It was a late summer day in September 1960 when 96 people gathered in Sharon, Connecticut to establish Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and adopt a set of principles they called the Sharon Statement. Many leaders of the contemporary libertarian movement in the United States experienced their initial involvement in politics through membership in YAF. At this, the 50th anniversary of YAF’s founding, it is interesting to look back at the significance of this organization and its role in preparing the way for a distinct, politically-involved libertarian movement in the United States.
Without question, libertarian ideas were espoused by many people before 1960, both by economists such as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and by literary writers such as Albert Jay Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, and, especially, Ayn Rand. From 1946 onward, the Foundation for Economic Education had been promoting free-market economics. Other organizations, such as the Volker Fund, predated the ’60s. But it was not until the Sharon conference in September 1960 that there was a vehicle for political involvement by young people who were dedicated to libertarian principles. YAF was not by any means an exclusively libertarian entity. It was intended to be a broad-based organization
for young people on the political Right. But those who gathered in Sharon on September 9–11, 1960, determined to adopt an inclusive name that would allow the participation of libertarians and anti-communists who did not associate themselves with the conservative label.
The Sharon Statement concisely summarized a philosophical and ideological position on which there could be broad agreement: political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom; government’s purpose is to preserve internal order, provide for defense of the nation, and administer justice; the Constitution is the best document to ensure a balance between empowering and limiting government; the market economy maximizes individual freedom and produces goods more efficiently than any other economic system. Writing about this document a decade later, in the September 1970 issue of YAF’s magazine, the main author of the Sharon Statement, Stan Evans, explained the reasons behind its inclusiveness:
“In broad terms, the statement was meant to embrace both the ‘traditionalist’ and ‘libertarian’ schools within the conservative community. . . . The statement assumes these emphases are inter-dependent and that it is impossible to have one without the other.”
Barry Goldwater’s “The Conscience of a Conservative,” William F. Buckley’s “Up From Liberalism,” and the novels of Ayn Rand influenced these early members of YAF. In Rebecca Klatch’s “A Generation Divided” (1999), Sharon Presley recalled that she had been totally apolitical until she read Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”:
It was like, “Oh, my God, what a revelation!” . . . I read the book; it came along at just the right time. . . . What she did for me was get me thinking about . . . things in those kinds of philosophical terms that I never had.
Presley started attending groups that studied Rand’s philosophy and also became active in YAF in California. In a similar manner, Louise Lacey was influenced by Rand’s writings and helped start a YAF chapter in San Francisco. As she recalled in the 2008 YAF alumni survey, “I was having fun, stretching my mind in very large ways, and meeting people, some of whom I still know today.”
Three thousand miles away, a number of followers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy were active on campus. Robert Poole, who later became the publisher of the libertarian Reason magazine, was an engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who joined YAF. “It helped steer me away from engineering to public policy,” he said. “It was my introduction to grass-roots politics and one important source of my life-long commitment to libertarian principles.” Poole recalls, “At MIT, the majority of us were libertarians, not conservatives, and mostly Objectivists [followers of Rand’s philosophy- phy]. We were very involved in the Goldwater for President effort, and had the largest campus Goldwater group in New England.” One fellow member of the MIT YAF chapter was David Nolan. Nolan would go on to become a founder of the Libertarian Party in December 1971.
In “It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand” (1971), Jerome Tuccille claims that “many Objectivist students joined YAF for the simple reason that they had no place else to go in order to engage in political activities.” Given their support for laissez-faire capitalism, their commitment to strong limits on the size
The Sharon Statement concisely summarized a philosophical and ideological position on which there could be broad agreement.
of government, and the anticommunism inherent in Rand’s philosophy, it is not surprising that these followers of Rand would join Young Americans for Freedom. An additional factor in the early years was the personal appeal of Goldwater, a political figure with whom many Objectivists could identify. Since YAF was closely identified with Goldwater and his likely presidential campaign in 1964, YAF was the place to be for political activity. While YAF never took an official position on Objectivism or Ayn Rand, her writings did stir up controversy within the organization as many, if not most, YAF members looked to William F. Buckley, Jr. as a mentor and philosophical spokesman; and Buckley’s “National Review” had read Rand out of the conservative movement with a slashing attack on “Atlas Shrugged” in 1957.
