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Volume 24, Number 7
July 2004

A Treatise of His Own
By Joseph R. Stromberg

The Ludwig von Mises Institute has published a new edition of Murray N. Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State, and united this great treatise with Power and Market, which was originally written as the final section of the book but was published only eight years later.

Rectifying that publisher mistake of 40 plus years ago is justification enough for this new edition, which runs fully 1,544 pages. The new edition includes other changes that have made it more useable for the reader: footnotes are at the bottom of the page, it has a complete bibliography, the index is complete and broken down by subject and name, and the quality of this beautiful hardback befits this landmark contribution to the revival of Austrian economic thought after World War II.

My introduction includes all new material from Rothbard letters on why and how the book came to be written, and the development of his thought during the seven years he spent writing it. Some of these findings are summarized below.

World War II and the subsequent cold war created a climate in which state prestige was at a high watermark. In these circumstances, most economists saw their role as one of advising governments on how best to organize, regulate, and plan "national" economies, whether to win wars or to provide social justice.

Friedrich A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944) and Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action (1949) had made a dent in the consensus, but mainly in the ranks of the Old Right movement. Hayek’s book drew violent criticism from New Deal academics, while Mises’s treatise met with rejection, puzzlement, or silence.

Rothbard’s book, undertaken in late 1949, was intended as "one of the few, if not the only, non-collectivist book suitable for the college level. . . ." It would set forth Mises’s ideas in step-by-step fashion, in such a way that the educated reader could, with sufficient effort, grasp the basics and the applications of Austrian economics. Along the way, the "textbook" grew into Rothbard’s own general treatise. 

In this form, the book achieved the goals of the textbook, and has served many who came into Austrian economics, from the 1960s onward, as a full-blown introduction to economic science, to be read before Human Action or alongside it. It quickly became a basic text of the Austrian revival, and, interestingly enough, the book has seen use as a textbook.

Despite less-than-sympathetic reviews in mainstream economics journals, Man, Economy, and State—like Human Action—became a sort of underground classic. It sold well enough to be reprinted in 1970, 1993, and 2001.  Man, Economy, and State came out in 1962 in "truncated" form. The new Scholar’s Edition (2004) includes the section published as Power and Market (1970), and thus realizes, as far as possible, Rothbard’s original plan of the work.

Joseph R. Stromberg is the Rothbard Archivist and historian in residence at the Mises Institute (Stromberg@mises.org). Excerpted from the "Introduction" to the Scholar’s Edition of Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market.

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