desire to say what he thought was true.
This brings me to the final point, which I hope can serve as a “roadmap” of sorts, on how to solve problems in the future. As you might know, I am a Swiss citizen. In our founding Myth of 1291, there is one quote, that reads as follows:
“We want to be free, as our fathers were,
And rather die than live in slavery.
We want to trust in the one highest God
And never be afraid of human power” (or I call it “never submit to the rule of man over men”)
Switzerland and its history are the best example of how a decentralized system, based on the principles of subsidiarity, can and does work. It worked for hundreds of years already. Switzerland was the highest industrialized country on mainland Europe, even before the Confederation was implemented in 1848. The economy was everywhere and politics nowhere. Switzerland became a successful country, because of armed neutrality and sovereignty and most importantly, by decentralizing and limiting as much as possible the rule of man over men. Therefore, Switzerland is the best example for a freer society, based on the spirit of self-determination, private property rights, freedom of speech and with the understanding that “government can’t give you what it has stolen from someone else.” Switzerland needed, because of its decentralized structures, a culture of debate, openly discussing and fully understanding the power and importance of the free competition of ideas. We have proven that it makes sense to allow people more self-determination and to allow them organize freely in communities or states. If someone wants to live in a town that espouses the virtues of socialism and they have to sing the international anthem every morning, then it should be allowed. Whoever likes the sound of that can join, whoever doesn’t can move to a different town, that embraces different ideas and systems. Let the competition begin, by moving away from a centralized government and allowing people to have options. Allow ideas to compete with each other. This would be the first step into the right direction. I personally expect that in the future, people will gather together on a level of municipalities to form their own system of society, based on the ideas all the people on the local level consent to. We can organize everything on the lowest level.
Let me conclude by saying, a true libertarian is first of all not a label or group, instead he or she is a true individual, trying to think independently, without another person’s guidance. And secondly, he or she has understood that we can debate and agree to disagree. A true libertarian understands that we can only win hearts and minds by bringing better ideas and better arguments to any intellectual, political or economic challenge. A true libertarian opposes any kind of aggression and is able to entertain a thought without accepting it. A true libertarian does not seek political power to force others to agree with him and solves problems not with violence, but through debate, free dialogue and reason and by adhering to the golden rule. A true libertarian also has no problem with natural authority, which he considers a precious model for individual development. Therefore, he favors natural authority and culture over crude power. Most importantly, a true libertarian has understood that man is never “a means to an end, but the end in and of himself.”
Lew Rockwell shines bright as an exceptional individual spirit, whose words, ideas, and efforts to spread them have left an indelible mark on many people’s hearts and minds, continually encouraging and inspiring more free thinkers on their own journey to the truth. He has dedicated his life to Mises and to the better ideas and he has reached millions of people around the globe. For 35 years, he never made any compromises and it doesn’t look like he’ll start any time soon. Nobody is perfect but man, what a great champion of freedom and a natural-born leader Lew Rockwell is. Thank you very much for your inspiration and guidance for so many years towards the goal of a free society.