- "When tyranny and oppression come to this land,
it will be in the guise of
- fighting a foreign foe." --US President James Madison
- [Posted June 22, 2004]
- [The task of the libertarian intellectual is not limited
to political and economic theory, as this neglected essay by Murray Rothbard
argues. It extends also to understanding history, not from the point of
view of the state and the ruling class, or from a priori theorizing, but
from looking at the raw facts of the case. Doing so yields results different
from prevailing opinion, and has hence been called revisionism by both
its detractors and supporters. This essay defining revisionism and supporting
its method is from the February, 1976, issue of The Libertarian Forum,
page 3-6, published as "Revisionism and Libertarianism."]
- What has revisionism to do with libertarianism? Many
libertarians see no connection. Steeped in the theory of the non-aggression
axiom, and that the State has always been the major aggressor, these libertarians
see no need to concern themselves with the grubby details of the misdeeds
and interrelations between Germany, Russia, Britain, the United States,
and other particular states. If all States are evil, why worry about the
- The first answer is that theory is not enough in dealing
with the con-crete world of reality. If all States are evil, some are more
evil than others, some particular States have engaged in enormously more
aggres-sion, both internally against their subjects, and externally against
the citizens of other States. The State of Monaco has committed far less
aggression than the State of Great Britain.
- If we libertarians are to un-derstand the real world,
and to try to bring about the victory of liberty in that world, we must
understand the actual history of concrete, existent States. History provides
the indispensable data by which we can unders-tand and deal with our world,
and by which we can assess the relative guilt, the relative degrees of
aggression committed by the various states. Monaco, for example, is not
one of our major problems in this world, but we can only learn this from
knowledge of history, and not from a priori axioms. But of course to learn
about concrete reality takes work, not only a substantial amount of reading,
but also reading with the basic elements of revisionism in mind. Work that
investigates the complexities of history, and that is not easily reducible
to catch phrases and sloganeer-ing.
- Revisionism is an historical discipline made necessary
by the fact that all States are governed by a ruling class that is a minority
of the population, and which subsists as a parasitic and exploitative burden
upon the rest of society. Since its rule is exploitative and parasitic,
the State must purchase the alliance of a group of "Court Intellectuals,"
whose task is to bamboozle the public into accepting and celebrating the
rule of its particular State. The Court Intellectuals have their work cut
out for them. In exchange for their continuing work of apologetics and
bamboozlement, the Court Intellectuals win their place as junior partners
in the power, prestige, and loot extracted by the State apparatus from
the deluded public.
- The noble task of Revisionism is to de-bamboozle: to
penetrate the fog of lies and deception of the State and its Court Intellectuals,
and to present to the public the true history of the motivation, the nature,
and the consequences of State activity. By working past the fog of State
deception to penetrate to the truth, to the reality behind the false appearances,
the Revisionist works to delegitimate, to desanctify, the State in the
eyes of the previously deceived public. By doing so, the Revisionist, even
if he is not a libertarian personally, performs a vitally important libertarian
- Hence, the Revisionist historian performs crucial libertarian
tasks regardless of his own personal ideology. Since the State cannot function,
cannot command majority support vital to its existence without imposing
a network of deception, Revisionist history becomes a crucial part of the
tasks of the libertarian movement. Crucial especially because Revisionism
goes beyond pure theory to expose and reveal the specific lies and crimes
of the State as it exists in concrete reality.
- Revisionism can be "domestic"; thus, revisionist
historians in recent years have shown that the growth of the American State
in the twentieth century has come about, not in a "democratic"
attempt to curb Big Business "monopoly", but in the course of
a conscious desire by certain elements of Big Business to use the State
to fasten a cartelized and monopolized economy upon American society.
- Revisionist historians have further shown that the "welfare"
State injures, rather than benefits, the very groups that such a State
allegedly helps and succors. In short, that the Welfare State is designed
to aid the ruling coalition of certain Big Business groups and technocratic,
statist intellectuals, at the expense of the remainder of society. If the
knowledge of such historical truth became widespread, it would be difficult
indeed for modern Big Government to sustain itself in operation.
- While historical Revisionism has performed important
services on the domestic front, its major thrust has dealt with war and
foreign policy. For over a century, war has been the major method by which
the State has fastened its rule upon a deluded public. There has been much
discussion over the years among libertarians and classical liberals on
why classical liberalism, so dominant in the early and mid-nineteenth century
in Western Europe and America, failed ignominiously by the time of the
advent of the twentieth century. The major reason is now clear: the ability
of the State to wield patriotism as a weapon, to mobilize the masses of
the public behind the interventionist and war policies of the various powerful
- War and foreign intervention are crucial methods by which
a State expands its power and exploitation, and also provide elements of
danger for one State at the hands of another. Yet the State-every State-has
been particularly successful in deluding its citizens that it fights wars
and intervenes in other countries for their protection and benefit; when
the reality is that war provides a golden opportunity for the State to
bamboozle its citizens into gathering together to defend it and to advance
its interests and its power. Since war and foreign policy provide the State
with its easiest means of delusion and deception, Revisionist exposure
on the foreign affairs front is the most important avenue of desanctification
and delegitimation of the State apparatus and of State aggression.
- In the Revisionist exposure of the truths about foreign
affairs, one particular myth, strongly held by most Americans and even
by most libertarians, has been of supreme importance: 'namely, the myth
propagated by the arch-statist and interventionist Woodrow Wilson that
"domestic dictatorships are always hellbent on foreign war and aggression;
while domestic democracies invariably conduct a peaceful and non-aggressive
foreign policy. While this correlation between domestic dictatorship and
foreign aggression has a superficial plausibility, it is simply not true
on the factual, historical record.
- There have been many domestic dictatorships that have
turned inward upon themselves and have therefore been pacific in foreign
relations (e.g. Japan before its compulsory "opening up" in the
mid-nineteenth century by the U.S.'s Commodore Perry); and all too many
domestic "democracies" that have conducted a warlike and aggressive
foreign policy (e.g., Britain and the United States.) The existence of
democratic voting, far from being a barrier against foreign aggression,
simply means that the State must conduct its propaganda more intensively
and more cleverly, in order to bamboozle the voters. Unfortunately, the
State and its Court Intellectuals have been all too equal to this task.
- In the history of foreign affairs, then, a priori history
simply does not work; there is nothing to be done but engage in a detailed
and concrete historical inquiry into the detailed wars and aggressions
of particular States, keeping in mind that the record of the foreign policy
of "democracies" needs even more debamboozlement than the foreign
conduct of dictatorships. There is no way to deduce relative degrees of
guilt for war and imperialism from libertarian axioms or from the simple
degree of internal dictatorship in any particular country. The degree of
guilt for war or imperialism is a purely evidentiary question, and there
is no escape from the task of looking hard at the evidence.
- The result of such a cool-eyed empirical look at the
evidence, at the history of particular States in the modern world, is bound
to be a shock for Americans raised, on the foreign affairs mythology propounded
by the Court Intellectuals of the media and of our educational system.
Namely, that the major aggressor, the major imperialist and war-monger,
in the nineteenth and down through the first half of the twentieth century,
was Great Britain; and, further, that the United States signed on, during
World War I, as a junior partner of the British Empire, only to replace
it as the major imperial and war-mongering power after World War II.
- The Wilsonian ideology is simply a pernicious myth, especially
as applied to Britain and the United States in the twentieth century, and
libertarians must simply gird themselves to unlearn that myth, and to bring
themselves into tune with historical truth. Since libertarians have managed
to unlearn many of the domestic myths promulgated by the American State,
one hopes that they can find it in their hearts to unlearn the pervasive
foreign policy myth as well. Only then will classical liberalism, let alone
full libertarianism, be able to achieve a full Renaissance in the Western
world, and especially within America.
- The greatest deception of the American (and the British)
State, then, is its allegedly defensive and pacifistic foreign policy.
When Revisionists maintain, therefore, that the major guilt for war and
imperialism in the twentieth century belongs to the United States and to
Great Britain, they are not necessarily maintaining that the various enemies
of the United States have been domestically and internally less dictatorial
or aggressive than the United States government.
- Certainly, libertarian revisionists do not maintain this
thesis. No libertarian would claim that the internal polity of the Soviet
Union, Communist China, Nazi Germany, or even Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany
was less despotic than that of Britain or the United States. Quite the
contrary. But what libertarian, as well as other, Revisionists, do maintain
is that the U.S. and Great Britain were, as a matter of empirical fact,
the major aggressors and war-mongers in each of these particular wars and
conflicts. Such truths may be unpalatable to a priori "historians",
but they are facts of reality nevertheless.
- Furthermore, as indicated above, it is precisely the
use of war and war mythology that has led to the acceleration of domestic
statism in the U. S. and in Great Britain in this century. In fact, every
significant advance of American statism has come about in the course of
one of its allegedly "defensive" wars. The Civil War crushed
states' rights and brought about an inflationary and statist banking system,
a regime of high tariffs and subsidies to railroads, and income and federal
excise taxation; World War I ushered in the modern planning and "New
Deal" Welfare-Warfare State in America; and World War II and the Cold
War completed that task and led to the current Big Government Leviathan
that we suffer under today.
- It is highly relevant and vital to the understanding
of the burgeoning American State that each of these consequences were not
unfortunate accidents brought about by foreign "aggressors",
but the result of a conscious and deliberate aggressive and war-mongering
policy indulged in by the American State.
- Revisionism therefore reveals to us in all its starkness
that the State Enemy in the United States is purely at home and not abroad.
Foreign States have served merely as scapegoats for the aggrandizement
of American State power at home and abroad, over domestic citizens and
foreign peoples. The Enemy is not a foreign bogey, but here in our midst.
Only full understanding of this truth by libertarians and other Americans
can enable us to identify the problems we face and to proceed to insure
the victory of liberty. Before we can overcome our enemies, we must know
who they are.
- To defend its depredations, the American State has been
able, with the help of its Court Intellectuals, to employ a powerful propaganda
weapon to silence its opponents and to further delude its public. Namely,
to label the critics of its imperialist and war policies conscious or unconscious
agents or sympathizers with the domestic policies of its various State
- And so, throughout this century, Revisionists, even libertarian
Revisionists, have been continually accused of being tools or sympathizers
of the Kaiser, of the Nazis, or of the Communists-sometimes all at once
or seriatim. In this post-Wilsonian age, even a priori libertarians have
been duped into tarring Revisionist libertarians with the same smear brush.
- Even the imbecility of thinking for one moment that a
libertarian can really be a Nazi or a Communist has not deterred the bamboozled
libertarians from smearing and denigrating their more clear-sighted colleagues.
What is needed above all is to cast off the post-Wilsonian mythology and
a priori history of twentieth century American propaganda, and to realize
that the (American) Emperor really has no clothes. The penetrating truths
of Revisionism are needed to de-bamboozle libertarians along with other
- See more on Murray N. Rothbard, including Hans Hoppe's
overview of his contribution to economic science. Comment on this article
on the blog.