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Earlier this morning I had occasion to post a link on another thread to the classic article by Roy Childs, Objectivism and the State: An Open Letter to Ayn Rand (1969).

I am starting this thread not for the purpose of rehashing the minarchism/anarchism debate (which Roy changed his mind about in any case) but because rereading Roy's article for the first time in many years brought a lot of memories flooding back.

Roy, whose untimely death in 1992 deeply affected many people, was one of the most memorable characters I have ever known. He was also close friends with at least two other OL members, Jeff Riggenbach and Barbara Branden, and I suspect some other OL members knew him as well.

I have started this thread in the hope that some of you have some personal stories about Roy that you would like to relate. If you feel compelled to argue about Roy's article, please go elsewhere for that.

Ghs

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While rereading Roy's Open Letter to Ayn Rand a few hours ago, one passage stood out as quintessential Roy. Keep in mind that Roy wrote this while he was in his late teens. Addressing Rand directly, Roy wrote:

In the future, if you are interested, I will take up several other issues surrounding your political philosophy, such as a discussion of the epistemological problems of definition and concept formation in issues concerning the state, a discussion of the nature of the U.S. Constitution, both ethically and historically, and a discussion of the nature of the Cold War. I believe that your historical misunderstanding of these last two is responsible for many errors in judgment, and is increasingly expressed in your commentaries on contemporary events.

This may sound arrogant, but it exhibits innocence as much as anything else. Roy actually believed that Rand might read his article, appreciate the frank criticism, and respond to it (or to him). Although Roy quickly became disabused of this particular fantasy, this charming naiveté remained with him for all of his life.

Another thing I got a kick out of appears at the end of the Open Letter, to wit:

cc: Nathaniel Branden

Leonard Peikoff

Robert Hessen

Murray N. Rothbard

Such were the salad years of the libertarian movement. :rolleyes:

Ghs

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Looking at Roy's article many years ago I was impressed with his naivete about Objectivism and Ayn Rand: There was no way she would ever entertain a competing voice or acknowledge it, especially from an anarchist's perspective. Roy's tone of voice, btw, is that of an earnest young man who has learned too much too soon as is typical of earnest young men, myself included decades ago.

--Brant

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Brant and George:

Yes. A lot like the philosophical puppy love letters that Nathanial wrote to her, except for his statement that she was wrong and he wanted to convince her why.

George, those years from 1963 to 1973 were the most fertile years for political thought and it was wonderful to be in NY City and in the middle of it.

Adam

Post script:

Now you have me remembering some of the statements after he passed.

Szasz, pretty much nails it when he said, "Roy was not like us. He valued neither health nor wealth. Roy loved liberty like a lover loves his beloved. The lover finds happiness in loving rather than in being loved. Roy found happiness in loving liberty. It was not possible to love liberty, to know Roy, and to not love him."

Edited by Selene
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George,

How did Roy's views change from anarchism? Did he become a minarchist? Is there an article of his I can read regarding this change?

Shayne

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George,

How did Roy's views change from anarchism? Did he become a minarchist? Is there an article of his I can read regarding this change?

Shayne

Roy was a minarchist for the last 10 or 15 years of his life. (I was never very clear about exactly when the deconversion occurred.) I had many conversations with Roy about this during the last two years of his life, but he was very secretive about his reasons. Indeed, I used to kid Roy about his "secret refutation" of anarchism, pointing out that a secret refutation doesn't refute much of anything.

Roy once told me that he offered to write an extensive article for Liberty Magazine that would serve as a refutation of his Open Letter. The problem (according to Roy) was that the late R.W. Bradford, the founder and editor of Liberty, refused to pay him anything. (Roy said that he only asked for $500.)

This story, if true, is surely one of the greatest "penny-wise, pound-foolish" blunders in the history of the modern movement. Shit, if I had had an extra $500, I would have paid Roy to write the article. It would have been a very important and historic piece.

Ghs

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Perhaps he was secretive because he was waiting for the right opportunity to write about it. Such a shame that he didn't get it. Otherwise I can't explain why he wouldn't tell. I wish you would have tried forming a secrecy pact with him, to not tell anyone unless he died, of course that might have been a morbid thing to think of at the time.

Shayne

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Has "Liberty" ever paid anyone anything for content? My impression is not. I've read and subscribed to it since it started. I think that was August 1987.

