"It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men." ~ H.L. Mencken
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During the winter of 1949 ' 1950 my parents took me to a slide show and lecture by Sam Campbell, a popular writer and naturalist. During his presentation, he mentioned Henry David Thoreau and the book Walden. Whatever he said made me curious, so I bought the book, which was actually a Modern Library collection of Thoreau's writing. Needless to say, I understood very little of it at first, but his narrative style appealed to me and I liked his stories about 'Life in the Woods.'
Like most children, I had no sense of time, and I thought of Thoreau as an uncle I had never met. His observations of nature rang true to a farm boy who liked to dally in the woods and around the lakes and ponds, and otherwise avoid chores by making himself scarce. His observations of mankind puzzled me enough to underline them with red ink, but I didn't understand them at all.
It was probably dumb luck that I never mentioned what I was reading to anybody, or that particular book never would have survived; I was always reading a pile of books from the library anyway, so this one was never singled out for examination. I didn't even realize that Thoreau was a great name in literature until I went to college, by which time I had read this volume from beginning to end every year for 13 years. By then I understood what he was talking about.
I accidentally discovered Ayn Rand in 1965. That's remarkable when I think about it. I had gone to a decent high school and attended two major universities while majoring in literature and philosophy, yet I had never heard of Ayn Rand! I stumbled across Atlas Shrugged in a drug store; I bought it because it was a fat paperback novel.
Ironically I was living in Denver at the time. I didn't hear about Robert LeFevre's Rampart College in Colorado Springs until 30 years later. (I had unfortunately picked the name out of thin air for a fictional character in my pre-wired days, and a reader called me on it. Oh my.)
I was devoted to Rand for several years; I read everything she published. Spouting her doctrine to a local newspaper brought me finally to Andrew Galambos and his Free Enterprise Institute, and I ended up a co-contractor for his taped lectures from '72 to '78. Here I learned that there is often a fine line between substance and hot air, and that there is no substitute for 'looking aside' and clear thinking. I spent another decade doing just that, reading, thinking, and finally writing. (I started writing in 1989.)
Now I've come full circle. I'm still reading Thoreau, and enjoying his humor, cleverness, clarity, honesty, and skill as never before. He knew what freedom meant. He was right.