Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

T. Alexander Smith

Committee Members

Thomas Ungs, Robert Gorman, Hans Jensen


Murray Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism represents an largely unexplored portion of American political thought. Despite an overwhelming array of publications on politics, economics, history, methodology, and other realms of social theory, his writings have received very little attention from the community of social theorists.

A significant reason for the lack of analysis concerns the unique and radical nature of Rothbard's thought. Although this research concludes that his form of anarchism is surely an American phenomenon, he combines the influences upon his writings in ways which ultimately separate him from even his libertarian colleagues. Still, he is an extremely influential figure in the largely successful revival of contemporary American libertarianism or classical liberalism, despite his overly radical anarchist tendencies.

This project integrates Rothbard's social theory and critiques it from within the confines of a libertarian negative rights framework which defines ethical parameters around the notion of individualism and non-interference. It focuses upon five components of Rothbard's work: 1.) Methodological and epistemological foundations; 2.) Economic theory; 3.) Political ethics; 4.) Anarcho-capitalist society; and 5.) Strategies in the achievement of the libertarian system.

After a thorough analysis of each of these areas, the research concludes that Rothbard's system of libertarian ethics and his society of anarchy and property rights are quite feasible theoretically and potentially provide practical advantages over current State-imposed alternatives in many arenas. However, some major concerns remain. Concerning the private provision of defense, Rothbard underestimates the propensities for free riding which may only be overcome (as in other arenas entailing spillover effects) with time, which makes the removal of the State apparatus highly problematic without complete international consensus. In the case of external opposition, transitional costs make his theoretical framework untenable. Moreover, the entire libertarian model faces serious tactical problems--in which Rothbard's absolutist and monistic style and theory do not relieve. He is never clearly able to guarantee that his brand of anarchism necessarily protects or cultivates the ethics of libertarianism. A rigid ethical dichotomy of the market and political processes tends to cloak this fundamentally crucial issue in his theory.

Nevertheless, Rothbard is a significant figure both in the historical understanding of the modern libertarian revival in America and in the theoretical advancement of these ideas.

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