--Brant

Liberty doesn't pay for articles. This was the reason that Bradford gave to Roy for refusing to pay for his article. Roy had no particular incentive to write the article unless he could make a little money from it, and he felt the article was of sufficient importance to merit an exception. Moreover, having contributed so much free stuff over the years for the sake of "the movement," Roy felt that he deserved some compensation for his efforts. I think Roy was absolutely right about this, especially when you consider that Bradford first approached Roy about writing the article, not vice versa. Roy was frankly insulted by Bradford's request that he write a seminal article for nothing, and I don't blame him. Roy was a careful writer, and a theoretical piece of that magnitude could easily have taken him two weeks or more to complete.

I like Liberty okay, but it would be a better magazine if it commissioned and paid for special articles from time to time, especially some with a theoretical slant.

Ghs

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I recall hearing as early as 1974, from some libertarians in the Houston area, that Roy Childs had expressed reservations about his previously stated views on anarchy and limited government.

But it was of the form "I heard it from X, who heard it from Y, who was at a meeting where Childs and Z informally debated the issue." I heard a variant or two on the story over the next couple of years. That was all. And, you know what they say: it's never your friend or relative who saw the yogi levitate himself, it's always a friend of a friend or a relative or of a relative... Meanwhile, I didn't know Roy Childs personally, and never heard him give a public speech or lecture. (The only time I ever saw him was at the Laissez-Faire Supper Club event that became the excuse for kicking David Kelley out of ARI.)

I kept expecting to see confirmation in print, somewhere, but after a while I wasn't following the libertarian press so closely any more (grad school can have that effect on a person). By the mid-1980s, I was paying a little more attention again, and there was still no article by Roy Childs on the subject.

R. W. Bradford accomplished a lot while being really chinchy, but if he really had a shot at getting Roy Childs to write about his reasons for adopting some version of minarchism, he would have been well advised to make an exception to his policy.

Man, talk about the one that got away....

Robert Campbell

PS. A "secret refuation" sounds like something that the late Andrew Galambos would have come up with.

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Has "Liberty" ever paid anyone anything for content? My impression is not. I've read and subscribed to it since it started. I think that was August 1987.

--Brant

Liberty doesn't pay for articles. This was the reason that Bradford gave to Roy for refusing to pay for his article. Roy had no particular incentive to write the article unless he could make a little money from it, and he felt the article was of sufficient importance to merit an exception. Moreover, having contributed so much free stuff over the years for the sake of "the movement," Roy felt that he deserved some compensation for his efforts. I think Roy was absolutely right about this, especially when you consider that Bradford first approached Roy about writing the article, not vice versa. Roy was frankly insulted by Bradford's request that he write a seminal article for nothing, and I don't blame him. Roy was a careful writer, and a theoretical piece of that magnitude could easily have taken him two weeks or more to complete.

I like Liberty okay, but it would be a better magazine if it commissioned and paid for special articles from time to time, especially some with a theoretical slant.

And especially by even more expert experts.

--Brant

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(The only time I ever saw him was at the Laissez-Faire Supper Club event that became the excuse for kicking David Kelley out of ARI.)

Sooooo, you were there! Anathema!!!!

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Roy did start an article to explain why he no longer believed in anarchism. This beginning-of-an-article is included in the anthology of Roy's work edited by Joan Kennedy Taylor shortly after his death and published by Laissez Faire Books. I just searched the LFB.org site for "Childs" and can't find the book, so maybe LFB is no longer carrying it.

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Perhaps Roy didn't become a minarchist. Perhaps he recognized the principle that we have a RIGHT to form a government. George H. Smith seems to recognize it:

"I defend anarchism, or society without the State, because I believe that innocent people cannot be forced to surrender any of their natural rights. Those who wish to delegate some of their rights to a government are free to do so, provided they do not violate the rights of dissenters who choose not to endorse their government."

He defends anarchism, because he believes we have a right to form a government that does not violate consent. In spite of his protestations to the contrary, George H. Smith is no anarchist. He is a "consensual governmentist", or whatever the word/phrase should be. He believes in a form of government that respects his right to be an anarchist. Which means he believes in government. Which means he is not an anarchist.

Shayne

Edited by sjw
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  • 3 weeks later...

Ted Keer wrote: "I have to say I am surprised to read that an article which was never written qualifies as seminal."

