On March 1, bestselling author and former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne finally succumbed to a neurological disease. He was 72.
I’m not claiming to have been a close friend of Harry Browne–he was well over twice my age, and we never went out drinking. But I did have a number of conversations with him during and after my employment with the Libertarian Party, he knew who I was, and I know he liked me. And I respected and admired him.
So this is my tribute to a man who deserves it.
Harry the Communicator
Harry Browne was the best communicator of libertarianism that I’ve ever heard or read.
While working in the public policy arena, I’ve heard many pro-freedom intellectuals speak. Most of them are academics who–though often brilliant and dedicated–lack the wit and charisma necessary to appeal to average Americans.
But Harry, who had marketed his books to the masses on radio and television, used his sales approach to great effect. The warmth of his personality, the earnest sincerity of his voice, and the power of his words disarmed opponents and endeared him to many who had never before heard the libertarian message.
His book Why Government Doesn’t Work is simply fantastic. With crystal clarity, it identifies the essence of government and shows why it must be removed from areas where it doesn’t belong. His follow-up book, The Great Libertarian Offer, is also great, and his book Liberty A to Z is an invaluable source of liberty-themed sound bites.
I remember being stunned by Harry’s powerful yet economical writing style. I still try to incorporate some of his techniques in my own writing today.
The point of libertarian communication, Harry frequently said, isn’t to win arguments by showing others how stupid they are–it’s to win converts by inspiring others to want freedom. That’s advice all libertarians should take to heart.
Harry the Principled
Harry Browne was a man of great self-confidence. He simply wouldn’t be swayed from speaking the truth as he saw it–no matter how great the pressure to do otherwise.
The perfect example of that occurred right after 9/11. In the face of that tragic event, many libertarians sought to distance themselves from criticism of the U.S. government. But not Harry Browne.
The following day, Harry published an article titled “When Will We Learn?” That piece, which Harry later said was the most controversial article he’d ever written, said that the reckless overseas actions of U.S. officials had finally come back to our own soil. Now, he lamented, innocent people were being punished for the terrible acts of the guilty.
The strong reaction to the article was immediate. Some libertarians applauded him for not being intimidated into silence. Others, a number of whom had been fans of Harry, excoriated him for making such a statement so soon after the attacks (or at all).
Harry responded that if libertarians don’t immediately connect a disaster with the state actions that caused it, we lose our best chance of changing policy and saving lives in the future. It was a position from which Harry never retreated.
Harry the Gentleman
Harry Browne carried himself like a U.S. president, even though–thanks to a shoestring campaign budget and lack of attention from many media outlets–he never became one. He was a statuesque man with neatly parted gray hair. He wore expensive suits and adored opera. He never graduated from college, but his knowledge of history and economics was tremendous.
Occasionally, I’d notice errors when I’d visit his website, and I’d email him to let him know. Although I never expected a personal response from him, he usually wrote me back expressing his appreciation.
An avid watcher of The Daily Show, Harry had a keen sense of humor. One time when I called his weekly radio show, I was put on hold for a ridiculously long time. I then sent an annoyed email to him, to which he responded with a good-natured message apologizing and offering to send me lotion for my phone ear.
He laughed once when I told him that he was “way too patient.” It seemed like Harry would listen politely to anybody–even cranks who claimed that there’s no law requiring people to pay income tax. He tried hard not to interrupt people or belittle their opinions.
Harry the Optimist
Harry Browne wore his idealism as a badge of honor. In fact, Harry proudly described himself as suffering from “chronic euphoria with Pollyanna syndrome.” I never thought the public opinion polls he cited as the basis for libertarian optimism proved what he thought they did, but his positive attitude was intoxicating nevertheless.
Harry would often close his speeches by talking about the Statue of Liberty and what it represents. He’d then say:
“That is the America we once had.
“That is the America we should have–the beacon of liberty providing light and hope and inspiration to the entire world.
“And, by God, I am determined that this is the America we will have again.”
Whenever I feel frustrated about the growth of government, that’s what I remember.
Thank You, Harry
I want to add my voice to the chorus of those who are saying, “Thank you, Harry Browne.” For helping me write. For making me laugh. For convincing me that true freedom is possible and inspiring me not to give up.
Thank you for being the man you were.
Jonathan Trager is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles