“Lighter is the wound forseen.” – Cato the Elder

“Oh my friends, what good is the action if it has become corrupt? What good is the means if it contradicts and sells out the ends, the goals which once brought you and me together? What good is the process, be it ever so exciting, if it is betraying everything we have long sought to accomplish? … Consider for a moment: surely you must know in your heart that your Boss has contempt for you just as he has for the entire human race. That he values you only as pawns that he can use to advance his power and his will. I don’t care if your Boss is backed by a billion dollars. The libertarian movement and the Libertarian party are not a corporation or a military machine. They are not for sale.” – Murray Rothbard

It’s fitting that news of the Koch Brothers’ “hostile takeover” of the Cato Institute comes on what would have been Murray Rothbard’s 87th birthday. It’s hard to imagine a gift that would have delighted him more than word that the institute he helped found was ripping itself apart due to the same unprincipled politicking that he refused to abide. What’s more, it’s starting to look like Murray Rothbard’s jeremiads about the debasement of the libertarian think tank were prescient. Almost.

Ed Crane, the man Rothbard blamed for Cato’s libertarian heresies, and “Boss” in the above quote, has promised to fight to prevent the brothers Koch from taking majority control of the institute. His statement:

Charles G. Koch has filed a lawsuit as part of an effort to gain control of the Cato Institute, which he co-founded with me in 1977. While Mr. Koch and entities controlled by him have supported the Cato Institute financially since that time, Mr. Koch and his affiliates have exercised no significant influence over the direction or management of the Cato Institute, or the work done here.

Mr. Koch’s actions in Kansas court yesterday represent an effort by him to transform Cato from an independent, nonpartisan research organization into a political entity that might better support his partisan agenda. We view Mr. Koch’s actions as an attempt at a hostile takeover, and intend to fight it vehemently in order to continue as an independent research organization, advocating for Individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.

Dave Weigel elaborates:

 But in 1991, as his brother David joined Cato and grabbed his own 16 shares, Charles Koch walked away. … That was what happened. Koch took his money to other foundations. Crane kept building Cato. Contact was severed; in a 2010 interview, Crane told me that he never quite understood why Koch bolted.

Fast forward to 2011. Pearson, a Koch ally, has given back his shares. Niskanen dies, and his wife inherits his Cato shares — 16 of them, worth $1 each. Crane, all of a sudden, is potentially a minority owner. That takes us to Allen McDuffee’s scoop that Charles and David Koch are suing, claiming that Niskanen’s widow has no right to her shares, per the 1985 agreement.

… And so, with libertarianism at its modern apex, the Kochs are trying to wrestle the movement’s leading think tank away from the guy who built it up.

Why is Rothbard still important? Because he never sold his shares back, and the last time he saw them, they were in the Kochs’ Wichita office. Which means demanding that Kathryn Washburn sell back her shares, having prevented Murray Rothbard from doing so back in 1981 makes the Kochs massive hypocrites.

Rothbard was drummed out as a board member at Cato in March 1981, and when he showed up at their quarterly meeting anyway, Crane ordered him to leave. “The Crane/Koch action was not only iniquitous and high-handed,” he said, “but also illegal, as my attorneys informed them before and during the meeting. They didn’t care. What’s more…, in order to accomplish this foul deed to their own satisfaction, Crane/Koch literally appropriated and confiscated the shares which I had naively left in Koch’s Wichita office for ‘safekeeping,’ an act clearly in violation of our agreement as well as contrary to every tenet of libertarian principle.”

Eugene Volokh Jonathan Adler at Volokh writes:

Whatever the merits of the Kochs’ claim, I cannot understand how their actions can, in any way, advance the cause of individual liberty to which they’ve devoted substantial sums and personal efforts over the years.  Even assuming their legal claim has merit, a legal victory will permanently injure the Cato Institute’s reputation.

Here here. A Cato with majority control in the hands of the Koch brothers is a Cato wholly given over to the politicization and prevarication that Rothbard saw (perhaps too sensitively) taking shape more than 30 years ago. The brothers Koch are already Obama’s preferred demagogues, turning Cato into their personal think tank does no service to libertarianism or Cato. Sadly, it looks like they have a pretty strong case.