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Steve Patterson

Four years ago, I became an anarchist, and I’ve never looked back. My political philosophy now runs through my veins. But this wasn’t always the case. I used to be a young, apathetic conservative. Then, I was introduced to libertarianism, which slowly turned me into an anarchist. This might sound crazy, but I assure you, it’s quite reasonable, and many people share my same story. continue reading

Mark Thornton

“Toward Freedom” is an series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor. Originally published in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. Geneva is a small town in the Finger Lakes region of western New York State. I was born and raised there in a family that was Irish in extraction, Catholic in religion, entrepreneurs by occupation, and thoroughly Democrat in politics. I now realize that by the time I left Geneva for college I was already a libertarian, a fact I credit to my family, especially my mother and father.Looking back, I was interested in politics at an early age, and libertarian-leaning from nearly the beginning. What is surprising to me, in retrospect, was that everyone wasn’t a libertarian. This was the period of the Vietnam War, Nixon’s War on Drugs, wage and price controls, Watergate, stagflation, and in New York—big spending Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Nothing was going right in this country and nobody could cover up that fact. One of my first political memories was watching the Democratic National Convention on the television at my grandparents’ house. Hubert Humphrey was the nominee, and was roundly endorsed by my extended family. I vividly remember asking what the difference was between the Democrats and Republicans. My uncle Tim told me that Republicans supported big business and the Democrats were the party of the “little guy.” This description was followed by the unexpected question: What party did I support? I’m sure they expected me to answer “Democrat.” Standing on the proverbial hotspot, but firmly behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance, I proclaimed that I didn’t support either party. After all, why support big business over small business or the little guy over the big guy? I asked if I could be a Democrat-Republican or a Republican-Democrat, to which one of my uncles responded that the Democratic-Republicans won the presidency in 1800, but was no longer active. I responded that I would not be able to vote for some time and that I was confident that the Democratic-Republicans would someday make a comeback. Very little did I know that Hubert Humphrey’s opponent would set in motion policies that would make that comeback possible within four years’ time in the form of the Libertarian Party, and that I would come to embrace the principles of the Libertarian Party and the old Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson. As the first grandchild on both sides of my family, I was surrounded by a virtual army of aunts and uncles. I credit my family, especially my mother and father, for helping me and allowing me to become what I am today. Naturally, that honor may have been viewed by some as a dubious distinction in the era when being a libertarian, especially a libertarian politician, was a sign of being a radical and a quack, but no one tried to stop me. My mother was very influential in my life. She was... continue reading

Spencer W. Morgan

“Toward Freedom” is an series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor. The story of how I “arrived at liberty” is a long and gradual one. It is one thing to understand liberty and self-determination in general, but it is quite another to reach the point of reconciling those ideas in their applications to all areas of life. My story is the story of doing so in a few gradual phases. I grew up in a fairly well-to-do Mormon family who were never highly politically involved until I was in my early 20’s, when my mother was elected to the Utah House of Representatives in 1998. My parents definitely leaned conservative during the Reagan years, though by the time of her run for Congress my mom was running as a Democrat… which means something much different in a local Utah race than it does nationally. My father, an accomplished civil defense attorney, exposed me to the basic notions of limitations on government, rights and arguments for market incentives. He often listened to Rush Limbaugh during my high-school years before September 11th when Limbaugh was still arguing primarily from free-market principles. We both really enjoyed when Rush would turn the mic over periodically to Walter Williams as a guest host, because of his focus and clarity on the core ideas of liberty. My mother and I would always hash out long discussions over political ideas, and over the years we have traded places a few times on ends of the spectrum. I owe a great deal to my parents for raising me in an environment where confrontation and questioning were safe, and in which detailed political discourse was not discouraged. I’m sure there were times when it seemed like the contention that resulted was not worth it. Through all of this, I still viewed these notions (free markets, limited government) as standard Republican fare. It was not until I took debate at Brighton High School as a senior that things really changed for me. As a participant in a Lincoln-Douglas debate, I was required to address a variety of topics over the course of a year by writing and presenting a systematic, value-based case for either side of a given issue. Doing so (and knowing the problems with the other guy’s case) ultimately meant learning philosophy. I enjoyed both the debating and the writing of these cases so much that I became absorbed with it my entire senior year. I spent hours a week reading philosophy and formulating these cases with a core of good friends who shared the same passion. These were not the same people as the stereotypical overachieving high-school students who took debate and attended a tournament or two so they could put it on their college application, though many were very successful in their academics. I, on the other hand, blew off all my homework in other subjects that year.. maintaining only an... continue reading

