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Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism
and the Division of Labor

Murray N. Rothbard
The Romantics and Primitivism

Turning from the topic of the oppressed, my own view of the Romantics, certainly jaundiced twenty years ago, is far more hostile today. For I have learned from such sources as Leszek Kolakowski and particularly the great literary critic M. H. Abrams, of the devotion of the Romantics, Hegelians, and of Marxism to what might be called "reabsorption theology." This view stemmed from the third-century Egyptian Platonist, Plotinus, seeping into Christian Platonism and from then on constituting a heretical and mystical underground in Western thought. Briefly, these thinkers saw Creation not as a wonderfully benevolent overflow of God's goodness, but as an essentially evil act that sundered the blessed pre-Creation unity of the collective entities God, Man and Nature, bringing about tragic and inevitable "alienation" in Man. However, Creation, the outgrowth of God's deficiencies, is redeemable in one sense: History is an inevitable "dialectical" process by which pre-Creation gives rise to its opposite, the current world. But eventually history is destined to end in a mighty "reabsorption" of these three collective entities, though at a much higher level of development for both God and Man. In addition to other problems with this view, the contrast with orthodox Christianity should be clear. Whereas in Christianity, the individual person is made in God's image and the salvation of each individual is of supreme importance, the allegedly benevolent reabsorptionist escape from metaphysical alienation occurs only at the end of history and only for the collective species Man, each individual disappearing into the species-organism. [11]

As for primitivism, later anthropological research has strengthened the view of this essay that primitive tribes, and pre-modern cultures generally, were marked, not by communism ?? la Engels and Polanyi, but by private property rights, markets, and monetary exchange. The work of the economist Bruce Benson has particularly highlighted this point. [12]

[11] See Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, vol. I, The Founders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 9-39; M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York: Norton, 1971); M.H. Abrams, "Apocalypse: Theme and Variations" in C.A. Patrides and Joseph Wittreich, eds., The Apocalpse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984), pp.342-68; Ernest L. Tuveson, "The Millenarian Structure of the Communist Manifesto," in ibid., pp. 323-41; and Murray N. Rothbard "Karl Marx: Communist as Religious Eschatologist,"[PDF File] The Review of Austrian Economics 4 (1990): 123-179.

[12] Bruce L. Benson, "Enforcement of Private Property Rights in Primitive Societies: Law Without Government,"[PDF File] Journal of Libertarian Studies 9 (Winter 1989): 1-26; and Benson, The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1990), pp. 11-41. Also see Joseph R. Peden, "Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law,"[PDF File] Journal of Libertarian Studies 1 (1977): 81-95: and David Friedman, "Private Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case," Journal of Legal Studies 8 (March 1979): 399-415.

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