It’s well known that Murray Rothbard thinks that intellectuals play a crucial role in getting the public to accept the state. Why are these “court intellectuals” needed? The necessity arises from the nature of the state. Following Franz Oppenheimer and Albert Jay Nock, Rothbard maintains that the state is a predatory organization: it uses coercion to seize property from people. It consists, moreover, of a relatively small minority of people: even in states with large bureaucracies, most people are not state officials. In that circumstance, the continued existence of the state rests on public opinion. If a sufficient number of people refused to obey the state, it would be powerless to continue its coercive activities. As Rothbard says,

If states have everywhere been run by an oligarchic group of predators, how have they been able to maintain their rule over the mass of the population? The answer, as the philosopher David Hume pointed out over two centuries ago, is that in the long run every government, no matter how dictatorial, rests on the support of the majority of its subjects. Now this does not of course render these governments “voluntary,” since the very existence of the tax and other coercive powers shows how much compulsion the State must exercise. Nor does the majority support have to be eager and enthusiastic approval; it could well be mere passive acquiescence and resignation. The conjunction in the famous phrase “death and taxes” implies a passive and resigned acceptance to the assumed inevitability of the State and its taxation.

It’s the role of the intellectuals to convince people to accept what prima facie are undesirable activities that they have reason to reject: Why go along with an organization that seizes your property and can take your life? In this week’s column, I’d like to consider some of the ways intellectuals do this, according to Rothbard’s account.

One of these has to do with an important topic in the...

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