Jesse Stuart, I believe it was, told the story of the hillbilly mama who approached him at the graduation ceremony of her son. To Stuart she said, “Wal, he ain’t what he oughta be, and he ain’t what he’s gonna be, but he shore ain’t what he was.”
Yes, maybe it’s a bad analogy, but of this book, Libertarianism: John Hospers, the Libertarian Party’s 50th Anniversary, and Beyond, we can say, “It ain’t what it started out to be,” and some mean-hearted souls might claim “It ain’t what it oughta be,” but the accurate observer has to say, “This is a wonderful book, full of fascinating history and important ideas.”
OK, it’s not perfect. At least a few chapters needed better editing, and at least two chapters maybe should not be in it, but most of the rest is, even dealing as it does with 50 years of libertarian history, a breath of fresh air.
We certainly had the best presidential candidate these United States had had seen since at least the days of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Unlike D. Frank Robinson, one of the earliest Libertarians, I was a relative latecomer: I had, by purest coincidence, tried to start a libertarian party in San Diego at about the same time, late 1971, as David Nolan in Colorado. Nobody showed up for my attempt, but David, with more knowledge and assistance, gathered a few people around him, including the aforesaid D. Frank Robinson, and . . . well, we can’t yet call the LP a success. We can’t yet say “the rest is history.”
Let me add a little more context. Somehow, after my failed attempt, and after my moving to Los Angeles shortly afterward, I got in touch with John Hospers and the 1972 LP presidential campaign. I was one of the dedicated and optimistic young people (yes, even I was young back then) who intended to change the world, at least politically.
We certainly had the best presidential candidate these United States had had seen since at least the days of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. And we had the best political philosophers since the days of Patrick Henry and George Mason and Thomas Paine. John Hospers was that Platonic ideal, a philosopher offering himself for leadership of the government.
Alas, a thinker has very little chance at getting his message across to large numbers of voters via the yahoos of the news media. I will never forget how some despicable “news” bleep in Boston, during a campaign tour, wrote about Dr. Hospers’ socks, but nary a word about his basic philosophical premises.
I will never forget the time Dr. H was returning from a trip, possibly that one to Boston, and a bunch of us were going to meet him at the airport, waving signs in ecstatic celebration. I called one of the daily L.A. newspapers to invite it to send a reporter or a photographer, but the editor just sneered and said “buy an ad”! (He was the kind of editor that makes me almost appreciate Abraham Lincoln for jailing a bunch of them.)
Here in the depths of the dangerous and degrading Biden-Harris administration, it might appear difficult to believe that the philosophy of human rights and individual liberty had a bright and shining moment, starting in the early 1970s.
And I’ll never forget a sleazy LA TV reporter who had a bit of video with Dr. H slightly stumbling as he tried to answer a question, and the smarmy guy sneered about his “brilliant rhetoric” that won an Electoral College vote.
None of that is in Libertarianism, but a lot more is. Coeditor C. Ronald Kimberling tells his own story, which predates the Hospers classic, Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy for Tomorrow.
Here in the depths of the dangerous and degrading Biden-Harris administration, with our economy crumbling and world war seeming possible to break out any minute, it might appear difficult to believe that the philosophy of human rights and individual liberty had a bright and shining moment, starting in the early 1970s.
Running with Dr. H as his vice-presidential running mate was the brilliant and scintillating Tonie Nathan, an Oregon woman of many talents and abilities and activities, including TV and real estate. Despite a very inauspicious beginning — on the ballot in only two states and official write-ins in a few more — Hospers and Nathan were constitutionally the third-place team: Elector Roger MacBride of Virginia cast his vote for Hospers and Nathan rather than for Nixon and Agnew. Lots of commentators shrieked in horror at this “faithless elector” — because they didn’t know what the Constitution said. And meant.
