Edited and written by David Gordon, senior fellow of the Mises Institute and author of four books and thousands of essays.

Recognizing Brilliance

Fall 1996

Roger Backhouse
History of Economic Thought Newsletter Volume 56 (Summer 1996): 16-21.

A review of a book review is hardly standard procedure, but Backhouse's article is a major scholarly assessment of Rothbard's History. Backhouse, an eminent historian of economic thought, writes with great appreciation of this monumental work. After a long summary of the volumes, stressing Rothbard's Austrian heroes and Ricardian villains, Backhouse notes that "the range of authors discussed is immense. Rothbard clearly makes the point that economics is the product of communities of scholars, not simply a small group of pioneering thinkers . . . his reading is vast, and there is much to be learned from him" (p. 20).

Backhouse finds Rothbard's "refusal to mince words" about Marx "very effective" and seems especially interested in the highly original account of the bullionist controversy.

He appears unsympathetic to praxeology. If, he says, we do not "know enough (or even anything) with sufficient certainty to be able to derive conclusions using the praxeological method . . . then the option of deriving universal, true conclusions is simply not available" (p. 17). But all this says is that if praxeology cannot be used, then it cannot be used. True enough, but hardly very significant.

Backhouse's conclusion is: "Rothbard's judgments are, in my view, frequently distorted by his Austrian perspective, but it is nonetheless, an exciting, even brilliant, book" (p. 21).


Close Window