James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, April 06, 2007

Karl Hess: Toward Liberty

Wally Conger points us to this 1980 Oscar-winning documentary short about Karl Hess, Barry Goldwater's 1964 speechwriter who transformed into a community organizer, "environmentalist," and libertarian hero.

There was material here for a Ken Burns 12-hour PBS special, yet this particular piece is unfortunately just one half-hour. But the message is as powerful today as it was in 1980. Individuals should have a say not only in their political lives, but in their economic lives, in everything that affects them. Which can only happen with radical decentralization and do-it-yourself individuals. Libertarianism and Democracy converge.

Karl Hess: Toward Liberty inspired this thought. It can be said that Hess's vision can't work, that most individuals prefer to be followers, to be one of the crowd, to have most of their decisions made for them. Perhaps. In some ways, life can be easier that way, provided everything runs smoothly. But wouldn't any of us prefer a culture in which, from early childhood on, individuals are asked to solve problems and meet challenges? Where they are raised with the basic knowledge to make repairs, build stuff, cook, and read? Where they go to a high school of 200 and are asked to play football or some other sport, and be involved in other activities, rather than go to a high school of 3000 where such opportunities are reserved for a talented few and the many aren't given any challenges or responsibilities?

Assuming the inclination to take the easy road is inherent in all individuals, in the handyman and the bookkeeper, wouldn't you want the handyman to be literate and the bookkeeper competent to act in several different kinds of emergencies? Wouldn't you want everyone raised in an environment in which the "easy road" still requires the development of a variety of knowledge and skills? The alternative is having other people - politicians, corporate boards, and their appointed "experts" - making our life decisions for us. If they're wrong, we're all screwed. But if we are left to make decisions for ourselves, then some of us can be wrong but will only hurt only themselves, while those who are right can prosper.

The future of freedom does not rely on making individuals morally "virtuous" enough to be free; it does not involve a magic libertarian persuasion tool that will change human nature for the better. It depends, rather, on raising children who are well-rounded and self-sufficient enough to be free - who have ingrained habits that involve hard work so that it doesn't seem hard to them. Who can get their hands dirty and fix things without stress or even much conscious thought, so that the "easy way" for them still leads to problem-solving and high productivity.

The best gift freedom-loving parents can give the world is to give their children an education better than they themselves had. That way, even if the pace of societal improvement isn't as quick as we'd like, at least our own children will be better off. At least they will be free.

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