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Ralph Raico, R.I.P.

The great libertarian scholar Ralph Raico died last month (Dec. 13, 2016).1 Ralph and I were friends for the last 20 years. I first met Ralph when I started attending Mises Institute events when I was a young lawyer, in the mid-1990s.2 For many years, he was a fixture at the Mises Institute events I attended. We talked, had lunches, went to dinners together for years. I was at the Mises Institute event in the late 90s, if I recall correctly, that Objectivist George Reisman attended, fresh from his excommunication from the Ayn Rand Institute, where Reisman and Ralph, long-estranged by internecine libertarian squabbles, were reunited and rekindled their friendship. It was a pleasure to see, especially for me, as a former Randian of sorts myself.

In the last few years, Ralph was less mobile, and we would talk on occasion by email, or on the phone. He was supportive of the founding of Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Property and Freedom Society PFS in 2006, with which I’ve also been involved since its inception, and he was a Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute for many years.

Ralph was a kind, gentle man with a deep learning in history and the philosophy of liberty and freedom. He was a prolific and eloquent writer, and a moving and gifted speaker. (See selected writings and speeches below.) He loved freedom, he loved liberty, he loved truth. Ralph’s love for liberty permeated his being. He had a particular presence, a libertarian gravitas.

From left to right are Circle Bastiat members Ralph Raico, Murray Rothbard, George Reisman, Robert Hessen, and Leonard Liggio.

Circle Bastiat: Ralph Raico, Murray Rothbard, George Reisman, Robert Hessen, and Leonard Liggio.

Those who knew him a bit know what I mean. I’ll never forget his distinct, sonorous voice and his twinkling, optimistic, somewhat-mischievous smile. His New York accent, his sense of humor, his wry attitudes and glances. He would cut you a knowing glance when you made a particularly funny comment or some good point. He had a sharp and witty, but gentle, sense of humor. I loved how he would reply to a query with a husky-voiced, wry, humorous and witty answer—sometimes biting, never too cutting. He was always smart, but gentle. Ralph will resonate forever with me, careening around inside my careenium, as Douglas Hofstadter might have (indeed, did) put it.

***

Others have commented on Raico’s influence on them and the libertarian movement, but I’ll mention a few memories and excerpts from others here.

I recounted one of my favorite memories of Ralph in a Facebook post a few months ago:

Years ago, in the Auburn Hotel bar during a Mises event, having drinks and talking libertarian stuff with a bunch of fellow Rothbardians–we were debating the tired old issue of “if a guy falls out of his window and lands on your flagpole extending from your apartment, do you have to let him crawl into your apartment or can you assert your property rights and refuse, so that he would eventually fall to his death?”

The ancaps were batting it around, as they do. Ralph Raico was there, and had been listening mostly quietly. Then he finally commented, “Are you people insane? Of course you have to let him come inside.” We other libertarians paused for a second, and after a moment, resumed our mostly pointless angels-on-a-pin dorm-room bullsession.

In 2011, Ralph recounted his experience at Checkpoint Charlie in 1961:

Since there are numerous mentions of the anniversary of the Berlin wall I thought I’d share my experiences. In 1961 I was an exchange student in Paris and decided to go to see the wall for myself. (Berlin in December was the coldest I have ever been.)

Passing through Checkpoint Charlie I entered Communist territory for the first time. It was as I’d expected: the universal hopeless shabbiness of the city and the people. I spoke with as many as I could. No one criticized the regime, of course. One old man said, gratefully, “Sie geben uns alles was wir brauchen.” (They give us everything we need.) I maliciously asked another man where THEIR Kurfürstendamm, the Fifth Avenue of West Berlin, was. He replied, abashed, “Well, we don’t have anything EXACTLY like that.”

I visited a few bookstores, noting the endless shelves of works by Marx, Lenin, and the then East German leader, Ulbricht. I was hoping that they might have Mises’s Socialism, misled by the title, but they weren’t fools—they knew their enemy. I had a crummy lunch at one of their elite restaurants, and decided to go back. Still on East German soil I encountered a soldier.

Idiot that I was—I could have been detained for trying to subvert their military—I looked him in the face and said, “Komm mit.” (Come along.) He replied, “Kann nicht.” (I can’t.) I sauntered back past Checkpoint Charlie, feeling a burden lifting from my shoulders, and went home.

