Liberty's Benefactor

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In every age, the idea of liberty needs benefactors, far-seeing people willing to make personal sacrifices so that each new generation is taught not to take freedom for granted, but rather to fight for it in every field of life. That is necessary because the idea of liberty isn’t really a product that can be provided either by private enterprise or, of course, its enemy the state. It must be provided as a gift to civilization.

These are points taught to me by the life and work of Burton Samuel Blumert, one of liberty’s great benefactors. He died at age 80 on the morning of March 30, 2009, after a long battle with cancer. He would deny it, but his name deserves to go down in history as a person who served as a champion of freedom during his long life.

He was born in Brooklyn, and after attending NYU and NYU Law School, and being forced into the Air Force (where the socialist regimentation made him a libertarian), Burt was a fundraiser for the American Jewish Committee and a store detective for a large retail establishment in NYC, searching out thieves. Then he was offered a promotion, and also the chance to be a traveling manager of a chain of ladies hat shops mostly based in the South, which he loved. However, the firm had a couple of stores in Northern California, and its first one at Hillsdale Mall, and Burt fell in love with the area.

Luckily, just at the time that "the evil JFK killed the hat," as he put it, Burt had the chance to buy into a business that was also his hobby, Camino Coin in Burlingame. Over the next decades, Burt built Camino into one of the most important dealers on the West Coast. Indeed, the firm became internationally known for its prices and service.

Burt was also a Silicon Valley pioneer, joining all the coin dealers in the country in their first computer network for prices and news. Xerox eventually bought the network. During all this, his libertarianism was not neglected, however, nor his opposition to inflationary fiat money and the Federal Reserve. He helped sponsor speaking engagements for such Austrian economists as Ludwig von Mises and Leonard E. Read, and became a friend and benefactor of many libertarian scholars and activists, especially Murray N. Rothbard.

He served faithfully as chairman of the Mises Institute, succeeding Margit von Mises in that post. He was a dear friend of Murray’s, and stuck steadfastly by him when others bailed out on grounds that Murray was too radical or too independent as an intellectual. Blumert saw that this genius needed support, and he provided it in every way. Indeed, in the darkest days, he made the difference.

Rothbard was only one of many who benefited from his generosity and care. Burt never wavered in his support, through thick and thin, providing excellent counsel and guidance at every step. I know that I had come to depend on his unfailing friendship and judgment in a host of areas.

His support was more than financial; he also offered his time and energy with great generosity. He provided offices, the safekeeping of books, and personal encouragement to many libertarian scholars; he linked up scholars with benefactors and publishers and employers, and even drove people to events big and small. And he played an important role as proprietor of Camino, in turning customers into benefactors of libertarian and Austrian organizations.

He had a quiet way about him that was always utterly and completely sincere. It was this feature of Burt that made him a good "salesman," and he was legendary in that respect. He loved helping people achieve financial independence. But it was about more than just business to him. He had the vision to see that ideas are more important than all the world’s goods. It was this that he sought to give to the world. His gifts for friendship and hospitality were also essential.

For many years, he served as master of ceremonies for Mises Institute events. He was extremely comfortable, and successful, in asking for people’s support of this cause, because he was also a supporter himself. In 2003 he was awarded the first Murray N. Rothbard Prize in celebration of his amazing contribution in a host of areas. He believed he didn’t deserve it, of course. But we all sensed that Murray cheered as he accepted it: Attaboy, Burt, he often said.

Many people commented on Burt’s sense of humor. It was pervasive, and unfailing in good times and bad. Have a look at his wonderful collection of observations in his book Bagels, Bonds, and Rotten Politicians. He used humor as a way of cutting through the ideological thicket created by the political moment, as a means to help people see and understand what truly matters.

It was something that many of us counted on for years. The news would be filled with reports of ominous events and threats to life and property. But Burt had a way of maintaining a refreshing distance, remembering what is important, and bringing humor to lighten the moment so that others could discern what really matters.

His political outlook was decidedly Rothbardian. He saw politicians as predictable in their scammery and racketeering. He saw the state as no more than a massive drain on society, something we could do well without. War he regarded as a massive and destructive diversion of social resources. Welfare he saw as a perverse system for rewarding bad behavior and punishing virtue. Regulations on business he saw as interventions that benefitted the well-connected at the expense of the true heroes of society, who were pursuing enterprise with an eye to independence and profitability.

His main enemy was the inflationary state, and one reason he got into the business of precious metals was to battle paper money. As a lifetime observer of the business cycle, he knew that paper-money and artificial-credit creation lead to illusions that would eventually dissipate. So it was no surprise that he saw the latest bust coming early on. As a resident of the Bay Area in Northern California, he was surrounded by illusions, but his knowledge of Austrian business-cycle theory permitted him to see through the fog.

There was a wonderful realism about his way of looking at society. He hated the state for its sheer phoniness. The paper dollar was just the beginning of it all, the most obvious symbol. To Burt, all of the state’s glorious activities were an illusion, creating false booms with every action. It was the sheer hypocrisy of statecraft that struck him the most.

Private markets too have their share of crooks, but at least they didn’t sail under the cover of legal legitimacy. Here is what he wrote about his favorite sport, boxing:

There is a refreshing quality about the world of boxing and the commissions that govern it: corruption is pure and unadulterated. The road to ascendancy in the world of boxing has no moral detours. For those who rise to the top, a stretch at Sing Sing is more valued than an Ivy League degree (and the alumni connections more useful). A murder indictment is equivalent to a graduate degree (see the bio of impresario Don King). There is no waste of resources in locating members for the athletic commission. The marketplace assigns a dollar value on each appointment and the only concern is that the bills are unmarked.

Burt Blumert with Lew Rockwell, David Gordon, and Murray Rothbard

Burt was a wonderful friend to have, a man of extraordinary generosity and sound judgment. He was a living saint to libertarian intellectuals and a dear friend to the remnant that loves freedom. He was self-effacing to the extreme, always sincerely and quickly giving credit to others and refusing it himself. He was also a cook and host of great ability and generosity, and his home was a salon of liberty.

A longtime friend and supporter of Ron Paul, Burt chaired his 1988 Libertarian Party campaign for president, and cheered and supported his 2008 run. Burt was also the founding publisher of LewRockwell.com, and an important writer for it.

So in his death, let us say what is true about him, simply because he would never let anyone say it about him in life. Through his daily life and good works, his loyalty and indefatigability, he showed us a path forward, the very model of how a successful businessman can achieve greatness in a lifetime. His legacy can be found in many of the books you read and in the massive growth of libertarianism in our times. Signs of his works are all around us. These were his gifts to the world. And for those of us who knew him, Burt’s wonderful life and outlook are gifts to us of inestimable value.

We will miss him every day, but no day will ever pass when we are not inspired by his example. May his great soul rest in peace.

Books by Lew Rockwell

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail] is founder and president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, editor of LewRockwell.com, and author, most recently, of The Left, The Right, and The State.

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