Q: Where did you grow up?
Hornberger: I grew up on a farm on the Rio Grande near Laredo, Texas, which at that time was the poorest city in the United States.
Q: What about your early environment influenced your thinking and character?
Hornberger: My father was German-American and my mother was Mexican-American. The integration and confluence of Mexican and American people and culture in Laredo had a tremendous impact on me. And working in the fields with illegal aliens and going to school with kids whose families were poor gave me a deep empathy with the downtrodden in life.
Q: How did you get the nickname “Bumper?” Hornberger: I got it when I was a baby, it stuck, and all the theories are bad.
Q: What kind of law were you practicing before you gave it up?
Hornberger: I was a trial attorney. For the first several years, I handled both criminal and civil cases, but ended up specializing only in civil litigation. In 1987, after 12 years of practicing law, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life – to leave the practice of law to work full time in the libertarian movement. That year, I accepted a position as program director at The Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York.
Q: What attracted you to the law profession?
Hornberger: My father was an attorney, and so I was walking into courtrooms since I was a toddler. From grade school on, my biggest dream in life was to become a trial attorney. I skipped lots of classes in law school to sit in the law library studying trial books by famous lawyers, such as F. Lee Bailey and Gerald Spence. A few months after graduation, the federal judge in Laredo appointed me to represent an indigent man who the DEA was accusing of a drug conspiracy. My client was innocent, and so we proceeded to trial. The jury acquitted him. It was very exciting. The DEA agents weren’t very happy.
Q: Tell us about how you discovered the philosophy of liberty?
Hornberger: A big seed was planted when I was in law school. I was watching a afternoon movie on television entitled, The Fountainhead, and was stunned. I bought the book and it had a big impact on me, but I didn’t pursue it. A few years later, I discovered in the Laredo public library a series of books entitled “Essays on Liberty” that had been published by The Foundation for Economic Education. It was those essays that changed the course of my life. I discovered that FEE was still in existence, bought just about every book in FEE’s catalog, and went to New York to attend a FEE seminar.
Q: When did you discover the Essays on Liberty series and who were some of the authors that most impacted your thinking
Hornberger: It was about 1977. The library had only the first four volumes of the series, but they were a gold mine of libertarian giants. First and foremost for me was Leonard E. Read, the founder of FEE and the person who has most impacted my libertarian thinking. Others included Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Frederic Bastiat, F.A. “Baldy” Harper, Frank Chodorov, Henry Hazlitt, Hans Sennholz, Ed Opitz, Percy and Bettina Greaves, Paul Poirot, John Chamberlain, Herbert Spencer, Albert J. Nock, and Dean Russell. You can’t do much better than that in four small books!
Q: Were there any of their arguments in particular that you found convincing?
Hornberger: Primarily the moral arguments and secondarily the utilitarian arguments for freedom. Like most everyone else in South Texas, I had grown up a Democrat. When I returned to Laredo after graduation from law school, it didn’t take long for me to become outraged over the U.S. government’s treatment of Mexican illegal aliens, and so I tried to file suit against every federal judge in the Southern District of Texas. (Young lawyers can get away with such things.) Our local federal judge refused to allow the suit to be filed but he told me that he would begin appointing me to represent as many illegal aliens as I wanted.
One day, as I was interviewing some of them in jail, it hit me: if Democrats love the poor as much as they say they do, how could be treating these people in this way? None of my leftist friends could provide a good answer. At that time I assumed that the only other choice was Republican, and everybody knows that they hate the poor.
Then I discovered libertarianism in those FEE books, and the veil of darkness was lifted in a real Road to Damascus experience. Not only could I see that it was morally wrong for the state to interfere with peaceful behavior, I immediately recognized that the ones who would benefit most from a libertarian society were those at the bottom of the economic ladder, i.e., the Mexican illegal aliens.
Q: What role did the ideas of Ayn Rand play in your philosophical education?
Hornberger: A big one. It started with The Fountainhead and then I discovered the Objectivist Newsletter and read them all. But it was Atlas Shrugged that had the biggest impact on me. I’ve read it twice, including all of John Galt’s speech! Although I’m a Christian, I was deeply attracted to Rand’s uncompromising moral and philosophical approach toward liberty.
