Foreword to Truth is Not a Halfway Place by Carl Watner
by Karl Hess
It is a measure of the breadth of Robert LeFevre's
influence and character that so many will remember him for so many
different reasons. Teacher. Schoolmaster. Consultant. Businessman.
Philosopher. Soldier. Religionist. Social Theorist. Debater. Author.
Socratic Goad. Experimenter. Maddening Demander of Consistency.
Searcher. Finder. Good Friend. Implacable Foe. All of that is detailed
in this book.
My special reason for remembering him is civility. His. Not
mine. Being given to temper and rash actions, I always felt that Bob
was a great anchor to windward, reminding me that it is possible,
indeed desirable, to keep a steady helm and an even keel even in the
stormiest debate of contention.
Bob's civility was majestic. It made him seem as a great rock
around which angry waves could crash, but which they could never
submerge or move.
Bob actually acted as though humans, being rational, would
recognize thoughts that coincided with material reality, and then act
accordingly. That belief, that informed thought will move an individual
- an institution - a people - to action is one of the human race's most
But many develop cynicism, seeing such a belief as an illusion.
Others, doubting people will change themselves, see it as a rationale
for imposing their ideas on others.
LeFevre seemed to me to be an alternative. He acted on his beliefs. He
certainly encouraged others to do the same, to understand what he
understood. But he neither despaired cynically of the project, or
roared in frustration for a crusade to teach the heathen. He saw the
world in terms of individuals. His appeal was not to society. It was
not to history, or humanity, or future generations, or to any such
His difference would be with you. His agreement would be with
you. He did not want to change the world. Individuals changing were the
only way the world would ever change. And he felt that only you could
change yourself. He did not, to cut to the core of it, want
intermediaries of coercion in that process. Life, in his view, should
be a matter of self-controlled, volitional actions between free humans.
Of all the intermediary forces that LeFevre despised and
abhorred, violence was foremost. According to him, violence - certainly
not money - was the root of all evil. Without violence, for instance,
all humans would be free to make up their own minds about their own
lives. The alternative to violence was infinitely more exciting: the
opportunities for self-owned and self-controlled individuals to make
voluntary agreements among themselves.
LeFevre's main point, which he once summed up in an interview,
was that each of us should "Do as you please - but harm no other in his
person or property."
From that position can be extrapolated everything that LeFevre
taught and talked about. He tenaciously held that the individual was
the key to it all. Not tides of history. Not winds of war. Not storms
of ideology. Not pressure of politics. The individual must and does
make up his or her own mind whether to be free or controlled. The
person who submits to outside control "believes" that some one or some
institution has the authority, the right to control the person. But,
LeFevre believed that by nature humans are free, unique, and if they
will it, absolutely able to control themselves.
Perhaps the most discord and confusion were generated by those
who viewed his position as simple pacifism. His position rejected
violence even in self-defense. He could see no gain for freedom in
using the tool of tyranny - violence. But his wasn't a position of
simple pacifism, not a position simply in opposition to violence. It
was a position in favor of the centrality of individualism, with
violence seen as something to be resisted, not in the abstract, but in
the concrete sense that it violated human self-control.
I have known many who profess what I think of as simple
pacifism. They focus on the violence itself. They will not be violent
against anyone else. To be violent would be to sin against someone, to
commit a wrong against the person to whom the violence is directed.
LeFevre's point was subtle, and different. Although he shared the
pacifist's concern of what violence would do to someone else, LeFevre
especially abhorred it because of what it would do to him! He taught
that inflicting violence corrupts one's own character. LeFevre was 100%
consistent in a position from which he would absolutely refuse to harm
another person. He could obviously hope that the refusal to do harm
would be reciprocated, but he also knew that only he could be
responsible for his own actions.
He proclaimed his position. He taught it to all who would
voluntarily, listen. He would impose it upon no one. And he would live
by his position as an individual though the entire universe might be
LeFevre's whole world view was a wonderfully comprehensive one.
This is best seen by his attitude toward politics and government.
He did not believe for an instant in the possibility of good
coming from political action, nor did he harbor any illusion about
"improving" an institution so dependent upon violence as the State. The
institution was beyond redemption, in his view, since - even with
angels at the controls - it would still depend upon violence to enforce
He realized that some people want to be controlled by
government. He never suggested that they be denied the fulfillment of
that need. He never suggested overthrowing the politics that fed that
need. He did advocate withdrawing from it completely. "Let the State
exist for those who want it, but let it not harm me or any other who
does not want it."
Just as his refusal to engage in violence was not simple
pacifism, his denunciation of the State was not simple anarchism.
Anarchism, which is opposition to the institution of the State, is an
ideological shelter for many positive forces as well as the single
negative one of opposing the State.
It was many of those positive forces that LeFevre opposed with
as much vigor as he opposed the State itself. For instance, the attacks
by many anarchist against private property were absolutely contrary to
LeFevre's dictum of doing what you will without harming another.
Peaceful humans who produce wealth, or other property, or who claim
land, would never be dispossessed in a truly free society, one free of
the institutionalized violence of the State. The ownership of self
implies the ownership of those things associated with the labors of the
self. Thus property. To dispossess someone of property, no matter how
benign the motive, implies the use of force, violence.
On the other hand, the single negative position of anarchism,
opposition to the State, was too narrow for LeFevre. He felt that the
positive virtues of individualism were greater than mere opposition to
LeFevre's position most closely parallels libertarian or free
market anarchism, with its consistent defense of rights of ownership,
and of individual self-ownership. Yet, he saw as clearly as anyone a
most interesting paradox. Some of these same libertarians participated
in political action, even while forswearing the use of force to
accomplish political, social, or personal goals. How, he often goaded
them, could they both renounce force while participating in a process
founded fully upon it?
Education, person-by-person, no matter how tedious and slow,
was the only fitting course for the improvement of the human condition
- the only course consistent with what LeFevre saw as the nature of
humans to be absolute controllers of their own selves. Education of the
individual, the freedom education which is at the heart of this book,
was the only alternative which justified its ends by its means.
It is a great measure of the civility of Bob LeFevre, that he
could gently abide - without approving - the actions and friendship of
many who, for simply utilitarian purposes (being nowhere near as
composed in principle as Bob was), flirted with politics. As one of
those myself, I was always mindful of Bob's great patience, the truly
caring nature of his advice, and, finally, the clear rightness of his
Of all the people I have known, Bob LeFevre, more than anyone
else, would want every individual to steer his or her own course, being
fully responsible for its every twist and turn. LeFevre left us all a
fine example and a magnificent chart. He did not leave us any command
to sail. That, he knew, and we all should know, is up to each of us.