Jeff Riggenbach

“Toward Freedom” is an series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor. Originally published in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. In high school, I took my “first steps” toward becoming a libertarian when I read books by Ayn Rand and Frédéric Bastiat, and subscribed to The Freeman magazine. I didn’t know it at the time, but those chance philosophical encounters would lead to a multifaceted career in journalism, broadcasting, audio book narration, and editing that would span more than three decades.I received my first copy of the Foundation for Economic Education’s The Freeman in 1963. In it, I found a definition (offered by a writer named Leonard Read, of whom I had never heard) of a word that was also new to me: the word libertarian. With something of a start, I realized that this word described me. I was a “libertarian”—and not, as I had thought, a conservative. After a stint with Teenage Republicans for Goldwater and the University of Houston’s Ayn Rand Club, I decided to pursue a career in journalism. I started at KFWB, an all-news radio station in Los Angeles, where I worked as an anchor, interviewer, writer, and producer. In later years, my voice was heard as a daily economics commentator for CNN Radio and as a weekly commentator on the Cato Institute’s Byline, which was broadcast coast to coast on several hundred radio stations. While in Los Angeles, I was exposed to the writings of Robert LeFevre, Lysander Spooner, and Murray Rothbard, and began to work for magazines that catered to the growing libertarian movement. Beginning in 1977, I served as a contributing editor or writer for Reason, New Libertarian, The Libertarian Review, and Inquiry. Over the years, I also published more than 400 editorials, op-ed columns, and reviews (of literature, music, and film) in The New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and others. In addition, I worked as an editorial writer and columnist in California for the Orange County Register and the Oakland Tribune. Whenever possible, I did pieces, whether for newspapers or for radio, that promoted libertarian ideas. In 1998, I published my first book, In Praise of Decadence. The book, an overview of the libertarian movement’s impact on the 1960s, argued that baby boomers “have always been more libertarian than anyone expected,” according to Prometheus Books. The book also suggested that the oft-criticized “decadence” (that is, disrespect for traditional authority) of the 1960s ushered in a vibrant era of cultural experimentation and growth in America. The book received a five-star rating from readers at Drawing on vocal skills I honed in radio, I have narrated the audio book versions of numerous libertarian works, including David Boaz’s Libertarianism: A Primer, Rose Wilder Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom, and Jim Powell’s The Triumph of Liberty. I also taught philosophy, music appreciation, popular culture, and writing at San... continue reading

James Ostrowski

“Toward Freedom” is an series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor. Originally published in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. I suppose I could best be described as an independent, middle-class, populist, radical libertarian. How I got that way is an interesting story (you hope). I was born into a political family in one of the most highly politicized counties in the United States. My father was a New York State judge from the time I was four years old. From the age of twelve (1970) through the time I left Buffalo for law school in 1980, I was a close observer of local politics. I saw it up close and personal. By sixteen, I became personally involved as a campaign volunteer. What I saw in those early years was critical to my conversion to libertarianism later.My first memory of national politics was the fight over the Vietnam war. Since my parents were news junkies, I literally grew up watching American boys die in the rice paddies of Vietnam on network news. I particularly recall the weekly body count: U.S.–214, South Vietnamese–313, North Vietnamese–765. Boy, we sure were killing a lot of the enemy, I thought. Can’t be long now. My father publicly denounced the war in 1970 and that was that. I was against the war. We supported McGovern in 1972. The war was the only issue that mattered. I grew up despising Nixon. He was the guy who said he would end the war and didn’t. The next big event was Watergate. In the summer of 1974, my mother and I sat rapt while the impeachment hearings detailed all the sleaze and corruption. (Yeah, I played football and basketball, too.) That same year, I got involved in my first campaign other than my father’s—Ramsey Clark’s campaign for the United States Senate. I remember attending a fundraiser for him in Greenwich Village hosted by Chevy Chase where Harry Chapin sang. Cool stuff for a seventeen-year-old in the big city. It’s precarious to reconstruct what my political philosophy was twenty-five years ago. My main inspiration was Thomas Jefferson. I would re-read the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. It would, however, take me several years to grasp its radical implications. It’s fair to say that in those days, I was a liberal. I was voted “most liberal,” Class of ’75, St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. I was anti-Vietnam war, pro-drug legalization, pro-civil liberties. I was however, unfortunately ignorant of economics and fell prey to liberal redistributionist nostrums. I also have to confess I was pro- “gun-control.” In my defense, I was a juvenile and gun control is a juvenile notion. In the later years of the 1970s, I started developing a notion of politics based on personal experience with local politics in Buffalo. What I observed was political machines blatantly using the government to enrich themselves at the expense of the general public while... continue reading