Q: How long did it take after that to start to make changes in your life – like quitting the ACLU, for example?
Hornberger: I was serving on the board of trustees of the Laredo Legal Aid Society, which was a government agency that provided legal assistance to the indigent. I resigned it immediately, which totally befuddled my leftist-attorney friends, who couldn’t figure out what was happening to me. I think my resignation from the ACLU came later because I loved their position on civil liberties but finally couldn’t handle their defense of the welfare state.
Q: How would you have described your political philosophy before then?
Hornberger: I grew up a Democrat but I’ve always been characterized by a strong sense of individuality and rebellion. For example, in the seventh grade, a friend and I published a newspaper – The Weekly Bore – to compete against the establishment public-school newspaper, The Lion’s Roar. And I recently was surprised to see that I had written a mini-libertarian autobiographical sketch in my senior yearbook at VMI – five years before I discovered the FEE books and two years before I saw The Fountainhead on television. So, I think I’ve always been a libertarian even if I didn’t realize what that meant.
Q: How did you decide to get involved, first as a libertarian activist, and second, why choose the political route instead of journalism or think tanks or some other means?
Hornberger: My early years as a libertarian were spent mostly in quiet study, while I was practicing law. Later I began sponsoring seminars and lectures, mostly in Dallas where I had moved my law practice. While in Dallas, I met Richard Ebeling, who is vice-president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation and who teaches at Hillsdale College. Richard became my best friend and gave me a private tutorial in Mises’s Human Action. Also, Sam Bostaph, head of the economics department at the University of Dallas, gave me a private tutorial in classical economics (Adam Smith, David Ricardo, etc.). Thus, even though I was an economics major at VMI, it was Bostaph and Ebeling who gave me a sound foundation in economics.
Then, in 1987, I went to FEE. For most of my early years as a libertarian, I believed that the think tank route was the best way to go. Gradually, I began speaking at Libertarian Party functions and loved it. I finally concluded that political activity can be a very potent force in advancing liberty. In fact, one of our largest donors at FFF discovered libertarianism through a Libertarian campaign.
Q: Do you think your background in law prepared you for the life of a speaker and debater?
Hornberger: No doubt about it, but I was arguing with my public schoolteachers long before then.
Q: Why did you leave the Foundation for Economic Education and start The Future of Freedom Foundation?
Hornberger: The first year of my life at FEE was one of the happiest one I had ever experienced. I was doing what I loved to do – seminars and speeches – and getting paid to do it! Life was great. Then a conservative was hired to be president of The Foundation, and I simply didn’t feel comfortable working there under his presidency. After a year, I decided to leave to establish a libertarian foundation that took a totally uncompromising approach to libertarian issues, with a strong emphasis on moral, philosophical, and economic issues – a foundation with an attitude!
So, that’s what I did with FFF, and it’s been very gratifying. I should point out that I could never have done it – and FFF would not be where it is today without the support, advice, friendship, and help of Richard Ebeling, who has been with me since the very start.
Later on, Sheldon Richman and James Bovard came aboard and helped to propel us forward. I should also point out that that conservative president of FEE moved on and that now FEE, under the fine leadership of Don Boudreaux, is back on my list of five most-admired libertarian think tanks in the world.
Q: Now with Donald at the head of FEE, would you ever consider a merger? Sheldon edits Ideas on Liberty, so it seems that you would be a good fit.
Hornberger: I’ve always taken the position that the libertarian world is better off with more think tanks rather than less. Most of us in the movement are good friends and we respect each other and each other’s work immensely, but we realize that we do things in different ways and focus on different audiences.
For example, if you compare an issue of Ideas on Liberty with Freedom Daily , you will get the same type of feel in terms of philosophy and devotion to liberty because all of us-Don, Sheldon, Richard, Jim, me-have been deeply influenced by FEE. Yet, you will immediately note that there is a difference in the style and focus of the two journals.
It’s hard to define but it’s readily discernible, and the result is that while there is tremendous overlap with the people who read and support our work, there are also people who are attracted to one and not the other. Thus, by having both institutions and journals, we serve a larger audience.
