Lloyd Licher's Last Lecture
By Lloyd Licher
I appreciate having the opportunity of giving a "Last Lecture." If I should die tomorrow, I would leave happy, knowing that you listeners would be able to carry on my thoughts that were worth preserving.
I thought I would begin by explaining how I progressed to where I am, so it is a bit biographical, in that sense. I think it's important to know how a person arrives at his beliefs, so that you can better understand their foundations. I consider myself very fortunate to have been raised in a family that was not religious, and therefore not intellectually crippled by such indoctrination from an early age. I've come across a lot of people since then who have supposedly converted from religious to nonreligious beliefs, but you can still see the effects of their upbringing on the way they think about different things. I did receive an advanced education at a college which emphasized engineering and, by implication, science. I think it helped me believe in rationality and to develop linear thought processes. It was shortly after getting out of college that I experienced the first event that changed my life in some significant way, and that was to go see the movie "The Fountainhead." I had no idea what it was about, I only went because Gary Cooper was in it. And I only went back to see it again because I liked the music. The ideas that were presented were not the initial thing that struck me, although the more I was exposed to them the more I fell under their influence. I was receptive to learning about such esoteric things as integrity and principle, and thought that they were so good that I wanted to blend them into my life. So I like to think that I have since been a person of integrity and believer in principle. In fact, I even wrote and published an essay titled "The Importance of Principle." One of the things I remember Ayn Rand (the author of The Fountainhead) for was the "A-is-A" philosophy of Aristotle, which certainly emphasizes reality. She also emphasized the importance of force and fraud as being immoral, and introduced the concept of the sanction of the victim, which I think is important in understanding why we're where we are in society today. We have societal structures because the people who live with them and under them have sanctioned those ideas and systems, and in many cases they are the victims of those systems, whether they know it or not. Out of Rand's writings came her philosophy of Objectivism, and of course for years after The Fountainhead she was working on Atlas Shrugged, and it eventually got published.
Almost simultaneously, Nathaniel Branden was purveying the philosophy of Objectivism through tape-recorded courses, to which I subscribed in Los Angeles. It was there that I looked over someone's shoulder and saw some literature published by the Free Enterprise Institute. I thought that somebody was trying to make a buck off of free enterprise and was curious about it. So I investigated and found that it was operated by Andrew J. Galambos, or Andrew Joseph Galambos, or A. Joseph Galambos. He altered his name usage a couple of times. He was giving lectures in Los Angeles, under the name of the Institute, which were sort of an offshoot of Objectivism. He was a physicist-type engineer, interested in space travel, and I think if he had his way he would have started a company to explore space on a private-enterprise basis. I really liked some of the things I heard in his courses, and realized that Ayn Rand didn't have all the answers. There were other people that were doing some clear thinking, too, such that whatever philosophy I developed would be an amalgam of the best parts of everything I came across on my road through life. That's how I arrived where I am today.
Galambos went out of his way to invite as guest speakers people who were big in the freedom movement at that time, such as Leonard Read, from The Foundation for Economic Education. There were Free Enterprise Institute alumni meetings every summer, and these big people would come to L.A. and give talks. Robert LeFevre was another one. At that time LeFevre was the editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, which was one of a chain of newspapers called the Freedom Newspapers, headquartered in Santa Ana, the bastion of the John Birch Society, a prominent rightist group at the time. They seemed to do a lot of rational thinking at the Santa Ana Register, as expressed on their editorial page, and the editors of the other Freedom papers, including LeFevre, wrote daily editorials. They rotated these editorials between the papers so that every day you had, say, three editorials -- none of them were ever signed -- but they were generated by the editors of these different papers. For several years I subscribed to the Santa Ana Register, just to get the editorials. I saved all those editorials after reading them, but I never made time to index them for later reference. Even so, there was a lot of good material in them, well worth preserving, one way or another. They commented on topical affairs, which is what newspapers like to do anyhow, so I think I had a good grounding, through all that reading of critical reviews, of what was going on in the political marketplace. They definitely believed in private schools, and although they didn't bash the public schools, they were always mentioning some of the faults and explanations for the shortcomings of the tax-supported schools and how the private schools were supposedly doing a better job, without the handicap that the public schools had to work under.
LeFevre started an organization called The Freedom School, in Colorado Springs, and he left the newspaper to start full time trying to promote the concept of freedom, through seminars and lectures. He went around the country giving these talks, and he brought a lot of people to Colorado Springs. The head of Deering-Milliken, a large textile company in the southeast, was so convinced by what LeFevre was offering that he made it mandatory for all of his management personnel to take the course. LeFevre eventually moved the Freedom School to Santa Ana, in California, and changed the name to Rampart College. Two of the books he used as study material in his course were Murray Rothbard's What Has Government Done to Our Money? and Lysander Spooner's No Treason, the Constitution of No Authority. Spooner was a libertarian before his time in the mid-1800's. He started a private-enterprise postal system, which was so efficient it was really giving the U.S. postal system a hard time, and as a result Congress passed the Postal Statutes which made it unlawful for anyone to carry first-class mail except the U.S. Post Office. But Spooner's book, No Treason, was written to severely challenge the legality of the U.S. Constitution, and he was claiming that it had no authority because it wasn't approved by the people that it purportedly governed, and that it was approved by some made-up constitutional conventions because the existing state legislatures for the various colonies would not have approved it. The only way they could get it approved was to provide for its approval by state constitutional conventions that were rigged to be manned by people who were in favor of it. Well, this was all new to me and it certainly cast doubt on the veracity of the schools that didn't teach these facts concerning the history of our country. I admit that I'm a product of the tax-supported public school system. I went through high school in them, and I don't think I fared too badly, but I realize in retrospect that a lot of what I have learned since graduation refuted some of the things I learned in school. And I think that the things I've learned since are more important than what I learned in school.
Another thing that LeFevre did was write a book called This Bread Is Mine, which I bought, read, and treasure. The most important thing in it for me was that it contained his personal Declaration of Independence, and emphasized the importance of having such a personal Declaration of Independence. It moved me to write my own.
Out of LeFevre's work, because he was using these two books by Spooner and Rothbard, I got interested in what Rothbard had to say. Rothbard was a student of Von Mises in New York, and became a leading spokesperson for the Austrian School of Economics. He wrote several learned books on that, one of which was America's Great Depression, in which he analyzed why the depression occurred, from an Austrian economic point of view. But he also wrote this little booklet called What Has Government Done to Our Money? LeFevre eventually closed down his operation and offered the remaining inventory and the publication rights to the Spooner and Rothbard books to a friend of mine and me. We formed a partnership called Libertarian Publishers and kept those two books in print for 15 years after that. We sold a lot of copies of Rothbard's book, primarily to the Foundation for Economic Education and Laissez Faire Books.
Rothbard's emphasis on economics made me aware of how important it is in our lives and of course one of the supporters of that point of view is the Foundation for Economic Education in New York. They publish a monthly magazine called The Freeman, and I have been a constant subscriber since I first learned about it. It's the one thing I've read from cover to cover ever since, so my mind has really been steeped in the libertarian foundation and background of economics, the interdependence of people, and most important, I believe, an understanding about the creation of wealth, which I think is largely ignored by our school systems. Yet the economic marketplace is where everybody lives their lives, on a daily basis. But without an understanding of how wealth is created people get some erroneous ideas about the economic pie and what they think is their share of it, rather than understanding that it's a constantly expanding pie, due to the inputs of all of the participants. Years ago I established a list of writing projects, one of which was going to be a piece on "The Creation of Wealth," to try and explain it in a way that just about anybody could understand and appreciate.
Libertarianism was rife in Los Angeles at that time, with all these things going on, and I was right in the middle of it, sort of exposing myself to most of what came up about it, although I was not involved in the Libertarian Party, mainly because of LeFevre. LeFevre was arguing from a principled point of view that the political system was the problem, and that to be any part of it meant that you were part of the problem. I've heard him referred to as the Great Neutralizer, because susceptible people like me, after they heard him speak, ended up withdrawing from the political voting place, and I haven't voted since. I am quite proud of that, although when I try to explain it to a lot of people they think that it's unjustified. Nevertheless, I was moved at first to actually picket the polls with a placard that read "No Matter Who Wins, We All Lose. Don't Vote!" My young son Max came out with me for part of that time and I remember one man coming out of the polls, getting in his car and driving up next to us and saying some rather unkind things before he drove off. My wife at that time was rather supportive of all these ideas and she actually came up with a more positive way to say the same thing, so we made some bumper stickers and purveyed those for a while. It said "Vote Where It Counts -- In The Marketplace!"
One of LeFevre's editorials was called "Democracy With a Small d," in which he made a good case for the fact that the marketplace is the true democracy, where everybody gets to vote or not vote, every day, for whatever they want. The successful things are those that people support and the unsuccessful ones die out. I bought copies of this editorial and sent them to many of the people I knew.
The sovereignty of the individual seems to be the key essence of Libertarianism, and I've centered my belief system on that. The individual is more important than any combination of individuals, or any group. It seems to have taken a long time for people to arrive at that understanding, and then it was only some of the learned few who realized it. Some of these were philosophers in western Europe, who influenced the founders of the United States of America. They included these precepts in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, although as LeFevre used to point out, the Constitution was written mostly by people who weren't signers of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was not a political document, in the sense that it didn't establish a government; it was simply a statement by some people, supposedly on behalf of a lot of others, but that statement made it famous. The Constitution was a political document that purported to be binding on all those within its jurisdiction. In spite of its flaws it has seemed to have helped develop the best political system in the world, from an individual liberty point of view. In retrospect we can see how it might have been better, but it's not too likely to be changed anytime in the near future.
I was certainly impressed by the ideas that came out of all this exposure to these different people and concepts -- the intangible concepts -- like morality, rights, justice, government, freedom and liberty. LeFevre emphasized that freedom is really the absence of force, and that's the best definition for it that I've come across. I became convinced that we could have a morality and code of ethics that was not based on any supernatural system or belief and that it would come out of an understanding and acceptance of what's best for other people because of what's best for you. The Golden Rule.
The Bill of Rights was an important part of our political heritage and the concept of rights I thought was a good one. It certainly appealed to me. For a while I thought that rights had to be absolute, in the sense that they were something that every individual had inherently. LeFevre was promoting that and saying that you shouldn't use force on anybody, for any reason, even if somebody has used force on you. He was a true pacifist in that sense. If somebody stole your bicycle it was too bad, you should have done something to keep them from stealing it, like using a lock, or having insurance against the loss, or whatever. But, that seemed unjust to me, so I have come to believe that a person has inherent natural rights as a human being until he violates the property of somebody else, at which time he loses his rights until he makes full restitution for that violation of the other person's property, and then he gets his rights back. So there ought to be a system for seeing that that happens, which is going to involve using force on those people, since they have abrogated their right to not be dealt with by force, by violating other people's property. I think that such a system could be established in the marketplace and would like to explore that further and make suggestions to people, because to me justice is full restitution for any violated property.
The concept of government is one in which we're all steeped, and of course we all tend to think in terms of political government. But LeFevre made it clear to me that there are other forms of government, variations of self-government, which govern most of our daily lives. These are all voluntary organizations or affiliations that we have with other people, through contracts, business arrangements, employment agreements, membership in voluntary organizations, or being part of a family. Such arrangements can really deal with all of the kinds of problems that humans can come up with in their living together in society. The political governments that we're saddled with are pretty well based on power and they are all run by individuals, yet we tend to think of them as some kind of entity, whereas in reality they're not. The government doesn't decide to do something, the people in the government make decisions and use the mechanism of government to effect the end result that they're looking for.
