Lew Rockwell on Rodney King in the L.A. Times

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

A reader just sent me the article below. It’s certainly an interesting perspective for someone who at the time called himself a libertarian. No, it isn’t explicitly racist. It merely argues that cops should be free to beat the hell out of people. The line about video cameras is nice, too.

To be fair, Rockwell does seem to have changed his tune since then. Good for him. But the article speaks volumes about the mindset of the paleolibertarian crowd in the early 1990s. It also further validates the reporting done last month by Julian Sanchez and Dave Weigel. Rockwell seems to have two similar articles for USA Today at about the same time, one called “Curbing Cops Helps Crooks,” and another called “Crack Down on Crime–And Support Police.”

Some of the paleos have argued that the newsletter kerfuffle is just political correctness run amok–that those of us who are disappointed by all of this are just urbane city dwellers trying to show our mainstream media friends how open-minded we are. Whatever. But even if the racism doesn’t shame them, you’d think they’d be shamed by the fact that this crap isn’t remotely libertarian. They didn’t just make ugly appeals to racists and conspiracy theorists. They let those appeals trump their principles. Rockwell below is basically arguing for a police state in America’s cities.


March 10, 1991
Los Angeles Times, Sunday edition


If you offer a small boy one candy bar now or 10 tomorrow, he’ll grab the one. That’s because children have what economists call a “high time preference.” They want it, and they want it now. The future is a haze.

The punishing of children must take this into account. One good whack on the bottom can have an effect. A threat about no TV all next year will not.

As we grow older, this changes. We care more, and think more, about the future. In fact, this is the very process of maturation. We plan, save, invest and put off today’s gratification until tomorrow.

But street criminals, as economist Murray N. Rothbard points out, have the time preference of depraved infants. The prospect of a jail sentence 12 months from now has virtually no effect.

As recently as the 1950s — when street crime was not rampant in America — the police always operated on this principle: No matter the vagaries of the court system, a mugger or rapist knew he faced a trouncing — proportionate to the offense and the offender — in the back of the paddy wagon, and maybe even a repeat performance at the station house. As a result, criminals were terrified of the cops, and our streets were safe.

Today’s criminals know that they probably won’t be convicted, and that if the are, they face a short sentence — someday. The result is city terrorism, though we are seldom shown videos of old people being mugged, women being raped, gangs shooting drivers at random or store clerks having their throats slit.

What we do see, over and over again, is the tape of some Los Angeles-area cops giving the what-for to an ex-con. It is not a pleasant sight, of course; neither is cancer surgery.

Did they hit him too many times? Sure, but that’s not the issue: It’s safe streets versus urban terror, and why we have moved from one to the other.

Liberals talk about banning guns. As a libertarian, I can’t agree. I am, however, beginning to wonder about video cameras.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, an economics think tank in Auburn, Ala.

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19 Responses to “Lew Rockwell on Rodney King in the L.A. Times

  1. #1 |  Brian N. | 

    Well, there you have it. A pox on all houses, then.

  2. #2 |  TGGP | 

    What Rockwell wrote about Rodney King (though King was a screwed up wife-beater) and cameras was crazy, but a lot less offensive to me than the “libertarians” that supported the Iraq war.

  3. #3 |  greenish | 

    In the “That Cincinnati beating” article, he doesn’t seem especially repentant. He says,

    “In the Rodney King case, the police used stun guns, which had no effect, before resorting to extreme tactics, though, despite appearances, they caused little injury to King. Might this have been a better approach in the Jones case?”

    So he’s endorsing a Rodney King-style beating instead of the beating which killed Jones.

  4. #4 |  Will Grigg | 

    I wrote a lot of things more than a decade and a half ago that would cause some embarrassment were they exhumed and published on the ‘net. Like any reasonable person, I unconditionally reserve the right to become more intelligent about any subject, and I suspect Lew Rockwell follows the same policy. That being the case, what critical significance should we assign to these long- and best-forgotten opinion pieces?

    Right now, soi-disant libertarian “leaders” at Cato are defending (to cite just two examples) aggressive war and fiat currency inflation — the former being nothing other than mass murder, the latter being massive theft through official fraud. SOOooo…. The REAL scandal here is that Lew Rockwell and possibly other friends of Ron Paul wrote some unwise things in 1991?

  5. #5 |  johncjackson | 

    What’s strange is the ” Lew Rockwell for president” people always use some line about “pro-war” libertarians when most of the “cosmopolitan” libertarians I know/know of do NOT support the war. I guess if you aren’t a 9/11 truther or something you support war. Or more accurately, going by their analysis, if you don’t hate gays or black people you must be a pro-war CFR neo-con.

    I also don’t think it’s a mystery what happened “after the 50s” or the type of ‘street criminals” ( is that like a black person who tried to walk on the same sidewalk as whites?) the police liked to beat up back in the good ole days of jim Crow.

