Liberty Bookstore

This is an intellectual odyssey. I graduated from high school in 1972 with far more questions than answers. This was the first year that 18 year olds could vote in federal elections. Even at this tender age I could tell that the so-called two party system was a scam and con game. My standard college general education did not yield much more in the way of insight. Years later I decided that what was lacking was context – some overall paradigm that would tie the pieces together.

At the County Fair in 1975 I stumbled across a booth. Whether it was a political, religious, or educational booth I wasn’t sure at first. It turned out it was a wanna be political party but there was a flyer on their counter for a Liberty Bookstore at the other end of Santa Clara County. Six months later I got around to checking it out. It was in Mountain View.

Liberty Bookstore was a row of books on each wall with tables and chairs running up the middle of the room. Most of the books and a few pamphlets were non fiction except for a few novels by Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein. Half of the titles were either published before 1920 or had “taxes” in their title or sub title. I noticed that three think tank publishers printed most of these books. Many other titles could be grouped under the “old right anti new deal” banner. This was a bookstore of ideas, if grumpy and slightly moldy ideas. I had not switched my major to economics yet.

This was a “Libertarian”/anti-tax bookstore. It was also obvious that it was impossible to stock a bookstore with such a narrow viewpoint. As my education progressed I concluded that the modern libertarians had expanded the remodeled libertarian realm to include “classical” liberals, who had begun jumping ship to their conservative enemies in the 1890’s.The popular press had allowed corporatists to don the discarded liberal mantle.

Apparently there never were enough of these libertarian flavored egoists to stand front and center in some kind of growing movement. What was missing on the shelves was any “how-to” or cooperative strategies or structures. The all knowing, all powerful free market would eliminate the need for individuals to build any kind of community economies of scale to replace the big G. But the bookstore was my first experience to a context viewpoint – as weak as it was.

Since the proprietor was desperate to fill shelves and create the illusion that this was something bigger that had legs there were a few other titles. This short list included a couple H.L.Mencken books, some “mutualist” titles, several explicit socialist anarchist pamphlets, a couple proprietary community treatises and one reprint of a syndicalist book. Other than these color titles the bookstore looked like a John Birch Society operation minus the red baiting and Bible thumping.

As my political and economic education progressed, I learned that H.L. Mencken was the first writer to associate libertarianism with atheist egoism in the early 1920’s. This association was slow to catch on. Traditionally, a libertarian was against all top down authority in favor of community control, which included land and industry.

Charles and David Koch kept this ersatz libertarian illusion alive by financing the Cato Institute and the Libertarian Party ballot drives before and just after the 1980 election. They also financed a student front group and newspaper, hiring four class act people who would later leave this dark hole out of their professional resumes. Back issues of their student newspaper would have been the best part of the Liberty Bookstore, which ended its days being a mail order operation in the owners basement.

When the Koch brothers pulled their money after 1981 the so-called party of principle became the party of talking to themselves. This tactic yielded zero interest in the 1984 election. I hung on due to the Reason Foundation’s Local Government Center that was pre Koch brothers. The Local Government Center out of Santa Barbara took an economics/engineering approach to issues. The founder, Robert Poole, was a tacit libertarian.

I had an economics degree by now and decided to run for Mayor of San Jose in 1986. I thought I could use bottom up economic analysis with implicit libertarian assumptions, as opposed to ideology, to run a serious libertarian campaign. My first fundraiser made crystal clear what was nagging at me for some time. I wasn’t one of “their” people. Only my KKUP community radio co-hosts showed up. Up to this point I had endured numerous snubs and slights but I had attributed it to the computer geek culture that was endemic in the Libertarian Party. Now I knew better. The modern Libertarian is a fraud.

I value my chapter of classical liberal education as part of my synthesis of economics, traditional libertarian socialism, and intentional communities. The egoist pseudo libertarians are oblivious to the significance of the later two movements and defective in their understanding of free market economics. I continued to expand my educational and strategic horizons as I left my former comrades behind as if they were a receding red dwarf, their voices no longer heard except by each other.

Obviously I stayed around too long. My Hegelian dialectic took me places the pseudo libertarians fear to tread. Actually they tread lightly intellectually on their own turf. I value my scholarly Literature of Liberty series bought at the Liberty Bookstore. Survivors of my library purge, they are a history of classical liberalism which was true as far as it went. By the Great Depression the classical liberals were just as irrelevant as the pseudo libertarians were by 1984. I never could engage in discussion even about this resource. The techno phonies already knew everything. I am still learning, still synthesizing.

I cruise book catalogs and the internet sites now. My new deep think source is a virtual bookstore. It is easier to find fellow travelers on the web than try to nudge your way into preselected cliques. Paradoxically, I’ve found it is easier to find people at random locally to talk books, ideas, and plan projects with if you don’t have to work around some class or tribal baggage. By only sharing with your individual peers you can only go forward. There will never be a sabotage group to drag you down and suck your energy.

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