I think it was a condensed way of speaking, i.e., that George (and others who knew Roy) expected that such an article would at the least interesting and challenging, as well as dramatic given Roy's early history in the libertarian movement as an anarchist and how often libertarians had speculated about his change of mind.

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  • 2 months later...

that's a laugh. Secret "proof" of something that is inherently unprovable. What is a cristian doing posting here? Looking to pick off the weak reeds?

John:

Do you mean Christian?

Out of curiosity, you are aware that there are Christian Objectivists, correct?

Additionally, are you under the impression that there is some type of litmus test to post on OL?

Adam

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For what it's worth, based on my own daily phone conversations with Roy for the last ten years or so of his life and my in-person conversations with him before that, when we worked together in San Francisco at The Libertarian Review, my impression is that Roy never published his explanation of his "conversion" to minarchism because he never succeeded in working it out to his own satisfaction. He knew he shouldn't publish it at all if he couldn't get it into such shape that it would withstand the close scrutiny he knew it would receive from people like George, and since, every time he sat down to write it he wound up stuck on one point or another - realizing that the logic of his argument was about to force him to take a position that would not withstand George's (or Murray Rothbard's or Walter Block's) scrutiny - he went back to the drawing board. He never got the defense of minarchism he thought he'd seen the broad outlines of off the drawing board because it was defective. It wouldn't withstand intelligent scrutiny.

The anthology of Roy's writings edited by Joan Kennedy Taylor is out of print, so far as I know. When Kathleen Nelson sold LFB a few years back, some of the rights to the books they had published under their Fox & Wilkes imprint went to the Mises Institute; others went to Jim Peron, who was the new proprietor (under the auspices of the International Society for Individual Liberty) of LFB. At this juncture, I think your best bet for finding a copy is abebooks.com

JR

Edited by Jeff Riggenbach
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Roy was not doing a lot of work on any major long-term projects in the last several years of his life. An ambition of his was to do a sort of historical survey and critique of modern libertarianism (which, I think would have been a much more engaging and insightful book than Brian Doherty's thick but often thickheaded Radicals for Capitalism). I think Roy had written about a paragraph of this project in longhand on a yellow legal pad before he died.

I knew Roy well during only the last few years of his life. But I didn't get the impression at that time that he felt his views in favor of limited government were weak or could be easily exploded. In any case, the opening passages of Roy's projected article on anarchism, reprinted in Joan Taylor's collection and pasted below, state only that he stopped writing about anarchism for many years because he had changed his mind but was not yet ready to make his opposing case. I believe that by the time he drafted the opening passages of his projected essay below, Roy was ready to make a case that he himself at least believed was solid. But after the newsletter that Joan mentions failed to get off the ground, he simply did not have the time and energy to finish it. Paying work had to be his top priority, and as has been reported above, Liberty's Bradford had indicated that Roy would not be compensated for a big article for Liberty on the topic. Joan believes that the scrap below was written in 1988. Roy died in 1992.

The following from Joan's anthology of Roy's work, Liberty Against Power, was reprinted at the now-defunct web site dailyobjectivist.com; that's where the copy below comes from. (The subheads were added by TDO.)

http://web.archive.org/web/20030706104406/dailyobjectivist.com/Extro/AnarchistIllusions.asp

Anarchist Illusions

by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

(Originally published in Liberty Against Power: Essays by Roy. Childs, Jr.

edited by Joan Kennedy Taylor; 1994)

(First published on TDO November 13, 1999)

Editor's Note by Joan Kennedy Taylor: During the early 1980s, Roy Childs mentioned to some of his friends that he had changed his mind about anarchism, and intended someday to write about the subject at length; exactly when and why this change occurred is unclear. He said to me once that the hostage crisis in Iran was a turning point for him, because it became obvious that when the Iranian students took the hostages, because of the de facto anarchy in that country there was no one with whom to negotiate for their release; but he didn't argue the point further. Many limited government libertarians, including myself, feel that their arguments were decisive in changing his mind, but we will never know. When Laissez Faire Books announced in 1988 that Childs would edit The Libertarian newsletter for them, he decided to put his new views on anarchism in the first issue, but neither the article nor the first issue was ever completed—this fragment (which was found in his papers after his death) is as far as he got. What his argument would have been, we will unfortunately never know, but because his views in defense of anarchism have been so influential, it seems only fair to include this tantalizing beginning here.

