Rollback the State

17 Nov
A transcript of the Lew Rockwell Show episode 192 with Tom Woods.

October 30, 2013

Listen to the podcast

ANNOUNCER:  This is the Lew Rockwell Show.

ROCKWELL:  Well, it’s so great to have as our guest this morning, Dr. Tom Woods.  Tom is a senior fellow at the Mises Institute.  And, in fact, right now, he’s teaching two courses at the Mises Academy, one on the New Deal and the other on American origins.

And he’ll be teaching courses — Tom, I hope, regularly on Mises Academy.  So if people aren’t able to get these two, they’ll have a chance to take a course with you, which is quite a wonderful thing, I might add.

Tom is the author of 11 books in his young life.  Quite amazing.  And today, I want to talk to him about his most recent book, which is called Rollback.

Tom, why is this an important book?  Why should people read it?

WOODS:  Well, I actually think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.  Of course, if people haven’t read any of my stuff, they won’t know what that means — (laughing).  But –

ROCKWELL:  They’ve read your stuff.

WOODS:  Well, thanks.  I like it and I’m pleased about it, basically because I think it accomplishes two things that I’ve been looking to accomplish for some time.  The first is, it’s kind of a book that if you want to turn people on to the way you and I think, and you want to give them the whole dose regarding pretty much everything — you know, the Fed, the Military-Industrial Complex, the War on Drugs, the economy — it’s all there and in a way that is in brief but, yet, packed with information all the same, so that I think you have to walk away from it thinking, you know, there’s something to this.  I mean, the argument is just so relentless to the affect that the institution of the state is not what has given us civilization.  We’ve had civilization very much in spite of this thing, which is a complete parasite.  All the claims it makes for itself are phony.  We can prove this.  So it’s the sort of thing you can just say, “Look, here, read this.  Tell me what you think.”

But secondly, the other thing it does, it’s also something you can hand to somebody, let’s say, your neighbor who you know is active in the Tea Party, because you can sort of trick him into thinking, well, this is just a book about Obama and how bad he is.  Look, it’s Obama on the cover.  So he’ll say, “Oh, OK.  Look, I’m all for that.”  And yet, he’s going to wind up getting so much more than he bargained for because the way the book is organized — and I didn’t even really realize I had organized it this way until Jeff Tucker pointed it out — but that it’s really organized so that each chapter’s more daring than the previous one.  So it starts off with, you know, Obama’s bad, but any 10 year old with an Internet connection can tell that, but we have that chapter.  You know, the health care thing is bad, and here’s why, and here’s what would have been better.  And the stimulus spending is bad, and here’s the reasons.  But then it just — then it goes on to the financial crisis.  And it gets much more specific than I did in Meltdown regarding deregulations, specifically what deregulation was, why it’s not relevant to the financial crisis.  And then it gets into the Federal Reserve, then the Military-Industrial Complex.  And then a chapter that deals with things like, well, what about science funding.  Wouldn’t we all be dead if it weren’t for science funding or the regulatory apparatus?  And then, finally, a concluding chapter with some suggestions, none of which have anything to do with passing laws.

ROCKWELL:  You know, Tom, I think this is the most important book on Libertarianism written in some decades, maybe in part because you’re the kind of historian that Murray Rothbard always dreamed of having, that is, a historian that knows Austrian economics.  So you’re able to go after something like the Fed with a scalpel as well as a hatchet.

I was so impressed with what you had to say about the Military-Industrial Complex.  It seems to me you’ve got, within the Libertarian/Rothbardian/Ron Paulian view of this, you know, just a particularly effective take-down of that bunch.

WOODS:  In fact, I was just about to make a video on this last week and I had an audio problem and then I had to go out of town for the ASC, Austrian Scholars Conference, at the Mises Institute.  But I want to do like a three-minute video on the Military-Industrial Complex.  Just three minutes and just take the thing down.

But, yeah, I mean, it’s just every angle you look at this thing from, it’s a horror.  And, I mean, I feel like, in a way, with that chapter, I’m kind of doing penance for my own past behavior, like when I was a much younger — when I was a kid, really, when I was in, let’s say, high school and early college.  I mean, I basically thought that if you had any criticism of the military or any of the firms that cater to it, well, obviously, you’re some kind of Commie who hates America and everything that’s good.


But to the contrary, I mean, it seems to me it’s just the opposite.  Like, if you support these people — (laughing) — this is not something that a free-marketeer can just sort of carelessly do.  And it’s even not just that they cheat and they lie and they — but that is a big part of it.

