"What shall be done with the four million slaves if they are emancipated? ... Primarily, it is a question less for man than for God -- less for human intellect than for the laws of nature to solve. It assumes that nature has erred; that the law of liberty is a mistake; that freedom, though a natural want of the human soul, can only be enjoyed at the expense of human welfare, and that men are better off in slavery than they would or could be in freedom; that slavery is the natural order of human relations, and that liberty is an experiment. What shall be done with them? Our answer is, do nothing with them; mind your business, and let them mind theirs. Your doing with them is their greatest misfortune. They have been undone by your doings, and all they now ask, and really have need of at your hands, is just to let them alone. They suffer by every interference, and succeed best by being let alone." ~ Frederick Douglass
Reflecting on Harry Browne
It's been more than two weeks since the death of Harry Browne, successful author and two-time Libertarian Party candidate for President, and I still have yet to compose a meaningful commentary on his passing. In the time since, I've come across countless blogs and articles written in tribute to the man. Even listening to his radio show the weekend before last, and hearing many guests and callers to the show, really brought home just how much of an impact this man had the lives of so many people. The more I see and hear, the more I realize, what could I possibly say about him that hasn't been said dozens of times over by far more eloquent people than me? Something, though, just won't let me rest until I am able to put down in words the significance of my encounter with Harry Browne.
Words were Harry Browne's most useful tool. The man could write and essay or deliver a speech with such clarity and skill, it's hard to imagine how a person could not be persuaded by his arguments. I think back to the year 2000 when I got my first exposure to libertarian thought, and it was Harry's words that struck a chord deep down inside me. I had recently studied the subject of economics, and I read some Frederic Bastiat, so I guess you could say that I was primed for libertarianism. Upon hearing him speak, I was hooked. I followed the campaign and listened to his radio interviews over the net to hear how Harry would respond to various situations, people, and questions. Every time was the same: succinctly witty and direct, all while maintaining a polite, gentleman-like composure. Even today, when I have to do any public speaking, I watch clips of his speeches as a motivational tactic, hoping to channel his charm and grace. He was a model for us all.
Harry was not only a persuasive and enlightening communicator, he was also incredibly principled in his views, and to my knowledge, never backed down from saying what he thought to be true. I took special comfort in the days following 9-11 when Harry published his article, 'When Will We Learn?', which reflected much of the views on American Empire I had come to adopt. Libertarians had been warning for years that the price of our imperial, meddlesome, interventionist foreign policies was to put a giant target on the backs of every American citizen. In the 1996 and 2000 campaigns he spoke about this time and again. Yet, after that fateful Tuesday morning, it had seemed as if the whole world had forgotten (if they ever listened) to these warnings. (There are a couple of people who I still have not talked to since that day, as they were so offended by the suggestion that our government's policies could have anything to do with the motive for the attacks, they called me everything but a child of God, and refused to talk to me further.) Harry was steadfastly against the war, and never hesitated to say so. His powerful communication style helped to verbalize the thoughts and feelings of anti-war libertarians everywhere. But more than that, whatever the issue, Harry would never hesitate to speak the truth that the solution is never more government ' in fact, most problems are government created ' the solution is always more liberty.
Because of Harry Browne, I am a libertarian today. I am a libertarian today because Harry Browne convinced me of the sublime beauty of a simple, yet profoundly radical idea: liberty. He awoke in me the desire, the longing, the yearning for freedom. (Even the name of this blog comes from one of his many speeches and articles, as he would talk about the founding of America and the significance of the Statue of Liberty.) By inspiring in me the desire to know more about the true meaning of liberty, I found so many other writers and thinkers - people like Ludwig von Mises , Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, Jacob Hornberger, Vin Suprynowicz, Sheldon Richman, Richard Ebeling, Anthony Gregory, and many, many others. To this day, these people continue to inspire me with the power of the idea that we can, should, and ought to be free, sovereign, self-governing individuals controlling our own destinies. And I would not have known about the works of these people had it not started with Harry Browne.
His optimism was infectious because he knew how powerful an idea liberty really is. Whenever he spoke on any issue, it was obvious to any listener that his optimism was barely contained, often infectiously bubbling over. My personal favorite was when he would talk about the free market, and what sort of educational system we might have if we were to truly separate school and state. No more bureaucrats harassing parents for exercising their rights. No more cookie-cutter, mind-numbingly boring curricula inflicted on kids locked up in glorified asylums. No more 'culture war' fights over evolution or creationism. In its place: innovation, progress, and most importantly, a populace imbued with a passion for learning and knowledge. Listening to him, one could not help but be overwhelmed by the possibilities that freedom would bring!
I'm reminded of a speech by another man, idolized for the hope and inspiration he brought others. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said:
I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight.
Harry had a vision for a better, freer world. And although he will not get to see it with us, Harry knew that the day would come when all of our efforts will have paid off. He knew it, and it was the source of his profound optimism. It should be the source for our own as well. If we truly believe in the idea of liberty, then what choice do we have but to be optimistic?
So what can I say after the passing of a man that has affected my life ' and others ' so profoundly? I think the only real answer I can give ' indeed, the only honest answer ' is simply: nothing. Nothing I can ever say can measure up to the impact this man had. Instead, I think it's important what we do after his passing. We should focus on living the best life we can, prospering and finding the rewards we want from this world. Living free means living joyously. We should continue the fight for liberty in whatever way we are best suited. And it is in this vein that, as I reflect on Harry Browne's death, I renew my commitment to fight for liberty in any and every way I know how. Although he is no longer here to continue on the fight, I consider it my personal debt of gratitude to continue on in his memory.
Thank you, Harry. You were a wonderful gift. You will not be soon forgotten.
Note: If you are not familiar with the works of Harry Browne, visit his website.