Murray Rothbard: on my late friend’s lamentable error

“I was sure I was going to predecease him.”

That’s how my friend Father James A. Sadowsky (1923-2012) confirmed the news of the passing of Murray Newton Rothbard (1926–1995) two dozen years ago today.

Picture 1It was after Sunday Mass at St. Agnes. Finishing breakfast with friends in a 42nd Street a coffee shop, I excused myself to call (using a 20th-century pay phone) my wife who, enduring a cold, couldn’t join me in Manhattan that wintry day.

“Father Sadowsky called,” she said. “Murray Rothbard died yesterday.”

It’s now been almost 36 years since the first chat that began my friendship with Murray, which continued through his last dozen years. His writings, illuminated by conversations, formed a major part of my education in economics, history, and politics. His personal influence makes it difficult to make a selection among the many memories.

Reading Man, Economy & State , a project I began on March 22, 1983, inspired me to call him one evening. Barely two months into it, I looked up his number (in a 20th-century phone book) and made bold to use it on May 18 (my diary says): “I got six new [libertarian] leads from him, including a Fordham [University] history professor who lives in Jackson Heights [John McCar­thy] . . . . Rothbard is so easy to talk to and make laugh. . . . Look for­ward to meeting him in the Fall [at the Libertarian Party National Convention].”Image result for murray rothbard

Finishing that stout tome on June 19th marked the end of my political wilderness-wandering to which I had sentenced myself after breaking with Marxism six years earlier. By the time my “Jürgen Habermas’s Critique of Marxism” was published in the Winter 1977/1978 issue Science & Society, a Stalinoid academic journal, I was in the free market camp.  (Its text with corrections and editorial notes is freely available here.) But I didn’t find National Review conservatism sufficiently inspiring.

Less than a year later I was invited to particiapte in Murray’s 1984 seminar on the history of economic thought:

Last Rothbard class was a damning critique of Adam Smith.  Smith has almost no libertarian credentials. Marx can have him. . . . [T]here’s an essay in the latest Libertarian Vanguard that Rothbard wants me to read, and Mark [Brady] is going to copy for me . . . . Murray Rothbard was very friendly again with me after class. He’s busy packing for his move to Stanford CA, so, he says, he’s sorry he couldn’t have invited Gloria and me to dinner. Discussed my Christian libertarian idea with him on the bus. I’m flattered.” (May 4, 1984; unless otherwise marked, dates refer to diary entries.)

I met him for first time at the 1983 Libertarian National Convention at the Sheraton Hotel in New York. (This pic was taken there.) “He re­membered my name,” I recorded, “and when I discussed [Bernard] Lonergan’s economics briefly, he said Lonergan struck him as an ‘institutionalist.’” (September 4, 1983)

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