What the Libertarian Party should be doing
Posted on 06.28.06 by Ernest Hancock

During the Nixon years it became obvious neither of the major political parties would ever protect the principle of individual liberty against the Cult of the Omnipotent State. In the 1971 July/Aug issue of The Individualist, David Nolan and supporters openly called for the creation of the Libertarian Party to advance freedom. The idea: to use the structure of a political party as a nexus for activism, spreading the message of liberty and fighting the encroachments of politics primarily at the grassroots level.

Thirty-five years later, Nolan spoke to the Ohio Libertarian Convention about his concerns then and now (May 6, 2006). Of the seven original objectives for the proposed LPUS, winning office was last on the list … “almost an afterthought.” From those beginnings, in which winning elections was considered a welcome (and highly unlikely) bonus due to effective activism, the Libertarian Party has come to emphasize winning office almost above all else. Why?

From the beginning, freedom was the goal. Much thought and debate went into how best to achieve that. The evolution of the Libertarian Party documents has been remarkably stable and consistent in its clear support of liberty and prosperity. Alteration of the LPUS’s Statement of Principles (an enduring statement of our purpose) requires a 7/8 vote in convention to amend. This high standard was of course intentional.


Filed under: Guest Columns

Toward a libertarian political party.
Author: Bennett Kalafut
Posted on 06.28.06 by Ben Kalafut

Libertarian policy positions sure seem to be catching on, but I’m not feeling any freer.

Drug legalization doesn’t raise eyebrows anymore. School choice, likewise, is old hat and even homeschooling is too mainstream to be called cutting edge. Gun control is stalled like a Third Way economy, privatization isn’t nearly the controversy it used to be, and megacorporations, not usually champions of the free market, are calling for carbon trading.

It’s clear that libertarian think tanks and issue advocacy groups are getting our ideas taken seriously, but the result has mainly been statists adding free minds and free markets to their toolbox.

Politicians without libertarian values are not going to set aside their agendas to advance ours. Nonlibertairans may borrow our ideas, but they will not set us free. To move policy in the libertarian direction, we must either elect libertarians to office or be enough of a threat at the polls to force nonlibertarians to make concessions to earn our votes.

In short, we need a libertarian political party.


Filed under: Guest Columns

Truth, myth, and the struggle for Palestine
Author: David Tomlin
Posted on 06.27.06 by David Tomlin

Tom Knapp has graciously invited me to respond here to his article “Context is everything: American libertarians and Israel, part 1,” first published in 2004.

Tom recently reposted it at his blog, where I added a brief comment.

Tom wrote the article as a response to “Is Applying Libertarian Principles to Israel Anti-Semitic?,” by Carol Moore.

Tom’s article contains so many inaccuracies that it’s impossible to properly rebut all of them in a post of reasonable length. In this post I will address what I believe is the most important issue. This is Tom’s apparent acceptance of the myth that, in the military operations of 1948, the Arab governments intended and attempted a Nazi-esque extermination of Israel’s Jewish population.

Tom presents no evidence for this claim, so I will turn to a prominent Zionist advocate who purports to do so: Alan Dershowitz.

“While the Arab armies tried to kill Jewish civilians and did in fact massacre many who tried to escape, the Israeli army allowed Arab civilians to flee to Arab-controlled areas. For example, when the Arab Legion’s Sixth Battalion conquered Kfar Etzion, they left no Jewish refugees. The villagers surrendered and walked, hands in the air, into the center of the compound. Morris reports that the Arab soldiers simply ‘proceeded to mow them down.’ The soldiers massacred 120 Jews; 21 of them were women. This was part of a general Arab policy: ‘Jews taken prisoner during convoy battles were generally put to death and often mutilated by their captors.’ It is precisely because the Israeli army, unlike the Arab armies, did not deliberately kill civilians that the refugee problem arose.” (Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003, p. 79)

Dershowitz misrepresents his source. Both quotes are out of context. The first, a fragment of a sentence, is filled out with an indirect quote that is a flat lie.


Filed under: Guest Columns

The predatory escalation of “immigration policies”

Author: Stefan Molyneux, MA
Posted on 06.14.06 by stefbot

The current controversy over immigration obscures — as most current controversies do — the depth and scale of the moral problem that is “immigration control.”

Even the word “immigration” is specious, since what is merely being described is “moving.” Moving from New York to Houston requires no permission from the government — moving from Toronto to Buffalo does. The difference? Artificial boundaries, of course — the territory marked out by one gang of predatory politicians versus another.

Can you imagine that, if you wanted to move from New York to Houston, you had to spend months or years on paperwork to wait for some official to give you the arbitrary thumbs-up or thumbs-down? Can you imagine having to spend thousands of dollars on “moving lawyers” and having to completely re-prove your profession credentials and not being allowed to work for the first few months or years in Houston? Wouldn’t that be strange, maddening, ridiculous and wasteful beyond words?



Filed under: Guest Columns

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish
Posted on 06.12.06 by Michelle L

One of my favorite parts of the movie “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is where the dolphins, being the more highly advanced species on the planet decide to boogie because the humans who, being underdeveloped can’t heed their wisdom or warnings concerning the imminent demise of Earth, have persisted in trashing and destroying their home. The dolphins were smart enough to know that the shit was about to hit the proverbial fan — we humans were too busy watching “Survivor” or “American Idol,” I suppose. Is life about to imitate art?

The headlines are non-stop warnings against national hubris; every other month brings another country that isn’t toeing the line and needs to be “democratized.” We, and by “we” I mean the citizens of the United States, are regular bears about telling other countries what they can or can’t do, can or can’t possess or can or can’t develop. Are we as a country so unbelievably blind that we’re unable to see the supreme irony of our screeching against a particular country developing nuclear power when we possess more nukes than any other country in the world?! Talk about taking “Do as I say, not as I do” to a whole new level!

As near as I can figure, the Powers That Be in the USGOV would love nothing more than to see everyone on the planet disarmed — except themselves, of course. And if I remember my history class correctly, one of the main issues that motivated our Founding Fathers was the threat from England to disarm the colonies. How can it be that we celebrate … no … that we lionize the right to bear arms but we see other’s desire to arm as a punishable threat?

Filed under: Guest Columns

New & Recent Books: The Ecumenical Spirit and the Libertarian Movement
Posted on 05.14.06 by Jeff Riggenbach

Books Cited or Discussed in This Essay:

De Cleyre, Voltairine. The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader. Ed. A. J. Brigati.

Oakland, CA:AK Press, 2004.

—. Exquisite Rebel: The Essays of Voltairine de Cleyre — Anarchist, Feminist, Genius. Ed. Sharon Presley and Crispin Sartwell.

Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005.

DeLamotte, Eugenia C. Gates of Freedom: Voltairine de Cleyre & the Revolution of the Mind (With Selections from Her Writings).

Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Avrich, Paul. An American Anarchist: The Life of Voltairine de Cleyre. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978.

DeLeon, David. The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

Hamilton, Charles H. “Introduction: The Evolution of a Subversive Tradition.”

Benjamin R. Tucker & the Champions of Liberty: A Centenary Anthology.

Ed. Michael E. Coughlin, Charles H. Hamilton, and Mark A. Sullivan.

St. Paul, MN & NewYork: Michael E. Coughlin and Mark Sullivan, 1987,

pp. 1-19.

Martin, James J. Men Against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles, 1970.

Reichert, William O. Individual Liberty: Selections from the Writings of Benjamin R. Tucker. Ed. Clarence L. Swartz. New York: Revisionist Press, 1972 [1926].

—. Instead of a Book, by a Man Too Busy to Write One: A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anarchism, Culled from the Writings of Benjamin R. Tucker. Second Edition. New York: Benjamin R. Tucker, 1897.


The late Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK3) was in the habit of referring to the individualist anarchist movement in the United States of around a hundred years ago as “the first libertarian movement.” He often chided me, for example, about my enthusiasm for Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (1845) — known in English as The Ego and Its Own — reminding me that Benjamin R. Tucker’s promotion of that book and its ideas in the early years of the 20th Century in his magazine Liberty had sounded the death knell of the first libertarian movement. Beware, SEK3 admonished me more than once, lest I help engender the destruction of the second libertarian movement in the selfsame way.

The first libertarian movement differed from our current one, to be sure. For one thing, at first glance, and somewhat paradoxically, it seems to have been much, much larger. (more…)

Filed under: Guest Columns

Arming my 6-year-old
Posted on 03.20.06 by Michelle L

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.” — Albert Einstein

“Teach your children well …
They seek the truth
Before they can die.”
— Graham Nash

A recent blurb in the local paper caught my eye — it concerned a survey that showed that only 1 in 4 Americans surveyed could name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, but that over half could name all of the members of the Simpsons. (If you only knew the self-restraint it takes not to say “D’oh!”). The survey found more people could name the three “American Idol” judges than identify three First Amendment rights. They were also more likely to remember popular advertising slogans .

It also showed that people misidentified First Amendment rights. About one in five people thought the right to own a pet was protected, and 38 percent said they believed the right against self-incrimination contained in the Fifth Amendment was a First Amendment right. The article goes on to say about 1 in 5 of our fellow citizens could name all 5 members of the Simpson clan but only 1 in 1,000 could name freedom of worship, speech, of the press, of assembly and freedom to petition to the government for redress of grievances. The telephone survey of 1,000 adults was conducted Jan. 20-22 by the research firm Synovate and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Is this possible?


Filed under: Guest Columns

I’d rather slam my tit in the car door
Posted on 03.10.06 by Michelle L

No, really, that’s exactly what my response is to folks who ask me if I’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz, and all the other neocon pontificators. Obviously, I have listened to them, otherwise I’d have no idea how hateful their diatribes really are. But the odd thing is, there is truth to the adage “know thine enemies.”

My husband listens to them while driving (personally, I think he considers it a kind of weird cardiac workout — it raises his blood pressure and gives him a chance to yell at the radio). I finally asked him why he bothers listening to them bloviate and he said that even the most evil people sometimes make a valid point. It puts me in mind of the old story of a fellow who walked upon a young boy shoveling massive piles of horseshit — and smiling. When asked how on earth he could smile while doing such an offensive chore the boy replied, “Well mister, there’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere!”


Filed under: Guest Columns

The magnificent lesson of modern Israel
Posted on 03.06.06 by J. Neil Schulman

I am not a Zionist. As a matter of fact, I have been fairly critical about the founding of the modern State of Israel in my writings.

For one thing, I don’t subscribe to the idea of forming isolated communities around one’s values, no matter how good those values. I am not a Utopian. I have never liked ghetto-ization, whether it’s the physical ghettos of Jewish life in Russia and Poland, or the ghetto-ization of African American life in Harlem or South Los Angeles, or even the ghetto-ization in bookstores by which science fiction, mystery, or romance novels are shelved separately from “mainstream” fiction.

The reason I consider the United States of America to be the greatest country in human history is that it was the first society founded on the principle of individual sovereignty, the first society whose founders considered that it was the individual human being — rather than the tribe or kingdom or even empire — from which the greatness of human existence sprang forth.


Filed under: Guest Columns

Help (Not) Wanted
Posted on 03.02.06 by C. Swain

(Intercom buzzes) “Your 10:30 interview is here.”

“Great, send him in please.” (Door opens, closes). “Come on in, have a seat. Let’s get started. I’m sure you know our company is looking to replace one of our upper-echelon members who will be taking a well-deserved retirement. I’ve scanned your resume and have some questions I’d like to ask.”

” ‘Kay.”

“I see you weren’t asked to stay on at your last position. Why was that?”

“Oh, well some people said I didn’t do too good; said I wasn’t smart enough, said I didn’t have leadership, whatever the hell that means! But my Daddy picked me hisself an’ my Daddy’s right smart.”


Filed under: Guest Columns

Method #22
Posted on 02.27.06 by J. Neil Schulman

Final Exit (Third Edition) : The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying
by Derek Humphry

His name was David. A father of eight, the youngest being eight years old, and one of his older children had given birth to his first grandchild three months ago. He and his wife had just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, and he would have celebrated his 50th birthday next month.

He was a talented entertainment attorney who had run the music department for one of the largest movie studios. Before that, he had been an entertainment attorney at one of the largest Century City law firms. After that, David became a music manager of some of the biggest talents in the business.

David was a talented musician, himself — an electric bass player in a rock band in his teenage years, later on a jazz stand-up bass player. He often played in jazz combos with two of his other brothers.

There was nothing physically wrong with him. He had no terminal diseases. As far as we know, David didn’t even have a cold.

But his largest music client, disappointed about a setback in his career, fired him. David told no one that he had lost this client, even his wife. This client loss started a cascade of financial reverses, about which he told told one. He didn’t have the money to pay the next month’s mortgage payment, and he decided against asking his brothers for money.


Filed under: Guest Columns

Love … American style
Posted on 02.27.06 by Michelle L

I have a relative, someone I have known my whole life, whom I grew up with. Beautiful, generous and amazingly intelligent,she was the envy of everyone, but lately she’s taken up with a dangerous crowd and is now in an abusive relationship. Her children are being neglected as well as her work and her reputation and family’s name are in tatters. She has been avoiding me and other family members and loved ones who tried to talk to her; with her abuser’s flunkies running interference and turning us away at the door. She has become secretive and paranoid; getting her to talk with me was going to be hard. But the time was far past to sit by … it was time to give her a call.

A man with an accent answered the phone.

“Is America there?”

“Hold on, I’ll see if she wants to talk.”


Filed under: Guest Columns

Dubya and Dubai
Posted on 02.22.06 by J. Neil Schulman

Here’s what I think is going on with the Dubai Ports World deal to operate five American ports.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East right now, trying to get Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia to force the new Hamas-led government of the Palestinian authority to sign onto the “road map for peace” which would require Hamas to accept a two-state solution recognizing the legitimacy of Israel and renouncing terrorism.

Israel has cut off millions of dollars in funding to the Palestinian Authority because of the Hamas election victory, and Hamas is now approaching Arab countries asking them to replace the funding. The United States doesn’t want the alternate funding from Arab states to come through and thereby allow Hamas to destroy the peace process.

Moreover, the U.S. wants the United Arab Emirates, where we have U.S. military bases, and which has been a strategic ally of the United States since the 1970’s, to stick with us as we have a showdown with Iran over their clandestine nuclear weapons development, and since Israel is too small to mount a military operation to take out the multiple Iranian nuclear facilities, in effect the United States would have to do it for them. This would certainly involve U.S. airstrikes on Iran at the very least, and Iran is likely to retaliate by invading Iraq, causing the United States to defend Iraq from such an invasion with an influx of new American and Coalition troops and military materiel.


Filed under: Guest Columns

Don’t make me stop this country!
Posted on 02.10.06 by Michelle L

I think I’ve figured out George W. Bush’s problem: His mom obviously didn’t do a good job of teaching him manners.

I’m serious. My mom would have never let my sister and brother or me get away with the stuff Dubya does. He would still be grounded and I would be sneaking past his bedroom door sticking out my tongue and laughing my head off!

Every time we asked Momma for money, we knew we were going to get the 15-minute-minimum lecture about the Great Depression and How Hard It Was and How Damn Lucky You Kids Are, thus ensuring that we considered the expenditure worth the time spent listening. We took the time to weigh the guilt vs the pleasure or want.

And it didn’t stop at money, Momma had a saying for virtually every possible bump or potential dangerous detour on the road of life.


Filed under: Guest Columns

Some vs. They
Posted on 02.09.06 by James Landrith

I’ve been having some interesting exchanges with a few “libertariansin one of the MySpace libertarian forums. Below are my own thoughts on the riots and violence related to the Danish editorials cartoons that have been exploited by a select group of opportunistic Imams for the purpose of inciting anger, hatred and chaos.

Do I condemn the cartoon riots and attempts to squelch free speech? What about the despotic regimes in several Islamic dominated nations who trample on the rights of their citizens and commit horrible human rights and civil liberties abuses? Of course, I am an adherent to the Zero Aggression Principle. That goes without saying. However, some bigoted and narrow-minded individuals are seizing on the riots as an excuse to make sweeping generalizations about Muslims as a whole.


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Steven Spielberg’s Munich Asks: “Is The ‘War on Terrorism’ a Real War?”
Posted on 01.16.06 by J. Neil Schulman

Steven Spielberg is one of America’s greatest filmmakers.

