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Red Meat Libertarians for Capital Punishment

Posted on July 15 2010 12:00 pm
Ben-Peter Terpstra is an Australian satirist and polemicist. His works have been posted on numerous sites from The Daily Caller (Washington D.C.) to Quadrant Online (Sydney, Australia). He blogs at Positively Churchillian.
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The libertarian Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995) wore many hats. Economist. Economic historian. Libertarian political philosopher. Dean of the Austrian School. Capital punishment advocate.

“Capital punishment advocate”? Yes that’s right. Capital punishment advocate.

This week, one of his old articles has resurfaced online, “The Libertarian Position on Capital Punishment” (originally “The Plumb Line: The Capital Punishment Question” in the Libertarian Review, Vol. 7, No. 5, June 1978, pp. 13–14). Here Rothbard states:

The liberal thesis that capital punishment is brutal because it condones murder is fallacious because it takes the isolated act of killing the murderer out of context: the context of the previous murder that the aggressor had committed. We are familiar with the common charge that liberals, in weeping over the murderer, willfully ignore the far more tragic violence that he committed on his victim; and this charge is surely correct.

Another common liberal complaint is that the death penalty does not deter murder from being committed. All sorts of statistics are slung back and forth trying to “prove” or disprove this claim. While it is impossible to prove the degree of deterrence, it seems indisputable that some murders would be deterred by the death penalty. Sometimes the liberal argument comes perilously close to maintaining that no punishment deters any crime — a manifestly absurd view that could easily be tested by removing all legal penalties for nonpayment of income tax and seeing if there is any reduction in the taxes paid. (Wanna bet?) Furthermore, the murderer himself is certainly “deterred” from any repetition of his crime — and quite permanently.

And how will history judge left-liberals? For what it’s worth, I believe that the pro-victim states were bullied by the Supreme Court of the United States (remember 1972?), manipulated by seasonal pacifists (partial-birth abortionists), used by campaigning journalists, lectured to by so-called international human rights groups, and demonized by Hollywood starlets. Sheltered from criminals behind their expensive iron gates, America’s elites sided with heartless savages.

Murray N. Rothbard was different, however.  I guess you could call him a red meat libertarian. But he wasn’t just your everyday economist. He was an economist who cared deeply about the pregnant mother beaten to death.  And he wasn’t just an economic historian. He felt for the working-class father shot to death. Unlike America’s criminals-first socialites, he was more willing than most to listen to the cries of true victims. Rothbard simply didn’t believe “in weeping over the murderer.”


Ben-Peter Terpstra is an Australian satirist and cartoon lover. His works have been posted on numerous sites from American Thinker (California) to Quadrant Online (Sydney, Australia). For more information see, Pizza Trays and Beer Bottles.

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