The following article appears in the current issue
of Robert Ringer's e-newsletter, A Voice of Sanity in
an Insane World <http://www.robertringer.com>. It is
reproduced with permission:
The Passing of a Giant
By Robert Ringer
March 1, 2006 was a sad day for the cause of liberty. Sad because
a true ethical giant of our time, Harry Browne, passed away.
Browne was the Libertarian Party candidate in the 1996 and 2000
presidential elections. His calm, logical way of expressing
libertarian beliefs earned him the respect of many big-name
interviewers on national television.
Harry and I were not close friends by any stretch of the imagination.
And yet, in interesting and quiet ways, our paths crossed at the
beginning of his career, in the middle, and near the end.
I have always credited Harry as one of my earliest and most
influential teachers, primarily through his writings. My introduction
to his philosophy came in 1971 with his then-shocking book How You Can
Profit from the Coming Devaluation.
Circumstances propelled the book to best-seller status overnight,
thanks mostly to Richard Nixon. Shortly before the book came out,
Nixon made his now-infamous announcement that the U.S. would never
devalue the dollar.
Browne, however, wasn't fooled by Tricky Dick's political rhetoric. He
was too learned in economics and the workings of the marketplace to be
taken in by a presidential sound bite.
As a result, in How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation, he was
unequivocal in his belief that the U.S. would have no choice but to
devalue the dollar in the near future. In effect, this young nobody
was taking on the president of the United States!
Sure enough, shortly after Browne's book was published, President
Nixon separated the dollar from its gold backing - which officially
made paper money a fiat currency. Little did Nixon know that by
playing a key role in making Harry Browne into an economic prophet, he
was helping to lay the foundation for him to someday run for the very
office that Nixon himself held at the time.
But it was Browne's 1974 classic, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree
World, that had the greatest impact on my thinking. I recall reading
the book from start to finish in a single day, then rereading it again
a couple of days later.
I had never read anything that conveyed such clear-headed insights
into life. While I didn't agree with everything Browne said in his
book, the essence of his philosophy so impressed me that it later
served as the foundation for my own No. 1 best-seller, Looking Out for
At the time, many people were very critical of How I Found Freedom in
an Unfree World, because it was thought to be a "selfish" philosophy.
The mere mention of the word "selfishness" sends many holier-than-thou
do-gooders into fits of hysteria, which is probably why the book never
became a blockbuster bestseller.
I have discussed at length the subject of selfishness in many articles
and books, so I won't sidetrack myself here trying to explain how and
why it is a word that is so misunderstood by so many people. What I
will say, however, is that it appeared obvious to me that Harry Browne
softened over the years and amended a good deal of his philosophy for
the better. (Some of this change may have been expressed in his
updated 25th anniversary edition of How I Found Freedom, but I'm sorry
to say that I have not yet read that newer version.)
A good example of how Harry's philosophy evolved over the years
concerns marriage. In How I Found Freedom, he argued that there is no
logical reason for a person to get married. His position was that
since no one could predict the future with certainty, promising to
love someone "until death do us part" is foolish and unrealistic.
Nevertheless, in 1985 he married Pamela Lanier Wolfe. It astonished me
when I heard about it - but from what I understand, they had a close
and loving relationship during the last 20+ years of his life.
An even more glaring example of Harry's philosophical evolution, and
one that was very disturbing to many anarchistic libertarians, is when
he changed his stance on running for public office. In his earlier
writings, he made it clear that becoming involved in the political
process was not only a waste of time, but lent credence to an
inherently corrupt system.
Thus, when he first ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket
in 1996, many of Harry's most loyal supporters were deeply
disappointed. Though I, too, was surprised by his change in attitude,
in retrospect I believe that he made a great contribution to the cause
of liberty by educating millions of Americans through media exposure
that he would not otherwise have received.
My "middle" encounter with Harry came in the early eighties, when I
was publishing other authors' books. Having spoken to him only a
couple of times over the years, I was taken by surprise when he
unexpectedly called me one day.
I was even more surprised when he asked me if I would be interested in
republishing How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World - the very book
that had made such a dramatic impact on my own understanding of how
the world works. Unfortunately, it came at a time when I had already
made the decision to get out of the publishing business, so I politely
declined. It was one of those decisions that I now very much regret.