He wasn’t always.

Allow me to recap his career. This context-setting is important.

Steven Spielberg’s earliest commercial successes as a director — Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, the Indiana Jones series, and Jurassic Park — were great entertainments and great commercial successes, but there was no intellectual weight to them.

The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun started showing his serious ambitions but he didn’t quite pull it off. The Color Purple was a commercial success, while Empire of the Sun bombed, but neither film won him any Oscars and both received mixed critical acclaim.

As a producer Spielberg added to his reputation for having as good a commercial sense as any impresario in history with popcorn blockbusters such as Poltergeist, the Back to the Future series, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


Filed under: Feature Articles and Guest Columns

Charity versus “price gouging”
Posted on 11.11.05 by David M. Brown

Here we go again.

A little more than a year ago I published a piece at the Mises Institute site on the notion of “price gouging,” noting the injury to the production and distribution of goods that must be entailed by any coercive attempts to curb prices during a large-scale natural disaster.

Not counting the criticism of persons determined not to understand any aspect of the function of prices in market process, there were two main objections to the article. Since in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita we saw all the same harassment of persons trying to make a living “by exploiting the tragedy of others,” most recently oil executives being basted and grilled on Capitol Hill, that we saw in the wake of Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne in 2004, now seems as good a time as any to take up these objections.


Filed under: Guest Columns

Do you believe in war?
Posted on 10.18.05 by J. Neil Schulman

Recently my participation in an IMDb message-board discussion of an article Brad Linaweaver and I wrote regarding the movie Flightplan — a recent feature film we were identifying as anti-war propaganda — expanded to general discussions of terrorism, bigotry, and war.

As a libertarian who has spent most of his career attacking collectivism of all sorts, I found myself in the odd position of having to explain why it’s not bigotry to blame Muslims for 9/11, why a global jihad against the West is several orders of magnitude more of a national threat than Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and — most surprisingly — why even though the enemy doesn’t wear uniforms or display a home base, this is a real war.


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Adding nuclear teeth to failed US foreign policy
Posted on 09.15.05 by Stephen Gordon

According to the Washington Post, Pentagon planners have drafted a revised policy doctrine which allows for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against non-nuclear states or terrorist groups as an integral part of its global military strategy.

While clearly opposed to the war in Iraq, I am not a pacifist. I’ve never supported unilateral nuclear disarmament, as I believe there may be some (albeit unlikely) scenarios when nuclear weapons might be required for valid self-defense measures. However, this policy proposal scares me, and I’ll tell you why.


Filed under: Guest Columns

Radical Rights: A Hypothetical Look at the Supreme Court
Posted on 09.11.05 by bakerboy

By Terry Baker

“John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

There is some question as to whether or not Andrew Jackson ever really said the famous quote attributed to him after the Court ruled in 1832 that the state of Georgia had no authority over the Cherokee Indians, whose laws the state had declared null and void.

To complicate the issue, the Marshall Court had ruled the previous year that the Cherokees were not a sovereign nation. Marshall was at least consistent in his opinion that only the federal government had the power to deal wickedly with the native tribes. Jackson had sponsored the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and he turned a blind eye to Georgia’s efforts to evict them.

Jackson’s refusal to enforce Worster v. Georgia, the Supreme Court decision that would have the effect of stopping Georgia in its tracks, led ultimately, once Jackson was out of office, to the Trail of Tears in 1838-39. While still in office, Jackson was also struggling, at the very same time, with nullification and threats of secession by the state of South Carolina. He truly was caught between a rock and a hard place. (more…)

Filed under: Guest Columns

Isabel Paterson Biography Fills in Gaps in American Intellectual History
Posted on 02.14.05 by Jeff Riggenbach

Books Cited or Discussed in This Essay:

Adams, Henry. The Education of Henry Adams. New York: Modern Library, 1931.

Branden, Barbara. The Passion of Ayn Rand. New York: Doubleday, 1986.

Cox, Stephen. The Woman & the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson & the Idea of America. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2004.

Flynn, John T. The Roosevelt Myth. Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing, 1948.

—. The Decline of the American Republic. New York: Devin-Adair, 1955.

Garrett, Garet. The People’s Pottage. Caldwell, ID: Caxton, 1953.

Johnson, Paul. “Introduction to the Fifth Edition,” in Murray N. Rothbard, America’s Great Depression. Auburn, AL: Mises Institute, 2000.

Manchester, William. The Glory & the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972. Boston: Little, Brown, 1974.

Paterson, Isabel. The God of the Machine. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1993.

Postrel, Virginia. The Future & Its Enemies. New York: Free Press, 1998.

What a treat it must have been to be an American libertarian in the last weeks of 1932. The federal government was a tiny, toothless thing then, at least by present-day standards. Its capital city of Washington, according to William Manchester, “was a slumbering village in summer, largely forgotten the rest of the year. In size it ranked fourteenth among American cities,” which made it about as big and important, relatively speaking, as Columbus or Jacksonville in the America of today. “Most big national problems,” Manchester recalls, “were decided in New York, where the money was; when federal action was required, Manhattan’s big corporation lawyers — men like Charles Evans Hughes, Henry L. Stimson, and Elihu Root — came down to guide their Republican protégés. President Coolidge had usually finished his official day by lunchtime.” His successor, Herbert Hoover, “created a stir by becoming the the first Chief Executive to have a telephone on his desk. He also employed five secretaries — no previous President had required more than one — and summoned them by an elaborate buzzer system.” (3)

Still, even the Hoover administration was remarkably compact. As Manchester notes,

Foggy Bottom, the site of the present State Department Building, was a Negro slum. The land now occupied by the Pentagon was an agricultural experimental station and thus typical of Washington’s outskirts; “large areas very close to the heart of the nation’s lawmaking,” the Saturday Evening Post observed, “are still in farm hands.” The government employed fewer than two thousand foreign service officers. It is an astonishing fact that the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy were all under one mansard roof, across the street from the White House in that ugly, smug mass of balusters, cupolas, and pillared porticoes known today as the Executive Office Building. Indeed, after a fire gutted the President’s oval office in 1929, he and his staff had moved in with them and no one had felt crowded.

Moreover, “[t]here was little pomp. […] If you called on the Secretary of State, he sometimes met you at the door.” (4)

This was a much leaner U.S. government than the one we view with horror today. In 1932 there were no federal “subsidies to farmers, […] handouts to the indigent, [or] support [for] schools.” The federal government did not “build hospitals [or] provide medical care.” (Flynn, Decline 113) And though it did undertake national defense, it did so much more cheaply than libertarians of today are accustomed to seeing. “The U.S. had the sixteenth largest army in the world” in 1932, Manchester reports, “putting it behind, among others, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Spain, Romania, and Poland.” And most of those in uniform “were committed to desk work, patrolling the Mexican border, and protecting U.S. possessions overseas.” What remained to defend the United States from anyone other than Mexico was “30,000 troops — fewer than the force King George sent to tame his rebellious American colonies in 1776.” (5) In constant dollars, this army cost about one-eighth of one percent of what today’s military costs the U.S. taxpayer. In 1932, the federal government was seizing less than five percent of our national income, so it had to be a good deal more frugal than the federal government of 2005, which claims roughly half our national income.

The Great Depression was underway in 1932, of course; around a quarter of the workforce was out of work, banks were failing, times were hard. And President Hoover had only made matters worse, “first pumping more credit into an already overheated economy and, then, when the bubble burst, doing everything in his power to organize government rescue operations.” (Johnson xv) These “rescue operations,” to the despair of any libertarian who watched them unfold and take shape, amounted to an effort to virtually nationalize the U.S. economy, an effort “to organize every profession, every trade, every craft under [government] supervision and to deal directly with such details as the volume of production, the prices, the means and methods of distribution of every conceivable product.” (Flynn, Myth 38)

Fortunately, however, President Hoover, the “born planner, meddler, orderer, and exhorter,” (Johnson xv) had been voted out of office after a single term in the White House. The American electorate had repudiated his planning, meddling, ordering, and exhorting and had elected the Democratic candidate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man who stood for small government and fiscal responsibility.

