by Charles R. Estes
From Issue 78 – February, 1996
My first meeting with Joe Galambos hinted at, but did not foretell, the influence he would later have on me and on the libertarian movement. Galambos sought me out at a meeting held in Los Angeles as part of the early promotion of Barry Goldwater for president. The year was 1960.
Galambos noticed that I was carrying a copy of F.A. Hayek’s book, CONSTITUTION OF LIBERTY, which identified me as a person interested in Austrian economics. He asked me if I was aware of Hayek’s teacher, Ludwig von Mises. I was not. Introducing me to Mises’ work was the first of a number of important contributions Galambos was to make to my free-market education. Galambos was an enthusiastic supporter of Mises and his work; he had, in fact, met personally with Mises in New York prior to our meeting.
That meeting was one of the formative meetings of “Californians for Goldwater.” The speaker was Adolphe Menjou, actor and former McCarthy-era “red baiter.” The place was “Poor Richard’s Bookstore,” which I later learned was a major meeting place of the then unknown but later famous John Birch Society. I was there at the invitation of an unsuccessful congressional candidate, Ann Redfield Heaver. Galambos was there because he said Goldwater was potentially the most electable, even if not an ideal, advocate of the free market. Galambos at that time clearly believed in political solutions to sociological issues. I, too, was a Goldwater fan and had given away more than a hundred copies of his book, CONSCIENCE OF A CONSERVATIVE. It appeared at that time, at least, that the path to freedom began with the conservatives.
Physically, “Joe” or “Joseph” as he was then known was about six feet in height and substantially overweight. (“Andrew Joseph” was the name his parents gave him at birth. He was called “Andy” by fellow soldiers when he served in the U.S. Army in World War II, and both experiences-soldiering as well as the nickname-embittered him. He legally adopted his father’s name after the latter’s passing. Subsequently he transposed the names again out of concern for his father’s memory, lest his own future fame obscure his father’s recognition.) He wore his clothes in the manner of one who considered dress of secondary importance, although he acceded to convention to the extent of wearing a coat and tie. His most arresting physical characteristic was his deep and resonant voice, a voice that did not easily escape notice. Later I was to hear him give a speech heavily excerpting from Thomas Paine’s COMMON SENSE AND THE CRISIS, “These are the times that try men’s souls…” I will never forget his presence, his dramatic voice, his forceful manner of speech. Joe was clearly not your typical “man in the street.”
Following his introduction, Joe briefly outlined his political position. There was a hint that the ideal societal structure might involve some sort of corporate structure. He promised to elaborate on the concept in a special course planned for a future date.
My next contact with him was his phone call inviting me to a promotional meeting for his upcoming course in philosophy. My wife and I attended, bringing several interested friends. Later, we held similar promotional meetings at our home in Malibu. We contributed substantially to the enrollment of his first course, which he called “Course 100: Capitalism— the Key to Survival.” The first classes met at the Ivar Hotel in Hollywood during 1961.
Course 100 met weekly. Although scheduled from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m., it frequently continued until midnight. Some of the long presentation was tedious. But just when we thought we could not sit another minute, Galambos would come up with a gem that made the entire evening worthwhile. Later I learned that Joe did not arise from bed until almost noon each day. The late evenings were our problem, not his.
It is impossible to attempt more than a brief summary of the important ideas in Course 100 as it existed then. I am told that its replacement, V-50, bore little resemblance to the original course. Even during the brief period I knew Galambos, the course changed almost beyond recognition. I will, however, attempt to summarize some of the central ideas.
Galambos was educated in the physical sciences. His specialty was astrophysics. He left Ramo Wooldridge Corporation, Space Technology Laboratories (STL—which later became TRW and Aerospace Corporation) because he saw that the new frontier in space could not be developed properly by government bureaucracy. This concern led him to found the Free Enterprise Institute. His aim in founding the Institute was to make the world safe for astronautics by teaching the beauty of the free market, thereby helping to bring about a societal structure based on the freedom of the individual. He saw that earth’s political problems would have to be resolved before he could hope to carry out his primary dream of operating the first private lunar transport company.
