I was born shortly after the end of World War II, in 1949, in the British occupied zone of West Germany. My parents were both refugees, endangered at or forcibly expelled from their original homes in Soviet-occupied East Germany. As countless others of my generation, then, I was raised by a generation of parents and teachers who had just experienced some horrific military defeat and were then subjected to harsh and often brutal treatment by hostile foreign occupiers. Humiliated, abused and intimidated, then, the generation of my parents kept largely quiet and obediently went with the “flow” as increasingly dictated in the West by the US. Hence, the “education” of my generation was to a large extent the result of Anglo-American propaganda and indoctrination. Every fad or fashion over there, in the lands of the victors, cultural or intellectual, was immediately imported and eagerly adopted by my generation.
From the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, during my last years at school and the beginnings of my university studies, when my intellectual curiosity first arose and grew, the US had experienced the so-called civil-rights movement, widespread anti–Vietnam War demonstrations, massive student protests demanding “free speech” and some spectacular “race” and “anti-establishment” riots. The ideas and motivations underlying these events quickly swept across the Atlantic and took hold in West Germany and many other European countries. As a young man full of vigor and blessed with an American “education,” I, as countless others of my generation, later labeled the 68-ish generation, was converted to the fashionable leftist causes represented by such events, convinced as Paul Samuelson, at the time the Western world’s most prominent economist, of the economic superiority of socialism over capitalism.
To the delight of my parents, my leftist phase did not last for long, however. I first encountered Milton Friedman, then occasionally mentioned in the German press as Samuelson’s major counterpart in the US, and became a vaguely defined “free marketeer.” From Friedman I found my way to Friedrich A. Hayek, who further strengthened my newfound convictions and who impressed me above that with his wide-ranging interdisciplinary knowledge, largely missing in Friedman. Then, through Hayek, by way of various footnotes, I discovered his own mentor, Ludwig von Mises, who, in my estimation, had to be placed in an intellectual league of his own and through whose work I was turned into a radical, uncompromising advocate of free market capitalism.
In none of my readings, however, not even in Mises, had I ever encountered any serious doubt regarding the necessity of the institution of a tax-funded state as a provider of law and order. It was an intellectual shock, then, when I finally discovered Mises’ most prominent American student, Murray N. Rothbard, and read his For a New Liberty, first published fifty years ago, in 1973. Therein, in the clearest of terms, with the utmost analytic rigor and with impeccable logic, Rothbard presented the full-blown case for a stateless society, of free market anarchism, or “anarcho-capitalism.” Taxes were explained as theft and the state as a criminal gang, a protection racket or a mafia writ large. And the state was unmasked not only as a moral perversion but also as an economic monstrosity creating nothing but waste. Compelling economic reasons were presented for the state’s inefficiency not just in all the areas typically held to be prerogatives of state activity, from education and money to welfare, but also regarding the production of law and order in particular. Law and order, too, Rothbard demonstrated in great detail, could and should, for moral as well as economic reasons, be produced by freely financed and competing private producers.
Upon reading the book I became an anarchist, or as I later preferred to characterize my intellectual position, a proponent of a pure private law society. In my judgment, Rothbard with his work had brought the intellectual edifice inherited from his own mentor Mises to its ultimate completion. And in my very own personal eyes he had also finally redeemed America.
Of course, mankind being what it is, reading For a New Liberty now, for the first time, will not have the same effect on everyone that it had on me many years ago. But I am certain that no one will come away from such a reading without seeing the world with very different eyes.
[This article is published with the permission of the author and recently appeared in the Italian journal StoriaLibera.]