This was evident from the platform on which Roosevelt had run — a platform that called for

“1. An immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus and eliminating extravagance, to accomplish a saving of not less than 25 percent in the cost of Federal government ….

“2. Maintenance of the national credit by a Federal budget annually balanced ….

“3. A sound currency to be maintained at all hazards.”

Nor was this platform meant to be taken as mere empty rhetoric of the sort modern-day libertarians associate with the political campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. As Garet Garrett pointed out in 1938, “Mr. Roosevelt pledged himself to be bound by this platform as no President had ever before been bound by a party document. All during the campaign he supported it with words that could not possibly be misunderstood.” He said, for example,

“I accuse the present Administration of being the greatest spending Administration in peace time in all American history — one which piled bureau on bureau, commission on commission, and has failed to anticipate the dire needs or reduced earning power of the people. Bureaus and bureaucrats have been retained at the expense of the taxpayer. … We are spending altogether too much money for government services which are neither practical nor necessary. In addition to this, we are attempting too many functions and we need a simplification of what the Federal government is giving to the people.” (27)

Roosevelt was particularly adamant on the subject of government borrowing.

Toward the end of the campaign he cried: “Stop the deficits! Stop the deficits!” Then to impress his listeners with his inflexible purpose to deal with this prodigal monster, he said: “Before any man enters my cabinet he must give me a twofold pledge: Absolute loyalty to the Democratic platform and especially to its economy plank. And complete cooperation with me in looking to economy and reorganization in his department.” (Flynn, Myth 37)

True, Roosevelt’s political track record was somewhat worrisome. After all “as governor he took New York State from the hands of Al Smith with a surplus of $15,000,000 and left it with a deficit of $90,000,000.” (37) Still, “[t]here was nothing revolutionary in” what he was now telling the voters.

It was […] actually an old-time Democratic platform based upon fairly well-accepted principles of the traditional Democratic party. That party had always denounced the tendency to strong central government, the creation of new bureaus. It had always denounced deficit financing. Its central principle of action was a minimum of government in business. (36)

By contrast, since the time of Lincoln, the Republican party had always stood for strong central government, top-heavy bureaucracy, and hefty handouts to big business. The fact that the voters had evicted a Republican from the White House and elected a Democrat surely meant that American public opinion was leaning libertarian and on the side of the angels.

Even more important, nearly all the major intellectual journalists and opinion leaders in the American public prints of the time were libertarian in their thinking. Only six years earlier, in 1926, not long after the publication of the sensational popular bestseller Notes on Democracy, Walter Lippmann had called its author, the nationally syndicated newspaper columnist H. L. Mencken, who was also the founder and editor of the monthly American Mercury, “the most powerful influence on this whole generation of educated people.” In December of 1932, Mencken was still at the helm of the Mercury, though he would step down only a few months later and turn the magazine over to the literary editor of The Nation, Henry Hazlitt. Hazlitt would hold the job for only a year or so, however, before defecting to The New York Times, where he would write editorials on economic topics and review books on business and economics for the paper’s Sunday book pages.

The American Mercury was among the most influential magazines being published at that time — as was The Nation — but it was far from the most widely circulated or read. That honor went to the Saturday Evening Post, whose economics editor and chief editorial writer was Garet Garrett. In the same year that Henry Hazlitt took over the reins of The American Mercury, 1933, Felix Morley took over the reins of the Washington Post; within three years, he was awarded a Pulitzer prize for distinguished editorial writing. Meanwhile, the Saturday Evening Post, the American Mercury, The Nation, the New Republic, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and the other popular and influential magazines of the day — to say nothing of the period’s newspapers — were filled with articles by writers like Albert Jay Nock, John T. Flynn, and Rose Wilder Lane — as the nation’s bookstores were filled with these same writers’ books. And for those who haunted the bookstores and tried to keep up with the latest in books, the weekly book review of choice was the one published by the New York Herald Tribune. As Stephen Cox reminds us,

Herald Tribune “Books” was a distinguished venue, publishing commentary by everyone of consequence in literature, from Robert Frost to John Steinbeck, Ellen Glasgow to André Maurois, Sinclair Lewis to Virginia Woolf. And unlike most other distinguished journals, it enjoyed a very large circulation, about 500,000 in 1937. It was a nationally circulated publication that had thousands of subscribers outside New York. In the mid-thirties, 30,000 copies of each issue were distributed to bookstores nationwide. And “Books” had an audience that actually bought books. Frances Newman, herself a critic and avid student of the literary marketplace, expressed the conventional wisdom when she said that the Herald Tribune “reach[ed] more important people than any other review.” (81)

The deputy editor and feared weekly columnist at Herald Tribune “Books” (John O’Hara, Cox tells us, “writing on the day of publication of his first novel,” confessed that he was “very much afraid” of her) was Isabel Paterson.

Isabel Paterson’s Early Life

Surely, to the American libertarian looking around him or her in December of 1932 the prospects for the future must have seemed rosy. But of course, as it turned out, what that libertarian was observing was the last brilliant flowering of a plant that would die all too soon. Safely elected, FDR reversed his campaign promises entirely, rejected the legacy of his party, and proceeded to prove that he could do strong central government, meddlesome economic regulation, and political favors in return for votes and donations better than any Republican who’d ever come down the pike. And though all the journalists I’ve just named went right on writing through the ’30s and into the ’40s (and, in some cases, even into the ’50s and ’60s), though several of them wrote passionately polemical books on the deteriorating political situation in America and kept up their agitation for small government and personal freedom as long as they could go on placing their manuscripts with publishers, there was nothing they could do to reverse the growing tide of public opinion against them and their cause. Today we look at biographies of these writers and marvel at the thought of an American intellectual scene in which they were the acknowledged leaders.

The problem is, there have been too few such biographies. There have been many, many books on Mencken, to be sure — some of them biographies, some of them studies of his work. There have been at least two books on Nock, at least two on Flynn, one on Lane, one on Hazlitt, none so far on Felix Morley or Garet Garrett — and, until now, none on Isabel Paterson. With the publication of Cox’s splendid new biography, The Woman & the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson & the Idea of America, it is now Paterson’s turn in the historical limelight.

As Cox tells it, Paterson was born Mary Isabel Bowler on an island in the Canadian portion of Lake Huron in January 1886. She grew up poor in small towns and on farms in Ontario, Michigan, and points west — in both Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States. She taught herself to read at the age of three and was homeschooled thereafter, except for about two and a half years of formal education, all of it completed by the time she was twelve. The truth is that Isabel Paterson seems to have been one of the great autodidacts of the last two centuries, with a voracious appetite for reading.

As a teenager, Isabel went to work serving food in a hotel dining room, then studied typing and shorthand and began taking secretarial positions. She drifted into journalism when, having taken a job as secretary to a newspaper publisher, she made such a nuisance of herself criticizing the writing in his paper that, in exasperation, he offered her a job as an editorial writer. “Let’s see if she can do any better than the people she criticizes!” one can almost hear him saying to himself.

She did. One newspaper job led to another, taking her from Calgary to Spokane to Vancouver to Seattle to San Francisco to New York. In Calgary she spent a few weeks in the throes of holy matrimony, thereby transforming herself from Isabel Bowler to Isabel Paterson. And in New York, in her off hours and when she was between jobs, she began writing novels. The first of these to see print was published just as Europe was exploding into the madness of World War I. Occasionally she found herself between jobs and unable to immediately locate another position as a writer; when that happened, she cheerfully went back to stenography. It was in this way that she met Burton Rascoe.

