February 15 marks birth of Frank Chodorov, who Aaron Steelman described as someone who offered an “unwavering defense of individualism and the minimal state,” and “viewed the state as the greatest threat to individual liberty and human happiness,” whose writings, in the “intellectual war against the omnipotent state,” libertarians “would be wise to consult.”
Born Fishel Chodorowsky on the Lower West Side of New York City in 1887, Chodorov was a “lifelong individualist,” and a remarkably consistent one. His broadsheet, analysis, which Chodorov began publishing in 1944, was designed to look “at the current scene through the eyeglasses of historic liberalism, unashamedly accepting the doctrine of natural rights, proclaims the dignity of the individual and denounces all forms of Statism as human slavery,”
In 1962, nearly two decades later, his work Out of Step: The Autobiography of an Individualist was published, revealing that Chodorov had lost none of his enthusiasm for individualism.
If we assume that the individual has an indisputable right to life, we must concede that he has a similar right to the enjoyment of the products of his labor. This we call a property right. The absolute right to property follows from the original right to life because one without the other is meaningless; the means to life must be identified with life itself…We object to the taking of our property by organized society just as we do when a single unit of society commits the act…Robbery is robbery, and no amount of words can make it anything else.
Chodorov also greatly influenced Murray Rothbard, who wrote that “I shall never forget the profound thrill—a thrill of intellectual liberation—that ran through me when I first encountered the name of Frank Chodorov,” and called his analysis “one of the best, though undoubtedly the most neglected, of the ‘little magazines’ that has ever been published in the United States.”
Chodorov’s hope was to reach young people—"the policymakers of the future”--to revive individualism “by implanting the ideas in the minds of the coming generations.” And an important part of that effort was as editor of FEE’s publication The Freeman, which Leonard Read selected him for in 1954.
As Steelman put it, Chodorov “approached myriad topics from the same perspective: voluntary, peaceful actions are moral and productive and should be encouraged; coercive actions are immoral and should be condemned.” That is why he deserves discovery, or rediscovery, today, when such immoral, coercive actions are much further developed than when he wrote.
On Chodorov’s birthday, it is worth exploring at least a bit of his thought for those who might not be familiar with it. So, as an example, consider an abbreviated version of his “Economics Versus Politics,” the first chapter of his 1959 The Rise and Fall of Society:
- The presumably rational human animal has become so inured to political interventions that he cannot think of the making of a living without them.
- It hardly occurs to us that we might do better operating under our own steam, within the limits put upon us by nature, and without political restraints, controls, or subventions…that these interventionary measures are placed in our path…for purposes diametrically opposed to our search for a better living.
- That there is a science of economics which covers basic principles that operate in all our occupations, and have nothing to do with legislation, is hardly considered.
- Economic laws are self-operating and carry their own sanctions…while politics deals with man-made and man-manipulated conventions.
- The intrusion of politics into the field of economics is simply evidence of human ignorance or arrogance…Since the beginning of political institutions, there have been attempts to fix wages, control prices, and create capital, all resulting in failure…because the only competence of politics is in compelling men to do what they do not want to do or to refrain from doing what they are inclined to do.
- The assumption that economics is subservient to politics stems from a logical fallacy…that in controlling men the State can also bend these laws to its will.
- When the State intervenes in the economy, which it always does by way of confiscation, it hinders consumption and therefore production.
- The Welfare State is in fact an oligarchy of bureaucrats who, in return for the perquisites and prestige of office, undertake to confiscate and redistribute production…with utter disregard of the principle that production must fall in the amount of the confiscation.
- All welfarism starts with a program of distribution…and ends up with attempts to manage production…and there too they fail.
- In the long run every State collapses…The State, in its insatiable lust for power, increasingly intensified its encroachments on the economy of the nation, causing a consequent decline of interest in production…It was not economically able to meet the strain of some immediate circumstance, like war, and succumbed.
- There is no way for the State to avoid this consequence…except, of course, to abandon its interventions in the economic life of the people it controls, which its inherent avarice for power will not let it do. There is no way for politics to protect itself from politics.
- The American State…[was] midwifed by a coterie of men unusually wise in the history of political institutions and committed to the safeguarding of the infant from the mistakes of its predecessors.
- Every precautionary measure known to political science was taken to prevent the new American State from acquiring the self-destructive habit of every State known to history, that of interfering with man’s pursuit of happiness. The people were to be left alone, to work out their individual destinies with whatever capacities nature had endowed them.
- The ink was hardly dry on the Constitution before its authors, now in position of authority, began to rewrite it by interpretation, to the end that its bonds would loosen…to extend the power of the central government.
- Social power, the centralization which has been going on since 1789 has pushed American Society into that condition of subservience which the Constitution was intended to prevent.
- In 1913 came the amendment that completely unshackled the American State, for with the revenues derived from unlimited income taxation it could henceforth make unlimited forays into the economy of the people. The Sixteenth Amendment…violated the right of the individual to the product of his efforts, the essential ingredient of freedom.
- There is now no phase of economic life in which the State is not a factor, there is no enterprise or occupation free of its intervention.
- The metamorphosis of the American State from an apparently harmless establishment to an interventionary machine as powerful as that of Rome at its height took place within a century and a half.
- Despite the arrogance of the State the…production of wealth, the things men live by, declined in proportion to the State’s exactions and interferences...[because] Society…flourishes only under a condition of freedom.
- Society, Government, and the State are basically economic phenomena…as there cannot be a human being without a skeleton, so any inquiry into the mechanism of social integrations cannot bypass economic law.
The Ludwig von Mises Institute called Frank Chodorov “an advocate of the free market, individualism, and peace.” In an era with precious few who fit that description, his work is worth renewed understanding and emulation. And reading him is the first step to blazing further along the trail he spent his life developing.