In addition to those who identified themselves as Objectivists, a significant element of YAF’s membership had from its beginning described itself as libertarian. Before and after the Goldwater campaign, some YAF members advocated a classical liberal position associated with Hayek, Mises, and Milton Friedman, and the people associated with the Foundation for Economic Education. A contingent of YAF members worked in support of the Liberty Amendment to the Constitution, which aimed at repeal of the 16th Amendment and abolition of the federal income tax. Some members joined YAF as conservatives, then moved closer to the libertarian position. Still others joined YAF as the only viable group for young people on the Right, bringing with them their strongly held libertarian or anarchist beliefs, and hoped to influence the organization ideologically. As Brian Doherty notes in his “Radicals for Capitalism” (2007), “most of the quasi-mass libertarian activism in the last years of the 1960s was conducted under the aegis of Young Americans for Freedom. . . . YAF attracted in the wake of Goldwater many liberty-loving individuals, among them many Randians, who found themselves leaning more libertarian than conservative.” Throughout the ’60s these people were willing to work together in a coalition with more traditionalist members, using Young Americans for Freedom as the appropriate vehicle. In fact, most YAF members supported what they viewed as a fusion of libertarian and traditionalist positions, an outlook advocated especially by Frank Meyer in his “In Defense of Freedom” (1962).
Though YAF members held divergent philosophical orientations, they could unite in opposition to the modern liberal orthodoxy that had been prevalent in the United States for at least the previous 30 years. A survey of YAF leaders in 1966 showed that 26% identified themselves as either libertarians or Objectivists, with about 40% calling themselves traditionalists and 34% fusionists (those who followed Meyer’s attempted marriage of the two positions). One observer at the 1967 YAF National Convention asked various delegates about the survey and the accuracy of the results. Writing in the February 1968 issue of the national campus magazine Moderator, Philip Werdell reported that by the people he asked the survey was viewed as an accurate reflection of the relative strengths in YAF.
Libertarian David Nolan found some allies at that 1967 convention, claiming in a November 1974 issue of New Libertarian Notes, “I found that there were strong pockets of libertarian or crypto-libertarian YAFers in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio as well as in my then native Massachusetts.” When the convention ended, Nolan and others attempted to form a Libertarian Caucus and held a meeting attended by 80 people. One of them was a new YAF national director and state chairman from Pennsylvania, David Walter. Writing in the same issue of New Libertarian Notes, Walter maintained that “1967 was the year that Libertarianism made breakthroughs in YAF. We became aware of each other . . . we became aware of the other pockets of libertarianism in YAF and of other libertarian leaders such as Jarret Wollstein in Maryland, Dave Friedman in Illinois, Frank Bubb and Ted Frech in Missouri, Dave Nolan in Massachusetts, and many Californians.” The list of the attendees at that 1967 post-convention meeting became the beginnings of a libertarian network at a time when there were few libertarian organizations or publications outside of YAF.
YAF had always advocated free-market economics. From 1967 forward its magazine, the New Guard, began featuring even more articles by libertarian writers. In fall 1967, Arnold (“Arnie”) Steinberg followed David Franke as editor, soon
An additional factor in the early years was the personal appeal of Goldwater, a figure with whom many Objectivists could identify.
after introducing a regular column called “The Radical,” written by David Friedman, son of economist Milton Friedman, and another by Philip Abbott Luce called “Against The Wall.” Friedman’s column reflected a clear libertarian perspective on economic issues, while Luce was more representative of a social libertarian outlook. Jarret Wollstein had articles published in 1967 and ’68, while the writings of Rod Manis and Jerome Tuccille appeared three times each during this period. Other articles by libertarians — Dana Rohrabacher, Alan Bock, Joseph M. Cobb, Tibor Machan, and Ron Kimberling — also appeared. Kimberling described himself in the magazine as “one of California’s new crop of super-libertarians,” but all these people were viewed as libertarians and known among YAF members as representative of the libertarian philosophical outlook.
