Geometry, A Belgian Anarchist, and Two Generations of Radical Youngsters

In the early 1950s Murray Rothbard began attending the economic seminars hosted by Ludwig von Mises at the New York School of Business. Murray’s right-leaning ideological origins were a perfect fit for Mises’ Austrian economics that place the individual as the primary economic unit and sees private property and free exchange as crucial for human flourishing. At these weekly night seminars, Murray met more youngsters infatuated by the Austrian free market view and together they created a small group of young radical libertarians led by Murray called The Circle Bastiat, after their favorite French classical liberal. Regular meetings and all night discussions at Rothbard’s Manhattan apartment were routine.

In addition to their craving for intellectual development, the Bastiat Boys were also jokesters. As recounted by Brian Doherty in Radicals for Capitalism, 

The Circle Bastiat boys [Murray Rothbard, Ralph Raico, George Reisman] were also pranksters who liked to disrupt other people’s realities for their own amusement and occasionally for moments of libertarian Zen wisdom. When talking to young socialists, they enjoyed turning some of the socialists’ predictable rhetoric back on them, for example, soberly explaining that socialism might have been all right in the primitive conditions of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. But in today’s complex, modern machine era, surely they could see that we must have lassiez-faire—it’s just the irresistible motion of history, the inevitable wave of the future, no point in fighting it.

One of their favorite stunts involved filling the audience at a talk by the governor of New Jersey air on a TV program called Youth Wants to Know, and hitting him with their brand of questions from all sides, which included adopting the attitude that theirideological universe was the norm and his was some sort of aberration. “What, governor? You are forpublic schools? Where did you get such strange ideas? Can you recommend any books on this subject?” A favorite technique of theirs was to dominate the social reality in any gathering of right-wingers or leftists. By appearing en masses (but not obviously as pals) and talking their libertarian talk, they thought they could make their opponents see them as a legitimate and real “other side” of some issue and force the majority to grapple with their viewpoint. They’d go to any right-wing meeting they could find and loudly air an anti-draft or anti-Eisenhower viewpoint. Rothbard loved the technique of pushing people who might be on the correct path further toward libertarianism.”

The origin of the circle’s name came from the 19th century French political economist, Frederic Bastiat. It seems that the Circle adopted his name around the time the Foundation for Economic Education, of which the circle’s mentor, Mises was strongly involved in, was translating and printing mass copies of Bastiat’s works. Around the time that Rothbard and his friends had discovered Bastiat, they also delved into some of the French political economist such as Comte and Dunoyer, but most importantly, Gustave de Molinari, Bastiat’s protégé. Molinari is credited with publishing the first defense of market anarchism with The Production of Security in 1849, arguing that competitive forces should replace the state’s monopoly on security and defense. Rothbard was clearly influenced by Molinari (he became exposed to his views around the time he was writing his magnum opus, Man, Economy, and State), and the arguments of other 19th century American individualist anarchists, such as Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker, and integrated their views on individual liberty and the state into his ideas.

Belgian born political economist, Gustave de Molinari (1819 – 1912) was strongly influenced by the classical liberal tradition and French political economists such as Jean-Baptiste Say, Benjamin Constant, Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and Alexis de Tocqueville. Roderick Long details Molinari’s wide-ranging achievements,

“Writing in a clear, engaging, and witty style modeled on Bastiat’s, Molinari penned dozens of works in economics, sociology, and political theory and advocacy, on topics ranging from the economic analysis of history to the future of warfare and the role of religion in society, as well as memoirs of his travels in Russia, North America, and elsewhere; his contemporaries described him as “the law of supply and demand made into man.”  He eventually served as editor of the prestigious Journal des Économistes, chief organ of French liberalism, from 1881 to 1909.  He is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery, in a grave adjoining that of fellow radical liberal Benjamin Constant.”

