Rockwell vs. Rodney and the Libertarian World
"When Lew Rockwell came to the defense of the LAPD’s beating of one, read one, criminal, Rodney King, one would have thought that the earth had opened and Armageddon had been launched at last."
Editors Note: On March 10th, 1991, in response to the controversy surrounding the LAPD’s handling of Rodney King, Lew Rockwell published an article titled “It’s Safe Streets Versus Urban Terror,” in the Los Angeles Times. The article defended the actions of the LAPD, arguing that King was a symptom of a failing criminal justice system that violent criminals no longer feared or respected. While the King incident became a historical moment, elevating the narrative of racism-driving police brutality, it occurred amidst a backdrop where violent crime in American cities was one of the most pressing issues in the country - twice as high as it has been in modern times.
(The original article is no longer available at LATimes.com, but Stephan Kinsella quotes heavily in this blog post.)
The article received immediate backlash from many in the Libertarian moment and continues to be evoked today by critics of Rockwell.
The following article is a defense of Lew’s position by Murray Rothbard, who highlights particulars in the King case, and dives into what he saw as the underlying agenda motivating the “Modal Libertarian” critique.
By publishing this article, the editor is making no appeal to authority - one can reasonably disagree with the arguments of either Rothbard or Rockwell. This content does, however, illustrate the mindset with which Murray Rothbard was viewing the concept of “law in order” in the early 1990s, with potential lessons for current paleolibertarians.
The article is also hilarious.
Anyone who knows Lew Rockwell knows that he can take care of himself, that he doesn’t need me or anyone else to leap to his defense. In fact, Lew enjoys it when libertarians go bananas about him, because it confirms his already low opinion of the Modal Libertarian. But I’m getting sick of it. I’m getting sick of cretins and half-illiterates, of bozos who can hardly parse a sentence, who have achieved nothing at all in their miserable lives, displaying the unmitigated gall, the flagrant chutzpah, to presume to sit down and read Lew out of libertarianism. A typical letter received: “Dear Mr. Rockwell: I didn’t read your article, but I read Bill Bradford in Liberty, and I agree that you’re a fascist, you’re not a libertarian at all, and you should be read out of the human race.” Bradford is a businessman who decided to buy himself a libertarian magazine. Well fine, but so what? What’s he ever done apart from that? The fact that he calls himself a scholar and philosopher should cut no ice with anyone.
There are real problems in the world that cry out for libertarian analysis and action. One key problem was the late Gulf War, that made virtually every American “feel good about himself” and about the American State, and apparently accomplished nothing else - except the slaughter of about 200,000 Iraqis. One would think that libertarians would be passionately interested in this issue. Were they? Hell no! Most libertarians couldn’t care less about the whole issue. Half of the LP members supported the war. And Bradford? As usual, he hemmed and hawed on both sides of the issue, getting indignant only at a few readers who thought he had opposed the Gulf War.
In a laid-back movement of this sort, one that cares little about such vital problems as war and mass murder, you would think it would take some truly cataclysmic issue to elicit widespread anathemas and ex-communication. But you would be wrong. When Lew Rockwell came to the defense of the LAPD’s beating of one, read one, criminal, Rodney King, one would have thought that the earth had opened and Armageddon had been launched at last. Such agony, such hatred, such geschrei, had not been seen in the libertarian movement since Ayn Rand kicked Nathaniel Branden out of Paradise in 1968.
From the hysteria and disproportionality, it is obvious that much more is going on here than is apparent on the surface, that as in many other cases, the Modals are not engaging in sober reasoning on the issue, but are carrying out some hidden agenda that is not part of official libertarian programs and protocols.
Before getting to the hidden agenda, let us consider the alleged provocation: the Rodney King case. We have here a problem of Rush to Judgment by Videotape, part of the trivialization and sentimentalization of public opinion, which more and more resets on where video cameras happen to be pointing. Throughout the entire 20th century, the American public had never heard of a Kurd, and cared nothing about their dreams or aspirations, about their oppression or their betrayal by Henry Kissinger years ago. Then, because the video cameras of the world happened to be pointing in the direction of thousands of fleeing and poverty-stricken Kurds, George Bush was forced to reverse his original decision not to intervene, and to send troops and supplies in for God knows how long to preserve an independent Kurdish entity. If the TV cameras had been pointed to Ethiopia, or toward the Shiites in southern Iraq, who knows what crazy intervention Bush would have felt forced to undertake?
Yes, Rodney King was vigorously beaten by L.A. cops with batons. In all the hysteria, no one seems to have asked why they kept beating on King. That’s because video cameras are dumb, and people who follow them blindly are even dumber. Video cameras know nothing of context. What was the context of the King beating?
1. Rodney King was a convicted criminal, armed robber, on parole. Not a libertarian, or a model citizen, or even a decent one.
2. Rodney King was speeding maniacally on the highways and on the city streets. When flagged down by the cops, he speeded up, refusing to stop and be questioned. Anyone who knows anything about traffic or any other cops knows that they like their orders for quiet, standing still, etc. to be obeyed, and they get nervous when these orders are disobeyed. And, in the context of our criminal urban population, there is nothing wrong with that. Having been led on a wild and merry chase, the cops were already edgy. But then King refused to get out of the car, had to be pulled from it, and then refused all orders to stand still, insisting on dancing around, advancing on the cops in a menacing manner, and make obscene threats to a lady cop. What were the cops supposed to do in this situation?
The Anti-Rockwell Modals are carrying out a hidden agenda
3. In the good old days, before left-liberalism did its evil work, the cops knew what to do in this potentially menacing situation. (Remember: they had no way of knowing if King was armed.) They would have administered a chokehold on Rodney King, which would have subdued him immediately. But the noxious forces of left-liberalism (supported, no doubt, by the equally noxious and far more hypocritical forces of Modal Libertarianism), had gotten chokeholds outlawed as being unfair to the poor criminals.
4. So, what was left? The cops shot Rodney King with a taser gun, which inflicts no lasting harm, but which knocks out the recipient’s muscles and forces him to lie down and be subdued. Tasers always work - except that Rodney King, though shot twice with a taser, unprecedentedly showed no ill effects whatever. Like Rasputin, who seemed superhuman and invincible, Rodney King kept dancing around maniacally and advancing on the threatening fashion.
So, now what wise-guys? If you were in the cops’ spot at that point, what would you have done? Try to reason with Rodney King, like Bob LeFevre? Try to give him a short course in Randian theory? Given the failure of the taser, given the outlawing of the chokehold, there was only one thing the cops could do: and that was to beat Rodney King into submission with batons. Except a couple of baton blows couldn’t do it. Why did the cops keep beating King again and again with their batons? The Rasputin factor; he simply wouldn’t go down.
Sorry, there was one more thing the cops could have done: they could have taken their guns out and shot the S.O.B. Would you have been happy with that, Mr. and Ms. Modal?
5. There is life after the King beating. A couple of weeks after the incident, King ’allegedly assaulted a police officer with a deadly weapon. Soon after that, Rodney King, actually and not simply allegedly, picked up a transvestite prostitute in his truck; as they were about to perform a lewd act, the cops advanced upon them, whereupon King tried to run down a police officer with his car.
Let us again ponder the Rasputin Factor: Rodney King received a beating which would have put most of us in the hospital for many months. Yet only a couple of weeks later, the guy is cheerfully picking up a transvestite prostitute.
The L.A. cops and Lew Rockwell have been implicitly or explicitly accused of “racism” in this affair because King is black. But I venture to assert that the shoe is on the other foot: that if King had been white, there would have been no national fuss at all, there would have been no hysterical calls, by the ACLU and others, for Chief Gates’ immediate ouster or for criminal prosecution of the officers. And there would have been no nation-wide hysteria by the myriad of other libertarian jackasses. In short, what we are seeing, among Modal Libertarians as well as their left-liberal cousins, is reverse racism.
Of the host of libertarian criticisms of Rockwell’s article, only one was sober, rational, coherent, and non-hysterical, that of Justin Raimondo in the Libertarian Republican. Justin did not agree with Rockwell’s position, but it was a pleasure to read, because it was a model of what libertarian discussion should be all about, and used to be before the libertarians decided to stop thinking for themselves and fall into a Politically Correct goosestep.
Essentially, Justin holds that while private guards might have been justified in beating Rodney King, that police, being government officers, must be held to a far more rigorous standard. This is a cogent position, with which I have a great deal of sympathy, but I have come to the conclusion that it is not satisfactory. I would like to see all government functions, including police, privatized, but pending that consummation devoutly to be wished, l now believe that those government functions which are actually valuable services (e.g. roads, mail-carrying, or police, but not regulating industry or levying taxes) should be carried out as far as possible like a private business. Thus, government is a lousy mail carrier and should get out of the mail carrying business -or at the very least allow private competition-but failing that and keeping the mail monopoly, it should try to carry out its job as efficiently and as like a private firm as possible. Some libertarians (not Justin Raimondo) hold that all government functions should be carried out as inefficiently as possible (e.g. mail carriers should be throwing mail into the dumpster) so as to discredit the State and bring about privatization rapidly. But I think this is a repellent strategy and inflicts needless pain and extra oppression on a citizenry already sufficiently oppressed by the State.
READ MORE: “What to Do Until Privatization Comes?" Published Sept. 1991
So why did such a host of libertarians rouse themselves from their usual stupor to hurl curses and anathema at a long-time leading libertarian for one disagreement on a scarcely earth-shaking issue? The answer is a hidden agenda, and that agenda is the entire social and cultural mind-set of Left-Liberalism. For our beloved Modals are indeed social and cultural Leftists, more so even than we had originally suspected; they have bought into the entire panoply of feminism, egalitarianism, victimology, “civil rights,” the sanctity of the compulsory integrationist, socialist, and fake “Doctor” Martin Luther King, and all the rest of the odious baggage. In short, these Left-Libertarians have bought into the whole Politically Correct package, and as in the case of all P.C.’s, everyone who disagrees with them on any of these issues is automatically stigmatized with the litany of “racist, sexist, and homophobic.”
Note that while Left-Liberals are scarcely advocates of the free market, they don’t really care about that anymore; no student, for example, ever gets hauled up on charges for being too enthusiastic about the free market, or about cuts in the capital gains tax, or for being excessively critical of socialism or the planned economy. That is not the cutting edge of today’s political issues, and so the Liberal Establishment is willing to tolerate Left Libertarians who are correct on the issues that matter, and to keep them around as occasional pets. Not so, however, with paleos, whether paleocons or paleolibertarians, who, being on the cutting edge of today’s issues, enjoy no such indulgence from the Establishment. But pretty soon, the Modals will Get Theirs. What Tom Fleming said in his wonderful article on “The New Fusionism” in the May Chronicles of the way the Establishment will eventually dispose of its current conservative allies, applies in spades to how they will get rid of whichever Left-Libertarians have managed to Make It in the current political climate.
Fleming writes: “they [the ‘official conservatives]’ have established a cozy relationship with the leftist establishment media who recognize them for what they are: safe and well-groomed lapdogs who bark but never bite. When the day comes that they are no longer needed, the conservatives will be treated like a lower-class sweetheart picked up for a summer affair. I only hope they’re given carfare for the long ride home back to their side of town.” Considering their social status and their cultural values, I’m sure that the Left-Libertarians will neither expect nor receive carfare. They’ll be happy with the right to hitch-hike.