* * *

Many years ago I wrote a little essay published as "Objectivism and the State: An Open Letter to Ayn Rand," which caused quite a stir. At the time, I was a young libertarian who had become converted to the position I called "free market anarchism," and it was my intention to convert Rand to that position; I knew that, through her, her followers would be reached as well.

Rand disagrees

Things did not exactly work out as planned. In place of the astonished but eager acceptance of my argument—and there was some minor hope on my part for that result—I received notice in my mailbox of the cancellation of my subscription to Ayn Rand's magazine, The Objectivist. I took my original letter to Ayn Rand and circulated it to a handful of friends and acquaintances, and after making a few minor line changes, published it in a magazine of small circulation.

The reaction astonished me because I received nearly as many letters in response to my argument as the magazine had subscribers. Two letters were favorable, while about two hundred were not. Over the course of the next few years, the position of free market anarchism found more and more acceptance in the libertarian movement, and its enthusiasts easily gave the advocates of limited government a run for their money. I was not the first to advocate free market anarchism, but for a while, at least, I found myself one of its most vocal advocates, writing letters, engaging in public debates, publishing articles ("Anarchism and Justice," a multi-part series, appeared in the The Individualist; "The Epistemological Basis for Anarchism," a privately-published essay, was circulated in the thousands; there were others), making speeches, and always returning to print to refute new attempts to provide a justification for limited government.

My last essay on the subject was published as a critique of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia, published more than ten years ago as "The Invisible Hand Strikes Back," in the Journal of Libertarian Studies.

I have said that I was not the originator of free market anarchism, and that is indeed true. Murray Rothbard thinks that the original "anarcho-capitalist" was probably Gustav de Molinari, the nineteenth century Belgian economist and follower of the great French libertarian, Frederic Bastiat. At the time I began writing about anarchism, I knew nothing about Molinari. My own mentors were Robert LeFevre, whose doctrine of "autarchy" or "self-rule" caught my fancy as a teenager; and, later, the thinking done by such figures as Morris and Linda Tannehill, authors of the recently-reprinted work The Market for Liberty, and Murray Rothbard, particularly through my acquaintance with one of his associates, the late Wilson Clark.

Change of heart

Nevertheless, I was a tireless propagandist for anarchism, and probably convinced as many people of the legitimacy of the position as anyone else at that time. This was, no doubt, due to the fact that my argument was cast in the form of critiques of the most influential libertarian theorist of the time, Ayn Rand. Her followers were far more numerous than those of any other figure. Her influence was so vast that it easily dwarfed that of anyone else, with the possible exception of Ludwig von Mises, who pretty much stuck to economics and broader issues in the social sciences.

Since writing my critique of Nozick, which had a very favorable reception, I have been asked to expand on some of my views in this area. How would anarchism work? What were my current views on the subject? I regularly ducked the first issue, and anyone familiar with my writings on the subject may notice that I have never written anything about how free market anarchism would work; my published views have been limited to knocking down justifications for government. I ducked the second issue as long as I could, for a very good reason: I had changed my mind, and was not ready to argue my new case.

But I knew that sooner or later I would return to the subject of anarchism. That is the purpose of this essay: to refute myself as well as other anarchists. Why? Because, to paraphrase my open letter to Ayn Rand, I was wrong. I now regard anarchism as incoherent and even dangerous to the libertarian movement.

It will be said that the only issue is the truth or falsity of an idea, and that calling an idea "dangerous" is itself somewhat a "dangerous" mode of thought. But it is my conviction that anarchism functions in the libertarian movement precisely as does Marxism in the international socialist movement: as an incoherent and therefore unreachable goal that inevitably corrupts any attempted strategy to achieve it. I will argue that, as in the case of advocates of a Marxist utopia, libertarians attempting to implement anarchism would find themselves invariably moving in practice toward something very different; something, furthermore, that they never intended.

Fantasy masquerading as ideology

My purpose, then, is twofold: to refute anarchism as a doctrine, to expose it as a fantasy masquerading as an ideology, and to show how in fact it has led too many libertarians away from reality, and, indeed, set them on a collision course with it.