Besides opposing the draft, some local YAF chapters began undertaking more clearly libertarian projects, including support for the decriminalization of marijuana and the abolition of Social Security. In spring 1969, Orange County, California, YAF members conducted a demonstration in which they burned Social Security cards. Ken Grubbs, chairman of the Cal State-Fullerton YAF and later editor of the New Guard, was quoted as saying that the Social Security system was a fraud and should at the very least be rendered voluntary. John Schureman and YAF State Chairman Dana Rohrabacher lit a Social Security card at the demonstration, while other YAF members looked on. In April, two other California YAF chapters cosponsored a Libertarian Action Conference that offered Mises as the featured speaker.
While libertarian writers and projects attracted new people to YAF, several interlocking developments contributed to a rise in libertarian sentiment among already existing members. Foremost was a more favorable attitude by some YAF members toward the counterculture that was becoming more dominant among mid-decade American youth. YAF had developed as a radical challenge to what was perceived as the modern liberal establishment. College professors and administrators were viewed as representative exponents of the modern liberal outlook. As the 1960s progressed and the Left began to attack those in power on campus, many in YAF joined in. Some adopted a general anti-establishment posture, supporting the counterculture and its supposed opposition to the establishment. Indeed, as Bill Rusher noted years later in “The Rise of the Right” (1993):
“the beauty of libertarianism was that it seemed congruent with many of the things that students of that generation were beginning to say and feel: Big is Bad. Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate Me. Let Me Do my Own Thing. Stop The World — I Want to Get Off. It’s My Life — Let Me Live It. Big Brother Will Get You. And so on.”
One aspect of the counterculture was the use of marijuana and other drugs. While use of marijuana certainly wasn’t limited to the libertarians in YAF, they saw the laws against marijuana possession as an example of government intervention that prevent the exercise of individual rights. From the beginning, some in YAF had advocated the decriminalization of the substance — a position subsequently advocated by Buckley. One of the people who attended the Sharon conference and served on the YAF National Board of Directors in its early days, Yale graduate Richard Cowan, has devoted his life to the legalization of marijuana.
There was also a wide range of other issues, such as the extent to which demonstrators should be restrained, the extent to which use of personal property should be restricted, and the extent to which government can properly make demands on its citizens. Beyond all specific issues was an identification with the music, clothes, and lifestyle of the counterculture. Belief in individual liberty led to a practical insistence on the freedom to “do your own thing.” Libertarians were more open to these ideas than traditional conservatives. The difference in attitudes, values, and outlook would surface in practical political terms as YAF members gathered for another biennial national convention in St. Louis over Labor Day weekend in 1969.
David Friedman saw the difference as one that was also caused by a fundamental disagreement about strategy and target audiences. In an undated paper he circulated entitled “What are we fighting over?” he maintained that when you
Though YAF members held divergent philosophical orientations, they could unite in opposition to the modern liberal orthodoxy.
are selling an idea, how you sell it and what you label it are influenced by the values and outlooks of those you are try- ing to reach. He saw the fusionists and traditionalists in YAF as seeking “to convert and to organize people who wear ties, people who live in suburbia, people who live in the South — people who, however much they object to certain elements of present-day America, basically identify with it, and see their objective as the preservation of existing freedom.” Libertarians, on the other hand, were attempting to reach a different audience, “those dissatisfied with our existing society, especially the young, [and who believe] that what is wrong is not too much capitalism but too little. [Their approach] is directed at those who seek, not to preserve freedom, but to gain it.”
Thus, according to Friedman, people’s approach to the counterculture depended not just on the inherent value of that or any other cultural phenomenon but on whether people in the counterculture were the audience they were trying to reach. Libertarians and traditionalists reacted differently to changing attitudes among students and emphasized different issues when appealing to them. Friedman believed that “for the ‘traditionalist,’ anti-communism and support of the war are useful issues. For the ‘libertarians’ they are liabilities. The people we are trying to persuade are already strongly anti-war.” For Friedman, one’s stand on the counterculture could be seen as a marketing decision. What is the product you want to sell and who is your target audience?
