In Memoriam

Roger Bissell

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Roy A. Childs Jr., 1949-1992, Libertarian

Adapted from Joan Kennedy Taylor's "Biographical Sketch" in Liberty Against Power: Essays by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

Roy A. Childs, Jr., was born January 4, 1949, in Buffalo, New York, and claimed to have been interested in political issues since the age of nine, and a libertarian since 1964, when, he said, "I counted myself as an anti-Cold War Goldwaterite." He began reading some of the classics of libertarian thought when he was in high school: He said that he read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead in 1965, and found it so disturbing to some of his religious ideas that he burned it. But he recovered, and went on to read Anthem and Atlas Shrugged. He reported he was "enthralled" by Ludwig von Mises' Human Action the Christmas before he was seventeen, that Rose Wilder Lane's Discovery of Freedom "more than any other book" made him a libertarian.

In 1966, Roy graduated from high school and went to SUNY at Buffalo. But he became interested in the teachings of Robert LeFevre and his Freedom School, and in 1967 he won one of 40 full-tuition scholarships to LeFevre's Comprehensive Course. He also wrote for the Rampart Journal, which published his first article, "The Contradiction in Objectivism," in the Spring of 1968.

Roy back in SUNY in the fall of 1968, he continued to meet and correspond with many of the future libertarian leaders in what was a seminal period for the movement. He became friends with Murray Rothbard, who had a strong influence on his thinking, and in the spring of 1969 he became a founding member and corresponding secretary of the Radical Libertarian Alliance, the first "nationwide libertarian organization," according to Rothbard, for which Karl Hess was the National Coordinator and Walter Block the Treasurer. And on July 4, 1969, Roy mailed his famous "Open Letter to Ayn Rand," and his subscription to The Objectivist was discontinued in retaliation.

The Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) split between conservatives and libertarians at its August 1969 convention, and what had been YAF's Libertarian Caucus joined the Society of Rational Individualism (SRI) to form the Society for Individual Liberty (SIL) that fall. Roy had been SRI's Buffalo representative, and by November was the SIL representative for all of New York State, and attended the Radical Libertarian Alliance convention, the first purely libertarian convention, held that fall, in New York City.

In the spring of 1970 he left college and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, to become the Associate Editor of The Individualist. His growing fame as a writer and speaker brought him invitations to speak all over the country--in early 1971 he spoke in Hawaii, and went on to Los Angeles where he met both Nathaniel Branden and Tibor Machan (then associated with Reason) for the first time. These meetings clearly had a great impact on him; he arranged to move to Los Angeles in August while still editing and writing for The Individualist, and he did free lance work for Robert Kephart.

Meanwhile, back East, Robert Kephart bought the SIL Book Service to be the mail-order basis for a new book review publication in newsletter form, Books for Libertarians, and brought Roy back to the D.C. area to be its editor, which was from 1972-1974. After that stint Roy moved to New York City, where he supported himself by working as a janitor while continuing to write and speak and audit classes (unofficially) at NYU. That year, he wrote the prize-winning essay, "The Defense of Capitalism in Our Time," and as part of his prize' went to the 1974 meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Brussels.

Roy's paper, "The Invisible Hand Strikes Back," presented at the third Libertarian Scholars Conference in 1975, caused quite a stir, and was eventually published in vol. I no. 1 of The Journal of Libertarian Studies. He also spoke at the 1976 and 1977 Libertarian Scholars Conferences, and in 1977 he became a Research Associate of the Center for Libertarian Studies in New York, and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Libertarian Studies. One of Roy's speeches so impressed Charles Koch that he bought Libertarian Review from Robert Kephart to turn it into a national magazine that Roy would edit.

Then began what Roy always considered to be the high point of his life: the editorship that lasted from the first issue of July 1977 to the end of 1981. He drew on his remarkably extensive libertarian acquaintance to put out what to this day is considered by many to have been the best libertarian magazine ever--a "golden age" of articles about every facet of the libertarian movement by as many libertarian luminaries as he could persuade to write for him. At the end of 1977, the offices of LR were moved to San Francisco, and Roy, while continuing to be LR's editor, also became a research fellow of the Cato Institute, 1978-80, and began a stint of speaking at the Cato Institute's Summer Seminars in Political Economy that lasted until 1988. He became active in the Libertarian Party, giving the keynote address at the 1979 Presidential Convention in Los Angeles that nominated Ed Clark, and running for Congress in San Francisco on the Libertarian ticket in the 1980 election. He was also the chief fundraiser for Proposition Q in San Francisco, an initiative to abolish the vice squad and all victimless crime laws.

But in the summer of 1981, the Koch Foundation, which was funding Inquiry as well as Libertarian Review, decided that it could not continue to support two magazines and closed Libertarian Review--a blow that Roy never quite got over. He went to the Cato Institute as a policy analyst when LR put out its final November/December issue in November of 1981, and stayed there until lured to New York by Laissez Faire Books to edit their catalogue of book reviews in 1984.

Many people only know Roy as the premier book reviewer for Laissez Faire Books, a job that he did from 1984 until his death in May 1992. His personal asides, his vast reading, which he often used to place the book he was discussing in a wider context; his willingness to point out disagreements he had with a book he was recommending; above all, his unquenchable enthusiasm, all of these won him a multitude of fans. After he died, many people wrote Laissez Faire some variation on the following, received from a subscriber in India: "I had so much respect for him that only the books he chose to review were considered worth reading by me."

In addition to book reviews, Roy also wrote several essays for LFB which are available on this site. These include: Ayn Rand: A Celebration, Henry Hazlitt, R.I.P., Mencken: An Appreciation, Reading the Literature of Liberty, Guide to the Writings of Ludwig von Mises, and Free Banking and Competition in Currency: A Survey.

This last period in New York was marked by gradually declining health, and he started a number of projects that he was unable to complete. One of his last public appearances was on the television program "20/20," where he appeared as a person who suffered discrimination because of his weight but was against making such discrimination illegal. He died in a hospital in Miami, to which he was taken from the Miami Pritikin Center where he was enrolled in a weight-loss program, on May 22, 1992. He was 43 years old.

There were few people in the libertarian movement of the 1970s and 1980s who were not touched and influenced in some way by Roy Childs. His enthusiasm, his generosity, his willingness to listen and advise were all gargantuan. As Tom G. Palmer of the Institute for Humane Studies put it in a letter published in The New Republic of August 3, 1992, "Roy Childs was one of the finer members of a generation of radical thinkers who worked successfully to revive the tradition of classical liberalism--or libertarianism--after its long dormancy, and who dared to launch a frontal challenge to the twentieth-century welfare state. An autodidact who knew more about the subjects on which he wrote than most so-called 'experts', his writings exercised a powerful influence on a generation of young classical liberal thinkers."

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