    Bull Connor, libertarian hero!

  6. #6 |  Tokin42 | 

    Will, sorry to disagree but there is zero excuse for espousing the idea that it’s acceptable for the police to beat the citizenry now, 10 years ago, or 20 years ago.

    And to TGGP, This may come as a shock to you folks but there are a lot of libertarian leaning military officers out there, me for example. What I find offensive are people who claim they are willing to stand up for the individual and his/her natural born rights but then turn into cowards when the opportunity affords itself for them to put up or shut up. THAT is offensive.

  7. #7 |  LibertyPlease | 

    …As a result, criminals were terrified of the cops, and our streets were safe.

    Huh, so… we all must be safer now….

  8. #8 |  OGRE | 

    Utterly ridiculous. Police should be held to the same standards as everybody else, and should treat people the same as they should be treated.

    Police should use force only to the extent necessary to enforce the law and protect the public. Never to punish.

    If my child were molested and I were to beat up the molester, I would be found guilty of battery (more likely malicious assault) and sent to jail (prison).

    If a citizen, innocent or not, does not quickly and immediately put his hands behind his back at the request of the police, the police can then beat him and put him into holds that threaten (and destroy) life and limb. Or, even if said citizen does comply but continues to politely ask why he is being arrested, the police can introduce electricity into the citizens system to cause pain and possibly death.

    This is an extremely dangerous double standard. The end result of such practices are gulags, pogroms, and death marches.

    Police have not been granted authority to punish and cause pain. And no reasonable moral argument can be made to give them such authority. Any desire by police to cause pain to arrestees is itself rooted in immorality, in the desire to hurt and/or dominate another’s will. People with such desires should never be given authority over others.

  9. #9 |  Dan | 

    So… Ron let lew write nasty stuff, and Ron is therefore a racist.

    The LA TIMES let lew write nasty stuff, so the LA TIMES must therefore be a racist.

    Wow. Now that Reason and Cato have taken a pounding for working this horse to death, I see they have moved the poop to their personal blogs. Keep kicking that horse.

  10. #10 |  John C. Randolph | 

    Lew is wrong, of course. There is no law in the United States that empowers police officers to administer punishment on the spot, and any officer that does so is himself a criminal, by definition.

    An officer is empowered to use force to apprehend a person under arrest. Once that person is under control, the officer is responsible for the prisoner’s safety.


  11. #11 |  Menckenian Pessimist | 

    Really, I don’t understand the resounding fervor surrounding Lew’s articles, especially in comparison with those of the sell-out apologists for the MIIC pver at Reason. Police are entrusted by the public to defend civilians from aggression, and since they possess a legalized monopoly on force, they should do so efficiently. I don’t agree with State power or civilian beatings, and I hope that the Remnant (paleo-libertarians and anarcho-capitalists, as well as true agorians) see the fateful day when the blight of statism that overtook the country in the late 19th and entire 20th centuries is repealed. Only then will Rothbard be repaid fully for the framework of liberty he developed.

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  14. #14 |  Adam Zandarski | 

    I dont know how old this article is, but there is one fatal flaw in Lew’s view. Was there really less crime in the 50s? And even if not, I am sure we had comparative crime during prohibition before the 50s, when cops would beat up criminals. To think that cops beating criminals deters crime flies in the face of his own assertion that “criminals have the time preferences of children.” (As a side note I can gaurantee you that as a child, if you offered me 10 bars tomorow as opposed to 1 today, I would have chosen the 10.. so even that is a ridiculous statement).
    Criminals engage in crime because they dont think they will be caught, it has nothing to do with time preferences.

  15. #15 |  CLS | 

    Rockwell certainly was involved in racist pandering in Ron Paul’s newsletter. Rockwell came from the far right via Ron Paul’s office. He was at Conservative Book Club and is a fundamentalist Catholic, a gaggle of Catholics that attract lots of anti-Semites, people Rockwell never had problems publishing. At least two extreme anti-Semites have been published by Rockwell and promoted on his site hundreds of times each: Joe Sobran and Sam Frances.

    All respect to Mr. Grigg, who is closely connected to Rockwell’s sites, and is a former employer of the John Birch Society, but racists rarely change their spots. The meme going around libertarian circles against immigrants came from another racist promoted by Rockwell, Hans-Herman Hoppe, a man who runs around racist groups in Europe and invites advocates of the the superiority of whites to speak at his conferences.

    The Mises Institute, under the right-wing views of Rockwell has been a cesspool and a blight on libertarianism.

  16. #16 |  CLS | 

    PS: Don’t buy the lies that Rockwell continually spreads about Cato, Reason and all the other libertarians that Rockwell has regularly attacked or used his pitbulls to attack. I have seen them attribute positions to people that are the complete opposite of what the person has said, and this includes people I know and whose positions I knew well. Rockwell and crew simply lie.

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