Finally, more than 20 years later, in October 2005, I had occasion to
chat with Harry for a few minutes at the Advocates for Self-Government
20th Anniversary Celebration in Atlanta. It afforded me an almost
eerie opportunity to tell him how much his work had impacted my
thinking over the years. He thanked me and, in return, offered some
gracious comments about my own accomplishments.
I had hoped to have Harry participate in my On the Shoulders of Giants
Mastermind Series, and we agreed to talk about it by phone. It never
happened. Less than five months later, he was gone. And I was left
with another regret - the regret of not having quickly followed up on
However, a couple of weeks after the event, I did receive an e-mail
from Harry that again took me by surprise. I want to share that e-mail
with you, because I believe it sums up so well just how much he had
evolved as a kind and gracious human being over the years.
I was sorry to miss your banquet speech at the Advocates Conference.
I'm still at the point where I need a tremendous amount of sleep, and
so I thought it wise to go to bed early Saturday night so I'd have
sufficient energy for my own speech Sunday morning.
However, on Sunday I heard nothing but good things about your
presentation, and Sharon is sending me a CD of your talk - which I
look forward to hearing. Thanks for all your kind words. It was a
pleasure to see you again after 25 years.
With best wishes,
The Harry Browne I knew in the late seventies would never have taken
the trouble to write such a note. He was a truly great teacher back
then, but it was clear to me that he had evolved into a truly great
human being. Rest assured that his e-mail will be framed and placed on
my office wall.
So, what can we learn from the life and accomplishments of Harry
Browne? The list is far too long to elaborate on here, but four things
that come immediately to mind are:
1. No matter how brilliant you may be, no matter how firmly entrenched
your ideas, you can, and should, continually evolve and grow as a
person. I don't believe that Harry Browne ever abandoned his basic
principles, but he clearly allowed himself to amend, refine, and
expand his philosophy of life.
2. Harry demonstrated the enormous power of the written and spoken
word. I rank him as perhaps the greatest writer/speaker of our time.
He was living proof that there is no replacement for knowledge and
wisdom when it comes to changing the hearts and minds of people.
3. As I have written and spoken about so many times through the years,
the power of the understatement is enormous. Harry was the ultimate
role model in this respect. Unlike so many famous screaming twit-heads
who pop up on our television screens day after day, he never raised
his voice, never exaggerated, and never engaged in personal attacks.
Calm, clear communication was his trademark.
4. Finally, and the realization that most fascinates me as a social
observer, is that so many giants have come and gone over the centuries
without the general public even knowing who they were. But that's only
one half of the sociological puzzle.
The other half is that so many charlatans are applauded, even revered,
by the masses. While millions of sleepwalking individuals sing the
praises of fools like Jimmy Carter, clowns like Al Sharpton, shakedown
artists like Jesse Jackson, and all-around scoundrels like Clinton &
Clinton, the average person has never even heard of such intellectual
and moral giants as Eric Hoffer, Will Durant, and Ayn Rand, let alone
Sadly, giants such as these come and go virtually unnoticed by
brain-dead TV addicts, while names like Paris Hilton and Michael Moore
are known to all. It is, indeed, an unfair world.
I think we would all do well to use the passing of Harry Browne, a
true giant in the cause of liberty and rational thinking, to reflect
on the people we most admire and the reasons we admire them. Is it
because of their good looks? Their glibness? Their cleverness? Their
athletic ability? Their money? Their outrageous behavior? Their
As any sane person can surely see, we live in a truly insane world. In
my own small way, I try as best I can to be a voice of sanity that
reaches out to those who recognize that the world has been knocked off
its rational and moral axis. But many more voices than mine are
Hopefully, you, too, are a voice of sanity. All it takes is a
commitment to truth, which carries with it a commitment to ignore most
of the popular rhetoric of the day - both from those around you and
from "the people of the lie" who flood our television screens.
Thanks, Harry, for setting me on the path to rational thinking and
motivating me in my quest for truth. I still trip up in these areas
from time to time, but your life has been an inspiration to me to pick
myself up, brush myself off, and keep on trying.
May you rest in well-deserved peace.
Robert Ringer is a public speaker and the author of eight books,
including three #1 bestsellers -- Restoring the American Dream,
Looking Out for #1, and To Be or Not to Be Intimidated? (the updated
and totally rewritten version of Winning through Intimidation).
For a free subscription to Robert Ringer's insightful e-letter,
A Voice of Sanity in an Insane World, please visit