For some in YAF, a logical extension of libertarian opposition to the state’s involvement in the lives of its citizens was a move to anarchism or, as it was sometimes formulated, “anarcho-capitalism.” Should there be limited government, or no government at all? The debate was joined in companion articles that appeared in the April 1969 issue of the New Guard, a few months before the upcoming YAF National Convention. Leading off was Jerome Tuccille, who criticized radical libertarian Karl Hess for advocating anarchy as well as a wrong- headed view of the New Left as in some way libertarian. Tuccille maintained that any system that moved to anarchism would quickly be supplanted by a dictatorial order. In effect, he claimed that an anarchistic society could not long survive. Reflecting on Hess’ fascination with an alliance between libertarians and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and other elements of the New Left, Tuccille failed to discern any strains of libertarianism in these organizations.
In his own New Guard article, Hess maintained that those he labeled conservative libertarians or “reform statists” are pessimistic about Man (his capitalization) and optimistic about the state. For him, this constituted a reversal of reality. People who believed in individual liberty, in his opinion, must have a favorable view of mankind. Proper understand- ing of the individual leads to distrust of government and an understanding that it must be abolished: “Anarchy is the social ‘yes’ of every man who believes in Man and believes him fit to be fully free.” From his discussions with people active in
New Left organizations such as SDS, he developed the idea that common cause could be made with those who, while on the Left, shared a belief in individual liberty. He concluded his article by declaring, “I stand with those who stand with Man and against the state. If this means anarchy, I hope we all make the most of it, left and right.”
Hess became a regular feature of debates and discussions in YAF. In April 1969, at YAF’s Mid-Atlantic regional conference in New York, he participated in a panel discussion with Tuccille, fusionist guru Frank Meyer, and Professor Henry Paolucci of St. John’s University. The panel was a turning point in the process of separation between traditionalists and fusionists, on the one side, and libertarians and anarchists, on the other. Tuccille maintains that he became radicalized by the reaction of a predominantly antilibertarian audience of YAF members, although his recollection of a traditionalist-dominated gathering was not shared by a number of libertarians who were also present. According to Donald Meinshausen, “The debate made an impression on me and many others who later became libertarians. It was here that I first met Karl, and Murray Rothbard, the Karl Marx of Libertarianism. It was here that the East and West Coast leaders of YAF first met to plan to organize a libertarian caucus.” Writing a few years after the meeting, David Walter remembers that “libertarian ideas carried [the] conference — laissez-faire and TANSTAAFL [There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch] banners hung on the walls, speeches were libertarian in tone, and the trads came off looking like a mob of slightly dimwitted high schoolers.” (Both Meinshausen’s and Walter’s comments appeared in the November 1974 issue of New Libertarian Notes.)
In August 1969, just before the YAF National Convention, Hess debated Luce at the New Guard offices on the topic of anarchism, with a transcript subsequently published and distributed by YAF. While the vast majority of YAF members did not support anarchism, Hess had become a new political personality on the youthful Right. Being featured in the New Guard and taking part in YAF debates made Hess a draw to some YAF members, while also bringing to the organization some libertarians who were enamored of the Hess persona and philosophical position.
The next act of the drama was the 1969 National Convention at St. Louis. The Libertarian Caucus promoted a slate of candidates for the National Board. All were unsuccessful. But the critical event took place during the debate on the platform. While a strong majority of YAF members advocated a voluntary military, differences existed on how to express that opposition. Many libertarians maintained that opposition to the draft called for resistance, including going to Canada, a position deemed unacceptable to most conservatives in the organization. During the platform debate on draft resistance, one libertarian member, Dave Schumacher, lit a photocopy of a draft card on the convention floor, an action abhorrent to the more conservative members. There was now no turning back. For some libertarians the marriage with their more traditionalist partners in YAF had been broken. On Vietnam, draft resistance, the legalization of drugs, and other issues, the differences were perceived as too great for a continued coalition with the young conservatives who made up the majority of YAF.
