A 19-year-old Roy Childs published his first article in Robert LeFevre’s journal, Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought (Spring 1968). This article was soon followed by another, “Autarchy and the Statist Abyss” (Summer 1968). These articles exhibit three major influences on Roy’s early thinking: Robert LeFevre (1911-1986), Ayn Rand (1905-1982), and Murray Rothbard (1926-1995).
Those people who first learned of Roy in 1969, when he burst upon the libertarian scene with his controversial and influential “Open Letter,” would scarcely suspect the role that Robert LeFevre played in Roy’s early thinking, for the “Open Letter” shows no traces of LeFevre’s influence. Yet this influence is clearly evident in Roy’s two Rampart Journal articles, published the previous year.
It was during his freshman year at SUNY at Buffalo (1967) that Roy became interested in the ideas of Robert LeFevre, who, in 1957, established his Freedom School (later Rampart College) on 320 acres of land in a valley of the Rampart Mountains, near Colorado Springs.
In 1967 Roy won a full scholarship to Rampart’s comprehensive course on the fundamentals of freedom. Roy so impressed LeFevre and other faculty members that he was invited to join the teaching staff, so he quit college at the end of his sophomore year and moved from Buffalo to Colorado. Unfortunately, debts from a devastating flood in 1965 and other financial problems caused Rampart College to shut down within months of Roy’s arrival, so his teaching career never got off the ground.
Greatly influenced by Rose Wilder Lane’s classic, The Discovery of Freedom, Robert LeFevre developed a philosophy of freedom that differed in several major respects from the theories of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard. Although Roy read Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises while in high school, he later attributed “special significance” to The Discovery of Freedom: “I first read it at the age of sixteen, and more than any other book, it is this one that made me a libertarian.”1
Roy’s admiration for Lane may have made him gravitate to the ideas of Robert LeFevre. Many years later, in “Anarchist Illusions,” Roy mentioned LeFevre as one of his “mentors”: LeFevre’s “doctrine of ‘autarchy’ or ‘self-rule’ caught my fancy as a teenager….”
Although LeFevre rejected government, root and branch, he disliked the terms “anarchy” and “anarchism” and preferred the label “autarchy” instead. As LeFevre explained in his 1965 article “Autarchy Versus Anarchy”:
The accusation that I am an anarchist has continued sporadically. Usually the term is tempered with the qualifying adjective, “philosophical.” A careful check of the writings of those anarchists, both European and American, who have earned this badge of identification leaves me outside their fold. In each case, I find those, so-called, engaged in stating the necessity of some kind of economic intervention or in downgrading some of the conditions which are essential to the operation of a free market. While many of them (Proudhon, Tolstoy, Tucker, Warren, etc.) take a position similar to mine in respect to the evils of state controls imposed upon the creativity and productivity of the individual, they defeat themselves, in my judgment, by calling for arbitrarily imposed or voluntarily accepted extra-market restraints upon property and its ownership.2
In a subsequent article, “Autarchy,” LeFevre wrote:
Auto means self. Archy means rule. Autarchy is self-rule. It means that each person rules himself, and no other…. As I will use the word, autarchy will signify total self-rule. It will presume a system or social arrangement in which each person assumes full responsibility for himself, proceeds to control himself, exercises control over himself, exercises authority over himself, supports himself, takes initiative, joins with others or not as he pleases, and does not in any way seek to impose his will by force upon any other person whatever.3
In his second article for Rampart Journal, “Autarchy and the Statist Abyss,” Roy Childs, in discussing the most principled opposition to statism, defended not “anarchy” or “anarchism” but “autarchy.”
The choice today is called autarchy, and is in principle opposed to the rule of man by man, to the authoritarian subordination of the unique individual human being to anything outside of his own will….Autarchy entails, first and foremost, the acceptance of individual self-sovereignty, the respect for individual rights, and an uncompromising hostility to the state. How can it be achieved?4
In addition to using the label “autarchy” instead of “anarchy,” Roy followed LeFevre in rejecting electoral politics as an effective strategy to achieve a free society. Calling elections “opinion mongering on a mass scale,” Roy contended that “the choices allowed the people are artificial and superficial at best, and are always determined by the state itself. People are given a choice only over the question of who will be their rulers, and never over the questions of power and authority.”5 Keenly aware of the crucial role of legitimation in maintaining the moral authority of governments, Roy (like LeFevre) opposed voting as counterproductive: “Voting and political action itself implies a sanctioning of the state, and hence of its basis—the rule of man by man.”6
Although Roy never embraced LeFevre’s brand of pacifism, he did oppose violence on tactical grounds, even when used in self-defense against unjust actions by government. Attributing the tactics of violence and “physical obstructionism” to the “new left,” Roy observed:
The “new left” had wanted to decrease the power of the state. Has it done so? Quite the contrary. The state, as always, has turned the threat of force into a resource for accumulating force in itself.7
If political action and forcible resistance are not viable political tactics, then “we must find a third alternative, based on a different premise.” Roy recommended “the principle of voluntarism, reason, and persuasion; in short, education.”8
All this is vintage Robert LeFevre, as illustrated by the fact that Roy quoted LeFevre in his concluding remarks on strategy.
Governments cannot be abolished, but they can be abandoned. How? In the words of Robert LeFevre: “They will be abandoned when YOU demonstrate that you can manage your affairs without the supervision of a pater familias. In short, when YOU abandon your political adolescence and come of age, you will stop seeking to impose your will upon others, and at the same time demonstrate that your will is strong enough to control your actions within a framework of non-molestation.
“Do this in your own case with your own life in your own affairs and no political agent or agency can justify its existence on grounds that you require its help.”
Within a year after “Autarchy and the Abyss of Statism” had been published, Roy dropped the word “autarchy,” and openly embraced “anarchism”—as we see in the first line of his Open Letter (August 1969): “Dear Miss Rand: The purpose of this letter is to convert you to free market anarchism.” Virtually every other trace of LeFevre’s influence9 had disappeared as well, replaced by a thoroughly Rothbardian approach. I don’t know what happened to Roy during late 1968 and early 1969, but it was clearly an important period in his intellectual development.
Excerpted from the introduction to Anarchism & Justice, by Roy A. Childs, Jr., published by Libertarianism.org Press.
Laissez Faire Review, April 1985. Reprinted in Taylor, 261. ↩
Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought I, no. 4 (Winter 1965), http://fair-use.org/rampart-journal/1965/12/autarchy-versus-anarchy. ↩
Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought II, no. 2 (Summer 1966), 6, http://mises.org/journals/rampart/rampart_summer1966.pdf. ↩
Ibid., 10. ↩
Ibid., 3. ↩
Ibid, 15. ↩
Ibid., 16. ↩
In our conversations about Robert LeFevre during the early 1970s, Roy, though he liked LeFevre personally, didn’t seem to have a very high regard for his approach to libertarianism. ↩
George H. Smith was formerly Senior Research Fellow for the Institute for Humane Studies, a lecturer on American History for Cato Summer Seminars, and Executive Editor of Knowledge Products. Smith's fourth book, The System of Liberty, was recently published by Cambridge University Press.