The Wisdom of Robert LeFevre
[An article written in September 2012 as an Introduction to
the e-book version of Robert LeFevre's
The nature of Man and his Government.
Reprinted from The Voluntaryist]
At the outset, I must admit some personal bias. My intellectual
acquaintance with Bob LeFevre goes back at least as far as January
1972, when I first ordered a copy of his book, THIS BREAD IS MINE. I
first met Bob at the Long Beach, California, Future of Freedom
Conference in October 1983. Thereafter, until his death, Bob was a
key part of my life. He helped publish the first book of voluntayist
essays to which I contributed. Titled NEITHER BULLETS NOR BALLOTS,
it came out in December 1983. In October 1984, Bob approached me
about writing his biography, which was eventually published in 1988
under the title ROBERT LEFEVRE -TRUTH IS NOT A HALFWAY PLACE. In
March 1985, Bob and I both attended a week-long session of Freedom
School given by Kevin Cullinane. Bob was present at my wedding in
Campobello, South Carolina, on May 3, 1986. He died a few days later
while driving home to California with his wife, Loy.
I knew Bob well during the last three years of his
seventy-five-year life span. What kind of person was he? What were
his intellectual roots? What was the nature of Bob LeFevre? What
wisdom did he share with us in this book you are about to read?
Bob was always the gentlemen. Karl Hess remembered him for his "majestic
civility," always respectful of those who differed with him. As
he put it in the "Foreword" to my LeFevre biography, "[I]
was always mindful of Bob's great patience, the truly caring nature
of his advice, and finally, the clear rightness of his principles."
For one who only knew Bob in his later years, it was surprising for
me to learn that he had such a checkered professional life. It ran
the gamut from being a supporter of the "I Am" movement in
the last half of the 1930s, a radio announcer, an army captain
during World War II, a self-employed entrepreneur, a would-be
politician, a newspaper editorial writer, and finally founder and
primary instructor at Freedom School.
This book, THE NATURE OF MAN AND HIS GOVERNMENT, was a product of
these last two phases of his life. The idea for the book originated
with Jim Gipson of Caxton Press, who suggested to Bob that he
prepare a step-by-step explanation of the doctrine of liberty as
taught at Freedom School. All but Chapter 6, "National Defense,"
were first written as editorials and appeared in the Colorado
Springs, Colorado, GAZETTE-TELEGRAPH between January 5, and January
15, 1958. They were then collected and published as a small book in
1959, with an original Introduction contributed by Bob's friend,
Rose Wilder Lane.
The most significant influence on Bob during his formative years
was his mother, Ethel. Better known as Bonnie, she came from Quaker
stock, and had always taught him to question the rightness or
wrongness of his conduct. She instilled in him the idea that "truth"
- whatever it was and wherever it led him - was the most important
thing in life. She also taught him not to be afraid of being
different, to tell the truth, to work like hell, and to smile. She
showed him how to search out the truth, and then to act on it
according to the best dictates of his conscience.
Bob was active in Republican politics during the early 1950s, but
he finally proved to himself that "politics was not the answer."
In November 1954, he began work as an editorial writer for Harry
Hoiles, publisher of the GAZETTE-TELEGRAPH in Colorado Springs. It
was here that he began to formulate a complete freedom philosophy.
Harry's father, R.C. Hoiles, was founder of the Freedom Newspapers,
which were once described "as the greatest money-making device
ever put together in support of human liberty and human dignity."
Both Hoiles, father and son, wanted someone who could write
consistently on the subject of human freedom. Until he resigned on
January 15, 1965, Bob worked with both of them, hammering out the
libertarian philosophy of the Freedom Newspapers. Nearly all of his
editorial output centered around various aspects of human liberty
and the free market. Bob had previously read Rose Wilder Lane's
DISCOVERY OF FREEDOM, and had met Leonard Read and Baldy Harper of
the free-market-oriented Foundation for Economic Education. Baldy
Harper, who had taught economics at Cornell University, was the
first person Bob ever knew who questioned the basic assumption that
human beings require a political government. However, it was the
Hoiles' insistence on building an integrated philosophy of freedom
that made Bob realize "limited government" was an oxymoron
and that it was redundant to speak of "unlimited government."
Both Harry and R.C. had a significant impact on Bob's thinking.