Q: If someone on your staff writes an article for Freedom Daily that you disagree with, how do you handle that? Do you try to reach some consensus for the philosophical reputation of your foundation or give in to the free flow of ideas?
Hornberger: That’s a fascinating question. Believe it or not, it has hardly ever happened in the 11 years we’ve been publishing – maybe 2 or 3 times. Why? Because of the writers who write regularly for Freedom Daily–Ebeling, Richman, Bovard, and me – as well as those who write frequently such as Doug Bandow and Ralph Raico.
All of us share the same intellectual background, were deeply influenced by the likes of Read, Bastiat, Mises, Rand, Hayek, Rothbard, and all of us believe that it’s important not to compromise or dilute libertarian principles. Thus, I’m just not concerned that there’s going to be what we call a philosophical “leak.”
Q: How did you recruit Sheldon Richman from Cato?
Hornberger: Don’t start rumors! Sheldon was leaving Cato anyway to move to western Virginia with his family. Since Cato did not permit telecommuting, Sheldon approached me for a job on that basis, and I quickly accepted. I have the utmost respect for Sheldon’s intellectual and personal integrity, and I count him among the finest friends I have ever had in my life.
Q: How do you differentiate yourself from other organizations such as Reason Foundation, Cato, or FEE? How are you different, and why should we give you guys money?
Hornberger: Cato is in the public-policy realm. It takes a real-world issue and applies a practical libertarian solution that can be, both pragmatically and politically, implemented immediately. FEE and FFF deal more broadly with the overall moral, philosophical, case for the free society in the context of everyday problems, but recognizing that they might not be politically feasible. The analogy would be a football game: Cato is moving the ball down the field. We’re pointing to the goal line. I think Reason has evolved into fascinating combination of the two, doing both public policy work but periodically focusing on the principles.
In my opinion, to the extent possible, donors ought to add recipients to their donor list rather than transfer donations from one to the other. All of us are filling valuable niches in the movement toward the achievement of liberty.
Q: How large is your staff?
Hornberger: We have three on staff here in the office, a proofreader and art designer off site, and our three regular writers – Ebeling, Richman, and Bovard – off site.
Q: What are the day-to-day duties involved?
Hornberger: Answering mail, writing articles and op-eds, preparing Freedom Daily, and changing toner. Q: You have an aggressive travel schedule – who takes care of the office when you are away?
Hornberger: Alicia Cannon, who has been with me for 7 years. We’re still not sure what her title is, but FFF would not run without her. And we’ve recently added Andy Bennett, who is making an invaluable contribution also.
Q: Do you think you’ll eventually get road warrior burn-out and turn more to writing?
Hornberger: I sure hope not. The written word is vitally important and it lasts forever, but I’m convinced that in order for people to come to a grand and noble cause such as ours, they have to feel the passion and excitement that can only come from a speech.
Q: For those of our readers who haven’t been following the insider politics of the national Libertarian Party, what is the problem with the Browne camp?
Hornberger: I’ve concluded that the problem facing the national LP is not one that is directly associated with Browne or any other particular person. Instead, it is a matter dealing with a conflict of visions.
One group of people place little or no value on ethical principles, believing that right and wrong are judged only by the libertarian nonaggression principle. In other words, as long as conduct is not violent or fraudulent, advocates of this paradigm would say that one cannot say that conduct is “wrongful” in an objective sense. Then there are those of us who believe in a paradigm that places ethics right near at the top of our values. We would say, for example, that a paradigm that permits a candidate to make payments of money to party officials is “wrong” because it violates ethical principles relating to principles of fiduciary duty and conflict of interest.
So, I realized that it’s not just a question of isolated ethical violations by certain people but rather a systemic problem involving what I consider is an incorrect paradigm. Thus, the only solution, I have concluded, is to try to persuade LP members to abandon the old paradigm and adopt a new one, which is what I am trying to accomplish by the LP national convention in 2002.
The reason for this is not only that I believe ethics are “right,” but also because I believe that the American electorate will never support a third party that operates under an unethical paradigm. In fact, a Wall Street Journal exit poll last November reflected that voters place ethical and moral principles at the top of their most important issues.
