They Chose Liberty
[I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians • By Walter Block • Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2010 • x + 398 pages]
Why is it important that we Austrolibertarians have a book of autobiographies, such as this present one? (Yes, yes, I know, Austrian economics is a positive science, while libertarianism is a normative discipline. But I am a member of both groups, and I think that it is important to include both in one fell swoop). There are several reasons. Allow me to list and discuss them.
First and perhaps most important, libertarian political philosophy and Austrian economics are the last best hope for mankind. If our troubled species is to grow and prosper, let alone survive by not blowing ourselves up, we must act according to the strictures of these two disciplines.
Following the nonaggression principle (NAP) and private-property rights based on homesteading of libertarianism is the only way we can truly all get along with each other. And Austrian economics is the necessary condition for understanding that voluntary commercial activities ("capitalist acts between consenting adults," to use Nozick's very felicitous phrase) promote prosperity, health, and welfare and reduce poverty. So, anything that publicizes these two very different callings must be considered a plus, a large plus, and this book certainly does just that.
Second, this book will promote the esprit de corps of the Austrolibertarian movement. How often have we all been ridiculed by our neighbors, family members, coworkers, and even friends for promoting this philosophy? People are continually writing to me telling of their misadventures when they maintain, for example, that the minimum-wage law creates unemployment for the unskilled, or that money expansion on the part of the Fed leads to inflation and the business cycle, or that free trade, including the outsourcing of jobs, promotes human progress.
I was once in a debate. I announced that I would favor free-market environmentalism (FME), the view that free-market prices and a rigid protection of private-property rights would serve ecological ends. My opponent in this debate had never so much as even heard of FME. When after a few minutes he got the gist of what I was saying, he burst out into uproarious laughter. This was not a ploy on his part to put me down; he honestly thought that FME was hilarious, and so did most of the university audience we were both addressing.
The point I am making is that we have all had experiences of this sort. But to read of very similar occurrences undergone by many of the leaders of our movement shows, like nothing much else can, that we are not alone. If even the contributors to this book can be mistreated in this manner, we, too, can better bear up under these slings and arrows.
Third, society being what it is presently, very few of those who wrote essays for this volume are likely to publish full-length autobiographies of their own. In a just society, probably, major publishing houses would be begging all of these scholars for the book-length stories of their intellectual and professional lives. In the event, this is likely to occur, nowadays, for just a few, such as Ron Paul and Andrew Napolitano. Thus, this compilation serves an important role: bringing to the public the inner lives of several dozens of people whose stories would not otherwise ever be published.
Fourth, this will, likely, bring more converts to the cause of liberty and rational economics. One of the "knocks" on the Austrolibertarian movement is that its adherents are cold-blooded calculating machines, with dollar signs on their eyeballs and cash registers where their hearts should be. Homo economicus and all that.
Forget the fact that if this appellation applies, it does so not to Austrian libertarians, but, rather, to members of the mainstream profession of economics. Personal histories are ideal to set the record straight in this regard. I defy anyone to read these stories and still aver that our leaders are cold-hearted folk who relish nothing so much as the specter of people suffering from poverty, and, to boot, are in the pay of rich capitalist exploiters who want to grind down the poor, not to mention several other charges against free-market advocates.
Another charge against us is that our movement is composed, entirely, of straight, white, Christian males. Yes, yes, of course, this amounts to no more than an ad hominem rejection of our philosophy. Surely, the test of any political view should be made not on the basis of the types of people who hold it, but, instead, based on whether it is true, moral, just, and compatible with human well-being and liberty.
However, people being what they are, this argument does not always win the day. Happily, then, the present volume features the stories of some, admittedly a few, individuals who do not exactly fit that bill. Their life experiences in the liberty movement are particularly poignant.
But perhaps the most important contribution made by this book is that it is just plain fun to read. And not only joy emanates from these pages, although there is quite a bit of that. As well, and not contradictorily, there are other types of emotion that leap off the page.
For example — true confession here — the story told by Joe Salerno brought actual tears to my eyes. I challenge readers to see if they can get through Salerno's chapter, let alone the entire book, without getting misty-eyed in more than just a few places.
One of my favorite types of novel is the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man–type story: How did a consummate professional start out? What were his challenges? How did he overcome them? I would mention in this regard Walter Tevis's Queen's Gambit and Chaim Potok's The Promise and The Chosen. Well, this volume is a cornucopia of just such stories. Part of the explanation for this, and I am very glad I did it after I perused the result, is that I asked contributors to consider answering the following questions: What was life like before you discovered Austrian economics or libertarianism? What was the process of your conversion? Who were the people who guided you on this tour? Which were the readings that most influenced you in this regard? What changes have occurred in your life as a result?
So, gentle reader, I wish you many hours of happiness, and not a little inspiration, when you peruse this volume.