Frank Chodorov: Teacher

Robert LeFevre

[Reprinted from Fragments, Spring, 1995]

The stocky figure with the pipe sat at the desk tamping tobacco into his ever-present briar. Crumbs of tobacco cascaded down his ample foyer and cluttered the otherwise clear space before him.

"The trouble with you conservatives," he observed with twinkling eye and protruding lip, "is that you keep asking for the government to do your job for you. We need some people around who are anti-statists. You conservatives don't really like the state, but you act as if you couldn't get along without it."

A class at the Freedom School was in progress at Rampart College, in Colorado, and Frank Chodorov was presiding. There was never a question as to where Frank stood. He was opposed to socialism in all its forms. There was never a question as to Frank's antecedents, either. Born a Jew, and with the map of Israel stamped on his prominent features, he offered an unforgettable picture of kindness and intellect working as a team.

He had neither political ambition nor political illusions. Freedom was his dream and the key to his thinking.

Frank was not an economist. He had studied economics as a student of the Henry George School, through which he had risen to become one of its more distinguished teachers.

It was here at Rampart that he obtained what was, perhaps, the deepest wish of his life: to have serious-minded students in a class with him, where he had the time to take up the study of all types of socialism and to reveal and expound upon their logical and economic weaknesses.

While Frank was giving a talk to a graduating class in the summer of 1961, when he was a resident instructor, fate, in the form of a cerebral hemorrhage, struck him down. He was never able after that date to resume a productive schedule.

Those who sat at the feet of Frank Chodorov received an indelible impression. Here was a knowledgeable man and a gifted exponent of liberty. His eyes twinkled with good humor almost constantly. I do not recall ever seeing him resentful or angry, even in the face of exasperating density. He reserved his scorn for government lackeys and those who continually rushed to the state for money or other favors.

One day in class, two very fine ladies of divergent religious faiths began a heated discussion of theology. One lady was a Catholic; the other, a Christian Scientist. Each defended her position with fervor while making unsubtle comments concerning the beliefs of the other.

Finally, as both contestants paused for breath, Frank's voice boomed clear. "The trouble with you Christians," he said kindly, "is that you sound just like Jews."

And there was the evening when a particularly determined young man repeatedly objected to the presumed state of the world if we could not have social security, and other tax-supported benefits.

"What would happen," he cried, "if the government stopped providing these things and the market place didn't step in to help?"

Frank paused before answering.

"You'd suffer," was his brief dismissal.

Possibly the apex of these Chodorovisms was provided one day when someone insisted that the cure for all ills was to elect Republicans to office. Elect Republicans.

Frank smiled and took his time relighting his pipe. Then he rumbled, "The trouble with you Republicans is that you are proposing to clean up the whore house but you expect to leave the business intact."

Frank and I had only one major point of difference. He had been trained as a Georgist, and whenever the discussion of land arose, he was prone to revert to Georgist solutions. We never had a falling out over this matter. But our views were distinct and divergent. In private, Frank would admit that the Georgist offering was not practical. But, because of his long support of the doctrines of Progress and Poverty, it was difficult for him to see any other way of dealing with the scarce factor of land.

Once, following a long discussion on the subject, he struck his colors. "You are right, Bob," he conceded. "The Georgist solution is only a panacea." Nonetheless, to the best of my knowledge, he continued to support the Georgist doctrine.

With the passing of the years, Frank became increasingly pessimistic concerning the chances of regaining freedom of enterprise in America. "It's hopeless," he would say. "Too many people approve of the goodies the government gives them. We'll all be good little socialists by and by." But his efforts never slackened.

What was to be his last lecture was on the subject of bureaucracy. He had given die talk once before, and it had so impressed me that unbeknownst to myself I had it virtually committed to memory.

On that tragic evening, with a graduating student body and many of their parents and friends in attendance, Frank's marvelous strength and magnificent intellectual presence failed him. I introduced him, and he took his place at the lectern, but it was at once apparent that something was wrong.

There was a pasty-white circle centered on his face, and his voice was a mere whisper, and his mind wandered In vain, I tried to signal him to go back to his seat, and we'd improvise something else. He stood doggedly on his feet, swaying and trying to summon the articulate assurance mat until that moment had never deserted him.

The audience knew. Tears and sobs filled the room when we finally prevailed upon him to desist. And I have always thought mat the most difficult thing Frank ever did was in that crowning effort - actually to quit He went down fighting.

So, to a heartbroken group of students, I delivered the speech he had planned on making. It was probably the worst situation in which I had ever found myself. No one could be a substitute for Frank Chodorov.

And so, one of the great spirits of our century has left the scene. I have learned many things from many men, but among the foremost who have left a lasting impression was this giant of a man; a brilliant writer whose voice and whose pen were never still so long as he was granted strength to use them.

Fortunately for those of us who remain, Frank put many of his ideas into books and articles that can be preserved and read and reread as long as paper and printing presses continue to serve. I miss him. He was both teacher and friend.