Q: Are you going to run for the party’s nomination in 2004?
Hornberger: I don’t know, but if LP members fail to put a permanent stop to the unethical paradigm under which the LP is operating at the 2002 convention, it won’t make any difference how many people seek the presidential nomination. Because if the old paradigm is permitted to continue, general party resources will once again be used to advance the personal campaign interests of whoever the advocates of the old paradigm “anoint: to receive the benefits of the party’s general resources. And few LP members, myself included, have the resources to battle not only another LP candidate but also the entire general resources of the Libertarian Party, including our very own donations to the party.
Moreover, I’m convinced that if the old paradigm is permitted to continue, whoever prevails in the nomination will do no better than the standard half percent or one percent because, again, the American people will never embrace a third party deliberately engaged in unethical conduct. Given the choice between two major parties and one minor party engaged in wrongful conduct, people will never waste their vote on the minor party. Give them the choice of a party of “integrity and principle,” which is what I’m fighting for, and I think you’d see some serious open-field running for national LP candidates.
Q: You have recently been arguing that the target demographic of the Libertarian marketing campaign is wrong. You maintain that the white upper-middle class suburban voter is too fickle, and will jump from Libertarians to Republicans if the Democrats are running a strong candidate. They’ll vote against the Democrat rather than for the Libertarian. On the other hand, you suggest that the people who are more receptive to the Libertarian message are those who have the most to gain from government leaving them alone: Indians on reservations, the Blacks and Hispanics in government housing projects and on other forms of government assistance, recent immigrants trying to start new businesses. Can you explain how you intend to build a pro-capitalist constituency among the minorities and the poor?
Hornberger: The point I’m trying to make is to go where there is bigger bang for the buck with limited resources. For example, consider two different rooms filled with 100 people each. One room has white, middle-class families who proudly take their children to the public school bus every morning. The other room is filled with inner-city blacks and Hispanics from the barrio. You deliver the same hard-core libertarian speech to both audiences: end the drug war, get rid of public schooling, abolish the income tax, open the borders, end gun control, abolish welfare and Social Security, and so forth.
I’m not saying that the entire room with blacks and Hispanics will embrace your message. I’m saying that a greater percentage in that room will embrace your message, because generally they’ve been victimized by the government to a much larger extent than the white, middle class group. So, in the white, middle-class room, maybe 2 out of 100 will like what you say, but in the inner-city black, Hispanic barrier group, the figure will soar to, say, 20.
Q: What do you think of the new ads the Libertarian Party has had made? Do you think they are worth spending millions of dollars on to get aired across the country?
Hornberger: I’ve said this for more than five years, much to the chagrin of the national LP hierarchy, but I will continue to say it: this mass-media type of campaign that they have taught and promoted at the LP’s “success” seminars for years and which has twice been used by Browne is a ridiculous and tragic waste of scarce LP resources. What amazes me is how they just continue repeating the exact same strategy that has produced nothing but failure. They blame the failure on external factors, ignoring the obvious – that their strategy could not overcome those external factors. Any ads the LP puts on the air are going to be drowned out by the other people’s ads – they have far more money than we do.
When I saw those glitzy ads that Browne had at the national convention, I liked the ads but knew that the mass-media strategy would fail again. But that’s the point – no matter how impressive the ads, the strategy won’t work. Look at the waste of about $300,000 in Libertarian resources that went into Browne’s campaign infomercial. When Browne won the nomination, I figured he’d get about 1 percent, which in my opinion is the very most the mass media-strategy can do, but which also means that 99 percent of the electorate has rejected you.
The problem is that because the ads are glitzy, people are attracted to them regardless of the results. The strategy I have been recommending for 5 years advocates the development of guerrilla strategies and tactics that marshal scarce resources and concentrate them on our opposition. I’m more convinced than ever that guerrilla political warfare is the way to go for the LP, and that’s why I shall continue advocating it. But there’s no doubt about which strategy the national LP hierarchy will continue to pursue.
Q: Bill Bradford recently argued that decriminalization of drugs could be both a litmus test of libertarian commitment and an issue that should be at the top of the Libertarian Party’s outreach message. Do you agree? If not, what issue in your mind would be a better buzz-generator for libertarianism?
