Rothbard and the Problem of Rules
In The Ethics of Liberty, his main book on ethics and political philosophy, Murray Rothbard says that he supports natural law ethics, based on Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. But he finds a crucial weakness in the Scholastic tradition that had developed that sort of ethical theory:
As we have indicated, the great failing of natural-law theory—from Plato and Aristotle to the Thomists and down to Leo Strauss and his followers in the present day—is to have been profoundly statist rather than individualist. This “classical” natural-law theory placed the locus of the good and of virtuous action in the State, with individuals strictly subordinated to State action. Thus, from Aristotle’s correct dictum that man is a “social animal,” that his nature is best fitted for social cooperation, the classicists leaped illegitimately to a virtual identification of “society” and “the State,” and thence to the State as the major locus of virtuous action.
As most of my readers will know, Rothbard goes on to argue that we don’t need a state at all. Individuals must follow the nonaggression principle (NAP), and if they don’t, it’s permissible to use force to stop them. But otherwise, they are free to live their lives as they wish. In Rothbard’s ethics, then, there are two levels. According to Aristotelian ethics, which he accepts, individuals try to live virtuous lives, guided by their practical judgment rather than strict rules. At the other level, the political, matters
Article from Mises Wire