As a physical scientist, Galambos saw the great contrast between the progress achieved in the physical sciences and the barbarism, at best, that dominated the social sciences. Given the existing social structure, he saw that physical science had made killing on a vast scale not only possible, but probable. He thought that if progress were to be made in the social sciences, it could only happen by using the methods common to the physical sciences.
Consequently, a substantial part of Course 100 was devoted to teaching “scientific method.” He credited Isaac Newton with the original “integration” of ideas in the physical realm. He now wanted to do the same in the social realm. This approach attracted many of his first students and supporters from the physical sciences.
Galambos was an early admirer of Ayn Rand and thought ATLAS SHRUGGED should be required reading for any “Liberal.” (Galambos did not at the time use the term “libertarian,” feeling that the word “liberal” had been stolen from freedom lovers and that its recovery was essential to the freedom philosophy.) Despite his admiration for Rand’s work, he recognized her to be a cultist. This was at a time when few people would have agreed with him.
Galambos based his concept of a “moral” society on the primacy of the individual and the institution of property. He defined “primordial property” as a person’s own life and “primary property” as his ideas. All other property he derived from these two fundamental kinds. Although no one can reasonably argue against ideas as antecedent to all other property, Galambos lost many of his early supporters due to his manner and means of attempting to protect ideas as property.
Some of Galambos’ early students and supporters included Harry Browne, then a syndicated newspaper writer and later to become a best-selling author; George Haddad, physician; Alvin Lowi, Jr.,engineer and entrepreneur; Richard Nesbit, later to become vice president in charge of research for a major corporation; Billy Robbins, patent attorney and founding partner of one of the largest patent firms in Los Angeles; and Jerome Smith, economist and purchasing agent for a large manufacturing concern who became nationally prominent in the silver bull market of the 1970s. Each of these persons at one time or another in those early years taught Joe’s course. They, along with many others, added to the original offering, greatly improving its content and consistency. Most of the later course offerings were on audio tape. To my knowledge, the only other person to teach the course was Jay Snelson, who maintained his association with Galambos for fourteen years. In 1979, Jay founded the Institute for Human Progress and Human Action Seminars, based in Orange County, CA, in which he is developing a highly original presentation of his own.
With the exception of Billy Robbins, Alvin Lowi was chiefly responsible for recruiting this distinguished early cadre. It was he who originally persuaded Joe, then a fellow employee at TRW, to found the Free Enterprise Institute and teach his ideas. Unfortunately Galambos never led the Institute in the direction of becoming a true university, which was Alvin Lowi’s dream.
Galambos’ early societal models were modified versions of the United States republic, with the addition of the Resistor, a body empowered to repeal laws passed by Congress if it judged them to be contrary to the Constitution. He believed in a written constitution, unlike the unwritten basic law of England. “CCI” was the motto of the Free Enterprise Institute, the letters standing for “Constitutionalism, Capitalism, Individualism.” This seemed a strange ordering for one who professed belief in individual sovereignty. Galambos was then a proponent, as well, of capital punishment. These ideas would change radically as other people contributed their efforts.
The quality of the people drawn to Galambos’ ideas is best exemplified by the participants in his first Course 100 graduation meeting. Richard Grant presented his poem, “Tom Smith and the Incredible Bread Machine,” later expanded into a book of the same name. Don Balluck, playwright and later producer of television offerings, presented an original one-act play consisting of a dialogue between Ralph Waldo Emerson and a bureaucrat named “Binder.” Pat Gilbert, now Pat Cullinane, presented a paper on her experiences in founding a (still successful) private, for-profit school. Alvin Lowi, Richard Nesbit and others also made contributions. I am still in personal contact with most of these people. To my knowledge, not one has had any involvement with Galambos for many years. Most of them, as I do here, speak of him only in the past tense; why?
A major reason might be that Galambos made a habit of abusively accusing each one of us—and much of the rest of Southern California—of stealing his ideas. Yet, ironically, he often used other people’s ideas without credit. Like the best of us, he absorbed ideas from those around him and often built on them effectively. But he used a double standard, demanding more scrupulous acknowledgement from others than he practiced. If he acknowledged a source at all, he was likely to do so derogatorily, inappropriately, superficially, ungraciously. Often he ignored the source altogether. If nothing more, his lack of manners was outrageous and offensive to his colleagues and patrons alike.
