The comments on my earlier post of the Reason TV’s interview may or may not have actually been written by David Friedman. If they were, I’m flattered to have him here.
I am particularly interested in the disagreements between intellectuals because disagreement often inspires rigor. Perhaps this casts people as rivals despite their overwhelming agreement on what a better future might look like.
However, the difference between utilitarian and moral approach has huge implications. This debate is worth exploring and resolving.
Rothbard on David Friedman:
Let us take, for example, two of the leading anarcho-capitalist works of the last few years: my own For a New Liberty [by Murry Rothbard] and David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom. Superficially, the major differences between them are my own stand for natural rights and for a rational libertarian law code, in contrast to Friedman’s amoralist utilitarianism and call for logrolling and trade-offs between non-libertarian private police agencies. But the difference really cuts far deeper. There runs through For a New Liberty (and most of the rest of my work as well) a deep and pervasive hatred of the State and all of its works, based on the conviction that the State is the enemy of mankind. In contrast, it is evident that David does not hate the State at all; that he has merely arrived at the conviction that anarchism and competing private police forces are a better social and economic system than any other alternative. Or, more fully, that anarchism would be better than laissez-faire which in turn is better than the current system. Amidst the entire spectrum of political alternatives, David Friedman has decided that anarcho-capitalism is superior. But superior to an existing political structure which is pretty good too.
. . . such early influences on me as Albert Jay Nock, H. L. Mencken, and Frank Chodorov were magnificently and superbly radical. Hatred of “Our Enemy, the State” (Nock’s title) and all of its works shone through all of their writings like a beacon star. So what if they never quite made it all the way to explicit anarchism? Far better one Albert Nock than a hundred anarcho-capitalists who are all too comfortable with the existing status quo.
. . . Taking the concept of radical vs. conservative in our new sense, let us analyze the now famous “abolitionism” vs. “gradualism” debate. The latter jab comes in the August issue of Reason (a magazine every fiber of whose being exudes “conservatism”), in which editor Bob Poole asks Milton Friedman where he stands on this debate. Freidman takes the opportunity of denouncing the “intellectual cowardice” of failing to set forth “feasible” methods of getting “from here to there.” Poole and Friedman have between them managed to obfuscate the true issues. There is not a single abolitionist who would not grab a feasible method, or a gradual gain, if it came his way. The difference is that the abolitionist always holds high the banner of his ultimate goal, never hides his basic principles (Read more)
David Friedman on Rothbard:
Rothbard’s basic point is correct. I do not regard support for government as an act of willful evil but as an intellectual mistake; my arguments (and his) could be wrong, and some sort of government might be the least bad alternative among available human institutions. And even if we are correct, it is not unreasonable for other people to think we are not, as lots of intelligent people I know do.
The flip side of that is that I think one consequence of his attitude was to make him willing to be deliberately dishonest in his arguments—all being fair in war. That included being dishonest in the arguments he made to fellow libertarians.
. . . .
I’ve written at some length online in the past on what I consider Rothbard’s dishonesty with regard to economic history, in particular his misrepresentation of Smith (unfavorable) and his French contemporaries (favorable); see this old post for examples and further links. And there have been other examples. Murray was bright, articulate, and could be charming, but I don’t think he could be trusted. (Read more)
An intellectually honest pursuit of the truth can make rivals out of men who are 95% in agreement.
In my view, the criticism made by David Friedman — that Rothbard was wrong on Reagen and Adam Smith — grasps at minutia given the enormous breadth and depth of the hyper-prolific Rothbard.
Rothbard’s criticism of Adam Smith alluded to in this essay seems sound to me, but I’ll admit to having read no deeper that that into Murray’s comparison of Smith and his contemporaries.
I am very sympathetic to David Friedman’s comment “I do not regard support for government as an act of willful evil but as an intellectual mistake.” In fact, Albert Jay Nock, who Rothbard cites in criticizing Friedman, writes extensively about how the state may simply be the best that homo-sapiens are intellectually capable of. This is very similar to Friedman’s view of an “intellectual mistake.”
However “willful evil” is not an expression Rothbard used, so its a bit of a straw man. I don’t think either AJ Nock or Rothbard would regard support of the government as “willful evil,” but as an evil none the less — an intellectual mistake AND an evil.
Perhaps the closest I personally come to David Friedman’s view is that to say that Rothbard focused mostly on criticism. Institutions and norms are required for the existence of property and civilization. I could, with many disclaimers and asterisks make a statement like the following: “The modern state is an approximation of the institutions and norms required for civilization.”
Murray’s student and colleague, Hans Hermann Hoppe, worked in that directions, imagining and explaining how those institutions might emerge in a free society.