What they’ll typically do is, first, they introduce some weapons program. And this isn’t even prescinding from the morality of these programs, some of which I do get into towards the end of the chapter.  But basically, they introduce one of these programs and they way over promise regarding what it can accomplish.  Oh, it’s going to be great.  It’s going to be stealthy.  Nobody’s going to be able to see it.  Be able to bomb people like crazy from great distances and won’t be able to hit it and everything.  And then it’s going to turn out to be, you know, the size of Wymoing so that the only way for it really to be stealthy would be to rip enemy pilots’ heads — eyes out of their heads.  And it’s not going to be able to do what was promised.  And, in fact, the costs will wind up being much higher than the initial projection.  Well, this is a very — this isn’t unusual.  This even has a name.  It’s called frontloading.  So they over promise what it can do; they under promise what it’s going to cost.  And then you figure, all right, this will come to light and it will all come to an end.  But by then, they’ve done the second scam, which is political engineering, where they make sure that all the jobs associated with this particular program are spread out among so many congressional districts that it becomes politically impossible, once the taxpayer spigot has been turned on for this program, ever to turn if off again, no matter how absurd the program is, no matter how obviously unworkable it is, no matter whether the enemy it was designed for even exists any more.  And this is just one aspect.  And then I just talk about how it hurts firms that have the Pentagon as a client because they become weirdly unable to complete in the normal economy anymore because of the perverse incentives of the Pentagon, and just on and on.  I mean, there’s just so much to be said about it.

And I feel like, OK, now I feel better about having been a supporter of the Persian Gulf War, or whatever.  I mean, I can’t ever take that back but at least I can maybe prevent other people from falling into the same mistakes that I did.

ROCKWELL:  As you know, Murray Rothbard talked about how CIA agent, Bill Buckley, set out in the 1950s, brilliantly and unfortunately so effectively, to smash the anti-war Old Right, or at least frequently anti-war, and to create the modern conservative movement, which still exists to this day; although, it’s stupider than under Buckley, but it’s every bit as warmongering, and loves government employees if they have a uniform and a gun and so forth.  But it seems to me that there’s actually — we’ve actually made some progress.  I mean, it seems to me, as compared to even, say, 10 years ago, there are many more people, I think even in the Tea Party — not the leaders, but the rank and file — who are willing to listen to your kind of argument.

WOODS:  Yeah, I believe that, too.  And, I mean, of course, the number is still much smaller than it ought to be.  And one worries that if ever another one of these ridiculous wars ever gets started, it would likely destroy all the progress that we have made.  But, yes, it is suddenly possible.

And, of course, it’s really Ron Paul’s doing, and Lew Rockwell’s doing, I think, because the two of you have gotten — of course, he gets on national television and gets into these debates — have gotten this message out that here are people who clearly are not Commies, clearly do favor the free market and private property and all these institutions that these people claim to like and, yet, are against all the adventurism.  And you can make the argument.

See, I’m still — you can make a perfectly good — you can make really good radical anti-war arguments from a Libertarian perspective.  And I think the best essay you could possibly read on this is Rothbard’s War, Peace, and the State, which I’m sure you have on LRC.

ROCKWELL:  It’s on there, yes.

WOODS:  People have got to read that essay.  It would just blow your mind.  And Roderick Long has also written an excellent essay that kind of builds on Rothbard, on Libertarianism and war.  But I think you can also make good anti-war arguments from an old-timey, Russell Kirkian sort of conservative perspective.  And I actually never really cared for Russell Kirk.  I always felt like he was a bit over rated.  I felt like all his books kind of sound like the same book.  You know, like, “You cannot have liberty without order,” seemed to be what every book was about.


I respect some of the things he did.  I think he was — I think he was absurd in his treatment of Libertarians; certainly, unfair.  But when I read his foreign policy stuff, I think it is persuasive.  It is compelling.  I quote some of it in Rollback so that if the typical Tea Partier should read the book — and that’s how Regnery is sort of pitching it — they’re going to come across stuff that Hannity has never shared with them, because Hannity’s never heard of Russell Kirk.  But they’re going to come across stuff that they’ve never heard on Rush Limbaugh but, yet, from people who are clearly on what they consider to be their side.  I want that cognitive dissidence to take place.  I want to them to be stopped in their tracks so that maybe it becomes a moment where they rethink some of the things they’ve been told.

ROCKWELL:  You know, Russell Kirk, his writings both before and after he went on the Buckley payroll are quite wonderful on foreign policy.  During the period he was on the payroll, unfortunately, they were just like everybody else.  But, his writings against the draft as a young man.  And I always will treasure his final letter to me where — this is back in the days of the first Iraq War — when he told me that George H.W. Bush should be hanged on the White House lawn –


– for his role in that war.

WOODS:  That’s exactly right.

ROCKWELL:  So that was Russell when he was his own man.

WOODS:  Absolutely.  And you’re right.  I mean, he referred to the draft as slavery, which, again, that would just shock so many people who call themselves conservatives.  And then, of course, his talks on foreign policy in the Persian Gulf War at the Heritage Foundation in the early ’90s were really something.  And, of course, you can be certain that that would never happen again.  And the only reason he was allowed to give them in the first place was because of the name Russell Kirk.  But even that, today, I don’t think would be enough to allow that.

Now, I don’t want to sound, by the way, Lew, like I’m some crazed ego case, because I talk about this book and how excited I am about it.  But really, I am — when I look at the footnotes, and I flip through it at the end, it really reminds me — I mean, I’m able to do this and synthesize a lot these big topics into, you know, digestible chapters basically because there’s been such an incredible sort of renaissance of Libertarian scholarship over the past 10 or 20 years that so much of the stuff I’m relying on is relatively new.  I mean, it was written during my lifetime.  And this, to me, this is the one sort of great hope, is that there is so much out there, so much to be read, and that our young people in this thing are reading this.  I mean, they’re reading Rothbard, to be sure.  But they’re reading Bob Higgs.  They’re reading the articles on Lew Rockwell.  They’re reading Libertarian papers.  You know, they’re reading stuff that is really mind blowing and mind expanding.  And that, to me, is — I mean, really, nobody ever expected that we’d be in a position like this.  And when I see old photos of, like, you and David Gordon and whatever from, you know, let’s say 30 years ago, and I think to myself, gosh, they had no idea at that time the successes that we would have one day and the mechanisms we have at our disposal.

I mean, for instance, just one little thing that just happened to me the other day, I was talking to Brian Wilson, who is one of my favorite radio hosts.  He’s in Toledo, Ohio.

ROCKWELL:  He’s great.  Brian is great.

WOODS:  He is wonderful.  He’s a great host.  He’s funny.  He can sit there and talk to you about anything from cuisine to Mitt Romney and be interesting on everything.  But he is such a supporter of this book that — he actually records audio books for a living.  And he said, look, I’m going to record chapter one for you just for free because I just want you to be able to distribute it to people.  And so now I have a way, technologically, to say to people, look, even if you can’t read a chapter in my book, how about this, you can instantly — any where in the world, you can listen to a chapter.  So even though with a book like this — you know, I can’t get major media.  You know, I can’t get an op-ed in “The Wall Street Journal.”  I can’t get on these major TV shows.  But that isn’t the end of the story.  I have ways of getting around these sort of gatekeepers now that didn’t exist for any of us in the past.  And the alternative media that you represent, and other people, is only going to expand, which is going to mean only that we will be able to get more and more alternative sort of information out to the public in the future.

So it really is — as awful as our prospects sometimes seem, it is really one of the most extraordinary times to be alive ever in the history of ideas.

ROCKWELL:  Tom, I couldn’t agree more.

And I want to urge everybody to buy Rollback.  If you were to see this book in a book store — thinking of an antique institution — and just open it up at any point, start to read it, you’ll be immediately grabbed and you’ll have to buy it.  So listen to the chapter that Tom talks about.  We’ll link to it.  We’ll link to his site and his other books.  Buy this book.  Take a look at Tom’s archive on

Tom, congratulations.  And, you know, the idea that Sean Hannity is not heralding this book is, of course, better than a blurb.


WOODS:  Thank you, Lew, very much.

ROCKWELL:  Thank you.  Bye-bye.

ANNOUNCER:  You’ve been listening to the Lew Rockwell Show, produced by, the best-read Libertarian website in the world.  Thanks for listening.

ROCKWELL:  Well, thanks so much for listening to the Lew Rockwell Show today. Take a look at all the podcasts. There have been hundreds of them. There’s a link on the upper right-hand corner of the LRC front page. Thank you.

Podcast date, March 22, 2011


Copyright © 2013 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: