story is part of Walter
Block's Autobiography Archive.
Murray, the LP, and Me
was introduced to Murray Rothbard the economist long before I came
to know him as a radical libertarian anarcho-capitalist activist.
Reading Rothbard, beginning in the early 1960s, was a great experience
for me, but that was not my introduction to libertarianism.
have been asked many times when I became a libertarian. After answering
the question in different ways, I finally decided the right answer
was June 4, 1935, the day I was born. Now, that’s a flip answer
but it does give one a platform from which to launch any number
of oral essays, and it is fundamentally true. Some of us are simply
more temperamentally suited to liberty than others. We are comfortable
with anarchy, the unknowable future, and whatever spontaneous order
might develop out of freedom’s chaos. We don’t feel insecure in
the absence of a state-created social safety net and we welcome
the opportunities that maximum liberty brings. I believe (based
on a great deal of published research by neuroscientists and psychologists)
that our temperament is a complex combination of tendencies, or
predilections, that are largely innate.
a relatively free context in which to develop, and access to the
writings of people like Rand, Mises, Rothbard, Hayek, et al., it
was a damn good bet that I would find classical liberalism most
congenial and certainly preferable to the New Deal philosophy that
prevailed when I was a kid. Indeed, I can recall that during my
adolescent years, long before encountering libertarian writing,
whenever political discussions arose in school or among my young
friends, I invariably analyzed my way to positions that I now recognize
as libertarian. It all seemed sensible to me at the time, though
I was no doubt perceived as politically loony, hopelessly so, by
my teachers and classmates.
two years in the U.S. Army, a couple of years of undergraduate study
as an English major, getting married and starting a family, I found
myself on the Los Angeles City Fire Department as a fire fighter.
I had for years been enjoying science fiction and someone recommended
Shrugged, a novel set in the future. As with many libertarians,
Atlas was one Aha! experience after another for me. Not everyone
liked it. An LAFD Battalion Chief saw my copy and commented that
it was the worst book he had ever read. We discussed it a bit and
it emerged that he viewed all the Rand heroes as villains and Rand’s
villains as victims of the horrible Rearden, Galt, et al. Dagny
was "that broad who slept with everybody." So, even though
I was delighted to find an author who so eloquently stated the case
for liberty and humanity, I was also aware that Rand and I belonged
to a very small minority.
the early sixties, Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden began publishing
The Objectivist Newsletter. It was a lifeline of sanity that
I read avidly each month. It must have been there that Rand recommended
Action. I bought it and dove in. Now, this is weird. Without
any formal education in economics, I loved that book. The experience
of learning so much in a conversation with a great mentor was exhilarating.
I was most impressed by its logical order. Over and over again,
as I read, a question would arise in my mind and Mises would address
that question in the next paragraph. Realizing that I could learn
much of value from further study in economics, I sought out other
authors. And that’s how I first found Rothbard’s Man,
Economy and State. The more I read, the more I was motivated
to return to my formal education. My preference would have been
to study economics, but I already had two years invested as an English
major so, pragmatically, I decided to finish that course of study
and go on to law school. With a wife and three kids, it was the
the completion of undergraduate studies at UCLA, I did take some
economics courses. What I had learned from Mises, Rothbard and Hayek
helped me in critiquing the Keynesian pap contained in the standard
texts such as Samuelson. UCLA’s economics department had not yet
become the market-oriented school that developed later. The questions
I raised in class frequently puzzled the professors who seemed eager
to move on without dealing with them. Maybe they were just dumb
questions. Nah! But, by comparison to economics, the silliness encountered
in the humanities classes was really entertaining. I took a class
entitled Intellectual History of the U.S., in which most of the
readings were Marxist oriented. Bellamy’s Looking
Backward was representative. I recall the professor making
a big deal about Little Orphan Annie being the last fascist comic
strip. But, I digress.
time at UCLA was interrupted somewhat by Barry Goldwater’s 1964
Presidential Campaign. Rand was a big Goldwater supporter and that
influenced me. My wife and I got very involved in the campaign and
that took a bite out my studies, probably slowing my graduation
by a semester. I also continued my reading, including Mises’ Socialism,
Government and The
Anti-Capitalist Mentality. And more Rothbard, including
and Market and America’s
Great Depression. Finally, I graduated in 1966 and entered
USC Law School that fall.
the sixties, Rand, Branden and the Objectivists were a big factor
in my libertarian education, although they didn’t call themselves
libertarians. Living in Southern California, I could not attend
the New York-based Nathaniel Branden Institute lectures until they
came out on tape. Some may recall the way that was done. An authorized
agent of NBI would rent a space and make contact with the usual
suspects who could then sign up to attend the taped lectures. It
was valuable education, but the meetings were deadly serious. Some
of us would gather afterwards for coffee and further discussion.
I recall that a friend and I, neither of the deadly serious persuasion,
had fun, enjoyable discussions, with copious laughter. Others were
offended by our lack of seriousness. That made it even funnier.
All in all a very positive experience.
positive influence was the local newspaper, the Santa Ana Register,
published by R.C. Hoiles, about as hardcore a libertarian as one
could find. For example, during WWII he editorialized against the
internment of Japanese Americans, a truly courageous stand. Lincoln
would have jailed him. The Register’s editorial policy was
pure libertarian. My public school teacher friends were appalled
that I liked the paper. R.C. Hoiles is gone now, but he remains
one of my heroes, and what is now the Orange County Register,
continues to hew to the libertarian line editorially.
did meet Rand, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, sometime about 1965.
That would have made me about 30 at the time. They were the main
attraction at a major Objectivist event in Los Angeles and I was
a Senior Fire Inspector with the L.A. Fire Department with responsibility
for public assemblages. So I showed up at their event in my official
role. It was packed to the rafters, with exits blocked and various
other life hazards violating the Fire Code. Barbara Branden spoke
to me, asking if they could pay a fine and go on with the show.
Very New York. I told her that would not be necessary, I was an
Objectivist and on their side. We went to work unlocking the exits,
clearing aisles, etc., and the show did go on. I had brief conversations
with Nathaniel and Ayn Rand during the intermission and was thrilled
to meet them and tell them how much I appreciated their work. For
me, very memorable.
will recall that, ultimately, things went badly in Objectivist-land.
Rand and Branden split in 1968 and all Objectivists were called
upon to choose sides. Branden came to Southern California and was
a guest lecturer in philosophy at USC, having been invited by John
Hospers, the new head of the Department of Philosophy. I just happened
to be in my last year at the USC Law School and was Editor in Chief
of the Southern California Law Review. I contacted Professor
Hospers and reintroduced myself to Nathaniel. Then I arranged for
Nathaniel to publish an article in the Law Review. Fortunately,
it was not difficult for him to produce it. He used a chapter from
his forthcoming book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, modifying it
to fit the Law Review article format. I considered publishing the
article quite a coup, but some of the professors at the Law School
were upset, as were some of the other Law Review editors. Delicious.
I was the alpha dog with the final call. For me, it also meant a
continuing friendship with Nathaniel Branden, which I cherish.
late sixties and early seventies were a very busy time for me, getting
through law school and then working at a large LA law firm while
helping raise a family. Consequently, I was not really keeping abreast
of libertarian movement activities. I was unaware of the formation
of the Libertarian Party or of John Hospers’ 1972 LP presidential
candidacy. Then, in 1973, I was contacted by someone who told me
that there was a new political party that I should join. He invited
me to a founding meeting of the Orange County chapter of the California
Libertarian Party. Some of the people there were my old Objectivist
acquaintances. Not a large group, you understand, maybe a dozen.
I attended my first LP convention the next year, the California
LP Convention in Berkeley. What a rush. Here was a room full (maybe
75 or 80) of articulate young people, debating libertarian platform
planks. Everyone who spoke sounded great to me. In attendance were
some of the early LP heavyweights, Ed Crane, Ed Clark, John Hospers,
Karl Bray and many more I am sure. The Convention nominated John
Hospers to run for Governor and I was nominated as the Attorney
General candidate. The party did not have ballot status, so we were
all write-in candidates.
my favorite story from that campaign. The Attorney General candidates,
including me, the write-in Libertarian, were all invited to a debate
on a San Francisco PBS TV station. Not long before, the Symbionese
Liberation Army (remember them?) had kidnapped Patti Hearst and,
as ransom, demanded that the Hearst family deliver food to the poor.
The Hearsts sent trucks of food to poor minority neighborhoods where
crowds gathered to receive the loot. At the debate, the moderator
asked what each of us candidates would have done about the situation
if we were AG. I answered that all the people lining up at the trucks
were receiving stolen property and I would prosecute them for that
crime. The moderator nearly choked. "But, but, but, they are
POOR," he squawked. I still think I gave the right answer.
believe it was also in 1974 that I read Rothbard’s For
a New Liberty. The experience was exhilarating. This is
probably the one book of Murray’s best suited to be read by people
without much formal education in economics or political philosophy.
It’s a great text for LP activists who need some foundation in the
freedom philosophy. It sure helped me in that way.
is important to understand what the LP was in those early days.
The total number of people who really knew libertarianism-Objectivism-classical
liberalism, and counted themselves as adherents to that philosophy,
might have been a few hundred. But some of them, Dave Nolan being
the ring-leader, started a new political party to advance the libertarian
philosophy by using the political system to spread the word. (Naive,
yes. But the LP is still going, after 30 years.) The LP was a social
organization as well as political. At state and national conventions,
libertarians could hang out with philosophical brothers and sisters
for a few days, make contacts and plans for activism and then go
back to the real world where most of them were solitary, isolated
lovers of liberty. It was rejuvenating and energizing to be with
other libertarians. And damn near all of them were young! Which
helps explain why I was the LP’s Vice Presidential candidate in
the LP presidential nominating convention in New York in 1975, the
convention had nominated Roger MacBride as the presidential candidate.
It got complicated when it came to the VP nomination. One of the
leading candidates was John Vernon, a good-looking, articulate successful
restaurateur who also happened to be gay. MacBride opposed having
him on the ticket, afraid that the campaign would bog down on the
gay issue. (More naiveté. Precious few were going to pay attention
to the LP presidential campaign in 1976.) Many of the delegates
were furious at Roger and, consequently, no decision was made that
day. I was not then at the convention. My friend Karl Bray called
me at home and persuaded me to grab the redeye from LAX to seek
the nomination the next day. So I did.
one of the few people in attendance over 35 (as the Constitution
and the LP Bylaws require to be Vice President), I had at least
that going for me. Also, there was the libertarian cultural divide.
The LP had many Objectivist business school-former conservative-coat
and tie types. It also had the anti-war-flower child-free love and
dope types. Roger MacBride, a former Republican state legislator,
was clearly associated with the former group. I was perceived as
more aligned with the latter. Maybe it was because I had long hair
at the time (there are no surviving pictures, I hope). Anyway, the
delegates apparently saw Roger and me as a balanced ticket and I
took a few campaign trips in 1976 (limited funding allowed very
little travel) and spent most of my actual campaign time on talk
radio. Very educational. I learned that I didn’t know nearly enough
to answer all the questions, at least not succinctly and in a way
that satisfied listeners. More importantly, I learned that no one
had ever heard of libertarianism or the Libertarian Party. In fact,
I was told on several occasions that there were three parties in
America: Democrat, Republican and Communist. If you weren’t a Democrat
or Republican, you were a Communist no matter what you called
yourself. So I learned that we had a Hell of a long way to go. The
experience motivated me to learn more.
turning point for me was the issue of money. I had gone pretty far
on the road to being 100% libertarian, but I had not figured out
how money would work in the absence of government to organize the
system and make the rules. Murray Rothbard came to the rescue with
his pamphlet, What
Has Government Done to Our Money? Some time later I read
of Money and became completely comfortable with the
idea of a free market in money. Cool. I was an anarchist.
1977 I was elected National Chair of the LP. Let’s put this in context.
Up until that time, Ed Crane had been the National Chair and an
extremely effective autocratic ruler. It really was his show and
he ran it well. Crane had a substantial advantage in that he was
tight with Charles Koch and other members of the ultra-wealthy Koch
family who were major funders for the LP and other libertarian causes.
Charles Koch was on the LP National Committee. But, in 1977, The
Cato Institute was founded with Koch money and with Crane as its
President. Cato was a new libertarian think tank. Murray Rothbard
and Bill Evers joined Cato, Murray as a founding board member who
even named the institute. For a few years, there was considerable
overlap between Cato and the LP leadership.
Murray and Crane fell out and Murray was kicked out. Thereafter
Murray referred to the Cato libertarians as "Craniacs."
He was good at such memorable labeling and loved doing battle. I
also recall him explaining that the LP had been affected by the
Koch money in the same way that the economy is affected by inflation.
The Party had an easy money period and grew rapidly until Cato was
created and the Koch’s directed their funding away from the LP.
The Party fell on difficult financial times and its growth slowed.
Boom and bust.
LP Chair from 19771981, and thereafter, I came to know Murray
quite well as we were both on the LP National Committee, off and
on, until the mid to late eighties. Another good friend on the NatComm
was Bill Evers. Let it be known that Murray and Bill were the main
architects of the LP Platform. Over a number of years, particularly
at national conventions (where the delegates debate and vote on
platform planks) they did the key drafting and debating. It’s a
great platform and a powerful tool for educating new libertarians
and keeping LP candidates in line. I view what they did to make
that platform what it is as a major contribution to our movement.
1980 the Koch money came back into the LP, temporarily, with the
appearance of David Koch as the VP candidate on the Ed Clark presidential
ticket. As a candidate, under the federal election laws, David could
make unlimited contributions to the campaign. He anted up over $2
million as I recall. And with no fund raising expense. Some great
things happened. Probably the most significant was obtaining 50
state ballot access in that election. It set a standard for all
future LP presidential campaigns. The bad news was that it was boom
and bust again. After the campaign, LP activists had to look into
their own pockets to keep the Party going. They weren’t used to
that and didn’t do it very well.
1984, I was the LP presidential candidate. The nominating convention
was in New York in 1983 and I was a last minute candidate for the
nomination (again). We had tremendous help from Bill Evers, Murray,
and Burt Blumert. It was the last hurrah of the Cato group (Murray’s
Craniacs) in the LP. Their candidate, Georgetown professor Earl
Ravenal, was viewed as a moderate with good inside the Beltway connections.
This time I was perceived as the hardline radical, lacking the necessary
pragmatism (too damn principled) to be an effective candidate. I
won the nomination on the fourth ballot by one vote.
significant factor in the outcome was Murray’s research on
Ravenal (who truly was a gentleman and a scholar) which disclosed
his membership in the Council on Foreign Relations, among other
things. Ravenal’s history did not sit well with many of our more
right-wing conspiracy theorist delegates. (Yeah, the LP has some
of those.) After Ravenal lost the nomination, the Craniacs left
in a huff. The good news is that they all have done great work at
Cato since and the movement has certainly benefited from that. They
have even come back to calling themselves libertarians. For a while
they wanted to be known as "market liberals."
1984 presidential campaign was a great personal experience for me.
Because we were so underfunded (relative to the 1980 campaign) I
decided the best strategy was for me to spend my time educating
journalists about the libertarian philosophy and the Party. It was
still the case that most people, journalists included, knew next
to nothing about us, and what they did know was wrong. My objective
was to counteract that ignorance to the fullest extent possible,
at least with media people. It went fairly well, considering the
other accomplishment in 1984 was that I wrote a book: Libertarianism
In One Lesson. It is now in its eighth edition, the changing
world circumstances requiring updating from time to time (e.g.,
no more Cold War). It has sold about 250,000 copies and continues
to be used as a basic introductory text in the movement. One thing
I did with the book was to include an extensive bibliography (books
I had actually read). I had discovered in my travels that many people
(victims of public schools) are amazed when first confronted with
the libertarian position on issues. They think you just made it
up to shock them, that there is nothing to back it up. The bibliography
helps to counteract that initial reaction.
benefit of campaigning as a libertarian is all the great people
one meets. For example, Lew Rockwell invited me to speak at Auburn
University and I think it was there that I first met him. Later,
Lew, Murray and Burt Blumert were all on the LP National Committee,
as were I and my wife, Sharon Ayres. That led to some excellent
socializing along with doing the Party business. Truth to tell,
Murray was a rather quiet person on the National Committee. He was
not temperamentally suited to the spontaneous debate format of such
bodies. But, he would quietly get his ducks in a row and line up
support, usually from Bill Evers, and then come out on the winning
side once the dust settled.
1988, Ron Paul was the LP presidential candidate, with Lew running
his campaign and Murray, Burt and others playing major roles. I
thought it was an excellent campaign, particularly because of Ron’s
moral persona and his extensive knowledge of the money and banking
issues. But, as you know, Ron went back to being a Republican Congressman.
And in 1989, Murray, Lew, and Burt left the LP to devote their time
to such things as the Rothbard-Rockwell Report and the Mises
Institute. A few brickbats were exchanged after the parting. But,
as anyone who knows Murray, Lew, and Burt might expect, they were
successful, and the movement has benefited by their choices and
more story about what I did in the war. In the early nineties I
was teaching at Western State University College of Law in Irvine,
California. There was no course in Jurisprudence so I persuaded
the Dean to allow me to create a seminar for senior students. Since
there was no available text, I selected all the readings. We opened
with an onslaught on the concept of the state with a selection from
State, followed by Rothbard’s Conceived
in Liberty, the section where he describes the period in
Pennsylvania when there was no government.
on, when learning about natural law, the students enjoyed relevant
material from Hayek’s Law,
Liberty and Legislation. The course covered the history
of prevailing jurisprudence from natural law, natural rights (the
basis of the Declaration and Constitution), positivism, law and
economics, and some of the more recent silliness: critical legal
studies, black legal studies, and gender based jurisprudence. Most
gratifying was the response from the students at the end of the
course. Some said it was what they expected from law school and
wished they’d had it in the first year. I also asked them which
theory they found most satisfying and useful. To a one they answered:
natural rights. Damn, that felt good. In the great, unending battle
for liberty, it was a minor skirmish that ended with a win for the
the 2002 LP National Convention in Indianapolis, I was on a panel
of old-timers (John Hospers, Tonie Nathan, Ed Clark, and me) who
were there to recount stories from the earlier days of the Party;
giving the newcomers some institutional history. During my presentation,
I took the opportunity to give thanks to some no longer with us.
I was grateful to be able to fill these new libertarians in on the
profound and lasting effects of Murray Rothbard’s contributions
to the Party and the movement. He will be remembered.
Bergland [send him mail]
lives in Costa Mesa, California, with wife Sharon Ayres. Retired
from the active practice of law and now doing business as Cornucopia
Consulting, he conducts workshops for business and other organizations
on self-discovery, communication, and team building using multiple-model
temperament and personality theories. He is also a martial arts
and self-defense instructor.
© 2002 LewRockwell.com