Together with freedom, the concept of property was developed in a way in this country which I think has made it sort of the backbone of the economic marketplace in which we live. Galambos came up with a good definition of property that I like: "Man's life and all of its nonprocreative derivatives." You don't own your children, but you own everything else that you create or bring into existence, and you own yourself. The combination of the concept of freedom in this country, and the respect for property that we had, as much as we had, I think is what has made the United States what it is today.
So we come to the idea of violation of property. The taking of something that belongs to someone else is thought of as theft, or stealing, and the ultimate theft seems to be taxation, which is a form of stealing by coercion through a legalized system. To me, another way to look at that is enslavement of the person that is being stolen from, because if you are taking 40% of a man's productive effort through the collective taxes that are exacted in our society you have certainly and effectively enslaved that person for 40% of his life. We tend to think of slavery as complete submission to somebody else, but I think there are partial degrees of slavery. Thus, the best way to think about these types of coercive, legalized stealing, are theft and slavery, and if you call them that people might begin to understand that that's what they are and perhaps realize that there might be other ways to achieve similar ends.
Looking at different aspects of society and the way people have developed has led me to believe that there are several significant frauds that have been perpetrated on the human race. It prompted me to add another writing project to my list, a book or a paper simply titled "The Greatest Frauds Ever Perpetrated on the Human Race," which would include religion and political government. We have certainly all been led to believe that these are things we can't live without, and some individuals are benefitting from purveying those views in ways that can hardly be justified. I also think that Social Security is another fraud that's been perpetrated on the public and is building up to a big debacle some day.
We've accumulated a number of what I consider immoral sacred cows in our society -- the school system, the roads, and the defense system we have for defending, supposedly, the United States. All they are really interested in defending are the politicians. Another sacred cow is the system of protection that we have been led to believe we have, but it's really more a system of after-the-fact punishment and retribution. What we really need is a system of restitution, in order to have true justice.
On top of the list of things I feel that I have to write, is a novel, a latter-day Atlas Shrugged, I suppose is one way to look at it, in which I would center the plot around "One Law." In fact that might be the title. "How to Get From Here to There" could be a subtitle. "Here" is where we are, "There" is perhaps a realistic Libertarian-type society down the road, thirty, forty, or fifty years. I think the transition could be effected in one lifetime, if the right convincing could be accomplished.
Another writing project I have is to refute Mortimer Adler's Six Great Ideas book. One good thing Mortimer Adler did was help found the Great Books series at the University of Chicago. A compendium they made from those books is the Syntopicon, a book listing the hundred and three or so great ideas that were imbedded in the books. The Syntopicon treats each of these ideas, most of them intangible concepts, in some detail over several pages of text, describing how the concept came into being, and how it was dealt with through history. Following each description is a complete index of where that concept or idea occurs in all the great books. The Bible is one of the great books and so are a lot of other well thought of pieces of literature from the past. Adler selected six of these ideas and wrote a book about them titled Six Great Ideas. Later there was a TV series in which Adler discussed these ideas with Bill Moyers. It was essentially a forum for Adler to expound on his philosophy. Well, his treatment of Truth, Goodness and Beauty was fine, but then he got into Liberty, Equality and Justice, and was pretty socialistic near the end. I think that deserves to be refuted.
When Paul Kurtz spoke at the University of San Francisco in 1988, he inspired me to want to form a local Humanist Group, so I started the Humanists of Marin., All the things Kurtz said were so much like Libertarianism that I thought it would be really great to help build this type of community of like-minded people. However, as it turns out a lot of Humanists still harbor many socialistic ideas, including my good friend Leo Wagner, So I concluded that Libertarianism and Humanism are basically incompatible because they emphasize different things and have slightly different principles. I thought there would be some rubbing off from one on the other, but it's not likely to occur.
