Murray Rothbard died more than a quarter century before the outbreak of the Covid mania and tyranny, but if he were alive today, he wouldn’t be surprised to see the most common resistance at an institutional level comes from churches.
Last year, in early March, Lew Rockwell answered the headline question “What Would Murray Say about the Coronavirus?” That article was both helpful and reassuring at a time when confusion over what the heck was going on ran as rampant as the so-called pandemic itself.
Today, I wonder what Murray would say about resisting the covid state. That’s the ubiquitous social and political force that indebts us to The Science and obliges us to constrain or disown our neighbors, friends, and family if they disrespect or, God forbid, disobey the posted signs.
Rothbard was never one to say, Sit back and wait out this tyranny; it will go away on its own. Try to imagine Rothbard’s contagious smile behind a mask. You can’t. And he would most certainly cackle at the suggestion of placing hope in mass vaccination to end the government’s newfound lockdown powers.
Mr. Libertarian would hate the covid state unrelentingly. Not merely for its violations of individual rights, but also out of love for “our glorious traditions and culture that are under dire attack,” as he put it in “On Resisting Evil.”
Unfortunately, the notion that our traditions and culture are both glorious and under attack is not obvious to even some Rothbardians, although it is true. If that goes ignored, then the long-term optimism Rothbard personified will become vacuous.
Individual resistance is great, and it can even be brave and heroic in the covid era, but it should not be the essence of any long-term strategy for libertarian victory. Institutional resistance, on the other hand, ought to take precedence.
One institution above all else seems best suited to advance against the covid state: the local church. True, perhaps most churches upheld or even doubled down on the coronavirus protocols, but there were standout examples like this one and many others that did not advertise their resistance. Rather early on, about a dozen states protected “religious liberty” with some exemptions.
To be sure, there are religious people who worship at the altar of the covid state and pray to Saint Anthony Fauci, but again, what other broad-based social or cultural institution is garnering exemptions or victories?
An atheist his entire life, Rothbard saw the vital importance religion played in developing and preserving a freer society.
“Some religion is going to be dominant in every society,” he once wrote. “[I]f Christianity, for example, is scorned and tossed out, some horrendous form of religion is going to take its place: whether it be Communism, New Age occultism, feminism, or Left Puritanism.”
Rothbard didn’t just value religion as a contemporary means to some greater political end. To him, it was the foundation of freedom. Read what he wrote to his friend, the late Justin Raimondo, in 1991:
I am convinced that it is no accident that freedom, limited government, natural rights, and the market economy only really developed in Western civilization. I am convinced that the reason is the attitude developed by the Christian Church in general, and the Catholic Church in particular. In contrast to Greek thought, where the city-state was the locus of virtue and action, Christianity, with its unique focus on the individual as created in the image of God and in the central mystery of the Incarnation—God created His Son as a fully human person—means that each individual and his salvation is of central divine concern. The Church was not tied to any one king or state and therefore served as a vital check upon state power. The concept of tyrannicide and of the right of revolution was developed by Catholic scholastics. Locke (and his followers in the American Revolution) was a Protestant scholastic, developing and sharpening Catholic scholastic doctrine. Thus, even though I am not a believer, I hail Christianity, and especially Catholicism, as the underpinning of liberty. (And also of art, music, and architecture, but that’s another topic.)
Rothbard didn’t believe in God, or he believed that God was wholly unknowable from the human perspective. But he broke contacts with Ayn Rand and her cultic circle for their attacks on his marriage with a Christian woman. He died at the young age of sixty-nine, just a few years after he discovered the proto-Austrian elements in Scholastic thought. Who knows what else he would’ve turned up for us over the course of another ten, twenty, or thirty years.
Rothbard would’ve turned ninety-five this week. As we look back on his treasure trove of work, let’s pay special attention to his insights that most ring true for a new libertarian strategy going forward.
That may call for us thrusting ourselves into the institutions that have deteriorated over the last century or more but whose fires are not out yet. Free-thinking individuals with an appreciation for institution formation can be the oxygen to fuel their embers.
There is a trend of anecdotal evidence that finds people are exhausted with the covid state. Where masks are still required, they’re slipping more swiftly under noses. The circles and arrows on the floors of markets stay six feet apart, but people don’t as much.
Let’s not be satisfied with vicarious moments of relief. That’s not the basis for real hope, the kind that Rothbard championed. Instead, do the work that will be passed down to the next generation for a new liberty.