I cannot deny the many benefits of my association with Galambos. Among them was the opportunity to attend small lecture classes conducted by such giants as Leonard E. Read, originator of the Foundation for Economic Education; Ludwig von Mises, certainly one of the most important men of this century; and F.A. (Baldy) Harper, founder of the Institute for Humane Studies, who later became my good and valued friend. Meeting daily with these men for a week was an experience never to be forgotten. A fourth giant, Spencer Heath, author of CITADEL, MARKET AND ALTAR, was scheduled for this series of courses. Failing health prevented this, and his anthropologist grandson, Spencer MacCallum, gave a course in his place. I did have opportunities to meet and discuss ideas with Mr. Heath, however, and I credit Galambos for that. (Galambos had met Mr. Heath through R.C. Hoiles, founder of the Freedom Newspapers chain.)
The beginning of my break with Galambos probably occurred in 1963 when I informed him of my intention to participate in a two-week seminar at Bob LeFevre’s Freedom School, in Colorado. He accused LeFevre of being not only a second-rate thinker, but an anarchist! I had decided to go, however, and I told Joe that if he was right, perhaps I could convince LeFevre of his errors. The Freedom School (later Rampart College) was another peak experience. I doubt that I ever learned more in a single two-week period. The following year, along with Alvin Lowi and two groups of Galambos’s course contractors (Liberal Educators of South Bay and Liberal Educators of Santa Monica), I helped sponsor LeFevre at a three-day seminar in Los Angeles. Galambos attended. Course 100, which was undergoing major changes during that period, was soon modified to recognize the disutility of the political state. To my knowledge, Galambos never acknowledged either the change of philosophy or the source of the influence.
For many years I have considered that Galambos’ intellectual manners exemplified the worst he imputed to others; when judged by his own definition at the time, he was an “idea thief.”
Looking back, I think he demanded the impossible and expected perfection in others; not being perfect himself, however, he appeared somewhat hypocritical, to say the least.
I believe Galambos’ main error was to ignore the reality taught by the common law on the subject of property. The common-law tradition holds that an idea can be protected, if at all, only in its manifest forms. To be protected by patent, for example, an idea for a mechanical invention must be built or else described in drawings with enough detail to allow its construction. A book or an article can be copyrighted. In either case, it is not the idea that is protected but the device, drawing or arrangement of words used to represent the idea. The idea and its manifestation are obviously not the same.
Galambos offered an advanced course during this period, the intent of which was to describe a de novo method of protecting “primary property,” i.e. ideas. His approach was contemptuous of the common-law tradition. I attended until the evening when he required the members of the class to sign a non-disclosure agreement. At that point, fearing my opportunities for future dialogue and discourse on freedom w ould thereby come under Galambos’ exclusive control, I refused and left the course. I could not concede the ownership and control of the concept of human freedom to Galambos or anyone else.
Perhaps the most we can say with respect to property in ideas is that good manners call for acknowledging the benefit we receive from others. Civilized decorum requires that we not masquerade as someone we are not.
Joe’s concern for all aspects of property was wellfounded. In his particular treatment of intellectual property, however, I consider he went on a tangent and was seriously in error. In retrospect it was tragic, for it corroded his relationships on every side and led to the alienation of virtually all of his ablest supporters and colleagues. Joseph Galambos must be credited with making an important contribution to the rebirth of libertarianism in Southern California. He ran the Free Enterprise Institute as a profit-seeking venture. He felt, and I agree, that it was inconsistent to promote freemarket capitalism through a not-for-profit organization. His belief was strong enough that he left a secure aerospace job for an uncertain and potentially difficult future. Without doubt, he went through some difficult years. He contributed to my awakening and to that of many others.
Disappointing as it always must be to witness (and to suffer) someone’s bad behavior with respect to an important subject, it is nonetheless encouraging to see how many FEI graduates have little trouble separating the content of the Institute courses from Galambos’ behavior. Many a graduate of Joe’s classes of those early years say that, as little as they can stand the man, he nevertheless radically changed their lives for the better, and for that they will always be grateful.
[The author would like to acknowledge the contributions of Alvin Lowi and Spencer MacCallum to this article.]
[Editor’s Note: Current information about the Free Enterprise Institute can be found at their website]