Some of My Heroes

When I was a freshman in high school, "The Graduate" was the hit movie of the year, and anyone who was conscious at that time can remember what a stir this picture caused. The central theme of the film was, in effect, that no more heroes existed in America, as demonstrated by the hit song from the movie’s soundtrack, "Mrs. Robinson."

Americans longed for heroes — people like "Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio — but, as Simon and Garfunkle told us through their song, "Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away." (Simon and Garfunkle took literary license, as DiMaggio would live for a long time after their song topped the charts.) Americans wanted heroes, but all that was left were flawed characters.

Since I do not subscribe to a belief that heroes must be perfect to be heroes, I cannot say that "Mrs. Robinson" has any real meaning for me, except to remind me that the school year of 1967—68 was a rather eventful time, both for me in particular and the United States in general. Yet, here I am 37 years later having experienced any number of people in my life that I could call a hero. While they are heroes to me, I will share five of them with my readers.

How does a person qualify as one of my heroes? First, I need either to know them well or at least to have had some personal contact with them. Second, they had to have had a special influence on me and either helped point me in the right direction or lived their life in a way that reflects things in life that are important. Third, they need to be people who are principled and who have demonstrated real integrity in their dealings. Fourth, they need to be alive (which is why Murray Rothbard is not on this list). Fifth, this list is not exhaustive of my heroes, but five is enough for now.

In no particular order of importance, I list the following people:

  • Charles Anderson,
  • Lew Rockwell,
  • William H. Peterson,
  • Marianne Jennings,
  • Harvey Silverglate.

Charles Anderson: As one can figure, he is my father, and he has influenced me in countless ways. First, and most important, Dad never has compromised on what was right and wrong. Second, he always has been kind-hearted and is not a person who holds grudges. Third, even though he is not a theologian (he has been a pastor and a teacher at a Christian college, and is now retired), I can think of no person who I would rather ask if I had a theological issue on my mind.

Was Dad a libertarian who influenced me politically? I cannot say that exactly, except that long ago he was an opponent of the drug war — and this was before it took on the unyielding characteristics that describe this current abomination. Because of Dad, however, it is much easier for me to be a libertarian and to hold the political views that are mine. What I found was that I could be a libertarian, yet not have to live or believe in a way that would compromise those beliefs that I hold to be eternal.

Being libertarian requires a much higher set of principled beliefs than what are required to be a garden-variety "conservative" or "liberal" (and especially to be a Republican or Democrat). That is because conservatives and liberals generally identify with political parties — and political candidates. Thus, in the past U.S. Presidential election, George W. Bush and John Kerry became the standard bearers not only for the parties, but also for the ideological hopes and dreams of their supporters. Bush and Kerry, then, ultimately became conservatism and liberalism.

My father’s example has made it much easier for me not to compromise my own set of standards when it comes to political thinking. I don’t believe that most fathers can pass on that legacy to their children, yet I can say unequivocally that this was a gift my father gave to me. (His willingness not to compromise — even when his peers scorn him — is one reason that I so admire Ron Paul. He is not on the list in this article — but he is a real hero.)

Lew Rockwell: Lew certainly needs no introduction to the readers of this page, and I suspect that he might be on a number of "heroes" lists of the LRC faithful. However, keep in mind that when I first read Lew’s work, I described him to Tom DiLorenzo (who can vouch for my account) as a "bomb thrower." (Tom’s response to me was that perhaps we need people to throw a few bombs — and he was quite right, even if I did not believe him then.)

More than anyone else, Lew served to radicalize me. I don’t think this involved any special missionary effort on his behalf, as I was much more ready to have my thinking challenged that I had realized when I began the doctoral program in economics at Auburn University in the fall of 1995. At that time, I thought that I understood economics and admit to being offended by a pamphlet on Austrian Economics that Lew wrote in which he said something to the effect that Austrian Economics stands apart and above mainstream neoclassical economics. (Emphasis mine)

Little did I realize then that I would come to the same conclusion within a few years, and my experience in teaching and writing about economic phenomenon since I completed my degree has served only to reinforce in my mind what Lew wrote so incisively a decade ago. (Because college economic courses are fundamentally organized to promote mainstream economics, any attempt to buck that system must be carefully planned and executed, as one who tries to do so actually is teaching two different courses simultaneously.)

There is no better resource for teaching economics correctly than the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and without Lew and his vision, there is no LVMI, period. Every student who either has been exposed to Austrian Economics for the first time or who has been able to receive the equivalent of a graduate education in this area owes Lew a debt of gratitude. I, for one, will never be able to repay him.

William H. Peterson: I first met Bill Peterson in 1981. I was working in Athens, Tennessee, and Bill held the Scott L. Probasco Chair of Free Enterprise at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. To help begin the economic education of an economically illiterate person, Bill gave me copies of some of his work, as well as the January 1981 edition of The Freeman. That was only the beginning. Soon, I was to find out that he wrote his doctoral dissertation at NYU under Mises. Now, I had heard about Milton Friedman and had religiously read Free to Choose, but my economic education had a long way (and still does) to go.

To make a long story short, Bill put a lot of time and energy into helping me learn the basics of economics. In the spring of 1982, I won the Olive W. Garvey Economic Essay Contest and presented my paper at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting that year in what was then West Berlin. From there, I continued to learn, and Bill was never far away.

By 1982, he was forcefully urging me to go into a doctoral program in economics, and while I would have liked to have done it then, family and work circumstances intervened and kept me from achieving that goal, at least for nearly two decades. Bill was relentless and he never gave up on his student; in 1999, I finally received the requisite signatures on my dissertation and had my "union card" (as he affectionately called the doctorate).

But Bill Peterson did not simply teach me economics; he also was one of the first people to sow the anti-war seeds in my mind. Now, he was not (and is not) a pacifist, but he was the first person I knew who openly questioned the U.S. role both in World War I and World War II. It had never occurred to me before that U.S. entry into these conflicts was anything but inevitable — and morally justified.

Even today, I always am pleased to hear from him via email or some other form of communications. Furthermore, the teacher himself is still a student of the discipline, and he has never stopped his quest for economic knowledge. Mises, indeed, would be proud of his student.

Marianne Jennings: Most LRC readers are not familiar with Professor Jennings, who teaches business ethics at Arizona State University. She also writes a column with a strong conservative bent (sometimes too Republican for my tastes) and has a vita so long that to print it would require deforestation of North America.

Now, Marianne is a Republican, and I am not, and she did not take the same stance that I did on the Martha Stewart case and others. So, why would I fete her as one of my heroes, especially someone who is only a year older than I? The reason is that Marianne Jennings has achieved on a number of fronts. She finished law school in 1977, then went to the ASU faculty. Keep in mind that college professors do not seek tenure and promotion until at least their seventh year on the job. By 1983, Jennings was a full professor. When I asked her how in the world she did it, she answered that she outworked everyone else because she figured that a conservative like her would not receive a fair shake. Saying she outworked everyone else is an understatement, to put it mildly.

During that same time, Marianne and her husband have had four children, including one, Claire, who is severely brain damaged and who has lived much longer than her life expectancy. Marianne has written some heartfelt — and sometimes anguished — columns on life with Claire, but never has she written from the angle of self-pity or has manipulated the readers la Oprah Winfrey. Instead, we come to understand that a person who is passionate about many things still runs into her own limitations, and there are times that even the most talented people in our midst cannot hide their own vulnerabilities.

I like my heroes to be real people, and I suspect there are few people who are more real than Marianne Jennings. That she is brilliant and talented does not hide the fact that she is passionate about what is right and wrong. And she can accomplish more in a few days than I can in a few years.

Harvey Silverglate: If I were charged with a crime and needed a lawyer to represent me, Harvey Silverglate would be one of my first choices. Now, being a good defense lawyer is not what makes Harvey a hero; there are many good defense lawyers out there that earn the contempt people have for them. No, the reason I would want Harvey in my camp is because he not only is talented, but he also cares deeply about liberty.

I am not sure that there is a man who better understands our constitutional rights — and better defends them than Harvey in both courts of law and courts of public opinion. Furthermore, he does not view constitutional rights as technicalities; our rights mean something to him, and he is able to express those views as eloquently as anyone around today.

Readers of the LRC page are familiar with the many pieces he has written that Lew has linked. Unlike many of the typical leftist critics of John Ashcroft who are long on insults but short on specifics, Silverglate has meticulously spelled out how the government has deprived us of our rights, and why it is difficult for people to regain those rights after the state takes them away.

Furthermore, unlike the Ashcroft critics on the left, Harvey is willing to stand up for people on all sides of the political spectrum, and especially those who might be politically unpopular. In an email to me earlier this year, he said that what matters most is for individuals to be guided by principles, and to stay true to them. That is advice that I hope to carry with me the rest of my life.