I've come to believe over the years in the inevitability of right actions. I think it is in human nature to evolve to a point where my type of belief system will prevail simply because it is right. It is in harmony with human nature, whereas a lot of the things espoused by socialists and religionists are contradictory to human nature, in my opinion. That's why they don't work, as witness the recent downfall of communism in Russia. I did a book review of Edward O. Wilson's On Human Nature, which was published in the Secular Humanists of Marin Newsletter. Wilson dealt with many aspects of human nature that tend to buttress what I've come to believe. Evolution is a slow process and we're not likely to see a Libertarian society in the near future or in our lifetime, but I do believe that it will happen.
I'm convinced that the only moral ways to help bring about the ideas in which one believes are persuasion and example. They are the only ways you are likely to help change other peoples' behavior. People have to convince themselves to believe differently than they do. You can't change somebody's mind, they have to change it for themselves, and the only way a person is likely to do that is if they see someone else leading a better life that they might want to emulate, or if they are persuaded through logic and reason to change the way they think. The only person any of us has any moral control over is ourself, and I think it is immoral for any of us to try and have any moral control over anyone else, through legislation or otherwise.
Another thing I've come to believe is that humans are part of nature and therefore anything humans do is natural, including building civilizations, with their cities and roads, using natural resources for human purposes, and growing animals and plants for human consumption. Pollution, reproduction and fouling our nests are part of what humans do, whether its for our long-term good or benefit or not, and are therefore perfectly natural, even though some of us deem them not desirable, from whatever point of view we have, knowing that we could do better.
The moral alternative, I think, is what we should strive for in life, to divert one's personal resources away from political governments and put it in support of the kinds of alternatives that are voluntary and part of the moral marketplace. One way to do that is not to use government services, and to subscribe to private services wherever possible. In that regard I've tried to live by my principles by sending my children to private schools, even though I had to pay property taxes while I was doing it. Both of my sons' complete education was in private schools, except for the first one being exposed to a half year of kindergarten in public school. If you believe as I do then you should not use public services or systems in any way if you could reasonably use an alternative. I would use private roads if such roads existed, but they don't, so I have to use public roads. I am paying for those public roads through taxes on gasoline and my car, so it is probably one of the more reasonable things that government does that we pay for through taxes; however, by not making people pay for their full share of those roads we end up with overcrowding because everyone seems to think they're free, even though they're not.
We should encourage the political state to wither, and hopefully someday die out. One way to do that is to divert our resources away from the state. A libertarian in the Los Angeles area, Richard Grant, wrote a book called Twilight of the State, in which he forecast how the state would devolve. One chapter in the book suggested using existing umbrella exemptions to help divert one's resources away from the state, so he proposed starting up a church. It was thought that you could donate up to half of your income to the church and thus perhaps remove yourself from being taxed. If the church were tax-exempt and contributions to it were tax-deductible, you might get your taxable income down to a point were your taxes were very low or nothing. Your donations to the church could then support noncoercive ways to deal with the problems of society, in accordance with the principles that I've outlined. So Grant started the First Libertarian Church, and invited me and Chuck Estes to be his co-founders. We were successful in the sense that we established the Church, we ordained ministers, we solicited contributions, we established an arbitration service to deal with peoples' problems, we established a charity service to deal with peoples' needs, and we had the Libertarian Supper Club of Los Angeles as our regular gathering place for the exchange of ideas and social intercourse. I was the director of the Libertarian Supper Club of Los Angeles for five years, after it was started by some UC students. Grant came to realize that the function of the Supper Club was certainly serving the same purpose as a church does to its members, so we put this all together in the form of a libertarian church and applied for tax-exempt status, which was eventually denied by the IRS. We appealed to the U S Tax Court to have that decision reversed, and we spent a lot of time and effort on the appeal, to no avail. I had to make a special trip to L A after I had moved to the Bay Area, to read my affidavit in support of our claim. I consider the composing of that affidavit one of the top five peak experiences of my life, since it was essentially the articulation of my philosophy of life, much as this Last Lecture has been.
[Presented at the Nov. 15, 1993, meeting of the Secular Humanists of Marin.]