The New York Herald Tribune

Rascoe was one of the most important intellectual journalists of the period between the wars, whether as the irreverent literary editor of the Chicago Tribune (1918-1920), the New York Sun (1931-1933), or Esquire (1932-1938) or as an iconoclastic nationally syndicated columnist appearing daily in more than 350 newspapers. In April of 1922, Rascoe was beginning a two-year stint as literary editor of the New York Tribune (by the time he moved on, in August 1924, it had become the New York Herald Tribune). He found that the volume of correspondence he had to deal with in his new post was such that he needed a secretary. Enter Isabel Paterson. But it was not long before Rascoe discovered that there was a good deal more to Paterson than mere secretary material. “He had been looking for a secretary,” Cox writes, “but he had found an assistant and a fellow-critic. The moment at which he recognized her integrity and intelligence was the turning point of Paterson’s career.” (61) In 1924, she began writing an 1800-word weekly column, “Turns With a Bookworm.” She continued writing it through the rest of the ’20s, all of the ’30s, and almost all of the ’40s, along with hundreds of articles and reviews, “a compendium of the literary life of her period, perhaps its largest compendium.” Cox quotes one contemporary observer as saying that Paterson had “more to say than any other critic in New York today as to which books shall be popular.” (81)

“The column started,” according to Cox, “as an outlet for literary news and respectable literary gossip,” but Paterson, who signed her weekly piece “I.M.P.” (for Isabel Mary Paterson), quickly expanded her bailiwick,

aggressively […] annexing whatever territory seemed promising for the growth of more opinions — recent books, books of the distant past, adventures of authors and would-be authors, I.M.P.’s current life and past lives, the lives and fortunes of the friends of I.M.P., arguments with friends, arguments with enemies, arguments with fools (a group not always distinct from either “enemies” or “friends”), historical issues, philosophical issues, political issues, economic issues, sexual issues, scientific issues. … The connection was simply the fact that these things were interesting to I.M.P., who could not understand “why more people are not interested in more things.” (66, 67)

One of Paterson’s deepest enthusiasms was for politics. “In 1936,” Cox tells us, “‘a truly amiable correspondent’ wrote to the Herald Tribune to ask why Isabel Paterson did not ‘write on politics.’ ‘This is a refreshing novelty,’ she replied. ‘Others have asked us why don’t we shut up about politics.’” (71-72)

Before long, even more of her readers were posing this second question, for as the Great Depression wore on and on, prolonged and even deepened by the wrongheaded policies of the New Deal, Paterson devoted herself more and more frequently to issues of political economy in her column, until she had transformed “Turns With a Bookworm” into a “glorious soapbox for her political ideas.” (72) And, during these same years, she wrote the one non-fiction book of her career, The God of the Machine, an attempt at a systematic presentation of her political views and the bases for her belief that America had taken a disastrously wrong turn in 1932. The God of the Machine was much admired by Ayn Rand, an acolyte of Paterson’s during the long years when her own writing had not yet brought her much success; and such fame as Paterson’s book now enjoys within the libertarian movement is largely owing to Rand’s ongoing efforts on its behalf during the 1960s, in the pages of The Objectivist and The Objectivist Newsletter.

The God of the Machine — Its Influence

Still, it is questionable just how far Rand’s efforts enjoyed any measurable success; that is, it is questionable just how extensive is the fame that The God of the Machine does enjoy in the libertarian movement of today. One wonders. When former Reason editor Virginia Postrel published her first book, The Future & Its Enemies, nearly seven years ago, she built the book’s central argument around a distinction between “static” and “dynamic” systems and the “stasists” and “dynamists” who advocate them. Well, as Stephen Cox pointed out in his valuable “Introduction” to the 50th Anniversary Edition of The God of the Machine, published (with considerable publicity in such movement periodicals as Liberty and the then-monthly book review and catalogue of Laissez Faire Books) in 1993, five years before The Future & Its Enemies, “Some of her columns at the end of the decade [of the 1930s] look like abstracts for The God of the Machine. The main connections between her idea of history and her idea of government are set forth, for instance, in her 16 July, 1939, column, which contains a long discussion of ‘dynamic’ and ’static’ systems […].” (xxvii)

Nor is this all. Postrel wrote in 1998 that the essential difference between stasis and dynamism was the difference between “a regulated, engineered world” and “a world of constant creation, discovery, and competition.” (xiv) When we look at a dynamic system, Postrel wrote, what we see is something that is “inherently unstable” — not “disorder, but […] an order that is unpredictable, spontaneous, and ever shifting […].” (xv)

According to Postrel, stasists reject the market, while dynamists embrace it. “Stasists generally portray the market either as an impersonal machine crushing personal values or, quite the opposite, as a small cabal of powerful and greedy men who manipulate the rest of us for their own gain. Dynamists, by contrast, see the market as a process, a decentralized system for discovering and sharing knowledge, for trading and expressing value […].” (35) In no sense, however, are dynamists utopians. For “utopia is by definition static, an unchanging state of perfection.” (58) Stasists attempt to achieve utopia “by stopping experimentation.” (199)

Paterson’s thinking was remarkably similar. Writing in 1943, she declared that “Russia, Germany, and other planned economies are static.” (289) In fact, any

collective society is static. Whatever productive machinery it contains must be inherited or borrowed from a primary field of freedom elsewhere, a free economy. With such borrowings, nobody in the collective need be responsible for the decision and expenditure involved in the period of original invention. The machinery can be taken over at a fixed cost. It can even be copied at a fixed estimate; but it can’t be invented.” (198)

Such is the payoff for stopping experimentation. By contrast, “the dynamic economy” — as typified by the relatively untrammeled and freely experimental market economy of the United States — “creates unprecedented means of mobility and a fair prospect of finding a livelihood almost anywhere.” (157, 285)

No acknowledgment of Paterson is to be found in The Future & Its Enemies. Her name doesn’t even appear in the index. Nor, so far as I have been able to discover, did even a single one of the many reviewers who discussed Postrel’s notably successful book back in 1999 take note of any of its striking resemblances to The God of the Machine. What does this tell us, except that very few people read Isabel Paterson any longer?

Contrast this, for example, with Cox’s decision to devote a few paragraphs of his biography of Paterson to discussion of Henry Adams. Clearly, he said to himself, “At least some of my readers are going to see my title — The Woman & the Dynamo — and recall the famous chapter in The Education of Henry Adams called ‘The Virgin & the Dynamo.’ And they’re going to wonder if there’s some connection.”

There is, of course. Cox acknowledges that Adams’s conception of history “bears a superficial resemblance to Paterson’s” and that, like Paterson, “Adams uses the language of engineering (’energy,’ ’sequence,’ ‘resistance’). He describes the immense increase in energy or ‘force’ during the nineteenth century and marvels at the industrial ‘dynamo’ which radiated that force.” (259-260) Paterson herself discussed Adams briefly in The God of the Machine, writing that

Henry Adams, who witnessed the Energy Age after it was well under way, spent his life endeavoring to trace the connection between the last century of the Middle Ages, and the modern outburst of energy in kinetic uses. He picked up the clue, pondered it, and let it slip. What was the relation, he asked, between the Virgin and the Dynamo? His question was neither irreverent nor irrelevant. He perceived that after the majesty of Divine Law had been established in medieval philosophy by severe logic, the image of the Virgin then became more prominent in religion, as the recipient of honors and petitions. He recognized that this was because the Virgin represented an unconstrained element, grace or mercy, which implies free will in man, being available to continual choice. Then man was not to be bound by any irrevocably determined sequence, as a machine is. But at this point Henry Adams failed to realize that it is by freedom of personal volition that man is capable of pursuing his intellectual inquiries and making his inventions. This is the genesis of the dynamo. (156)

Or, as Cox puts the matter, “Adams’ failure […] was his inability to see that the dynamo was the complement and product of the virgin, not its opposite.” (275)

The God of the Machine — The Problem

In point of fact, if Paterson’s work is as infrequently read these days as it seems to be, much of the reason is implicit in the paragraph just quoted. For her own attempt to explain the emergence of the dynamo is muddied and made unnecessarily difficult for the reader by her insistence on using an elaborate metaphor drawn from the world of engineering. Consider, for example, her explanation of the decline of Spain.

By the middle of the 15th Century, she writes, “Spain controlled the richest part of Europe, what with the Spanish and Austrian mines, the industrial towns of the Netherlands, and the diversity of other resources embraced in such extensive territory. The dominant position in respect of the Mediterranean also meant something. And then the wealth of America poured into Spain.”

So what went wrong? “Spain was electrocuted, burned out, by receiving a high voltage of energy into a political structure and mechanism without proper transmission lines, outlets, and insulation.” (58)

“Huh?” you might ask. And well might you ask. But it gets worse. Here is Paterson’s “explanation”:

Personal liberty is the pre-condition of the release of energy. Private property is the inductor which initiates the flow. Real money is the transmission line; and the payment of debts comprises half the circuit. An empire is merely a long circuit energy-system. The possibility of a short circuit, ensuing leakage and breakdown or explosion, occurs in the hookup of political organization to the productive processes. This is not a figure of speech or analogy, but a specific physical description of what happens. (62)

Except, of course, that it’s not.

