Biographical outlines of the life and work of Murray N. Rothbard and F.A. Hayek – listing their major achievements and their accomplishments, awards and honors – are easily available. Rather, I thought I would recount a few of the many fond memories I have of these two men, which might give you a small sense of what they were like and how I felt toward them.
I first met Murray and Joey in the mid-1950s, soon after starting college, through George Reisman, who had been a friend of mine since junior high school. George and I formed part of a group of somewhat strange kids who had little in common with our fellow students. While we shared a wry sense of humor that kept us continually laughing whenever we were together, we each of us had our own private eccentricity, George’s being to read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations from cover to cover while still in the ninth grade. George had managed to find his way to Ludwig von Mises’ Thursday evening seminar at New York University and I began joining him when I moved back to New York City from Ithaca in 1956. It was there that I became acquainted with Murray and Joey and this soon flourished into a very close friendship.
From that time until Murray’s death in 1995 their apartment on 88th Street and Broadway was a second New York home for me whenever I visited the city and I felt as comfortable there as at my mother’s apartment in Queens. Nor was I the only regular guest. Among the regulars were George Reisman, Ralph Raico, and Leonard Liggio who, together with Murray and Joey, spent most of our time together doubled over with laughter at our burlesques of the social democratic left and the National Review right.
Murray and Joey’s guests, especially we regulars, were always warmly received and made to feel welcomed no matter how late we stayed, which occasionally was as late as five or six in the morning. Joey was a terribly generous hostess and no matter how often I or other members of our group showed up, she would bring out a tray laden with liquor and mixes.
Since we were all ardent movie fans, we often went to the movie houses on Broadway, especially to the New Yorker, a revival house that served us in the same way as does Turner Classic Movies today. And it seemed that when we weren’t spoofing our enemies or composing parody operas (Murray’s magnum opus was a Randian operetta entitled “Mozart was a Red“) we spent our evenings playing board games (nothing as intellectual as chess, mind you, but those whose boxes were customarily marked “fun for ages 8 to 80″) like Mille Borne, Monopoly, Scrabble, and, if we felt particularly adult, Diplomacy. Our favorite was Risk, which gave rise to Murray’s perennial comment, which we were forever repeating: “Harry him in the Congo!”
We were all keen political buffs, Murray – who read three or four New York newspapers every day – far more than the rest of us, and we spent the time between going to movies and playing games discussing contemporary politics and libertarian theory. We were forever posing theoretical questions that hinged on some incredibly complex issue of responsibility and trying to work out its libertarian implications. “Should I be legally culpable for the destruction of someone’s property if I am ordered to destroy it under threat of your harming my wife?” “Who’s responsible if you throw me through someone’s plate glass window?” And on and on. We spent hours trying to work out the minutiae of libertarian theory, avoiding no hard issues from children’s rights to intellectual property.
And when not debating theoretical issues, we’d end up discussing some topic in history, economics, sociology, or that day’s headlines. It soon became evident to all of us how truly amazing was the depth and breadth of Murray’s knowledge. He appears to have read everything and could cite the relevant bibliography on almost any topic that came up. One of our more erudite games involved the Book Review section of the Sunday New York Times. One of us would read the book title and as brief a description as a quick scan of the review would allow and the others would then have to guess, given the political inclinations of the Book Review’s editorial staff, who had been chosen to review the book. Looking back on those days it is amazing to me how often we guessed correctly.
Everyone familiar with Rothbard’s writings is aware that he wrote a truly prodigious amount. What is not as well known is that he seems to have totally mastered the literature in those fields in which he had an interest. He had a vast library and unlike the books in my own library, all of Murray’s books had been read, and read with care. All one need do is scan a book out of Murray’s library and he will find marginal comments in Murray’s hands scribbled on each page (“Bull____!,” “Ugh!” “Right on!”, etc.) and that almost every line on every page was underlined. One of the great mysteries for all who knew him, at least at the outset, was where on earth he found the time to turn out the dozens of books, hundreds of articles, and literally thousands of letters he wrote and on top of it to read so much. In addition to have written a massive amount he seemed to have read everything that came within his grasp, newspapers, magazines, journals, newsletters, even flyers and advertisers.
I discovered the answer to this conundrum one day when reading an interview with W. Somerset Maugham, who was asked how he could turn out so many novels and short stories when he partied every evening. His reply was that if he devoted only four hours a day to writing, he’d be able to produce three or four pages each day. That meant, he pointed out, that if he were to keep to that schedule regularly, he could produce no less than 1,000 pages a year! I don’t mean to suggest that Murray’s schedule was the same as was Maugham’s, but he certainly devoted a good part of almost every day to reading and writing and even if he spent his evenings in conversation and otherwise enjoying the company of his friends, that left him each afternoon in which to work, which he did religiously. I don’t recall ever going over to his apartment without finding him in the midst of either reading or writing.