As I noted in the comments,

Wonderful recollection. I went thru Checkpoint Charlie just after the fall of the wall, IN 1990–as shown in some pictures in my post Hoppe on East vs. West Germany and the Fall of the Wall, I and two buddies chipped off pieces of the wall. We went a few miles down from checkpoint charlie where the wall was still up, but softer, and used large rocks to knock pieces off. We carried them in our backpacks till we returned home and gave some of them out as gifts. Like idiots we hopped over the gate into East Germany, and when an East German patrol came by we scurried and hid behind an abandoned gate tower–three moron law students looking for trouble.

Eventually we went into East Berlin and stayed the night in some hotel that used to be nice. I remember they could not take credit card since they were not set up for that. The city was grimy and depressing. It looked like a war zone.

Regarding Ralph’s early friendship with Reisman and his beginnings in the libertarian movement,  David Gordon recounts:

Reisman and Raico (with libertarian roving international man-of-mystery Justin Ptak)

“Raico grew up in the Bronx, but in contrast with the leftist views common in his family’s apartment building and neighborhood, he acquired from an early age a sympathetic grasp of the isolationist wing of the Republican Party. In high school, he joined Youth for Taft, where he encountered George Reisman. While still in high school, Raico and Reisman became interested in Mises, and Raico describes their hilarious attempt to meet Mises, in the guise of door-to-door salesmen for The Freeman.

The attempt failed, but they soon were able to join Mises’s famous seminar at New York University. Here Raico met someone who became one of the dominant intellectual influences on his life—Murray Rothbard. The incredible range of Rothbard’s scholarship, as well as his enthusiasm and humor, impressed Raico deeply. Rothbard was the first person Raico had met who defended ‘a fully voluntary society—nudge, nudge.'”3

In his obituary for Ralph, Gordon also notes:

“I am sorry to have to report that Ralph Raico has passed away. His intellectual brilliance was evident from an early age, and while still in high school, he attended Ludwig von Mises’s seminar at New York University. There he met Murray Rothbard, who became his lifelong friend. Ralph was one of the most brilliant members of Rothbard’s Circle Bastiat. He received a PhD from the University of Chicago, working under Friedrich Hayek. Ralph became the leading historian of classical liberalism and also a renowned authority on revisionist historyHis books Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School and Great Wars and Great Leaders show penetrating analytical skills, immense learning, and devotion to liberty. He lectured at the Mises University and other conferences of the Mises Institute for many years.

“Ralph was one of my closest friends for over thirty-five years, and I wish I could convey to those who didn’t know him his intellectual sharpness, wit, and kindness.  Here are a few samples of his comments, taken from emails to me: “Incidentally, in case you were stumped, that ‘nicht wahr?’ in my last email means ‘’not true?’ or, colloquially ‘right?’” “I spent New Year’s Eve finishing off a bottle of cheap Spanish champagne. My resolution is next year to make it a bottle of cheap French champagne. I hope that 2015 will be good to you.”  He loved jokes, e.g., “What’s a sight you never see? Answer: a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.

“Ralph was a great man, and I was very fortunate to have been his friend.”

From Yuri N Maltsev (Facebook): 

Ralph is already missed by many. He was a sarcastic genius – I cherish every precious moment with him. I was blessed to know Ralph since 1990 and he was one of the very few to the right of me. Both of us enjoyed drinking together and we did quite a lot of it. He was very enthusiastic about the Trump’s renewal – I am glad that he lived up to the elections – hopefully he was right about it as he was right about everything else! From his last email:” It’s a binary choice. On the one hand we have a candidate with certain flaws. But these fade into insignificance when compared to the fathomless corruption of the Clinton Crime Family, and the blood lust of Trump’s opponent—who can forget her cackling laughter at the murder of Gaddafi? She is Ma Barker in a pantsuit, and the worst person ever to run for president of the United States.

I trust all is well with you, old friend.” Missing him already.