Long further explains Molinari’s claim to fame as the founder of market anarchism,

“…while these thinkers tended to speak of turning governmental services over to the realm of economic enterprise rather than to that of political compulsion, they offered no real details as to how such functions as security might be provided in the absence of the state.  And here we see the significance of Molinari’s contribution.  Molinari’s account may not have been as sophisticated as those of some of his successors; he may not have addressed all the objections with which those successors have had to grapple; and he may have said disappointingly little about the market provision of legal norms, a topic that looms large in more recent market anarchist thought.  But Molinari was the first thinker to identify and describe the economic mechanisms by which the nonstate provision of security might be effected; and this arguably entitles him – despite his not using the term “anarchist” himself – to be considered the originator of market anarchism.”

Molinari also has, “concerns about unequal bargaining power between labor and capital [that] are often regarded as a concern exclusive to the anti-market left” explains Long, but he seeks to address the problem through the elimination of, “the partial insulation of employers from market discipline,” which is caused by, “laws favoring employers over laborers,” as well as the formation of, “a private network of labor-exchanges whereby employers could bid on the services of workers near and far.  Labor unions and mutual credit societies would ‘provide their collective guarantee to enterprises of transportation and job placement’ and thus secure ‘to the mutualized laborers the funds necessary to pay the cost of transporting them to the most advantageous market,'” in order to alleviate the fact that, “labor is also hampered by its lack of mobility in comparison with capital.”

Long ends his essay by noting that,

“Molinari remains not only an interesting historical thinker, but also a vital lodestar for the liberty movement today.  He understood that the solution to abuse of power is not to elect better people into power, or to persuade current holders of power to play nice, or to rein them in with paper constitutions whose interpretation the powerful themselves will ultimately control, but rather to dissolve that power by extending the range of competitive markets.

All over the world, ordinary people long to be free of the tyranny of bosses and rulers; Molinari’s labor-exchange proposal, however flawed, plausibly identifies lack of competition as the linchpin of employer privilege and abuse, while his market anarchism, however incomplete, likewise plausibly identifies lack of competition as the linchpin of state privilege and abuse.  Both proposals embody the same essential insight:  the way to break the power of plutocrats and statocrat alike is to subject both to the rule of competition – the adamantine chains of laissez-faire.”

Like the Circle Bastiat did in the 1950s, we at the Circle Molinari crave intellectual development, often have all night discussion on Facebook instead of a New York apartment, and have a penchant to joke around. Our favorite classical liberal, however, is Gustave de Molinari as he took the ideas of individual sovereignty and equal liberty to their logical conclusions. That is, classical liberalism’s foundational values don’t imply handing over the power to initiate force to a monopoly, but a total rejection of that monopoly as it must be, even at its smallest level, maintained by arbitrary, violent authority. They imply Anarchism.

Like Molinari, we share a concern for worker empowerment and agree that labor’s bargaining power is artificially reduced due to state policies that protect capitalists from competition. We see corporations not as the result of voluntary, market arrangements, but of statist policies that socialize diseconomies of scale and inhibit competition to politically entrenched elites. Furthermore, corporations tend to promote a culture of obedience and reduce the autonomy of workers through hierarchical, power relationships. We think a freed market would give labor more bargaining power, as Molinari suggested with his labor exchanges, and promote smaller, flatter firms, worker cooperatives, and self employment as more realistic alternatives than under state capitalism.

In addition to corporate culture, we reject racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism, nativism, national chauvinism, religious or economic elitism, environmental degradation, militarism, party politics, a disregard for child welfare and animal welfare, and in some cases religion, the use of mind altering substances, and resistance to technological change as we view these cultural values as detrimental and incompatible with the cause of liberty. It is impossible to specify the application of the principles of liberty or to even adopt the principles of liberty without invoking tangential values. Lew Rockwell explains,“…no political philosophy exists in a cultural vacuum, and for most people political identity is only an abstraction from a broader cultural view. The two are separate only at the theoretical level; in practice, they are inextricably linked.” While Rockwell defends a rightist version of libertarianism, we embrace a leftist version.

Th Circle Molinari is a group of left libertarian market anarchist students who met, not at the economic seminars of Ludwig von Mises like our 5 decade old counterparts, but through their joint efforts at school and community organizing, conference planning, mass education, and direct action aimed at communicating the idea that, “the true remedy for most evils is none other than liberty, unlimited and complete liberty, liberty in every field of human endeavor.”


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