A good argument can be made that it was from this event that a distinct politically active libertarian movement began. Samuel Edward Konkin, begins his “History of the Libertarian Movement,” by saying, “Prior to 1969, there was no ‘organized’ Libertarian Movement.” He cites the 1969 YAF convention as its origin. Likewise, in her “Roads to Dominion” (1995), historian Sara Diamond claims, “The pivotal event in the formation of the 1970s libertarian movement was the 1969 convention of Young Americans for Freedom.” Two years after that YAF convention, the Libertarian Party was formed, and several new purely libertarian entities came into being.
But despite all the dispute and dissension that occurred at the 1969 National Convention, there continued to be a very important libertarian segment in the organization. Two additional surveys of the YAF leadership — one in 1969 before the YAF National Convention and the other in 1970 — indicate that YAF’s philosophical distribution remained relatively stable. The percentage selecting “Libertarian” or “Objectivist” was 26% in 1966, 22% in 1969, and 29% in 1970. The similarities from 1966 to 1970 are striking, with a small increase among libertarians in the year following the divisive 1969 convention.
David Friedman’s column, “The Radical,” continued to appear in the New Guard into 1970. Contemporary with the events in St. Louis, Friedman had written Frank Meyer, an editor at National Review and the most prominent advocate of the fusionist position, about the value of interaction among the various components of the conservative movement:
The libertarian-traditionalist alliance was useful to libertarians, if only as a restraint keeping them from the excesses of people like my friend Karl Hess. It was also useful in other ways. . . . I feel that there is much of value in the traditionalist view of man and society. The decision to be in favor of freedom does not answer all questions. If I, and those who agree with me are entirely cut off from contact with the traditionalist view, we will be the poorer.
In the 2008 YAF alumni survey Friedman recalled that his time in YAF “provided me an opportunity to improve my writing. Helped encourage me to write on political/economic/ philosophical issues. Some of what I wrote for the New Guard ended up in my first book.”
Luce also continued to write his column in the New Guard well into 1970 and remained on YAF’s national staff as chapter director and featured speaker at chapter events and conferences. Nevertheless, to Jerome Tuccille and some others who had abandoned YAF, he was not a libertarian but only “an effective weapon for the New Right in its attempts to co-opt the libertarian Right and, in its desire to cloak its authoritarian nature with a façade of superficial libertarianism.” To the dismay of critics such as Tuccille and his fellow radical libertarians and anarchists, associated with The Libertarian Forum, not all libertarians were leaving YAF. Those who stayed must therefore be declared outside the movement.
In addition to the Friedman and Luce columns, YAF kept publishing the works of libertarian writers in its monthly magazine, including Lowell Ponte, Tibor Machan, and David Brudnoy. Shortly after the national convention, California libertarian Ken Grubbs became editor of the New Guard. Two years later another libertarian, Jerry Norton, became editor. An associate editor during much of the 1970s was David Brudnoy, whose libertarian positions generated much discussion, including those evident in his 1973 cover article on “Victimless Crimes.” Other libertarian writers also appeared in the pages of the New Guard; and in 1976, libertarian David Boaz became editor.
New York continued to have a significant libertarian segment among its campus members. At Baruch College, the YAF chapter proposed an alternative libertarian program in place of the national office’s “Young America’s Freedom
In spring 1969, Orange County, California, YAF members conducted a demonstration in which they burned Social Security cards.
Offensive.” Basically, the proposal emphasized “Taxation is Theft,” “Community Affairs and Community Control,” and the legalization of abortion. The last objective was being promoted at a time when abortion remained an illegal procedure in New York state and the Supreme Court had not yet issued its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. This was also a time when a significant portion of the YAF membership supported a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy.
Despite its differences with the national organization about the appropriate projects to be emphasized, the Baruch chapter wanted to become “the model for Young Americans for Freedom chapters throughout the country.” Baruch YAF and its allies were committed to working within Young Americans for Freedom. Although the national organization never did adopt the proposed new projects, the autonomy of local chapters of YAF allowed them to choose, adopt, or adapt whatever was being emphasized nationally as well as undertake other projects, developed locally.
