Truth is Not a Half-way Place
by Carl Watner
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This is the only biography of Robert LeFevre -- a giant within the freedom movement for decades and creator of the Freedom School. It is a measure of the breadth of LeFevre’s influence and character that so many will remember him for so many different reasons. Teacher. Schoolmaster. Consultant. Businessman. Philosopher. Soldier. Religionist. Social Theorist. Debater. Author. Socratic Goad. Experimenter. Maddening Demander of Consistency. Searcher. Finder. Good Friend. Implacable Foe. All of that is detailed in this book.
Bob’s civility was majestic. It made him seem as a great rock around which angry waves could crash, but which they could never submerge or move. Bob actually acted as though humans, being rational, would recognize thoughts that coincided with material reality, and then act accordingly. That belief, that informed thought will move an individual — an
institution — a people — to action is one of the human race’s most enduring optimisms.
But many develop cynicism, seeing such a belief as an illusion. Others, doubting people will change themselves, see it as a rationale for imposing their ideas on others.
LeFevre seemed to me to be an alternative. He acted on his beliefs. He certainly encouraged others to do the same, to understand what he understood. But he neither despaired cynically of the project, or roared in frustration for a crusade to teach the heathen. He saw the world in terms of individuals. His appeal was not to society. It was not to history, or humanity, or future generations, or to any such abstraction.
His differences would be with you. His agreement would be with you. He did not want to change the world. Individuals changing were the only way the world would ever change. And he felt that only you could change yourself. He did not, to cut to the core of it, want intermediaries of coercion in that process. Life, in his view, should be a matter of self-controlled, volitional actions between free humans.
Of all the intermediary forces that LeFevre despised and abhorred, violence was foremost. According to him, violence — certainly not money — was the root of all evil. Without violence, for instance, all humans would be free to make up their own minds about their own lives. The alternative to violence was infinitely more exciting: the opportunities for self-owned and self-controlled individuals to make voluntary agreements among themselves.
LeFevre’s main point, which he once summed up in an interview, was that each of us should “Do as you please — but harm no other in his person or property.” From that position can be extrapolated everything that LeFevre taught and talked about. He tenaciously held that the individual was the key to it all. Not tides of history. Not winds of war. Not storms of ideology. Not pressure of politics. The individual must and does make up his or her own mind whether to be free or controlled. The person who submits to outside control `believes” that some one or some institution has the authority, the right to control the person. But, LeFevre believed that by nature humans are free, unique, and if they will it, absolutely able to control themselves.
LeFevre’s whole world view was a wonderfully comprehensive one. This is best seen by his attitude toward politics and government. He did not believe for an instant in the possibility of good coming from political action, nor did he harbor any illusion about “improving” an institution so dependent upon violence as the State. The institution was beyond redemption, in his view, since — even with angels at the controls — it would still depend upon violence to enforce its actions.
He realized that some people want to be controlled by government. He never suggested that they be denied the fulfillment of that need. He never suggested overthrowing the politics that fed that need. He did advocate withdrawing from it completely. “Let the State exist for those who want it, but let it not harm me or any other who does not want it.”