Hornberger: Prioritization of issues within a short period of time is a very difficult task for any LP candidate, and thus I have the utmost respect for any Libertarian who has run for office and had to grapple with this. But I believe that it is incumbent on every Libertarian to make ending the war on drugs a center part of his campaign, not only because it’s right, but also because it’s destroying the lives of so many people. Moreover, it’s a perfect issue to develop both the moral case and the utilitarian case for liberty. I agree with Bill on the litmus test – I don’t see how a person can consider himself a libertarian if he favors the war on drugs.
Q: Many Objectivists have always been a little skeptical of the Libertarian Party’s ability to stay true to the vision of capitalism that Ayn Rand projected so vividly in Atlas Shrugged and her non-fiction writings. In the last couple of years, we’ve see some high-profile Libertarians trying to woo Rush Limbaugh Republicans by watering down libertarian positions on abortion and other issues. You predicted this would be devastating to the credibility of the Party. Do you think the “compromise and concealment” factor as you call it, was in part responsible for Browne’s terrible showing in the recent election?
Hornberger: I think everyone, myself included, would agree that overall, Browne is a good spokesman for libertarianism. I think he made some mistakes on national television – such as calling for the assassination of foreign leaders (Politically Incorrect) and claiming that our Southern borders are currently open to free immigration (Meet the Press) – but hey, who wouldn’t make mistakes in the pressures of a presidential campaign?
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is one principle reason for failure at the national LP level: the paradigm of unethical conduct that has governed the LP for many years, including the right of LP presidential candidates to make payments of money to Libertarian National Committee (LNC) officials for “services rendered.”
I believe that the American people have a keener sense of when something feels fishy than we give them credit for. I saw this in jury trials – jurors might not be able to understand all the complex issues in a case, such as the judge would, but they could instinctively size both sides up and arrive at a just decision. I think that many regular people size up the LP, instinctively sense that things are not right, and go elsewhere.
If Libertarians would adopt a paradigm of ethics and integrity and combine that with libertarian principles, they’d have more success than they would know what to do with.
Q: What else contributed to the 37% drop in Browne support between 1996 and 2000?
Hornberger: A Wall Street Journal exit poll last November showed that American voters place ethics and moral principles at the pinnacle of their most important issues. Voters fall into three categories: (1) those who know about the LP and embrace it; (2) those who know about the LP and go away because they don’t like the feel; (3) those who have never heard of the LP. What we have to do is get those in Category 2 to embrace us so that they’ll go out and sell the LP to Group 3. While Browne and the national LP could excite some people in Group 1, they could not, for the reasons I’ve stated, excite people in Group 2, and without Group 2, those in Group 3 cannot get the information. What I say is: adopt a new paradigm of ethics and make the LP “the party of integrity and principle.” That would enable those people in Group 2 to embrace the LP comfortably, and they in turn would become our salesmen for Group 3.
Q: Would you consider running as the VP nominee on a ticket with Ron Paul? Would it matter if you were a Libertarian or a Republican so long as you kept your integrity and your principles intact?
Hornberger: There are few people I admire more in life than Ron Paul. I consider him the Frederic Bastiat of our time. He is truly one of my heroes. He has shown that being a Libertarian (and a LP presidential candidate to boot) is not the kiss of death among American voters. He was attacked by both his own party officials (I can relate!) and by his Democratic opponents, but he stuck by his guns. Those Texas voters, bless their freedom-loving hearts, put him back into Congress.
Rather than spending time thinking about presidential politics, however, I have decided to continue spending my time trying to persuade LP members at the 2002 convention to adopt the new paradigm of ethics and integrity. If they don’t put a permanent stop to the unethical conduct, in my opinion it won’t matter who runs for the LP presidential nomination because no one will be able to defeat the candidate who has been “anointed” by the LP hierarchy to receive the benefit of general party resources being poured into his or her campaign against other Libertarian candidates.
Again, I believe it’s ethically wrong for LP officials to be permitted to accept money from a LP presidential candidate and that it’s also ethically wrong for party officials to use LP resources to advance personal campaign interests of any of the contenders for the nomination.
