I First Heard the Word

“LIBERTARIAN” at a very early age — perhaps age nine (1963) — from a precocious friend. (He skipped the Sixth Grade and graduated from High School a year ahead of our contemporaries.) He and I were discussing politics (yes, we were) and he asked me if I favored a regime of “live and let live.” I had heard the phrase, and allowed as how it resonated with me, and answered honestly, “Yes.” And he told me then, “Then you’re a libertarian.”

I didn’t hear the word again until the ’80s. But when I realized it was the grownup version of my juvenile political philosophy, and when it resonated with me the way modern liberalism couldn’t, I accelerated my own personal Long March back from the abyss of collectivism that had begun with the fall of Saigon.

OK, with the ’72 Presidential election in which I voted for Nixon. OK, bad example. But I knew McCarthy wouldn’t be good for the nation, even if I couldn’t articulate the brief against progressivism then.

I — and millions of my contemporaries — made the same journey made a generation or two earlier by a familiar figure in American letters.

… [A]s Lane saw it, there was no American political party committed to individualism. “In 1933,” she wrote, “a group of sincere and ardent collectivists seized control of the Democratic Party, used it as a means of grasping Federal power, and enthusiastically, from motives which many of them regard as the highest idealism, began to make America over. The Democratic Party is now a political mechanism having a genuine political principle: national socialism.” Another way of saying this was to say that, again in Rose’s words, “[a] vote for the New Deal approves national socialism.” Unfortunately, however, the Republican Party was “a political mechanism with no political principle. It does not stand for American individualism.” [Amazing how little has changed. –MPA] Therefore, lamentably, “Americans (of both parties) who stand for American political principles … have no means of peaceful political action.” What was needed, Rose believed, was a political movement, which would unite writers, activists, teachers, propagandists, and politicians in favor of individual liberty. A “libertarian movement” – that was her phrase. Brian Doherty reports in his book Radicals for Capitalism (an indispensable resource, by the way, for anyone interested in the history of the libertarian movement) that he found Rose using this phrase — “libertarian movement” — as early as 1947. He calls it “the first example I’ve found of the phrase in its modern sense.”

–From a transcript found at
Ludwig Von Mises Institute

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