By Mason Mohon | USA
Multiple times throughout the years, Murray Rothbard has criticized many women-oriented movements. To anyone first stepping into libertarianism, this is a seemingly obvious red flag. One of the most pronounced and influential libertarian theorists of modern times has literature rife with what looks like sexism. Who in their right mind could support the teachings of a man who was against the women’s suffrage movements of the 1830’s and stood against the women’s liberation movements in the 1970’s? Should Rothbard be completely disregarded for his sexist comments?
In short, not at all. There are two main writings by Rothbard I would like to focus on, and these two writings are writings usually cited when people are making accusations of sexism. The first of these is his essay Origins of the Welfare State in America and his article Against Women’s Lib, which can be found here and here respectively.
In the first place, Rothbard’s essay Origins of the Welfare State in America should be focused on. The intent of the essay was to make an analysis as to how the welfare state has expanded, hence its name. Right off the bat, we can see that Murray Rothbard did not title this essay “Why Women are Bad.” Rather, the article’s entire intent was to analyze how the welfare state arose.
The reason people see this article as a sexist one is first that of the section titled “Yankee Women: The Driving Force.” What this shows us immediately that Rothbard was linking a women’s movement to the impacts of the welfare state, rather than the impact be women’s rights itself. This legion of Yankee women strongly pushed for the right to vote, because they knew that they would be the first to the ballot box, seeing as that Catholic women saw their place as an individual who is the homemaker. The Catholic women would not care about political issues, while the Yankee women would, and the first thing on their agenda was prohibition.
Susan B. Anthony, an ardent women’s suffragist, was also the founder of the first women’s temperance movement. In the early 1870’s, this spurred into a large organized movement, with “Women’s Crusades” taking to the streets. These marches became widespread, but rather than marching against a president, they were marching for dangerous prohibitionist political action. According to Rothbard, though, this wasn’t the end to it, for in the following decade “the WCTU was pushing, throughout states and localities, for a comprehensive statist program for government intervention and social welfare.” These female suffragist movements didn’t want to be able to vote just for the sake of equality. Rather, their goal was political action, most notably prohibitionism, which was disastrous for American society, and the welfare state, which has also had absolutely horrible impacts.
Clearly, Murray Rothbard was not criticizing the ability for women to have equal rights with men. Rather, he was against the political action immediately following the success of these movements. The alcohol prohibition era is looked at fondly by very few, so why are its most staunch historical supporters held in such high esteem? If someone is a supporter of equal rights solely for the sake of the perpetuation of political violence, they are no hero in my book, and neither are they in Rothbard’s.
Moreover, Murray Rothbard’s article titled Against Women’s Lib should be discussed. He opens the article by comparing it to environmentalist movements in that they were both making a sudden surge in the 1970’s. One other similarity should be made clear, and that is why Rothbard opposed them. Murray Rothbard was very against environmentalist movements, not because he hated the environment, but because all of their proposed solutions were phenomenally statist. The same holds true for Murray Rothbard on women’s rights; he doesn’t hate women, but he is against the movement for reasons within the movement itself, not its ultimate goal.
The Women’s Liberation movement at the time was eerily similar to modern feminism in that it is vague and no specific adherence other than a fight against sexism. Today, feminists are the declared enemy of the patriarchy, and it was the same idea in Rothbard’s time. There was a faceless entity of sexist oppression which was being attacked by a mob that had no specific agenda except to defeat it, and whatever happens between point A of the status quo and point B of destroying the patriarchy is acceptable.
Rothbard made the claim that the oppressors are staying strangely silent, attempting to make the point that no institution of oppression exists. The ‘patriarchy’ has never made any official statement. Ever. Because it can’t, for it does not exist.
The similarities to Women’s Liberation and modern feminism do not end there, though. Rothbard faced his own time’s wage gap, which was much larger at the time. At the time, reports were that women only made 58% of what men make, rather than today’s 80%. He quickly made the economic explanation for this occurrence, debunking the idea that it is because of a shadow oppressor.
The strongest attack, though, comes in Rothbard’s defense of capitalism, which is as follows:
It should be emphasized that, in contrast to the Women’s Lib forces who tend to blame capitalism as well as male tyrants for centuries-old discrimination, it was precisely capitalism and the “capitalist revolution” of the 18th and 19th centuries that freed women from male oppression, and set each woman free to find her best level. It was the feudal and pre-capitalist, pre-market society that was marked by male oppression; it was that society where women were chattels of their fathers and husbands, where they could own no property of their own, etc. Capitalism set women free to find their own level, and the result is what we have today.
Clearly, Murray Rothbard has never articulated any disdain for females as a category of humanity. His attacks on the suffrage movement were not based on its goal of the ability for women to be able to vote, but rather, they were well founded on distaste for prohibition and welfare. Furthermore, Rothbard attacked the Women’s Liberation movement for the same reason libertarians widely attack feminism today; Women’s Lib and feminism are ill-defined, turning them into destructive societal forces rife with economic fallacy. These two Rothbardian writings should not be a turnoff when looking for liberty, and Murray Rothbard should not be seen as a sexist woman hater.