My old friend, Harry Browne, author of "How I Found
Freedom in an Unfree World," just died at age 73.
I met him only once, at a libertarian event, but by then he'd been an
"old friend" for 20 years. I consider all the authors of the books that
most influenced me to be "old friends" — from Felix Salten who wrote
"Bambi," to Lucy Maud Montgomery, J.D. Salinger, Aldous Huxley, Fyodor
Dostoyevsky, Allen Drury, Werner Erhard and Ayn Rand.
"How I Found Freedom," which was written in 1973, shared Harry's plan
for living "without high taxes, societal restrictions, family problems,
or long working hours." Seven years later, I was divorced again and
working 70-hour weeks fighting high taxes. There was no time for a
social life, never mind societal restrictions.
I recognize now that I was influenced by a writer whose apparent
mid-life crisis inspired him to write about "freedom from marriage
problems," as well as, to note the titles of other chapters in the book,
"freedom from family problems, (other) bad relationships, social
restrictions, business problems, insecurity, exploitation, the
treadmill, and pretense — all the "traps," as he called them, of an
Nevertheless, his advice worked not only for my ex-husbands — who went
on, as I did, to more rewarding lives that include our ongoing
friendship — but also for Browne himself.
When I met Harry, he was happily married to his second wife, and his
friends tell me he was a happy man, at least until his final illness. He
lived by this rule: "In everything you do, with the knowledge and
insight at your disposal, you choose what you think will give you the
most well-being and the least mental discomfort."
This seems obvious to me. But its reality is sometimes disguised by
those who insist they act out of altruism, or duty, or morality.
However, if you look closely enough, you find that they have determined
that they need to be helpful, or dutiful, or moral, in order to be
happy. In the end, unless force is involved, we generally do what we
This brings us to another chapter, "Freedom from Government," which
Harry defines as "an agency of coercion that's accepted as necessary by
most people within its area of influence." He makes three
recommendations for dealing with government: 1.) Don't be awed by it.
2.) Don't confront it. 3.) Don't organize.
He explained that "no cumbersome, bureaucratic government can move as
fast as an individual who's determined to stay ahead of it." Other
suggestions: Work as and with independent contractors; don't look to
leaders to help you; don't register to vote.
I did OK with "don't be awed by it," but clearly didn't take his advice
on the other items. Instead, I took the confrontational, organizing,
voting route from the beginning. And in this new century, "hiding out"
from government and other giant entities would be more difficult than it
was in 1973. Nevertheless, as issues arise today, I often think of him.
For instance, illegal immigrants seem to be living free. No Social
Security number, no payroll tax, no driver's license, no voter list.
They cross the border to find freedom, and we citizens get to pay for
their benefits. Not exactly what Harry had in mind, but he would say it
is up to us to avoid the "exploitation trap" with a good tax accountant.
Most libertarians think that protection is a legitimate role for
government, but Second Amendment organizations warn us about the
startling court decision that "because the police have no general duty
to protect individuals, judicial remedies are not available for their
failure to protect." If he'd read about the young woman who was killed
in New York recently after a night of drinking, Harry might remind us of
our responsibility for our own safety, which I'd argue must include
"Freedom" argued that "rights exist only in theory. A right to something
means that someone else must provide that something, whether he wants to
While I would argue that our constitutional rights are inherent in our
humanity, and require only that the government and others leave us
alone, it is more clear every day that the concept of "rights" is out of
control, with even some conservatives talking about the right to higher
education, "affordable housing," cable access and cheap water and
gasoline. Democrats add the right to "good jobs at good wages," child
care, and public television, not to mention cheap, or even free, health
I'd be happy just to hang on to property rights. But the government,
with its eminent domain power, is the greatest threat to that once-clear
Harry might have recommended that we choose to live in a state that
repudiated the recent Supreme Court decision. We political activists
support legislation to make ours one of those states.
And I must note, smiling, that Harry eventually gave up on avoidance and
ran for president on the Libertarian ticket!
We political activists and voters honor Harry's life by fighting on for
freedom in an unfree world.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.