John Hospers continued to teach philosophy at the University of Southern California (USC), as discussed in this book by his then students, contributors Dave Dyer and Jack Wheeler, and continued to sell philosophy textbooks all across the planet. (They are still selling today, according to Stan Oliver, the Hospers estate administrator). He continued to participate with the Libertarian Party of California, even running a write-in campaign for governor in ’74.
Any country begins not being free, no matter the intentions of its founders, the instant it gets a government. Heck, our very first president led armed troops to attack the Pennsylvania whiskeymakers just to collect taxes!
Most important, he continued to influence young minds, including students Tom Palmer, who has since traveled the world selling the ideas of liberty, and Louise Hitchcock, both of whom have contributions in this book. Hospers was part of the Free Country efforts, especially the Minerva Reefs and Abaco in the Bahamas. Much of this is detailed in the book — and in another volume from Jameson Books, Robert Poole’s A Think Tank for Liberty, the story of Reason magazine and the Reason Foundation. Part of this book is an excerpt from Poole’s.
Anyone who wants to think well of governments needs to know the history of one government after another opposing and sometimes violently ending efforts to start free countries. In my not-the-least-bit-humble opinion, any country begins not being free, no matter the intentions of its founders, the instant it gets a government. Heck, look at our own: the very first president led armed troops to attack the Pennsylvania whiskeymakers just to collect taxes!
Such autarchist thoughts get examined in Libertarianism, but so do other varieties of our belief system.
Louise Hitchcock contributed the best written chapter. I am really impressed by her beautiful use of words. Louise is an archaeologist, and a world-renowned one. We’re lucky to have her also interested in human rights and individual liberty. She adds the perspective of the ancient roots of our ideas.
Scholar and long-distance friend Chris Matthew Sciabarra wrote the chapter best fulfilling the original promise and premise. Our world is not totally doomed as long as we have him around and writing.
Probably the most optimistic chapters are those by the brilliant and articulate Mary Ruwart. “Listen to women,” we are, or used to be, told by left collectivists, and we certainly do need to listen to Dr. Ruwart. A medical researcher as well as a lover of human rights and individual liberty, she called her so-far-most famous book Healing Our World — such an appropriate title.
One of my favorite chapters is by Ken Schoolland, “Courage, Fear, and Immigration.” As much as I admire and even love his chapter, I do (you should pardon the expression) fear it’s now out of date — but if a sane federal administration is ever in office, this chapter should be the guiding instructions.
He was the kind of editor that makes me almost appreciate Abraham Lincoln for jailing a bunch of them.
My meter says I’m running out of Cox (cable system, not Stephen) -supplied electrons, so I’ll have to start winding up.
There are wonderful, literate, reasoned chapters on such topics as abortion, party politics, nonparty politics, and (by Dr. Ruwart) winning without winning (part of that optimism I mentioned earlier). This last opened my eyes and is a concept we all need to take to heart. Richard Winger writes of ballot status and old-party obstructionism. Joe Bishop-Henchman, Nicholas Sarwark, and Jim Lark, former national leaders of the LP, discuss internal Libertarian Party activities and the Liberty Movement. Other contributors include Manny Klauser, Caryn Ann Harlos, Larry Sharpe, and Kevin Shaw, who — after many years — followed me as the chair of the San Fernando Valley LP.
Yes, there are still others, whom I salute and to whom I apologize for not having space or time to mention, other than to say “Thank You” for their contributions.
Seriously, I cannot add enough praise for this great book. But, please, let me throw in some for the publisher, Jameson Campaigne, Jr. Mr. Campaigne has been a long-time supporter of human rights and individual liberty. He has published lots of good and important books, many aimed at young people. He and I have not met and I am not on commission, but I strongly urge anyone who is able to buy his books by the carton and distribute them to others, including especially students.
Review of Libertarianism: John Hospers, the Libertarian Party’s 50th Anniversary, and Beyond, edited by C. Ronald Kimberling and Stan Oliver. Jameson Books, 2021, 412 pages.