They exposed him to the idea of abandoning reliance on limited
government, and replacing it with competing defense agencies and
other private service-providers to carry out the many functions of
government. As they saw it, individuals needed food, shelter,
clothing, protection, etc., but providing these necessities did not
require a monopolistic government. In the late 1940s or early 1950s,
Frank Chodorov pointed out to R.C., "[T]here was no such thing
as voluntary taxation." R. C., who had been a proponent of
voluntary funding of government, then concluded that he was "against
all taxes." What he came to favor was free-enterprise
associations or voluntary defense companies that would sell
protection of life and property, much like an insurance company. As
Bob asked, is there a way to "devise a tool for our protection
which will be paid for only by those who want it, and in whatever
amounts the payers deem best?"
Bob's editorial writing, as well as his teaching at Freedom
School, propelled him towards the conclusion that there was nothing
that government could do that the private sector could not do more
efficiently. Free enterprise, which rested on the consent of the
customer, was certainly more moral than government-provided
services. As he wrote in an April 7, 1961 editorial: "We are
convinced that when it comes to things people want, the market place
can do the job less expensively and better than government can do
it. And this includes the job of protecting life and property,
providing roads, schools, hospitals, cemeteries, airfields, and
scores of other things which governments presently provide."
Some called Bob an anarchist for rejecting government, but he
disagreed. He preferred the labels "voluntaryist" or "autarchist"
to differentiate himself from those anarchists who rejected private
It was in this milieu and under the influence of the Hoiles that
Bob wrote these editorials on the nature of man and his government.
Essentially Bob saw government as a tool created by men to help
protect themselves from invasion and aggression by others. However,
this tool which had been intended "as a safeguard for human
freedom and dignity" was ill-designed from the start because it
depended on the use of violence. Shouldn't peaceful individuals be
left alone to protect themselves as they saw fit? Wasn't government
acting in an aggressive manner when it forced people to patronize
its services? As Bob observed, government "is an instrument of
force and coercion." Even if it were to be voluntarily funded,
as R.C. had once advocated, its violent and compulsory nature still
remained. Those who preferred to have another protection agency
serve them were prevented from doing so, and those who preferred no
protection, or to provide their own, were not allowed to withdraw
The essence of Bob's philosophy was taken from Rose Wilder Lane's
dictum: "freedom is self-control." Harking back to the
attraction of the "I Am" movement, Bob understood that
human energy can only be controlled by the individual. This means
that each of us has the decision-making power over his own life. We
decide whether we vote or not, whether we respect other people's
property or steal, whether we lie or tell the truth, whether we
forgive or seek forceful restitution, whether we deal with our
fellow man violently or peacefully.
Bob shared a common viewpoint with the Stoics of ancient Athens
and Rome. Like them, he viewed human freedom as the absolute
dominion of the individual over his own will. This meant that man,
by his very nature, was free, and that there was only one long- term
way of improving society. If individual men would conduct themselves
morally, then society, a mere gathering of men, would be virtuous.
In short, Bob saw that if one took care of the means, the end would
take care of itself. Bob's idea behind teaching the fundamentals of
liberty was not to change anybody. He had neither the authority nor
the ability to do so. His aim was to inspire each person to achieve
freedom in the right way; the rest was up to the individual.
Bob was a truth-seeker, a man of wisdom. Part of his greatness was
his ability to stand alone intellectually, another was his
consistency. He insisted on
thinking ideas through to their conclusions. If there was a choice
between being popular and holding to the truth, he always chose the
truth. He knew that truth is not a half-way place. Cyrano de
Bergeac's maxim, "Be admirable in all things," could have
been Bob's own personal motto. Bob thought that we shouldn't spend
much time on destroying evil ideas, but rather devote ourselves to
nourishing good ideas and putting them into practice. His task was
to understand, to comprehend, and to make allowances for the
failures of others. Only to himself did he insist on total
self-control and complete self-discipline. Bob was a man who
admirably achieved those goals in his own life, and it is that
spirit of reasonableness, honesty, and truth-seeking that shall
always epitomize Bob for me.
As you read this book, keep Bob's perspective in mind. As he put
it, "wisdom is possible only when the individual has learned to
control himself." Whether you have long been exposed to
libertarian thinking or are newly introduced to voluntaryism, this
will help you understand Bob's quest for consistency and his
conclusion that political government is inherently an invasive
Carl Watner, "A Freedom Philosopher: Robert LeFevre,
1911-1986," THE VOLUNTARYIST, No. 20, July 1986, pp. 1-2.