The God of the Machine was not a big commercial success on its first publication, and it seems unlikely (to this reader, anyway) that the then-declining fortunes of individualism was the only cause of this failure. Another radically individualist book published in the same year (1943), Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, did enjoy an enormous commercial success, despite its supposed clash with the zeitgeist. One can only speculate as to how many readers, eager to learn what all the buzz is about, begin The God of the Machine, only to give up within the first sixty-five or so pages because of this willfully created impediment to their understanding. Whatever their number, that such readers exist at all is too bad, because there is much of value in Paterson’s book. There are extended historical analyses of considerable power, such as her discussion, in Chapter 16, “The Corporations and Status Law,” of the origins and consequences of U.S. government “regulation” of business, including both subsidy programs and anti-trust prosecutions. Paterson’s analysis in this brilliant chapter will be of particular interest to admirers of such revisionist works of the 1960s and early ’70s as Gabriel Kolko’s The Triumph of Conservatism (1963) and Railroads & Regulation (1965) and Roy Childs’s “Big Business & the Rise of American Statism” (1971). The God of the Machine also offers much quotable epigrammatic wit and wisdom.

  • “In human affairs all that endures is what men think.” (15)

  • “The Greek political method was […] as might be expected when logic has superseded tradition and yet found no principle. Democracy is pure process, consisting of a series of pragmatic expedients, arrived at by majority vote, the verdict of numbers. It has only chance sequence, and no continuity except in the persons concerned. It actually works on the strength of custom, and is therefore inoperable except with a small community of a fairly homogeneous culture.” (16)
  • “[T]he sole object of setting a term to office is to get the incumbent out. The main object of voting in any case is to vote against persons or measures.” (23)
  • After Spain established contact with the Americas, “the country presented an almost incredible spectacle, with treasure ships unloading bullion year by year in unprecedented quantities, and the people increasingly impoverished by inverse ratio until they were reduced to hunger and rags. Every ordinance now recommended and applied in the name of a planned economy was tried out in Spain during that period on the same pretext of public necessity, with the inevitable consequences of stopping production. Business could be done only by license; manufactures and trade were restricted; mines in Spain were shut down by order; real money was seized from private owners, who were forced to accept government paper in exchange, and imprisoned or executed if they attempted to refuse. Taxes and tariffs multiplied. Everything went into government; and the government was always bankrupt. Yet the functions of government, alleged as the pretext for such measures, were carried on with grotesque inefficiency.” (59)
  • “When the word leader, or leadership, returns to current use, it connotes a relapse into barbarism. For a civilized people, it is the most ominous word in any language.” (80)
  • “Marx was a fool with a large vocablulary of long words.” (96)
  • “Let it be asked how any person wholly devoid of talent, skill, accomplishment, wit, beauty, charm, or even the practical ability to earn a living by routine labor, can conceivably become an object of flattering attention, greeted with applause and given a hearing for the feeblest inanities - obviously nothing will serve except political position.” (154)
  • “Men enslave themselves, forging the chains link by link, usually by demanding protection as a group. When business men ask for government credit, they surrender control of their business. When labor asks for enforced ‘collective bargaining’ it has yielded its own freedom. When racial groups are recognized in law, they can be discriminated against by law.” (234)
  • “Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends.” (235)
  • “Production is profit; and profit is production. They are not merely related; they are the same thing. When a man plants potatoes, if he does not get back more than he put in, he has produced nothing. This would be obvious if he put a potato into the ground today and dug up the same potato tomorrow; but it is all the same if he plants one potato and gets only one potato as a crop. His labor is wasted; then he must starve, or someone else must feed him, if he has no reserve from previous production. The objection to profit is as if a bystander, observing the planter digging his crop, should say: ‘You put in only one potato and you are taking out a dozen. You must have taken them away from someone else; those extra potatoes cannot be yours by right.’” (221)
  • “If profit is denounced it must be assumed that running at a loss is admirable. On the contrary, that is what requires justification. Profit is self-justifying. When any institution is not run for profit, it is necessarily at the cost of the producers. One way the non-producers go about destroying a free production system by degrees is to persuade men of wealth to endow foundations for ’social work’ or for economic or political ‘research.’ The arguments sought by such research will generally be in justification of parasitism, favoring the creation of more sinecures by extension of the political power.”

Paterson’s End

Cox shows that this flair for concision, for the pithy and succinct, was regularly on display in Paterson’s weekly columns for the New York Herald Tribune as well. “She was not exactly the embodiment of the Jazz Age,” he writes. “The hedonists of the era amused her, from a distance, but she had no sympathy for the ‘lost generation’ — naifs who ‘felt themselves persecuted by “The Saturday Evening Post.”‘ ‘We wish they’d stay lost,’ she said. ‘Nobody would go to look for them.’” (89) Notified that Gertrude Stein, “author of ‘The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,’ [was] “coming over soon for a lecture tour,” she quipped: “One of her lecture topics will be ‘The History of English Literature as I Understand It.’ That should be a very brief lecture.” (73)

But Paterson’s newspaper columns are not easily accessible to most readers, apart from the bits and pieces quoted in Cox’s book. And few readers are likely to stick with The God of the Machine long enough to find the gems lying in wait within its pages. Paterson is likely doomed to continue in the obscurity into which she almost instantly fell after being fired for political incorrectness by the Herald Tribune in 1949. She never worked full time again. Some of the novels she had written “on the side” during the Teens, Twenties, and early Thirties had enjoyed a certain commercial success. One of them, Never Ask the End, had even been a modest bestseller. Paterson had invested much of the money she earned from these books in real estate, so, when she suddenly found retirement thrust upon her, she withdrew from Manhattan, took up residence in one of her country houses, and began living on her Herald Tribune pension and the proceeds of her investments. She refused to file for the Social Security benefits she could have collected, because she regarded the program as a “swindle.” (325) She did some magazine work from time to time, mostly for William F. Buckley’s National Review, but this amounted to very little in the end, because Paterson had no talent for getting along with anyone who disagreed with her about anything — including editors.

Her life up to this time, Cox tells us, had included “few close friends.” (183) And not a few of the people she could count as friends chose to keep their distance. “The door of her house was always unlocked; friends were warmly encouraged to come and stay. But mostly they didn’t come.” (187) Her dealings with most of her fellow writers, and particularly with those of them who were in any sense fashionable, were openly contemptuous. She “appeared to be working night and day to sever her ties to them.” Nor, when they reached out to her, did she “politely demur. She was aggressive, obnoxious, offensive.” (244-245) Ayn Rand’s niece by marriage, Mimi Sutton, told Barbara Branden that Isabel Paterson had “no charm whatever.” (Passion 166) William Buckley found her “full of acid and ill humor” and “maddeningly ill mannered.” (Cox 350-351) And Paterson herself seems to have agreed. “[S]ocially,” she said of herself in a letter in 1958, she was “just a queer, frequently disagreeable, old woman; which is to say, I am in a category of quite tiresome people, unattractive, and best out of the way.” (338) “At my age, in the course of nature,” Cox quotes her as saying in another letter a little earlier in that same year, “one cannot expect to have many friends; and the world being what it is, and me being what I am, perhaps I really can’t expect to have any.” (333)

Yet she did have a few. One of them once told her that “[p]eople who can stand you at all get rather fond of you.” (121) And so it was that in early January of 1960, Isabel Paterson died quietly at the home of some devoted friends, with whom she was staying until one of her own houses was made ready for her to inhabit again.

Cox tells this story with flair and zest. His biography is, for anyone interested in American intellectual history in the 20th Century, both indispensable and compulsively readable.

Jeff Riggenbach is a Senior Fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute and the author of In Praise of Decadence (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1998).

Filed under: Guest Columns

Samuel Edward Konkin III — 1947-2004
Posted on 03.09.04 by Jeff Riggenbach

Make no mistake about it: we have lost a great libertarian, and we will probably not see his like again.

