A longtime friend and stalwart of the libertarian movement, J. Neil Schulman, has passed (born April 16, 1953, died Aug. 10, 2019), according to libertarian Tom Knapp. I’ve been writing too many of these obituaries of libertarian luminary friends lately.
I read Neil’s libertarian sci-fi novels Alongside Night and The Rainbow Cadenza in college and law school. Neil was a decade older than me, but we somehow encountered each other, even before the Internet took full flower. In the late 1980s/early 90s we were on some fora together, such as the GEnie Science Fiction and Fantasy RoundTable, one of the early precursors to the Internet. I devoured his The Robert Heinlein Interview and Other Heinleiniana and even did a little review of it on the GEnie forum, which Neil appreciated and used for blurbs later on (he was never shy about that).
We gradually become friends, via emails, phone calls, etc., though as I adopted an anti-intellectual property position at odds with Neil’s “logorights” theory, we started disagreeing substantively, at least on this issue, though we both remained fellow anarcho-libertarians. I had the pleasure to finally meet Neil in person at Libertopia in San Diego in 2012. He was physically frail even then; I recall that it took him almost 20 minutes to slowly ascend the stairs to the second floor of one building–my own talk against IP, if I recall, so he could sit in the back and lob criticisms during the Q&A–and I offered to help him up the stairs. He would not allow it, but did consent to my carrying his briefcase up the stairs for him to meet him at the top.
We stayed friends over the years and talked for many hours on the phone, many, many times. Often I would muse that “I should have recorded this conversation.” He would chuckle and carry on. We did do a podcast together, one time, and, at his request, I agreed to write the “introduction” to one of his arguments for his ever-evolving version of IP (a term he often scorned). He was broad-minded enough to allow one of his opponents to write the introduction for his own work. That takes some balls, and integrity, and courage, and a bit of a sense of humor.
A few months ago we talked several hours into the night, and I probed him in depth about his history: his childhood, his parents, his education, his early adulthood and profession and novels, and how he came to be where he was. He was self-honest and perceptive, and spoke on and on. It was a fascinating story. Several times I implored him: Neil, go ahead and admit you were wrong on IP, before it’s too late! Do it! You could do so much good, have a huge effect on this issue, given your pro-IP prominence. Now’s your chance! He would chuckle, change the subject–and carry on.
From my experience, Neil was a smart man, a decent man, and a good libertarian. He made some personal mistakes, like most of us do, and I don’t think he always very “practical” in life; in that way, he was very much the driven intellectual libertarian. Till the end, he was trying to find ways to monetize his various creative works, against all odds. I argued with him many hours when he had financial troubles, trying to exhort him to just get a normal job to pay the bills; ever the optimist, he thought a big payday might be just around the corner.
His health was an obvious issue, and it apparently finally caught up with him. My understanding is that Neil suffered a pulmonary embolism resulting in cardiac arrest, then multiple organ failure. He was in the hospital a couple days, with a low chance of survival, and that played out. Neil was a sweet and earnest soul, gentle and sincere and fervent, and a strong, strong believer in liberty, and truth, and justice. He made his mark on the libertarian movement, foremost and especially with his novel Alongside Night. I am honored and pleased I was able to know him and learn from him, and will miss him. Requiescet in pace, my friend.
Update: Other obituaries/remembrances: