Two weeks ago today, on December 29, 2019, Butler Shaffer passed away. Butler was a dear friend and mentor of mine. He would be 85 today, on January 12th, 2020.
Butler has been a legend in libertarian circles. He began writing articles and blogs for LewRockwell.com nearly twenty years ago, in addition to authoring his numerous books. Accordingly, he gained numerous devotees from within the libertarian and voluntaryist movements due to the overall success and impact of LewRockwell.com. Butler had recently retired as a Professor of Law Emeritus from Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles after nearly forty years of teaching, and this followed a successful career in private law practice in labor relations and antitrust.
I got to know Butler after meeting him at a west coast conference approximately 16 years ago. We had previously corresponded by email as writing colleagues. Prior to that, I had met his daughter, Bretigne, at a Ludwig von Mises Institute (Mises University) event in 1999, where we were only two of a handful of females amongst nearly 130 attendees eager to take on a week of deep study in Austrian economics. Bretigne is also an author and LewRockwell.com writer. Butler is survived by his amazing wife, Jane, and two other gifted daughters in addition to Bretigne, as well as the five grandchildren that he so adored. Butler was an academic, and brilliant, yet he became known for his hundreds of articles written in publications and websites intended for the intellectually curious layman.
In spite of his station of celebrity, he was just a regular kinda guy. He was a true pun master, too, with endless varieties of delivery. Only fellow Misesian David Gordon could rival him in that sort of banter. A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Butler was an avid fan of Nebraska football and basketball. Once, about ten years ago, I was staying at his home in Burbank with him and Jane in September. It was a Saturday, and Butler was discussing with me at great length his views on social history and philosophy, and the evils of government and institutions. But all was immediately hushed – silence! – once we approached the moment of kickoff for Nebraska football. Nothing, and no one, interfered with a Nebraska game. Since then, I’ve always remembered his affinity for Nebraska games.
About 7-8 years ago, I had the fortune of attending a trip with the Mises Institute to FDR’s Little White House State Historic Site in Warm Springs, GA. Can one person be so lucky to have toured that place in tow with Butler Shaffer and Lew Rockwell, watching their banter fly in the face of a tour guide spouting tediously conventional wisdom regarding Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Those two men had me in stitches and laughter-tears the entire time. I have two other memories of Butler – among the many – that seem to stand out for me. In 2009, Butler and I attended a small-scale libertarian seminar in Minneapolis. Butler has a daughter in the area, and I have family there. So it was an ideal place to meet up. Following the seminar that was in the back room of some warehouse-sorta-thing in the Uptown area of Minneapolis, we headed over to a bar for eats and a nightcap. Butler and I sat at a table of many folks from the seminar, and while we waited for our order, we heard this man over a loudspeaker asking what appeared to be trivia questions. One after another – Butler and I were immediately shouting out the answers. Yelling them out, in fact. He knew some, and I knew some. Half-and-half. But no one else sitting near the announcer seemed to know the answers. Finally, after yelling out multiple consecutive answers, we got shouted down, yelled at, and then scolded by onlookers. Then the announcer walked over and chastised us for disrupting their trivia game. I had no idea what that was about until 2014, when I met my current husband. My husband had been, for years, a trivia competitor and champ, and when I told him this story, he told me it was a “Live Trivia” event where the participants are competing and answers to the trivia are not “yelled out.” We were screwing up their entire game.
The next day, I picked up Butler and we drove to nearby Stillwater, Minnesota, which was, at the time, known as “America’s Book Town.” Bookstores galore! We planned the day out so that we could hit every bookstore in Stillwater. We were in St. Croix Antiquarian Booksellers when Butler’s wife (Jane) called him. They talked for a bit and Butler handed me his phone, saying, “Jane wants to talk to you.” Jane, knowing we were canvassing the greatest booktown in America, told me, “Please don’t let Butler buy any more books. We have no more room for books. He has so many books.” “Whoops,” I said … “he already has some sitting on the counter.” And so, I told Jane I might be powerless in this battle to add to his collection of books. He bought more books and took them home to California. I bought books, too, on the recommendation of Butler. We had such a grand time in that town. His home in Burbank is a pleasant, small space populated with bookshelves that surround the main living areas. And Jane has always been his most ardent supporter. Jane’s tribute to her husband can be read here.
Butler was the nicest, kindest, most approachable guy you could ever meet, in addition to being an intellectual force for freedom and critical thought. He was mellow and thoughtful. I loved Butler dearly, and he will be missed.
His books are as follows:
- A Libertarian Critique of Intellectual Property (Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2013)
- The Wizards of Ozymandias: Reflections on the Decline and Fall (Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2012)
- Boundaries of Order: Private Property of a Social System (Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009)
- Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival (originally published by Alchemy Books 1985; reprinted by Llumina Press, 2004)
- In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918-1938 (Bucknell University Press, 1997)
10:17 pm on January 12, 2020 Email Karen De Coster