The Market for Liberty: The Story of the Tannehills and what they did

Posted on November 14, 2010 by

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Linda and Morris Tannehill are one of the most interesting couples in recent libertarian history.  Their book, “The Market for Liberty,” was a product of a perfect liberty storm hitting the Tannehill’s and inspiring them to write a magnificent piece of literature, incorporating the ideas of giants, and making the ideas of market anarchism accessible to many people.  The Mises Institute describes it best:

Some great books are the product of a lifetime of research, reflection, and labored discipline. But other classics are written in a white heat during the moment of discovery, with prose that shines forth like the sun pouring into the window of a time when a new understanding brings the world into focus for the first time.

The Market for Liberty is that second type of classic, and what a treasure it is. Written at the end of the 1960s by two authors — Morris and Linda Tannehill — just following a period of intense study of the writings of both Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, it has the pace, energy, and rigor you would expect from an evening’s discussion with either of these two giants.

After having read the first couple of chapters of the Tannehill’s “Market for Liberty,” I came across some perplexing information about them.  The Tannehill’s are former members of the American Nazi Party.  This is how a publication called Liberty describes it:

Libertarianism was only one stop in the ideological odyssey of the Tannehills, who earlier were associated (in chronological order) with the Minutemen, the American Nazi Party, and the Foundation for Economic Education, and subsequently managed a psychotherapeutic cult. Linda Tannehill later took back her maiden name of Linda Locke, and worked as a sandalmaker in New Mexico

As a caveat, the link to “Liberty” that I posted above doesn’t seem to this info in the issue.  The link given by wikipedia to the above quote is currently broken.

So what does one make of these two liberty legends that come from a questionable past and have never really made any further contributions to liberty in the present?  Maybe the pressure was too much?  After all, this is clearly a synthesis of the work of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard.  What exactly these two authors added on their own is unclear to me at this point (at this point I am on chapter 3 so I’ll update this later if I find something).  Maybe conveying this message in such an accessible fashion is an accomplishment enough.

There is nothing all that wrong with synthesizing two brilliant works together to form an excellent argument for true liberty.  After all, Murray Rothbard synthesized the writings of Gustav de Molinari with Ludwig von Mises to get “Austro Libertarianism.”  According to Hans Hoppe:

In synthesizing Molinari’s monopoly (or rather antimonopoly) theory with Ludwig von Mises’s neo-Austrian system of free-market economics (praxeology) and natural-law ethics, Rothbard created a grand new anti-Statist theoretical system, of Austro-Libertarianism.

So far, in this book, Morris and Linda Tannehill have made some excellent arguments for liberty using the ethics of Ayn Rand and applying it to a justification for anarchism, something Ayn Rand herself fell short of doing for fear of “gang warfare.”

One crucial argument that the Tannehill’s use to justify their advocacy of anarchism is what I am dubbing the “nature of man argument.”    Usually when people mention the nature of man they talk about how greedy or evil people are.  In the context of the state it is usually used to justify the use of violence to keep people in line.  However, Linda and Morris Tannehill point out that IF man’s nature is self-interested then it would be best to let men be free to use their minds to fulfill their own interests.  People have goals and plans for their lives, things that will make them happy; the use of violence with the excuse of “altruism” will not help individuals accomplish all they want to with their lives.  In fact, violence inhibits people from rationally acting.

There are so many small assertions made in the second chapter of this book that have been written about at length elsewhere and are highly debatable.  However, this book does have power.  It has convinced some high profile libertarians to become anarchists.  Two cases include Mary Ruwart and Doug Casey.  I really look forward to reading it and I hope whoever is reading this blog will pick it up and read it with me (and comment in the comment section if you do).

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