Andrew P. Napolitano

“Toward Freedom” is an series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor. Originally published in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. Winston Churchill, of whose Big Government values I have not been fond, did have a great gift for words. He once famously said, “Any man under thirty who is not a liberal has no heart, and any man over thirty who is not a conservative has no brains.” In my case, things didn’t work quite that way. As an undergraduate at Princeton in the late sixties and early seventies and later as a law student at Notre Dame, I was a strong and vocal conservative, as the word was then understood. At the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, I arranged a campus visit to Princeton by William F. Buckley, Jr., the leading conservative intellectual at the time. I brought in other speakers, moderated panels, orchestrated rallies, and made no secret of my political views. I even once wore a T-shirt in 1970 that proclaimed “Bomb Hanoi”! I thought Richard Nixon’s militaristic, law-and-order, pro-police platforms in 1968 and 1972 were right for the country.Fast-forward two decades, however, and you will find me as a judge invalidating police drunk-driving roadblocks in New Jersey and forbidding the cops from stopping someone on a whim. Before my ruling, the police in New Jersey could and did stop and search any cars they wished. They didn’t need any rationale; you didn’t even have to be driving erratically since they just stopped cars because they had the power to do so. My published opinion, which ruled that such stops were illegal in the absence of some demonstration of illegal behavior, like weaving in and out of traffic or bolting out of a bar’s parking lot, was upheld by the appellate courts. Today in New Jersey random stops by police are illegal, and any evidence acquired during them is supposed to be excluded from trial. I am proud of that opinion. But it is one that I would have railed against as a conservative college student and law student and active Republican practicing attorney. My younger self would have said, “So what’s the problem? If you’re not driving under the influence, what does it matter if the police stop and search you? Think of all the drunk drivers those stops will get off the road.” It is a frequently made argument: Why not give up a little personal liberty, like the right to drive your car without being stopped by the police on a whim, in return for temporary safety, like fewer drunks on the road? If the random stops keep one drunk driver off the road and save one child’s life, aren’t they worth the inconvenience? Don’t be like the younger me. Don’t be too quick to agree. Consider first Benjamin Franklin’s famous pronouncement: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty... continue reading