Too often in social or political thinking the unreflective acceptance of an incoherent ideal has led to trouble. We need only look at the often pernicious effects of such ideals as "equality" or "planning" to see how something apparently innocent can lead otherwise well-meaning people into the acceptance of the most absurd proposals and realities imaginable. And sometimes, of course, the proposals and realities have not been merely absurd, but criminal. What crimes have not been committed in the name of equality? And what amount of arbitrary state power has not been sanctioned in the name of state planning of the economy?

But, it will be answered, we have never seen a full-fledged attempt to achieve anarcho-capitalism in the modern world. How can the things be compared? We simply lack the experience that we do in the case of ideals like equality and planning.

True enough, but an incoherent goal pursued with enough diligence and success must always produce unexpected and even shocking outcomes. Equality and planning were incoherent goals. So too, I will argue, is anarcho-capitalism. It has become a standard libertarian argument that the malicious implications of equality and planning are indeed implicit in any sustained, rational analysis of the actual meanings of the concepts involved. If we look at what is involved in the ideal of equality, we must be able to discern that it is either perniciously arbitrary (why only equality of wealth? what would "equality of opportunity" or "equality of outcomes" actually entail?) or that it can only be achieved by the most extreme and unacceptable means. And if we examine the notion of "comprehensive planning of the economy," we find similar questions and implications. We would find that it would be necessary to accept not only a vast concentration of power in the hands of the state, but also a destruction of wealth on such a large scale as to render whole populations destitute.

Some people might not shrink from accepting such consequences, but they would probably be in the minority, which is where psychopaths properly belong.

–DO–

Roy A. Childs, Jr. was the editor of Libertarian Review from 1977 through 1981. For the next few years he was a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, before moving to New York City to assume editorial duties for Laissez Faire Books. Roy was Laissez Faire's editorial director from 1984 until his death in 1992. He was 43.

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I never met Roy Childs, but saw him in public once, at a Barbara Branden book publishing tour event for her Rand bio in NYC in 1986. He was very much over-weight, sitting in a folding chair from which he stayed in all the time, obviously because of his weight. Six years later in Liberty I read George's heartfelt goodbye to him ("So long, my friend!"[?]) There was in the life of LFBs two significant happenings: (1) The beginning. In 1972. I went to the store a week after it opened in a front just south of the NYU campus and returned several times since. It was small, young and hopeful--open and clean. (2) Whenever Roy Childs wrote a book review for its catalog, as he did month after month for years and years.

--Brant

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What possesses brilliant people to just disregard the obvious need to also exercise the body and eat right? Rand, Childs, Einstein, and a horde of others seem to believe that their minds can carry on while they neglect/abuse their bodies. Well, surprise, surprise, when your body dies, or "just" fails to work properly, your brain dies with it,(or is grievously degraded in its ability to function properly). Rand castigated dopers, while she herself was taking speed, so she could continue to not exercise and indulge in eating lots of chocolate. Long after the 1960's revelation that smoking was very deletrious to health, Ayn continued to smoke. Beg Pardon, but the dumbest of animals instinctively "knows" not to inhale smoke! Sheesh. Ayn also castigated a man for being an adulterer, all the while indulging in adultery with Nathaniel.

Edited by RagJohn
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What possesses brilliant people to just disregard the obvious need to also exercise the body and eat right? Rand, Childs, Einstein, and a horde of others seem to believe that their minds can carry on while they neglect/abuse their bodies. Well, surprise, surprise, when your body dies, or "just" fails to work properly, your brain dies with it,(or is grievously degraded in its ability to function properly). Rand castigated dopers, while she herself was taking speed, so she could continue to not exercise and indulge in eating lots of chocolate. Long after the 1960's revelation that smoking was very deletrious to health, Ayn continued to smoke. Beg Pardon, but the dumbest of animals instinctively "knows" not to inhale smoke! Sheesh. Ayn also castigated a man for being an adulterer, all the while indulging in adultery with Nathaniel.

Do as I say, not as I do. Where have I seen this before?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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One brief addendum on the issue of payment at Liberty magazine. Bill Bradford told everyone he didn't pay for articles, and that his board would not approve any such payments to anyone. But in 2002, when I said I would offer an article on drug policy I had written to Sheldon Richman at The Freeman because I wanted to be paid for it, Bill paid me $200.00 for it. He swore me to secrecy, but since he's now dead, I can't imagine who would be damaged by my revealing the truth. If I could do this, Roy could certainly have done it.

JR

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