YAF’s libertarian influence continued into the 1970s and well beyond. Eric Scott Royce, who became active in YAF at the University of Virginia after the 1969 convention, attended the 1973 convention and noted the presence of many fellow libertarians. Royce reported himself “amazed at the proceedings. There was a brand new libertarian caucus, small to be sure, but remarkably vocal and a definite thorn in the side of the National crowd.” Four years after the St. Louis convention, “Libertarians and their allies made themselves felt both in the voting for officers and in floor discussion on platform planks such as [the Vietnam War draft] amnesty and pot.” In later years, several libertarians served on YAF’s national board or staff. In the ’70s, David Boaz was a national director as well as (later) the editor of the New Guard. John Buckley was elected national chairman in 1977, and Roger Ream served on the national board. In the ’80s, Tom Lizardo of New York (who until earlier this year was chief of staff to Ron Paul) served as a national board member, vice chairman, and executive director. In the early ’90s, Jim Bieber of California was one of several libertarians on the YAF National Board.
A number of other people who were involved in the libertarian caucus campaign at the 1969 YAF National Convention went on to careers in politics. Some served in Republican administrations. William (Shawn) Steel is currently the Republican National Committeeman from California. Dana Rohrabacher was elected to Congress in 1988 and continues to represent a California district. Joseph Michael Cobb served during the Reagan administration as Deputy Director of the White House Office of Policy Formation. C. Ron Kimberling was a presidential appointee in the U.S. Department of Education from 1981–88, then became the first executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and is
The Libertarian Caucus promoted a slate of candidates for the National Board. All were unsuccessful.
now president of the Chicago campus of Argosy University. Though he was a member of the California libertarian faction that challenged the fusionist leadership of the organization in St. Louis, he looks back with a belief that “time and the common enemy of collectivism have healed most” of the wounds from that convention. Retrospectively, it appears that YAF provided him with a base of lifelong friends and sharpened his political beliefs. He said in his YAF alumni survey,
I owe my seven years of service in the 1980s Reagan Administration to those formative experiences, and I feel I know exactly where to turn for information and opportunities for political engagement as a result of those formative years. Most people I have met have episodic experiences with politics and political philosophy that leaves them largely uncertain about most issues. YAF in its heyday truly attracted the “best and the brightest,” and many of its young leaders have made a major imprint on America and the world.
Considering YAF’s strong emphasis on free-market economics, it is no surprise that some of its libertarian members would want to create nonprofit organizations and publications to advance an understanding and appreciation of laissez-faire. To this end, many went on to develop their own organizations with an appeal beyond students and youth.
The International Society for Individual Liberty came about in 1989 through a merger of the Society for Individual Liberty and the Libertarian International. Among its founders were Jarrett Wollstein, former YAF chairman at University of Maryland; David Walter, YAF national director from 1967–69; and Donald Ernsberger, YAF activist at Penn State.
Robert Poole started the Reason Foundation and was its chief executive officer from 1978–2001, continuing his involvement as the Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at the Reason Foundation. Llewellyn Rockwell, Jr., a YAF member while an undergraduate at Tufts University, founded the Ludwig von Mises Institute in 1982. Among its adjunct faculty are Harry Veryser, a professor at University of Detroit Mercy who was a Michigan YAF activist, and William Luckey, YAF chapter chairman at St. John’s University and now professor of political science at Christendom College.
The executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute is David Boaz, former YAF Vanderbilt University chairman, Kentucky state chairman, national director, and editor of the New Guard. Serving as vice president for legal affairs and director of Cato’s Center for Constitutional Studies is Dr. Roger Pilon, a YAF activist at the University of Chicago. Daniel Griswold, a YAF leader at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is Cato’s director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies. Griswold claimed in his YAF alumni survey that his time in YAF “made [him] more politically aware and more supportive of the ideals of the Reagan Revolution.” Ted Galen Carpenter, a YAF chapter chairman while an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, is Cato’s vice president for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies. Both Doug Bandow, former Stanford YAF chairman, and Daniel J. Mitchell, former University of Georgia YAF chairman, are Senior Fellows at the Cato Institute.