Samuel Edward Konkin III was born in Saskatchewan on July 8, 1947. His family moved to neighboring Alberta while he was still a boy, and he grew up in and around Edmonton, finishing high school there and entering the University of Alberta, where he graduated, cum laude, in 1968. By the time he reached the University of Wisconsin later that same year to begin graduate studies in chemistry, he was a confirmed science fiction fan and was particularly enamored of the works of Robert A. Heinlein.

One of Heinlein’s novels in particular had impressed him — The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) — in which a group of rebellious colonists on the Moon, under the leadership of a renegade computer and a white-haired political philosopher named Bernardo de la Paz, who advocates something he calls “Rational Anarchy,” foment a successful revolution. Sam was already involved in politics by this time, but not libertarian politics — populist politics, rather. At the University of Alberta he had served as head of the Young Social Credit League, a student group allied with the politics of the Social Credit Party, a minor Canadian political party founded in Alberta in the mid-1930s and based on the theories of the British economist Clifford Douglas.

As the online edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica puts it,

Douglas’ theory, first promoted in 1919 in the British socialist publication The New Age, sought to remedy the chronic deficiency of purchasing power by issuing additional money to consumers and rendering subsidies to producers in order to liberate production from the price system, without altering private enterprise and profit. The Social Credit movement had a short-lived following in Britain in the 1920s and reached western Canada in the ’30s.

In 1935 the newly established Social Credit Party “won 56 of 63 contested seats in the Alberta Assembly,” the Britannica article continues, “thus forming the world’s first Social Credit government, which remained in power for 36 years.” Later, “it governed British Columbia from 1952, except for the years 1972–75; and it held seats in the Parliament at Ottawa from 1935 to 1980, when it lost all six of its seats.”

In one of the last things he wrote, a message posted to his Left Libertarian e-mail discussion list on Thursday February 5, 2004, Sam offered the following comment on the Social Credit movement:

Paradoxically, as with various populist movements in the United States, I suspect the success of the Social Crediters in Canada actually reflects the ingrained anti-statism of the populace. They rightly perceive corporate capitalism as a system of power; and they likewise see that the banking system is a big part of the power of organized capital. But they fail to fully perceive the role of state capitalist intervention in this power, and are distracted by statist remedies. It’s much as is the case with Georgists: they rightly perceive the political appropriation of land (a la Oppenheimer and Nock) as central to exploitation — they just go off track in the proposed remedy.

“Oddly enough,” Sam continued, “the first provincial government of Alberta, 1905-1919, was Georgist (running the Liberal Party then); the second was the United Farmers of Alberta, 1919-1935, whose federal wing was considered the ‘ginger group’ of the Progressive Party of Canada; and the third was Social Credit (1935-1971).”

In Madison, it didn’t take the young Social Crediter from Alberta long to begin broadening his political horizons. First his new roommate, chemistry Ph.D. candidate and former Ayn Rand devotee Tony Warnock, introduced him to the Wisconsin Conservative Club, where he met people who told him the name of the real political philosopher and teacher upon whom Heinlein had based de la Paz — Robert LeFevre. Before too many more months had passed, Sam had joined Wisconsin YAF and been selected as a delegate to the YAF national convention in St. Louis in August 1969.

St. Louis was a watershed for Sam’s development as a libertarian. He came to the convention still thinking of himself as a young conservative, though what he’d read and learned in the past year from and about Rand, LeFevre, Ludwig von Mises, and Murray Rothbard had brought him to the edge of a major change in his thinking. “The final step,” Sam told an interviewer in 2002,

was provided by an anti-communist free-market anarchist named Dana Rohrabacher at the St. Louis YAF Convention. He was a charismatic campus activist, radicalized by Robert LeFevre, who provided him with small funding to travel the country with his instrument and folk songs from campus to campus, converting YAF chapters into Libertarian Alliances and SIL chapters. Alas, later he fell into politics, but not the LP. The libertarian billionaire Charles Koch supported him in two failed Republican primary campaigns, and after Rohrabacher put in time as Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, he got his reward of a safe seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Orange County. He is still in office today, with growing seniority. There are few issues on which he is still libertarian, certainly fewer than, say, Ron Paul holds.

But in 1969-71, Dana Rohrabacher was the most successful and most beloved libertarian activist, and, in my opinion, there would not have been a movement without him. And he was a close friend of mine until he crossed the line with his campaign for Congress.

If the St. Louis YAF convention was a watershed in Sam’s personal development as a libertarian, it was also a watershed for the libertarian movement. As Sam put it in that same interview,

In 1969, both the SDS and the Young Americans for Freedom split at their respective conventions. The “right” libertarians from YAF joined the free-market anarchists from SDS at a historic conference in New York over Columbus Day weekend, called by Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess. In February of 1970, several activists working for Robert LeFevre organized an even bigger conference in Los Angeles at USC, which included Hess, SDS ex-president Carl Oglesby, and just about every big name in the movement up to that point. I attended both, as well as the YAF Convention in St. Louis before.

After L.A.’s conference, campus Libertarian Alliances sprang up around the country. I personally organized five in Wisconsin during 1970 and a dozen in downstate New York (New York City and environs) from 1971-73. The Libertarian Party’s first “real” campaign was Fran Youngstein for Mayor (of New York City) in 1973, and was the only campaign in which anti-political (what Europeans would call anti-parliamentarian) libertarians worked with […] anarchists who embraced political office-seeking (whom I named “partyarchs”).

By that time, the libertarian movement had grown from “Murray’s living room” (and LeFevre’s Freedom School, later Rampart College) into thousands in 1970, tens of thousands in 1971, and hundreds of thousands (some abroad, as in Britain and Australia) in 1972. The steep rate of movement growth leveled off with the rise in visibility of the party.

There are movement historians who would differ with this account in one or more particulars. For example, Sam neglects to mention the crucial role of Objectivists set adrift by the Rand-Branden split of 1968 in the founding of the Libertarian Party. It is certain that Ayn Rand has converted far more people to libertarianism than Murray Rothbard and Robert LeFevre combined (depending, of course, on how you define “libertarianism”) — and this was as true in 1969 as it is today. Also, Sam writes as though SIL, the Society for Individual Liberty, already existed at the time of the St. Louis YAF convention. Its predecessor organization, the Objectivist-oriented Society for Rational Individualism, had existed for about a year at that time. Still, this is somewhat misleading. SIL was founded in St. Louis in 1969, while the YAF convention was underway across town.

These quibbles are ultimately of little importance, however. In its main outlines, and with respect to most of its details, Sam’s account of the movement’s origins and early growth is quite accurate — particularly when judged by the standards appropriate to journalism. And it is as a libertarian journalist that I believe Samuel Edward Konkin III is best remembered and best understood. After the YAF convention, he went back to Madison for a year, then moved on to New York. (After all, Mises and Rothbard were both there.) He transferred his graduate studies to N.Y.U. and finished up his M.S. in Theoretical Chemistry, then began working on a Ph.D. In Manhattan he met Rothbard and became a regular in that famous living room, he attended Ludwig von Mises’s famous seminar in Austrian economics at N.Y.U., and he became involved with the nascent Libertarian Party.

As a delegate from New York City in 1973 and 1974, to the Cleveland and Dallas conventions respectively, Sam organized the original “radical caucus” within the party. Like its successor “radical caucus,” founded in the late ’70s by Murray Rothbard, Bill Evers, Eric Garris, and Justin Raimondo, it was designed to keep the party properly adherent to libertarian principle. But by late in 1974, Sam had given up on the idea that any such goal could be achieved. He publicly walked out of the party, taking a sizable chunk of its membership with him. Thereafter, he liked to think of himself as “the Libertarian Party’s worst living enemy.”

Of more lasting importance was Sam’s decision, once he had been in Manhattan for a few hours, to begin publishing. Almost upon his arrival at his new graduate school he assumed the editorship of the NYU Libertarian Notes, a campus newsletter, quickly renaming it New Libertarian Notes and aiming it at a broader readership. His mission, as he saw it, was to “cover” the infant libertarian movement — to report on its issues and events, and to offer commentary aimed at steering the new movement in what Sam took to be the proper direction. There was much going on in Manhattan in the early ’70s, much movement ferment and growth. And it was not all in Murray Rothbard’s living room. Over on Mercer Street in the Village, Laissez Faire Books, the nation’s first libertarian bookstore (unless you count Benjamin R. Tucker’s Bookstore at 225 Fourth Avenue, which closed in 1908), was being established by Sharon Presley and John Muller. The Free Libertarian Party was polarizing libertarian strategic thought between those who believed political action could be used to achieve a free society and those who believed political action was a betrayal of libertarian principle. There were talks, parties, gatherings of every kind. It was a scene that cried out for a journalist with the imagination and (given the still very small market for news of this subculture) the sheer guts to make it his chief subject.

