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A Timely Talk By Murray Rothbard (1982)

Written by Subject: Politics: Libertarian Campaigns

The Six Stages of the Libertarian Movement
HOST: In presenting Murray to you, he's a teacher, a scholar, a writer, a professor, editor of Libertarian Forum. About his many books, let me give one title, the latest, I believe, The Ethics of Liberty. I think that will do for this audience.
It's a pleasure for me to call on Dr. Murray N. Rothbard to deliver the keynote address of the first World Libertarian Convention in Zurich, '82.
OK, Murray?
ROTHBARD: See, one prophecy turned out to be incorrect. I'm here, not in my birthday suit, but everything was fixed up by the authorities, the hotel, whatever.
Well, it's a great pleasure and privilege to be here. And it's a really great honor to deliver the keynote address to the first World Libertarian International. In my own irreverent terms, I could call it the Libertern, but I think I won't do that.
The first problem I was confronted with in giving a keynote to this group is, how can I speak trans-culturally. I don't know how many nations are represented here, but quite a large number. And how can I speak to people, each one of whom has a different culture, a different national history, a different history of the movement? And how can I meaningfully talk to trans-national or trans-cultural Libertarians?
OK, the first answer to that was easy. The first answer is that Libertarian itself, of course, is international. It's trans-national. It's cosmopolite. The glorious idea of liberty, of a free market and a free society is universal and it's not dependent on culture or time or place, for that ideal is based on the nature and on the rights of man, of human beings wherever they exist. So we have this, of course, one common language, so to speak, or common terminology, of common concepts, which is Libertarianism itself.

OK, then I thought I would try to work out for this gathering at least the beginning of a theory of stages of the Libertarian movement, a theory which we might be able to apply to every country regardless of how small or how advanced the movement might be in the particular country. I'm not saying, of course, that these stages are inevitable, that one must always go from one to the other, but I think every movement will pass through one stage, one, two, et cetera.
OK, the first stage in any given country or region or area or city, the first stage, the movement necessarily begins always with one person; one person has an idea. One isolated individual somehow discovers Libertarianism. How he or she does it, it can happen in many different ways, by reading, by listening to something, by thinking or whatever. So we have one solitary Libertarian living isolated in one particular country or region. In the United States, such a person is often called a lone nut.
So stage one is the lone-nut stage. I think it's – a gray beard such as myself, of course, went through the lone-nut stage. And many people here probably have. I was a lone nut in the 1940s. That was my lone-nut period; probably earlier than that, too.
OK, so the lone nut continues on in the gadfly status, arguing with people, being a pest, whatever, learning more about Libertarianism. And finally, a great moment arrives in the lone nut's development. He or she finds another lone nut. Now, this is a tremendous thing. This could be either sex. It could be the lone nut either finds or converts another Libertarian. It's a great moment in each person's development.
And now we have two lone nuts. Of course, it's much more effective and much happier than one lone nut. We have two friends, buddies, comrades who pal around together, who discuss these great ideas that they've just learned about, sit up all night discussing them and so forth and so on. So now, we have the stage two, the buddy stage of a pair, the two-lone-nuts-together stage.
At this point, I should say something about the conversion process, if indeed, the first lone nut converted the second lone nut. Because, of course, conversion is crucial in the growth of the Libertarian movement or of any movement. And I think that most conversions – there are many ways that conversions can take place and have taken place. But I think that most conversions occur not by verbal bludgeoning or by high-pressure tactics, but by the convert either hearing or reading or whatever, something which he feels, a statement or statements which he feels or she feels was a sort of a shock of recognition to be articulating something that he believed down deep for many years.
"Gee, I always believed that. I just couldn't put it into words." I keep finding every Libertarian after Libertarian who says that. Especially in the early days of the movement, we find another Libertarian, we say, "Jesus, how did you become a Libertarian"? Like how did you become a deep-sea diver or whatever? And the person would say, "Well, I came across this or read this or heard this, and I said to myself, I believed this all my life and I never articulated it." So I think this is crucial to the conversion process.

OK, so we have these two buddies. Either the first lone nut found or converted the second buddy. And the third buddy comes. A third convert appears. Now this growth from two to three, this is stage three in the development of the movement. The growth from two to three is not just a 50% increase – of course, it is a 50% increase quantitatively – but it's much more than that. Because one person is a lone nut, two people are two lone nuts, three people, that's already a school of thought.
It's a much bigger impact – (laughing) – on life around them than two people. "Gee, three people believe this crazy thing; maybe there's something to it."
So now we have a school of thought. We have a little group. And it seems to me, at least my experience has been, my observation has been that once you have three people, it's pretty much easier to get six or seven. And then we have six or seven, you're now in stage four of the movement, the study group stage, or what the Marxists called the circle stage in movement development.

 Editor’s Note: The Titania movement has just entered this stage – the “circle stage”. Come to our meetups to learn how we overcome many of the challenges described in this Rothbard speech.

Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School, founder of modern libertarianism, and chief academic officer of the Mises Institute. He was also editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The Rothbard-Rockwell Report, and appointed Lew as his executor. See Murray's books.

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