My short reminiscence, “What Sparked Your Interest in Liberty?” [archived version; repixeled below], was published last month at FEE.org (April 21, 2016). It augments an earlier piece, “How I Became A Libertarian,” LewRockwell.com (Dec. 18, 2002).1 Related biographical pieces are here:
Unlike other libertarians, who moved from the left, or from the right, I moved from nothing: from a political vacuum. I was a smart kid from the country who loved science and technology and fantastical fiction but who knew almost nothing about economics, philosophy, or politics.
As Jerome Tuccille’s book vividly and humorously illustrates, It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand, and so it did in my case. A high school librarian at my Catholic high school in Louisiana sensed my growing interest in ideas, and told me to read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I devoured it, and many other works. As I discussed previously in How I Became A Libertarian, Rand’s ruthless logic of justice appealed to me. It complemented my growing skepticism of pseudo-science and religion, and fed my thirst for serious thought applied to important and interesting issues. I found it so satisfying that there could be rigorous thought and reason applied in areas outside the natural sciences. It fed into my nascent sense of justice that I had nursed as a victim of bullying as a small, bookish child. It stoked my passion for consistency; I can appreciate Rand’s contempt for the Emersonian bromide that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
Rand and her passion for truth and ideas sparked in me a furious quest in my college years for as much information as I could find on these and related topics. As I was always confident and capable and smart, and felt I could accomplish whatever I wanted, the extreme confidence and individualism of her heroic characters appealed to me. Rand led to economics, both Chicago (Milton Friedman) and Austrian (Hazlitt, Mises, and the rest), philosophy, and so on. Eventually I discovered dozens of other provocative and inspirational thinkers, most significantly, in my case, Mises, Rothbard, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and to close relationships and friends in the libertarian intellectual movement that have persisted to this day, and that have helped to shape my avocational life. And ironically, The Fountainhead to me now seems hardly libertarian—Roark is a strange narcissist who commits acts of intellectual property terrorism. [The Fountainhead and IP Terrorism; On The Fountainhead as IP Terrorism: “I designed Cortlandt. I gave it to you. I destroyed it.”]
Rand’s influence may be on the wane among current generations of libertarians. In the last twenty or so years we’ve seen the rise of Ron Paul as another significant spark for liberty, and the emergence of the Internet coupled with astounding growth in the number of libertarians and libertarian scholars, foundations, groups, subgroups, and events, both in the US and internationally.
What sparked my interest in liberty? I can name several things. The thirst of a young boy, unexposed to ideas, for more. The outrage felt at injustice, because of experiences with bullies as a small young child, leading to a strong desire for justice, right and wrong. The insightful and powerful suggestion of a librarian, Ms. Renee Reinhardt. But what really sparked my love and passion for liberty? Although the answer is by now a bit trite and uninteresting, because it is so common, the truth is: Ayn Rand.
- Re-published as “Being a Libertarian” in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians, compiled by Walter Block; Mises Institute 2010. [↩]