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KOL152 | NYC LibertyFest: “Libertarianism After Fifty Years: What Have We Learned?”


speakers-ny-liberty-fest-2014Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 152.

This is my speech “Libertarianism After Fifty Years: What Have We Learned?” delivered at the NYC LibertyFest (Brooklyn, NY, October 11, 2014). The original title was “Libertarianism After Fifty Years: A Reassessment and Reappraisal” but I was allotted only about 15-20 minutes so condensed the scope and could only touch briefly on many of the matters discussed.

This audio was recorded by me from my iphone in my pocket; video and a higher-quality audio should be available shortly.

The outline and notes used for the speech is appended below, which includes extensive links to further material pertaining to  matters discussed in the speech. An edited transcript is available here.

Speech Notes/Outline

Libertarianism After Fifty Years: What Have We Learned?

Stephan Kinsella

NYC LibertyFest, Brooklyn, NY

October 11, 2014



  • Modern libertarianism is about 50 years old. Main figures: Rand and Rothbard.
    • “three furies of libertarianism” (Doherty, Radicals for Capitalism): Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand, and Isabel Patterson (1943)
    • Mises, Hayek, Read, Friedman
    • Rand Atlas, 1957; Rothbard, MES, 1962
    • From a Foreword I wrote for a forthcoming libertarian book:

      Modern libertarian theory is only about five decades old. The ideas that have influenced our greatest thinkers can be traced back centuries, of course,[1] to luminaries such as Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Herbert Spencer, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill, and to more recent and largely even more radical thinkers such as Gustave de Molinari, Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Bertrand de Jouvenal, Franz Oppenheimer, and Albert Jay Nock.[2]

      The beginnings of the modern movement can be detected in the works of the “three furies of libertarianism,” as Brian Doherty calls them: Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand, and Isabel Patterson, whose respective books The Discovery of Freedom, The Fountainhead, and The God of the Machine were all published, rather remarkably, in the same year: 1943.[3] But in its more modern form, libertarianism originated in the 1960s and 1970s from thinkers based primarily in the United States, notably Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard. Other significant influences on the nascent libertarian movement include Ludwig von Mises, author of Liberalism (1927) and Human Action (1949, with a predecessor version published in German in 1940); Nobel laureate F.A. von Hayek, author of The Road to Serfdom (1944); Leonard Read, head of the Foundation for Economic Education (founded 1946); and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, author of the influential Capitalism and Freedom (1962).

      The most prominent and influential of modern libertarian figures, however, were the aforementioned novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, the founder of “Objectivism” and a “radical for capitalism,” and Murray Rothbard, the Mises-influenced libertarian anarcho-capitalist economist and political theorist. Rothbard’s seminal role is widely recognized, even by non-Rothbardians. Objectivist John McCaskey, for example, has observed, that out of the debates in the mid-1900s about what rights citizens ought to have,

      “grew the main sort of libertarianism of the last fifty years. It was based on a principle articulated by Murray Rothbard in the 1970s this way: No one may initiate the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. The idea had roots in John Locke, America’s founders, and more immediately Ayn Rand, but it was Rothbard’s formulation that became standard. It became known as the non-aggression principle or—since Rothbard took it as the starting point of political theory and not the conclusion of philosophical justification—the non-aggression axiom. In the late twentieth century, anyone who accepted this principle could call himself, or could find himself called, a libertarian, even if he disagreed with Rothbard’s own insistence that rights are best protected when there is no government at all.”[4]

      We can date the dawn of today’s libertarianism to the works of Rand and Rothbard: to Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957); and, especially, to Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State (1962), Power and Market (1970), and For A New Liberty (1973), plus his journal The Libertarian Forum (1969–1984). For A New Liberty stands today as a brilliant, and early, bold statement of the radical libertarian vision. By the mid-60s, the modern libertarian movement was coalescing, primarily behind the non-initiation of force principle and the “radical capitalism” of Ayn Rand, and Rothbard’s systematic libertarian corpus based upon the non-aggression principle or axiom. It is no surprise that the Libertarian Party was founded in 1971, as these ideas, and the liberty movement, were gaining steam.

      In the ensuing decades many other influential works appeared expounding on the libertarian idea, such as Linda and Morris Tannehill, The Market for Liberty (1970), John Hospers, Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy for Tomorrow (1971), David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom (1973), Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), Henri Lepage, Tomorrow, Capitalism (1978), Samuel Edward Konkin III, New Libertarian Manifesto (1980), Jan Narveson, The Libertarian Idea (1988), Anthony De Jasay, Choice, Contract, Consent: A Restatement of Liberalism (1991), Richard Epstein, Simple Rules for a Complex World (1995), Charles Murray, What It Means to Be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation (1996), David Boaz, Libertarianism: A Primer (1998), Randy E. Barnett, The Structure of Liberty (1998), and, more recently, Jeffrey A. Miron’s Libertarianism, From A to Z (2010), Jacob Huebert’s Libertarianism Today (2010), Gary Chartier’s The Conscience of an Anarchist (2011), and Gerard Casey’s Libertarian Anarchism (2012).

      [1] For more on this, see Brian Doherty, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement (2008), and David Boaz, The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Writings from Lao Tzu to Milton Friedman (1998).

      [2] See Boaz, The Libertarian Reader, id.

      [3] See Doherty, Radicals for Capitalism, id.

      [4] John P. McCaskey, “New Libertarians: New Promoters of a Welfare State” (April 14, 2014), http://www.johnmccaskey.com/joomla/index.php/blog/71-new-libertarians, See also Wendy McElroy, “Murray N. Rothbard: Mr. Libertarian,” LewRockwell.com (July 6, 2000).

  • Still have our disagreements over issues issues like abortion, etc.
  • But libertarian theory has developed and grown over the last five decades.
  • At this stage in our history it is time to take stock of where we are:
    • what we have learned, especially in light of the criticism from outsiders and criticism and debate by and among fellow libertarians.
  • These debates and growing theoretical work in recent decades by growing numbers of scholars have highlighted some areas of progress and ways we can develop and refine going forward.

First, what has become clearer:

Issues that divide or confuse

Danger of Unclear language and metaphors

Moving Forward

Other areas of clarification/equivocation avoidance

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