Why Rothbard Endures
This week we celebrate the life of Murray N. Rothbard, born on the second of March 1926, a Tuesday, in the Bronx.
And what a Bronx it was, teeming with brilliant intellectuals, dedicated Communists, and rock-solid middle-class Americans like David and Rae Rothbard. The family would later become friendly with their apartment building neighbor in Manhattan, one Arthur F. Burns. Burns, an economist at Columbia, was destined for a political career at the Council of Economic Advisers under Eisenhower and as Federal Reserve chairman, appointed by Nixon. Tellingly, Burns was also the man who later nearly sabotaged Rothbard’s dissertation at Columbia. By the standards of academic economists, he certainly reached the height of his profession.
Yet we might ask how many people remember or read Burns today as opposed to Rothbard.
The answer is that virtually nobody remembers Arthur Burns. But Rothbard, like his mentor Ludwig von Mises, is far better known and far more widely read today than at any time during his life. There is both poetic justice and a degree of melancholy in this, as Murray suffered the slings and arrows of his detractors just as surely as he enjoyed the friendship and respect of his countless colleagues and readers. For Murray and his beloved wife, Joey, childless but enormously social creatures, the books and ideas themselves became the offspring and legacy. Both have grown in the intervening years.
For any serious thinker, the ultimate reward must be found in the longevity of one’s work. Is it still read and considered five or ten years hence? Twenty-five years? A century later? By this measure, Rothbard surely is far more successful than his antagonist Arthur Burns. Even posthumously, Rothbard is a lightning rod. Burns is a footnote. We know Rothbard will be read across the twenty-first century. We know decisively that Burns will not.
How prolific was Rothbard? Surely the sheer volume of words he wrote surpasses nearly any writer in the twentieth century. Henry Hazlitt once remarked at age seventy about having written every day of his life since age twenty; he estimated his lifetime output at roughly 10 million words. Rothbard, despite living only to sixty-nine, surely exceeded Hazlitt by a wide margin. Make no mistake, Murray was still writing at a brisk pace when he died.
A discussion of his oeuvre is t
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