Q: FFF published Richman’s Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax. How have you marketed that book and have you engaged its detractors in dialogue?
Hornberger: We had nice sales to Conservative Book Club and Laissez Faire Books and promoted the book in Liberty and Reason and on radio talks shows across the country. The other thing that has revolutionized book sales for organizations such as ours has been amazon.com, where all our books are carried.
Q: After the income tax is gone, how do we realistically support the operations of the government?
Hornberger: Voluntarily. In a sense, we are much like the Russians with respect to the production of shoes. Many Russians are so accustomed to the government’s producing of shoes that they refuse to believe that a free market in shoes will actually work. (What if everyone forgets to produce shoes?) It’s the same way with government. Americans cannot imagine that people would actually support government if they weren’t forced to. Most people, including myself, believe that government is vitally important, especially its police and judicial functions. Therefore, why can’t we rely on people to voluntarily support that which they believe is important? And the free-rider objection is answered by the fact that people support lots of things that others don’t support but nevertheless utilize – like churches, opera houses, and museums.
What’s important, from a standpoint of principle, is that no one should be forced to support anything, not even the government, against his will.
Q: Do you think a state-by-state approach, repealing income taxes one state at a time would get voters interested in a national income tax abolition plan?
Hornberger: Absolutely. This is the principle reason I believe so strongly in initiative and referendum. It is an ideal way for people to limit the power of government. It is also a way for libertarians to bring up libertarian concepts in elections that do not involve candidates.
Q: In an essay you wrote “Waco: Lies, Deaths, and Cover-Ups” you ask: “Is it time to dismantle, not reform, the FBI and the ATF and leave law enforcement to state and local governments?” If we did not have the FBI would it not make it difficult to chase criminals from state to state? Don’t we need some agency to be a central crime bureau that keep tracks of dangerous people and disseminates information to every state in this very mobile society of ours?
Hornberger: I think it’s actually a balancing test that is involved here. Theoretically, a national police force that is strictly devoted to investigating, arresting, prosecuting, and punishing violent and fraudulent people is fine. The problem is as a practical matter, it doesn’t work out that way.
The FBI has spied on peaceful and law-abiding citizenry, kept files on them, and harassed political dissidents. I believe that on balance, citizens are better off decentralizing police forces and relying on state police forces cooperating with each other.
The ATF has no business being in existence at all, since we shouldn’t have any laws interfering with the unrestricted ownership of weapons, and because it’s not good to have a racially bigoted government agency with guns that kills innocent citizens without remorse or regret. It should be abolished yesterday.
Q: Since the Federal Reserve is a fact, how do you rate Greenspan’s performance and what would you do differently?
Hornberger: I don’t think anybody can contest Greenspan’s success in reining in inflation and keeping the value of the dollar relatively sound for the past several years. But we must not permit that success to lull us into a false sense of security. Government control over money is quite possibly the most threatening governmental power that exists – threatening to both freedom and financial well-being, perhaps even greater than the income tax. That’s why we must continue calling for its abolition and calling for a free market in money and banking. I should also note the fact that Greenspan was able to lend an enormous amount of money to Mexican government bureaucrats without permission of Congress or the President. That’s the type of power that dictators have.
Q: TV is the medium of the age and exerts a considerable influence on the culture. But besides John Stossel, there isn’t much of a voice for liberty on TV. How can we change that?
Hornberger: I wish I knew the answer to that because the television talk shows are filled with conservatives and leftists, all of whom are extremely boring. They need some libertarianism to liven things up, but they just continue sticking with what’s boring. I suppose the answer is what Leonard Read said years ago: keep working on yourself to the point where you’re so good at explaining libertarian principles that they begin seeking you out. Stossel is obviously a brilliant man, but I have a strong feeling that behind that brilliance lies thousands of hours of hard work studying and toiling.
Q: What predictions do you have for the Bush presidency?