“In 1975,” Sam wrote in a short autobiography he prepared for Jeanie Kennedy’s Free Exchange in San Francisco late in the ’90s, “Sam left New York without turning in his thesis [actually his Ph.D. dissertation] in Quantum Mechanics in order to work full-time in the Libertarian Movement and the great Counter-Economy, proving by example for over a quarter century that one can live a state-free, moral and activist life.”

Sam moved first to Long Beach, California (the fifth largest city in California, ca. half a million people, about twenty-five miles from downtown Los Angeles). From there he moved to Culver City, an L.A. suburb. Then, after a couple of years in Las Vegas as the new century dawned, he returned to Los Angeles. New Libertarian Notes morphed into New Libertarian Weekly and finally into New Libertarian, a ‘monthly’ that actually appeared on a monthly basis only in fits and starts and finally fizzled out altogether in the ’90s. In one or another of its various incarnations, however, New Libertarian was Sam’s chief object of attention for more than twenty years. And it was magnificent. At a time when, as Jesse Walker puts it, “the libertarian milieu lacked well-funded think tanks and slick-paper magazines, and when offering a low-budget alternative was not a simple matter of launching a blog,” Sam Konkin published consistently and regularly on a shoestring — less than a shoestring. And what he published was some of the most entertaining, provocative, and stimulating stuff to be had anywhere at the time. Many of the best writers in the movement were contributing editors, regular columnists, or frequent contributors to his pages — Robert Anton Wilson, James J. Martin, Wendy McElroy, Murray Rothbard, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Sharon Presley, Robert LeFevre, Eric Scott Royce, George H. Smith — and, of course, he himself was also there, issue after issue, with his often quirky but almost always insightful and incisive commentary on the issues and events of the day and the latest developments in the libertarian movement.

One of Sam’s principal mentors, Ludwig von Mises, argued in his seminal work Theory and History that history is impossible in the absence of certain assumptions — assumptions about what kinds of events are important and what kinds are not, assumptions about the ways in which causality functions in matters of human action. In the absence of such assumptions, the historian would have no basis for deciding what to write about. Precisely the same might be said about journalism. The journalist is, after all, in a manner of speaking, an historian in a hurry. As longtime Washington Post publisher Phillip Graham famously put it, journalism provides “a first rough draft of … history.” Indeed, newspapers from a period are regarded by historians as “primary sources” for information about the history of that period. And what it means to describe The New York Times, for example, as the “newspaper of record” for a certain period of the 20th Century is that The New York Times may be relied upon for information about the history of that period, as it unfolded day by day. Sam said on more than one occasion that he considered New Libertarian the publication of record for the libertarian movement, the publication future historians of the movement would turn to for information about the history of the movement, as it unfolded day by day.

Sam knew that all journalism, like all history, is based on certain assumptions about the human condition and about which things in human experience are more and less important. He knew also that there are two, and only two kinds of journalism — the kind in which these assumptions are consciously held and explicitly identified, and the kind in which they are never identified, even by the journalists whose work they invisibly shape and direct. Sam was always the first sort of journalist: no one reading any of his publications was ever in the slightest doubt about the point of view held by its editor.

At the same time, Sam never required that his contributors, even his columnists and contributing editors, agree with him about everything. On the contrary: the masthead of New Libertarian proclaimed that “Everyone appearing in this publication disagrees!” At a time (the ’70s and ’80s) when factionalism within the movement was, if anything, even more virulent than it is today (reminiscent at times of the infighting among the various competing Palestinian groups in Monty Python’s Life of Brian), Sam pursued a firm policy of publishing every faction. At a time when he was bitterly attacking the network of organizations and institutions then funded by the Kansas oil billionaire Charles Koch (the Cato Institute, Inquiry magazine, The Libertarian Review, the original Students for a Libertarian Society), he had no qualms about letting me keep my spot on his masthead and my regular column, despite the fact that I was a full time employee of what Sam called “the Kochtopus,” working for Cato, Inquiry, and LR, speaking on behalf of SLS — and despite the fact that I disagreed with at least some of his criticisms of the Kochtopus. He made no secret of his own views, of course; in fact, if he published an article by anyone who disagreed with him about anything, he felt free to annotate the article with parenthetical comments in square brackets to make clear what he felt the “plumb line” position was on the topic at hand.

And what was the “plumb line?” What was the set of assumptions that guided Samuel Edward Konkin III in his practice of libertarian journalism? In a word, Rothbardianism. If memory serves me rightly (and, of course, it seldom does), on the day in 1975 when I first met Sam, I also met another libertarian luminary of the time, Williamson M. “Bill” Evers. One autumn day in Los Angeles I had stopped by George Smith’s apartment on my way home from a bookbuying trip and found that he had two guests whom I had never met before. George introduced me to both of them, and, later, when they had left and I was still around, he commented: “You know how some people are strict Randians? Well, Bill is perhaps the best example you could find of a strict Rothbardian.” There is ample irony in this memory, for, of the two, it was Sam, not Bill, who proved to be the true Rothbardian. Sam faithfully followed Rothbard in his insistence on a non-interventionist foreign policy. He faithfully followed Rothbard in his denunciation of “public” education. Evers is now a salaried employee of the U.S. Department of Defense, charged with rebuilding the public schools in Baghdad; he calls himself a “libertarian conservative” in print. Rothbard is doubtless spinning in his tomb.

Sam went on to publish a number of other periodicals, in addition to New Libertarian. There was New Isolationist, Strategy of the New Libertarian Alliance, the Smart Set Libertarian Notes & Calendar, The Agorist Quarterly, and several others. In the late 1980s, flush with the funding his frenzied and not infrequently inspired publishing had attracted, Sam opened a suite of offices for his Agorist Institute (founded in 1984) in a downtown Long Beach office building and proceeded to host a series of classes, conferences, and lectures in addition to his publishing. Earlier in the same decade he completed and published his major strategic statement, the New Libertarian Manifesto.

Sam had long envied libertarians who had spouses and children; he longed, he said, to breed new libertarians as well as winning them over by persuasion. In 1991 he got his chance. A brief marriage to Sheila Wymer produced a son, Samuel Edward Konkin IV, who is now, longtime family friend J. Neil Schulman informs me, thirteen years old, being homeschooled by his mother, and precociously displaying both “his father’s dislike of taxes and [his] fondness for punk rock.” Unfortunately, his marriage also derailed Sam’s ambitious publishing program. And though it ended soon enough (the marriage, that is), Sam never really recovered. Up to the time of his death, he announced the impending resurrection of New Libertarian and the impending new era in which his websites —, — would be made current and then continuously updated. But it never happened. Something had gone out of Sam, something that had fueled his seemingly limitless energy of the ’70s and ’80s, and it never came back.

What he leaves behind is his legacy as the premier libertarian journalist of his era. Sam was a leading-edge babyboomer, and, as such, a member of the second generation of leadership in the “modern” libertarian movement — that is, the movement that came into existence in the 1940s with the publication of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine, Rose Wilder Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom, Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action, and with the founding in 1946 of the Foundation for Economic Education. The first generation of this modern movement’s leadership was made up of intellectuals who grew up in the first three decades of the 20th Century — Rand, Rothbard, LeFevre, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, Read. The second generation was made up of intellectuals born in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Out of this second generation there were to come two great libertarian journalists — Roy A. Childs, Jr. (1949-1992) and Samuel Edward Konkin III (1947-2004). Both were to die too young. Childs has been suitably memorialized in print with a fine collection of his magazine and newsletter essays and reviews, Liberty Against Power (San Francisco: Fox & Wilkes, 1994). It is to be hoped that a similar posthumous collection will be made of the writings of Samuel Edward Konkin III, who died on February 23, 2004, the better to extend his legacy to the next generation of libertarians, and the next.

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