Murray composed at the typewriter, footnoting his material in the text itself. During my last year as an undergraduate at City College I agreed to take on the job of typing the second volume of Man, Economy, and State. I must say that it was one of the most pleasurable work experiences I’ve ever had. Not only was I provided with an endless supply of Pepsi-Cola and potato chips, but I got the chance to work under two good-humored and accommodating employers who excused every failing in their employee while at the same time having had the opportunity to read and discuss a first-rate text in economic theory. One of my major subjects as an undergraduate had been economics, but I confess to have learned more economics during the six-month period I spent typing Murray’s manuscript than I did during my whole undergraduate career.
There are few things more irritating than having to defend a proposition against someone who clearly has given almost no thought to the issue but is speaking off the top of his head and Murray, like most of us, had little tolerance for such people. However, when asked to explain a point one didn’t understand or about which one was unclear Murray was extremely patient and uncomplaining and doubtless this must have accounted for why he was regarded as a fine teacher at both Brooklyn Poly and UNLV while still being incapable of suffering fools gladly.
Those of us who knew Murray in the 1950s were aware that he disliked traveling and that he had a phobia about flying. In this, as in so many other ways, Joey’s forbearance was almost superhuman as she slowly enlarged Murray’s world to include places as far away as eastern Europe, Asia, and South America. I remember with absolute clarity receiving a postcard from Murray from Washington, D.C. after his very first flight, on which he’d written in bold letters: “Finally made it!”
Murray’s strong opposition to the Vietnam War and his sympathies with the New Left’s distrust of government led, in November 1970 to his being invited to speak in Los Angeles at what I vaguely recall was billed as a Festival of Light and Freedom, or some such New Age title. Among the other speakers, if my memory serves, were Thomas Szasz, the foremost authority on the relation between psychiatry and law, Tim Leary, the apostle of LSD, Paul Goodman, the author of one of the 1960s most influential books of social criticism and the guru of the New Left, and Nathaniel Brandon, who was then archbishop of the Randian Church. The organizers’ aim, apparently, was to bring together the establishment’s major critics in the hope of creating a grand coalition that would fuse elements of the drug culture, libertarianism, and opposition to the military-industrial complex into a new impregnable alliance. But despite the many cries of “Right On” that punctuated Murray’s speech, it soon became apparent that he and most of the audience were on very different wavelengths and that their attempt to fuse Rothbard with the Grateful Dead were doomed to failure.
Most of those who participated at the Festival were simply incapable of appreciating just how conservative Murray’s approach to social issues was and that neither he nor Joey carried around their own roach clip nor were either ready to join in sharing a plate of hash brownies. Murray might have sympathized with the some of the anti-orthodox elements of the counter-culture but those who knew him were keenly aware of where he stood on love-ins, dropping acid, and turning his back on industrialism in favor of the world of unspoiled nature.
In 1974 the Mt. Pelerin Society held its meetings in Brussels and, via separate routes, Murray and Joey and I arranged to meet there. I had flown to southern France to visit Lee Brozen, who had a summer home there. She and her two boys were planning a leisurely drive to Brussels and I had agreed to accompany them. It was a marvelous trip, made even more pleasant by our decision to use a Michelin restaurant guide to determine our route.
Meanwhile, Murray and Joey had met up with Ralph Raico in Germany and they made their own way by car to Brussels. As is customary, the Mt. Pelerin meetings were held in one of the most expensive hotels in the city as befitted the fact that almost all attendees were either think-tank executives traveling on expense accounts, South American latifundia owners, for whom hundred-dollar bills were small change, or the officers of the Society itself, a self-perpetuating oligarchy who, thanks to its members’ dues, traveled around the world in first-class accommodations.
One of my fondest memories of our stay in Brussels was our first evening there. Following dinner a number of us had found ourselves in Murray and Joey’s hotel room, laughing and joking as we recounted our recent European adventures. Over the course of the evening more and more people kept dropping by, to the point where the Rothbard’s room began to look like the Marx Brothers’ cabin in A Night at the Opera. We had started to sing and, in a fit of bravado, had decided to do the whole Cole Porter canon. Someone, I think it was John O’Sullivan, maintained that he needed something to lubricate his throat if he were to sound his best.
Since Cole Porter clearly had priority, Joey opened the room’s minibar and we all helped ourselves to whatever was available. Needless to say, by the time we left the room the bar was completely empty. Neither Murray or Joey gave a thought to what their hospitality would end up costing but I can imagine the bill turned out to be staggering. I know this because, while staying at the same hotel, I made the mistake of having the hotel do eight or nine days’ worth of laundry and cleaning. I had not had the opportunity to get anything cleaned while traveling from north from the Mediterranean and figured I’d splurge instead of waiting until I got back to New York. There is no way I could have predicted what I would have been charged for a week’s worth of laundering and cleaning. I shall never forget my final bill; while the room’s substantial cost was perfectly predictable, the cleaning bill was $225.00!