Roderick Long

“Toward Freedom” is an series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor. Originally published in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent over half my life in the libertarian movement, and I am very grateful to have received so much in the way of friendship, insight, intellectual stimulation, emotional support, and material assistance from its members over the years. I owe my libertarianism to two women: my mother, and Ayn Rand.My mother, Jorie Blair Long, comes from a family of individualists and independent thinkers, and I absorbed those values early on. From her I learned that people should rely on their own judgment, seek out their own destiny, and not dictate one another’s goals or poke their noses into one another’s business. My mother’s political convictions were individualist as well – her family were all staunch Roosevelt-despisers of the “Old Right” tradition – but it was initially at the personal rather than at the political level that I was influenced by these values. Indeed, as a child I was thoroughly apolitical. Admittedly, I do recall being shocked and incredulous when, at the age of eleven or so, I discovered that the federal government considers a privately built or bought mailbox to be federal property. (My first episode of libertarian outrage!) But for the most part I was utterly ignorant of and indifferent to politics, and barely even knew who the President was; the political leaders who interested me were Agamemnon, and King Arthur, and Aragorn son of Arathorn. The result of this indifference was that despite having fairly stern moral principles, I had really no political principles whatsoever. I recall, for example, writing essays for my high school social studies class in which I maintained that moral constraints do not apply in war, that a profession’s right to strike is inversely proportional to its social usefulness, and other such drivel. In my defense, I can say only that I at least held these views with no particular strength of conviction: I had given the questions little thought, because I found social studies an unbearably boring subject to think about. I had enjoyed reading books like 1984, Animal Farm, and Brave New World, but I hadn’t seen them as calling into question the political institutions of our country. Although I had never been interested in exploring the political application of my personal values, the seed had been sown by my upbringing. The harvest came in 1979, when, at the age of 15, I read an article in Starlog magazine called, I think, “The Science Fiction of Ayn Rand.” (Incredibly, this now virtually unknown article was illustrated by the famous fantasy artist Boris Vallejo.) Its descriptions of Anthem and Atlas Shrugged were intriguing, and as an avid science-fiction reader I decided to give them a look. For me, as for so many 15-year-olds before me, Atlas Shrugged was a turning point. Rand’s... continue reading

Stephan Kinsella

“Toward Freedom” is an series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor. Originally published in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. Unlike many libertarians who dally with socialism before seeing the light, I have never been attracted to leftism. Indeed, although I of course welcome former pinkos to our ranks, I’m always a bit suspicious of anyone who could ever be swayed by that bunk. Born in 1965, I was reared in a small town near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My natural aversion to leftism stems from this upbringing. The milieu—if South Louisiana can be said to have one—was nominally Democratic, but relatively apolitical, culturally conservative, and Catholic. I can’t recall ever meeting any open or hardcore leftists until college.There were other contributing factors that made me ripe for libertarianism. For one, I have always been strongly individualistic and merit-oriented. This is probably because I was adopted and thus have always tended to cavalierly dismiss the importance of “blood ties” and any inherited or “unearned” group characteristics. This made me an ideal candidate to be enthralled by Ayn Rand’s master-of-universe, “I don’t need anything from you or owe you anything” themes. Another factor is my strong sense of outrage at injustice, which probably developed as a result of my hatred of bullies and bullying. I was frequently attacked by them as a kid, because I was small for my age, bookish, and a smartass. Not a good combination. I attended Catholic elementary and high school in Baton Rouge. I had a love-hate relationship with Mrs. Reinhardt, Catholic High School’s librarian. When she was not expelling me and my cronies from the library for pulling pranks, she would recommend books to me, as she knew I was an avid reader of both fiction and nonfiction. One day she recommended Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead to me. (I believe this was in 1982, when I was a junior in high school—the same year Rand died.) “Read this. You’ll like it,” she told me. Ex nihilo—something. Rand’s ruthless logic of justice appealed to me. I was thrilled to see a more-or-less rigorous application of reason to fields outside the natural sciences. I think this helped me to avoid succumbing, in college, to the simplistic and naïve empiricism-scientism that most of my fellow engineering classmates naturally absorbed. Mises’s dualistic epistemology and criticism of monism-positivism-empiricism, which I studied much later, also helped shield me from scientism. By my first year of college (1983), where I studied electrical engineering, I was a fairly avid “Objectivist”-style libertarian. I had read Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson and some of Milton Friedman’s works, but I initially steered clear of “libertarian” writing. Since Rand was so right on so many things, I at first assumed she—and her disciples Peter Schwartz and Leonard Peikoff—must be right in denouncing libertarianism as the enemy of liberty. And yet in my reading, I kept coming across libertarians, whose views seemed virtually... continue reading

John Hasnas

“Toward Freedom” is an series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor. Originally published in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. How did I become a libertarian? It happened in the fifth grade at Public School #6 in Woodmere, New York at approximately 9:10 in the morning. In my elementary school, we began every day with the Pledge of Allegiance. Each morning, I and 29 of my ten-year-old colleagues would tramp to school around 8:45, hang up our coats, take off our boots or rubbers when the weather was bad, put our books in the old-fashioned lift-top desks with attached chairs, and fool around while waiting for the bell to ring at 9:00 a.m. When it did, we would all quiet down, stand in line to the right of our desks, place our right hand over our hearts, and look at the upper right-hand corner of the classroom. Hanging there was an American flag next to a loudspeaker attached to the school’s public address system. Immediately after the bell, the school principal’s voice would emanate from the loudspeaker and lead us in the Pledge. Every school day for each of the last five years, we had mumbled the same meaningless words in unison, continually reaffirming our allegiance to the republic for Richard Stanz. But this day, something was different.Immediately following the Pledge, our teacher instructed us to take out our “social studies” books. This was the day we were reading about the Soviet Union and why it was such a bad place. Our book explained (in language appropriate for fifth graders) that the Soviet Union was bad because its government enforced conformity on its citizens. To drive this point home, the book contained a picture of an elementary school class in the USSR showing the boys and girls lined up beside their desks (all wearing uniforms and hats with little red stars on them) reciting something in unison. Looking at the picture, something clicked in my ten-year-old brain and I thought, “Hey, didn’t we just do that? If government-enforced conformity is bad in Russia, why isn’t it bad here?” I remember looking around the room expecting a similar reaction from my prepubescent colleagues. I detected none. But I nevertheless began to regard the pronouncements of the adult authority figures in my state-run school with a little skepticism. And as we all know, the willingness to question authority puts one on the slippery slope to libertarianism. This story, which is as true as an adult reconstruction of a childhood event can be, is, of course, not a full account of what led me to libertarianism. But it is the story I tell because it reflects my belief that libertarianism is a position one arrives at through a process of open inquiry. The number of libertarians who became so through indoctrination or who learn it at their mother’s knee must be vanishingly small. I usually flatter myself that... continue reading

Thomas J. DiLorenzo

“Toward Freedom” is an series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor. Originally published in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. I was always an individualist, probably because I spent my childhood and adolescent years playing competitive sports. I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania where all the local governments were run by small-time versions of the Soprano family. It was understood by all that the only reasons anyone would become a mayor, city councilman, alderman, or other local political “office holder” was to accept bribes, pass laws and regulations that would financially benefit you and your friends, hand out “do-nothing” patronage jobs to friends and family, or plunder the treasury. Sound familiar? That is what government was for, and everyone knew it. Our politicians may have been a gang of crooks, but they were not liars and propagandists.As my education progressed, I read more and more literature about how government supposedly existed to serve “the public interest,” to cater to “the will of the majority,” to “save the earth,” “help the poor,” “feed the hungry,” and other absurdities, which created in me a sense of indignation over the blizzard of lies thrown at us by the government and the educational and media establishments. Almost all of the adult males that I knew growing up were second-generation immigrants from Italy, Russia, or Poland who worked very hard all their lives as laborers, tradesmen, or small merchants. They all had a great work ethic because they and their families were so thankful to have the opportunities that America afforded them. With the advent of the “Great Society” welfare programs in the 1960s, all of these men became deeply resentful of the growing presence of young, able-bodied men and women who were signing up for the dole and receiving free lunches, free university educations for their children, and other handouts at their expense. It was grossly unjust, and it was also obvious to all that the welfare state was causing human degradation by destroying the work ethic and breaking up families. I can still recall how, in the late 60s, my older brother’s best friend divorced his wife, not because they wanted to separate, but because they could collect a larger welfare check that way since they had a child. My older brother was mugged once during the ’60s and suffered a laceration of his head. The police arrested the culprit but the judge refused to convict him because—and I can still recall his words—that would “create racial tension” in the city. “These people must be handled with kid gloves,” is exactly how he put it. In the 1960s, government was busy destroying the work ethic, the family, and the criminal justice system as well. I was born in 1954, and only became eligible for the draft as the Vietnam War was ending, but I was old enough to witness how the warfare state disrupted... continue reading