What We Owe the Libertarians

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What Do We Owe the Libertarians

by James Ostrowski by James Ostrowski


A great irony has occurred to me just in the last few months of jousting on the web about politics.

I’ve been a libertarian since I was in college. I’ve never hidden that fact and have always been proud of it. I’m always amazed when liberals complain about being called "liberals." What are you ashamed of? If you’re ashamed of what you are, change! And calling yourself "progressives" changes nothing. The concept is the same. In fact, if you know anything about libertarians, you should know that while we have some fondness for the term "liberal," which was stolen from us fair and square about 100 years ago, we have little use for Progressives with a capital "P." Most of what’s wrong with the country now we owe to them.

Anyway, people on the web have frequently used the word "libertarian" as a term of derision. They often ask, "What have you libertarians ever accomplished?"

One of the purposes of Free New York’s new Libertarian Hall of Fame will be to answer that question. Like the Grover Cleveland Library, the Hall of Fame will be an exploration of history that has direct and palpable relevance to what is happening now in politics, locally, nationally, and internationally.

Some people think history doesn’t matter. Henry Ford said, “History is more or less bunk.” Sometimes I think that history is the only thing that matters! Churchill said, “History is written by the victors.” The first few drafts of history are usually bunk as Ford said because those who write them have an axe to grind as the historian Churchill understood. Orwell sums it up: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” If you are ignorant of history, you become history’s slave.

Churchill also said, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few." He was talking about the Battle of Britain. Let me borrow that quote for a different purpose. It is a perfect description of history’s heroes of liberty, the libertarians.

Never was so much owed by so many to so few with so little gratitude! That ingratitude towards benefactors (see Dante) ends with the founding of the Libertarian Hall of Fame.

With this effort, we will explore the amazing accomplishments of this small group of people. Some are famous, some are not. Some were ideologues, some were not. What quality they share is a passion for human liberty and the integrity and courage to fight for their beliefs often at the risk of their lives. Several of our nominees were murdered by the state for their beliefs. Philosopher Brand Blanshard called courage the "best loved virtue." We admire courage, Blandshard wrote:

[B]ecause it is the antidote to the emotion that is at once the deepest, the most universal, and the most disagreeable known to man, the emotion of fear.

One of the first priorities of the Libertarian Hall of Fame will be to answer the question, "What do we owe to the libertarians?" The answers will surprise many, including many libertarians.

For now, let me allude to just one of the accomplishments of the libertarians, the one that allows me to write and publish this article without fear of being beaten to death or tortured: the First Amendment and freedom of speech.

January 29, 2007

James Ostrowski is an attorney in Buffalo, New York and author of Political Class Dismissed: Essays Against Politics, Including "What’s Wrong With Buffalo." See his website.

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