Pedigree of My Political Philosophy

August 21, 2007

My ancestors, grandparents, and parents were self-reliant, independent risk-takers. I have a pedigree of homesteaders, trailblazers, colonizers, ranchers, pioneers, settlers, shopkeepers, farmers and missionaries, not of functionaries, bureaucrats, lawyers and aid-recipients. The only ancestors I know that were paid by taxes were Grandpa Ben, a mail carrier, (and he may have been an independent contractor), and my father, Darwin, a school teacher. The NEA drove him buggy. When the Scout troop came out to Bear Canyon to help insulate our house in 1957, my parents cringed. We were so poor that Dad’s undershirts had page-sized holes in them, but asking for church, family or government assistance was unthinkable. We ate scraps and boiled wheat.

Dad admired independents and eccentrics; Lou Jonas, Dave Blackmore, Vernon Van Hoose. He was drawn to auctioneers, system-questioners, and junkyard attendants. Dad built his own homes, fixed his own cars. He and Mother doctor their own wounds.

Dad read aloud pithy quotes from Thoreau.

  • I wouldn’t walk around the corner to watch the world blow up.

  • You can’t kill time without injuring eternity.

  • Simplify, simplify, simplify.

The themes of Walden, An Ode to John Brown, and Civil Disobedience, near-scriptures to Dad, attracted me. Flaunt the system by raising your own food. Flaunt the government by accepting a jail term rather than pay a nickel to a government that condones slavery.

Dad took me to a free movie night in Deer Lodge. We never went to movies. One of the movies was a saga of the migration of geese; the other was “Anarchy”, what I now suspect was a John Birch Society production.

The only brush I had with the Cold War was hearing my mother warn me not to eat snow- it could be radioactive from Soviet test blasts- and her supposition that Daylight Saving Time was part of a communist conspiracy to weaken our country.

As Latter-day Saints, believers in revelation, we are naturally open to prophetic warnings and seeing the world as the battleground between good and evil. We read and discussed the book Prophets, Principles and National Survival at home. We knew that the elders of Israel would come to the rescue in that future time when the Constitution will hang by a thread. In 1970, give or take a few years, Dad and Mother took a Cleon Skousen seminar on the Constitution. Mother and Dad learned to be leery of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Federal Reserve System, and the threat the UN poses to national sovereignty. So a healthy distrust of government lodged in my mind from an early age.

When our bridge washed out in a flood, and disaster officials came around begging Dad to take $2,500 to rebuild it, he refused. He rebuilt the bridge alone. Later, in college, when I refused a Pell grant for $1,000, even when money was scarce, I was simply following Dad’s precedent.

The welfare principles of the Church influenced the thinking of our family and me. Work rules. Recipients’ dignity must be preserved by providing them with work. Rely on self and family before the Church. The Church will provide essentials only, and only on a short-term basis. No able person will cast the burden of his or her maintenance on others, including taxpayers.

Dad and Mother never gave me an allowance, only hand-me-downs and Barter Mart clothes. We worked to earn our money.

I began reading about liberty after marriage. Some influential books, not in the order read, are below.

Free to Choose

Atlas Shrugged

The Bell Curve

Takings

Anarchy, the State, Utopia

Simple Rules for a Complex World

Mortal Peril

The Theme is Freedom

The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law

Restoring the Lost Constitution

The Libertarian Reader

Democracy in America

The Federalist Papers

Miracle at Philadelphia

John Adams

1776

The Black Book of Communism

The Gulag Archipelago

The Law

The Quest for Cosmic Justice

The scriptures

I’ve discovered Reason, National Review, The American Spectator, and Regulation magazines, and the websites of The Independent Institute, Foundation for Economic Education and the Heritage Foundation. I read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. I enjoy the writings of George Will, Virginia Postrel, and Dixie Lee Ray.

The Old Testament warns of kings. So does the Book of Mormon, which also extols “the voice of the people”. It chronicles one arrangement where judges were checked by judges in other jurisdictions. A basic principle of limited government is to have checks on various governing bodies, competing authorities, all to bridle governments.

Depradations by lawless, but legally constituted authorities against my people in Missouri, Illinois and Utah bolster my wariness of government.

In college, I took economics from Mr. Ward, the tall, boring man with thick glasses. The applicability of economics to politics intrigued me. I asked Mr. Ward how many members of Congress knew what he was teaching. He guessed very few did.

These are the influences that make me conservative, independent, afraid and suspicious of government. Individualism beats collectivism. Property rights for individuals beats public ownership. Taxes should be very low. Subsidies canker. Government workers sound well-meaning, but unchecked, their programs will enslave.

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2 Responses

  1. Excellent overview Tom. Very principled of you not to have taken the Pell grant! Continue to tell that story to motivate others to do the same. I realize this post was written in 2007 so perhaps some of your intellectual ammo sources may have changed since then — at least I hope so — as the folks at Heritage came out in support of the TARP bailout, which doesn’t exactly mesh with their claims to stand for limited government and free markets.

  2. I’ve read the top books on your list. I’d also like to recommend “Economics in One Lesson” by Hazlitt, “Economic Sophisms” by Bastiat, all of the books of Ludwig von Mises, and the collected works of Charles Darwin, edited by E. O. Wilson. I’d also recommend books by Daniel Dannett and Richard Dawkins, but mostly for their science, good writing, and enjoyable but not for their social policies.

    Of the many books you’ve listed, “Taking’s” is both a classic and a masterpiece.

    When Milton Friedman (“Free to Choose”) died in November, 2006, my wife was in the Bay area on business. She bought flowers and delivered them in person to the Hoover Institute, where Friedman had been a senior fellow for many years. Until 2003, we had lived 15 miles from the Hoover Institute for 15 years, had been there many times and knew several scholars who were there.

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