You're Out of Touch, You're Out of Context

A very cheap complaint often made here on the InterWebs is, "You're setting up a straw man by quoting out of context!"

Well, unless one is going to paste the entirety of an author's life work into a post, every quote has obviously been removed from its context! The key to when this charge is valid and when it isn't is, "Was there something important in the context that significantly changes how one reads the quote?"

For instance, Rothbard claimed one of Mises' favorite quotes on fractional reserve banking was "Free trade in banking is free trade in swindling." But when we read the context, we see Mises liked the quote as an example of a popular error:
It is a mistake to associate with the notion of free banking the image of a state of affairs under which everybody is free to issue banknotes and to cheat the public ad libitum. People often refer to the dictum of an anonymous american quoted by Tooke: "Free trade in banking is free trade in swindling." However, freedom in the issuance of banknotes would have narrowed down the use of banknotes considerably if it had not entirely suppressed it.
Rothbard was quoting out of context in the blameworthy sense, and this post shows how to make that claim properly: show the context that changes the meaning of the quote!

Of course all the quotes I post here are "out of context," at least in the unproblematic sense. If you want to show that they are also out of context in the blameworthy sense,it is your job to post that context. And then I will post a correction. If you show up here with only the charge but no evidence, your case will be summarily dismissed.


  1. Thanks to these kinds of posts, I can now see why Murray Rothbard has become such an infamous, controversial figure within the libertarian movement and how the NAP isn't that viable or applicable to the real world in many situations. These posts were pretty shocking to me in the amount of contradictions and mistakes Rothbard originally made and should have corrected on the spot. I even read somewhere that he borrowed a lot of what he was saying from earlier anarchists like Lysander Spooner. I'm a layman, so I obviously haven't read every single thing Rothbard wrote, but it seems like he should be taken with a grain of salt and not be worshiped heavily, which tends to happen in a lot of various ideologies. This is why I still have no specific political or philosophical label for myself because I do not want to get trapped in dogma and realize the importance of having an open mind, even though I favor both Chicago School and Austrian School economists and am beginning to appreciate what John Maynard Keynes contributed to the economic lexicon.


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