The Future of Freedom Foundation was established in 1989 and has posted nearly 2,000 articles on its website. It is one of the most comprehensive libertarian economics resource banks on a wide range of issues. Serving as senior fellow is Sheldon Richman, YAF chapter chairman at Temple University in the late 1960s. Richman is also editor of The Freeman, a free-market periodical. It is sponsored by the Foundation for Economic Education, whose current president is Lawrence Reed, an active YAF member in high school and at Grove City College. Reed recalled his experiences in high school in the 1960s when he reported in his YAF alumni survey:
“In those days, YAF provided its new recruits with a wealth of books, magazines and articles — most notably for me, F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” Henry Grady Weaver’s “The Mainspring of Human Progress,” Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson,” and a subscription to The Freeman, the monthly journal of the Foundation for Economic Education. The message was simple: If you want to be an effective anti-communist, you had better know something about philosophy and economics.”
Reed went on to join the faculty at Northwood University and became president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy before assuming his current position with FEE in 2008.
The Atlas Society promotes a culture that affirms and embodies the core Objectivist values of reason, individualism, freedom, and achievement. From 2005–08, the editor-in-chief of its publication the New Individualist was Robert James Bidinotto. While in high school in the mid-1960s, he became active in YAF. As he explained in an October 2007 issue of the New Individualist,
I formed a local chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. Back then, YAF was the national organization for conservative and libertarian youth (I mean, there weren’t enough of us to have even two national right-wing organizations). . . . I graduated from high school in June 1967. . . . That same summer, prior to starting my first year of college, I attended the national YAF convention in Pittsburgh, as an official voting member of the Pennsylvania delegation. It was a heady experience to meet hundreds of very smart kids who shared my political interests. I didn’t feel quite so weird and alone anymore.
Bidinotto went on to be chairman of a YAF chapter at Grove City College, a chapter that also produced Dr. Camille Castorina, a former associate professor of business at Brewton- Parker College, Jeffrey Hummel, assistant professor of economics at San Jose State University, and Lawrence Reed of FEE. Present-day trustees of the Atlas Society include Robert Poole and Frank Bubb, former Missouri YAF state chairman.
Belief in free-market economics and a respect for entrepreneurship led a number of YAF alumni to careers teaching business and economics. James Gwartney was Washington YAF state chairman while in graduate school at the University of Washington in the early ’60s and since 1968 has been on the faculty at Florida State University. He is the co-author of “Economics: Private and Public Choice,” a widely used textbook, now in its 12th edition. Warren Coats, one-time Hawaii YAF state chairman, taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Hawaii, and George Mason University. He is now working on the rehabilitation of the money and banking systems of Afghanistan and Iraq and is a director of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority. H.E. (Ted) Frech was Missouri YAF state chairman and is now a professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
From this brief review of the careers of a limited number of individuals who were active members in the 1960s and ’70s it is clear that Young Americans for Freedom played an
important part in the recruitment, education, training, and motivation of many people who helped to develop a libertarian movement in the United States.
During the half-century since the birth of YAF, the political and social environment has changed dramatically. There is no longer any one youth organization bringing together students and young adults on the Right. YAF continued training and educating young people, nearly dying out in the mid-1990s but it has had a rebirth of sorts in 2010, once again publishing the New Guard magazine. Today there are several other campus-oriented organizations, including Students for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty as well as Young America’s Foundation, a nonprofit that grew out of YAF and is led by YAF alumni. In addition, there is a multitude of think tanks, publications, and organizations representative of various aspects of contemporary libertarianism.
This is a world that did not exist in the 1960s and early ’70s. A hundred flowers have blossomed, but the seeds of those flowers can be traced in many ways to one organization, Young Americans for Freedom, and its founding at Sharon, Connecticut, 50 years ago.