CLVXI – Sy Leon, R.I.P.

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The
late 1950s and early 1960s
were the formative years for
what has since become known
as u201Clibertarian thinking.u201D
Those of us who rejected the
state, and collectivism in
general, were as rare throughout
America then as they are today
in the District of Columbia.
Murray Rothbard was fond of
saying that, in those early
days, all libertarians would
fit inside his New York City
apartment. There was more
realism than humor in his
remark. It was not uncommon
for someone to say to another
something like: u201CI'm going
on a business trip to Cincinnati,u201D
and to have the other person
respond with: u201Cbe sure to
look up Wally Ballew: he's
a libertarian.u201D u201CWe have a
libertarian in Cincinnati?
That's great!u201D It was a time
when most libertarians knew
one another either personally
or by reputation.

These
were the days when many were
engaged in serious introspection
and self-questioning. Atlas
Shrugged
was a beginning
point for a lot of us. As
the title of Jerome Tuccille's
classic work accurately observed,
the process u201Cusually starts
with Ayn Rand.u201D For those
seeking a deeper understanding
of liberty — instead of just
a new religion — the quest
took numerous paths. For some,
there was a focus on u201Cwhat
shall we call ourselves?,u201D
as though a label conferred
genuine insight. u201CIndividualists,u201D
u201Canarchists,u201D u201Cautarchists,u201D
u201Claissez-faire capitalists,u201D
u201CObjectivists,u201D u201Clibertarians,u201D
and, later, u201Canarcho-capitalists,u201D
were some of the more common
labels thrown out for consideration.
My late friend, Jim Martin,
even suggested u201Cme-istu201D for
consideration.

It
was during these intellectually
and politically turbulent
years that I met Sy Leon.
He and I were teaching at
Robert LeFevre's Rampart College
in Colorado, one of a number
of organizations devoted to
broadening an understanding
of individual liberty. LeFevre
had been successful in getting
men and women in all age groups
to pay to spend one to two
weeks in Colorado studying
the philosophy of freedom.
Such an effort took a great
commitment of both time and
energy from our students,
an effort one finds, today,
at Mises University in Auburn,
Alabama.

Sy
and I, along with his wife
Riqui and my wife Jane, thus
found ourselves at one of
the centers where libertarian
thinking was being explored.
Others who taught at Rampart
at the time included the economist
Bill Hutt, historian Jim Martin,
and a gangly teenager by the
name of Roy Childs. Others
who came there to share their
ideas included Ludwig von
Mises, F.A. Harper, Frank
Chodorov, Rose Wilder Lane,
Bruno Leoni, Leonard Read,
Gordon Tullock, and Milton
Friedman. It was a vibrant
place within which to develop
one's thinking.

Sy's
sense of humor made him an
effective teacher. So had
his World War II experiences
as a B-17 bombardier. Unlike
far too many veterans of war,
Sy saw the immorality and
fundamental indecency of warfare
and refused to gratify his
ego with lies about its noble
character. A talk he gave
at Rampart College was one
of the most moving condemnations
of war and the state that
I have ever heard.

He
was also adept at promoting
the cause of liberty to wider
audiences. He formed an organization,
u201CThe League of Non-Voters,u201D
to critique the voting process
as an illusion by which we
are led to believe that we
are controlling the political
system. His ideas resulted
in a book that received a
good deal of attention: None
of the Above
. Through
the League, he actively promoted
the inclusion of u201Cnone of
the aboveu201D as an alternative
to listed candidates for every
office. While his ideas have
led a few states to include
such an option as a non-binding
statement — particularly in
primary elections — Sy had
a far more powerful thought
in mind. If u201Cnone of the aboveu201D
received the majority of votes
for any office, that position
would remain unfilled until
a candidate more suitable
to the electorate could be
found.

Sy
ran Rampart College after
it moved to southern California;
organized speaking tours for
Harry Browne thus helping
to stimulate Harry's marketplace
popularity; organized a number
of libertarian programs; and
was a frequent interviewee
in the media. A few years
before we met Sy, Jane and
I traveled to Chicago to hear
a talk given by Ayn Rand,
a program we later found Sy
had organized. He was a promoter
in the healthy sense of the
word; someone who worked effectively
to accomplish worthwhile projects.

No
matter how many friends you
have, there is that small
handful of very special people
with whom you share an unmatched
closeness. For Jane and me,
Sy and Riqui were among such
people. The four of us shared
a common passion for Dixieland
jazz, and often found ourselves
driving from Rampart College
to Denver on weekends to hear
the Queen City Jazz Band.
The Leons were also the ones
who, a few years later, introduced
us to the work of J. Krishnamurti,
a philosopher who had the
most significant influence
on my thinking in the latter
half of my life, and whose
talks we listened to in Ojai,
California, when he spoke
there each spring. Krishnamurti
reminded us that it is u201Cthe
movement of thoughtu201D that
underlies all of the conflict
we have within our own lives
and with others. It is introspection
— the same process of self-examination
that brought us to libertarian
thinking in those early days
— which, alone, can extricate
us from the structured insanities
that our minds have created.

Riqui
died a few years ago. Shortly
thereafter, Jane and I lost
contact with Sy. Efforts to
locate him proved futile.
A few weeks ago, I learned
that he had fallen ill, and
didn't want others to know
of his condition. He died
this past spring.

It
is fitting that our acquaintance
with Sy should end in the
same state of mind in which
it had begun: through an exploration
of our own minds and behavior
to discover why we persist
in following our self-destructive
conditioning. There was a
sign that overhung a road
at Rampart College, with a
message penned by the late
F.A. Harper: u201Cthe man who
knows what freedom means,
will find a way to be free.u201D
I know that such words were
of great significance to Sy.

The
libertarian philosophy has
developed through the introspective
efforts of a great number
of people, including Sy Leon.
The next time you hear someone
extol the idea of having u201Cnone
of the aboveu201D on ballots,
think a kind thought of Sy,
who did so much to popularize
this alternative to modern
politics.

As
for myself, and remembering
Sy's wonderful sense of humor,
I will choose to remember
him in words that I know he
would have appreciated. They
are those that H.L. Mencken
selected for his own epitaph:
u201CIf, after I depart this vale,
you ever remember me and have
thought to please my ghost,
forgive some sinner, and wink
your eye at some homely girl.u201D

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