Some provocative comments by Ralph on the immigration issue, where he argues that relatively liberal societies would certainly soon become less libertarian if they opened their borders:

Free immigration would appear to be in a different category from other policy decisions, in that its consequences permanently and radically alter the very composition of the democratic political body that makes those decisions. In fact, the liberal order, where and to the degree that it exists, is the product of a highly complex cultural development. One wonders, for instance, what would become of the liberal society of Switzerland under a regime of “open borders.”4

David Beito, writing on Facebook:

I’m sad to hear of the death of Ralph Raico. Ralph was a dynamic person who always made the room come alive when he entered. The examples of his wry wit are endless. At one IHS conference, after we all had to trudge through humid weather because of a last-minute room change, Ralph began his talk by wiping his sweaty brow and saying: “I appreciate the invitation to speak here but nobody told me we would be reenacting the Bataan Death March.” Another example: we were all playing trivial pursuit and Ralph said “David :could you go into the kitchen and get us the bag of potato chips? It is right behind the stack of my bearer bonds.”

As a historian, his work on the causes of WWI is superb and his challenge to the Fischer thesis anticipated Christopher Clark’s recent monumental work, Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

Hunt Tooley’s comment on this post:

Ralph’s book The Party of Freedom: Studies in the History of German Liberalism (published in English 1998) is a superb work about a subject almost entirely neglected among historians of Germany in North America and Europe. It is a fine book indeed. And just one of his many contributions–many of which are models of the way that historians can do objective research and thinking though the analytical reference of Liberty. Apart from all this, I think of Ralph, and I think of his quick wit, his rough good humor, his generosity. A true gentleman and scholar. I will really miss him. RIP

From Raico’s comments in his 2000 Schlarbaum Prize Award acceptance speech:

“To my mind, Murray’s greatest contribution—beyond his innumerable insights—is his creation of the powerful synthesis, combining natural law theory, Austrian economics, and the tradition of individualist anarchism, and all based on the principle of private property and individual rights.

As a corollary of his system, Murray delved deeply into issues of foreign policy and revisionist history. In analyzing current political events, his watchword was always Peace—avoidance of the state’s wars and the war-fostering myths the state invents and tries to entrench in our minds.

Today, if the libertarian movement stresses peace and a non-interventionist foreign policy, that is the work of Murray Rothbard. If others had had their way, the libertarians would have gone in a very different direction.

Mises was not limited to the field of economics, and here also Murray followed in his footsteps. He was the opposite of the numbers-crunchers in today’s economics departments. His aim was to understand—to understand the workings of society, to understand the nature of freedom, to trace its roots, to ascertain how it could be brought to as much perfection as fallible human beings are capable of.

Yet who else carries on the work of Mises and Rothbard today? Other free market organizations, which do some good, I will not deny it, but still, they find it safer to advertise their connection with Hayek and Milton Friedman. Mises and Murray were never salonf​ähig, as the Germans say — they weren’t “clubbable,” in the English sense.”

At the Mises Institute there is no political correctness, there is no subject that is off-limits because it might offend the liberal media or liberal academics. The Mises Institute does not play that political game. Its scholars are truth-seekers, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard.5

Some key/notable work by/about Raico:

See also:

Raico: Liberalism Defined (from Mises University 2009)

  1. For other tributes to Ralph, see e.g. Jeff Tucker, Ralph Raico’s Liberal Mind and Spirit; Mark Thornton, True Liberalism: A Personal Reflection in Honor of Ralph Raico; Tom Woods show, Ep. 816 Liberty Lost a Great Historian in 2016 .   []
  2. See How I Became A Libertarian, December 18, 2002, LewRockwell.com (published as “Being a Libertarian” in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians (compiled by Walter Block; Mises Institute 2010.) []
  3. Gordon, The History of Our Movement. For more on Raico and Reisman’s meeting with Mises, see  How Ralph Raico Met Ludwig von Mises . []
  4. Raico, Mises on Fascism, Democracy, and Other Questions; see also my 2010 post Switzerland, Immigration, Hoppe, Raico, Callahan. []
  5. Quoted in Justin Ptak, “Ach, that Rothbard!”  See also: Ralph Raico: 2000 Schlarbaum Award Speech and Schlarbaum Prize Laureate 2000. []
  6. See also Gordon, The History of Our Movement. []
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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • James Yohe January 15, 2017, 9:18 am

    Nice tribute to a nice man. God Bless you Dr. Raico you will be missed here.

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