Straussian Esotericism in Rothbard?

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    In Concieved in Liberty, vol II, p.190, Rothbard writes: “There were two strains in Locke’s Essay: the individualist and libertarian, and the conservative and majoritarian, and examples of caution and inconsistency are easy to find. But the individualist view is the core of the argument …Locke was an extraordinarily timorous and secretive writer on political affairs …Hence it is not unreasonable to assume that the conservative strain in Locke was a camouflage for the radically libertarian core of his position.

    This reminded me of Strauss’s famous (infamous?) theory of philosophical esotericism. Was Rothbard influenced by Strauss? Or did he arrive independently at an esoteric analysis of Locke?

    Given the low regard Strauss is regarded in libertarian circles, and the low regard Rothbard had for neoconservatives, I’d be surprised to find that he was influenced by Strauss. Would Rothbard’s analysis of Locke here be subject to the same criticisms people have made of Straussian esotericism?


    Rothbard was definitely not influenced by Strauss; see his work on Strauss in Roberta Modugno’s edited volume Rothbard vs. the Philosophers:,%20Mises,%20Strauss,%20and%20Polanyi.pdf

    Rothbard communicated this view of Locke to me in person, when I asked him about a Lockean inconsistency (I think it was military conscription, provided for in the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina). He said Locke was on the run or in hiding so much that we shouldn’t be surprised if at times he hedged or failed to take his philosophy to its logical conclusion. It’s necessarily speculative, but not implausible.


    Locke’s Fundamental Constitutions is usually seen by historians as having been written on spec, not as a candid expression of his views concerning the type of society that would be ideal. We must recall that like James Madison, Locke often wrote not as closeted philosopher, but as Anthony Ashley Cooper’s hired gun. Since Cooper was among the Carolina proprietors, Locke’s draft constitution for that colony envisioned great power for the proprietors; since Cooper was among the Whigs who ejected James II from the throne, Locke’s Second Treatise justified removing tyrannical princes.

    I think that Rothbard is right in his assessment that Locke was more libertarian at heart. Yet, “who pays the piper calls the tune.”


    Pardon my syntax.

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