This is interview #20 in JohnsonForAmerica.com’s “Important Voices” series, where we talk with key figures, such as elected officials, candidates, authors, commentators, and policy experts, about the issues of the day. A new interview is released every Monday and every Thursday, so check back often!
Our guest for today’s Important Voices interview is Sheldon Richman. Sheldon is an American political writer and academic, best known for his advocacy of libertarianism. He is the editor of The Freeman, a magazine published by The Foundation for Economic Education, and is a Senior Fellow at the Future of Freedom Foundation, and a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute. A graduate of Temple University, Sheldon was formerly a journalist, and a senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. His articles have appeared in, among others, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, Christian Science Monitor, Independent Review, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, and Liberty. He is also a contributor to the Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics.
Josiah Schmidt: How did you come to hold such a liberty-oriented philosophy?
Sheldon Richman: As a child I was interested in stories about the the American Revolution and the struggle for individual liberty. They had a strong intuitive appeal to me. In 1964 I began to hear about Barry Goldwater and his references about freedom and small government that left people alone. This set me to reading. Friends in high school told me I should read Henry Hazlitt and Ayn Rand. From there I went on to Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, and F. A. Hayek. Then Frank Chodorov, Albert Jay Nock, Herbert Spencer, and the rest.
Josiah Schmidt: Could you give us a little history of FEE’s well-known publication, The Freeman?
Sheldon Richman: Leonard Read, who founded FEE in 1946, bought The Freeman around 1955 and published it separately from FEE for a year, with Frank Chodorov as editor. It was a standard-size magazine that discussed current events from a libertarian perspective, though it also featured debates with conservatives about foreign policy. In 1956 Read made The Freeman an official FEE publication and changed the focus toward an introduction to the freedom philosophy. He also reduced the dimensions of the magazine. Only in recent years did it go back to standard size.
Josiah Schmidt: Explain to our readers who Henry Hazlitt was, and why he is so important.
Sheldon Richman: Henry Hazlitt was a prominent economics writer for many years, having been a reporter, editorial writer, and columnist at different times for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek (for which he wrote a regular column from 1946-1966). His most famous book is “Economics in One Lesson,” which (though the examples are dated) is still the best introduction to how to think like an economist. Hazlitt wrote many other important books, including his demolition of Keynes’s General Theory: “The Failure of the ‘New Economics.'”
Josiah Schmidt: What are your top three favorite books?
Sheldon Richman: Tough to say. Nock’s “Our Enemy, the State” ranks very high, along with Rothbard’s “For a New Liberty” and Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom”. I must also mention Lysander Spooner’s “No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority”.
Josiah Schmidt: Who is the most underrated and underappreciated libertarian writer, in your opinion?
Sheldon Richman: Thomas Szasz, who has shown that the mental-health establishment is a massive violation of individual rights.
Josiah Schmidt: If you had to recommend one short essay that explains and argues for liberty in a nutshell, what would it be?
Sheldon Richman: Murray Rothbard’s “The Anatomy of the State”.
Josiah Schmidt: As a leading American scholar and intellectual, how would you assess the American public education system?
Sheldon Richman: It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do: raise up generations of “good citizens” who won’t watch too closely what the government is up to.
Josiah Schmidt: What advice would you give to libertarians reading this interview?
Sheldon Richman: Keep learning, reading. Know your opponent’s case better than he does. Be calm, benevolent, and patient in presenting your views. Don’t underestimate people’s intelligence.
Josiah Schmidt: Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Sheldon Richman: Remain optimistic despite the odds.
Josiah Schmidt: Thanks so much, Mr. Richman.