The Lone Crazy Theory
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Murray Rothbard's theoretical approach to history included the idea and importance of what he called"the lone crazy." The lone crazy is a wild card -- the individual (or small group) who seems to appear out of nowhere and acts in an unpredicted manner that dramatically and forever alters the world as we know it. An example would be the nationalist zealot Gavrilo Princip who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife in Sarajevo in 1914 and, so, sparked World War I.
Murray's point was that the best-laid plans of policy-makers can be shattered by a single bullet fired from one man's hand; future history is neither predictable nor amenable to social engineering. This Rothbardian theory came to mind while I was thinking about the current conflict between Georgia and Russia which, admittedly, involves a whole lot of non-lone crazies. But the sudden conflict stands as another example of how the balance of global power can suddenly and surprisingly shift. While neocons were making other plans, Russia abruptly asserted its status as a super-power that would not brook interference with its zones of influence. (In stating this, I do not mean to show admiration or sympathy for Russia...or Georgia, for that matter.)
While the West (largely the U.S.) was busy planning to include Georgia in its zones of influence -- e.g. through inclusion in NATO -- Russia acted in a lone crazy manner that changed the conditions of history/politics in this region. Arguably, given how important Russia is to the Middle East, the conflict with Georgia has changed that history as well. Certainly, it has exposed the weakness of America/Bush who can do little more than shake a forefinger at Putin and Medvedev.
Craig J Bolton - 8/18/2008
The fundamental unpredictability of the future is a worthwhile theme, and one which was developed earlier and much more fully by Karl Popper, rather than Murray Rothbard.
However, it is far from clear to me that the "lone crazy" is a very good example of this theme. Take the attempted assassinations of George Wallace and Ronald Reagan, and the successful assassination of John Kennedy. Were these unexpected events? Hardly. All three men had made a variety of powerful enemies who had significant incentives to act in final ways or find demented sorts who could and would act for them. The time, place and identity of the actor may have been "unexpected" [albeit that was hardly the case for Lee Harvey Oswald] but the fact that it happened shouldn't have surprised anyone too much.
I don't know enough about the particulars of your example of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, but I suspect that such an event was not wholly unpredictable in the context of the ever-warring Balkins, and I doubt seriously that this was more than the last straw in a world that was eager for a good old war.