Hornberger: Same old Republican, hypocritical nonsense. They’ll preach the virtues of “free enterprise, private property, and limited government,” as conservatives always do, and then they’ll embrace all the statist programs that currently exist. Have you noticed that they’re not calling for abolishing anything, not even the Departments of Education, Commerce, and HUD – not even nonessential agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts? They’ll just continue managing the levers of the welfare state and regulated society, doling out privileges to their buddies, in the quest to be able to do it for eight years rather than only four.
Q: If you were elected President, what would you do during your first week in office?
Hornberger: (1) Immediately pardon all people who have been convicted of a nonviolent and non-fraudulent offense and continue to do so continuously every week after that – including nonviolent drug offenders, gun offenders, illegal immigrants, and tax violators; (2) immediately end the repatriation of Cuban refugees into communist tyranny; (3) order troop withdrawals from all over the world and downsize the military-industrial complex; (4) ask the American people to begin debating and discussing constitutional amendments calling for the abolition of the income tax and all welfare-state programs, including Social Security, and calling for the total separation of education and the state and the economy and the state; (5) do a century bike ride on Sunday.
Q: I want to read you a quote from “How Bad Do You Want to Be Free?” and then ask you something about it. You wrote:
But more is needed to achieve freedom than the necessary resolve among freedom devotees. One of the greatest impediments to the achievement of freedom is the lack of respectful tolerance for differing points of view among freedom devotees. The reason we [FFF] promote different organizations, despite philosophical, and sometimes even personal, differences is that we want to achieve freedom in our lifetime, and we know that these organizations, in their own way, are helping in that struggle. When people are able to consider a different perspective on liberty, even though it might not be our own, overall understanding of freedom is improved. Does this mean that freedom devotees should not address philosophical differences of perspective? Of course not. But it does mean that we don’t have to engage in personal attacks on one another or dissociate ourselves with others simply because they are unable to buy “our complete package” on liberty.
On the one hand, this could be interpreted as supporting the argument that David Kelley gave, around the same time as you did, in his essay “Truth and Toleration.” Yet where do you draw the line – even if civility is still required, when is tolerance no longer required? Civility is one thing, but an umbrella approach to libertarian activism could just as easily lead to the subversion of the idea of liberty by allowing it to be assimilated to “free-market conservatism” or “anarchism” so long as the intellectual public (our target market) is concerned. Surely the strongest form of denunciation and repudiation is warranted for those who would sully the true meaning of liberty.
Hornberger: I think the issue of tolerance depends on the situation. For example, at FFF seminars, we are intolerant with our refusal to permit statists to deliver lectures. But we are very tolerant in permitting any view to be raised and discussed during the discussion sessions. Sometimes we’ll debate statists at our programs, during which we try to treat them with the utmost courtesy and respect. Within the libertarian movement, there is a wide range of differences on such issues as education, Social Security, immigration, methodology, and so forth. I think it’s healthy that we encourage as much openness and tolerance in discussion and debate as possible because it’s the best way to arrive at truth and the best solutions.
Q: On the topic of ethics, Ayn Rand maintained that self-sacrifice is wrong and destructive. The morality of most of America is the Judeo-Christian ethic, and self-sacrifice is one tenet. Rand maintains that the ethic of self-sacrifice is undercutting American Capitalism, giving the liberals the moral justification of the welfare-state, and leaving the conservatives morally helpless to argue against it. Because of this, we keep sliding further into socialism and our rights are continuing to be diminished. As a Christian and a Libertarian, how would you solve this dilemma?
Hornberger: I’ve concluded that this subject is so complex that not even the Randians understand it. For example, Randians would argue that Mother Theresa acted irrationally because she sacrificed her life for others. Yet, if a person donates all his earnings to an Objectivist foundation, Randians would say that he hasn’t sacrificed his life for Objectivists but simply placed a high value on feeling good over what the foundation did with his money. Well, why can’t we say that Mother Theresa put a high value on feeling good through helping others?
Or let’s say that a child is about to be run over by a bus. A 50-year-old Christian jumps in front of the bus, knowing that he will be killed but that the child will be pushed to safety. The Randian would say that the man has acted irrationally by sacrificing his life for another. But if the 50-year-old happens to be a Randian and the father of the child, the Randian will say that his act is rational because he places a high value on his child’s life. Well, why isn’t it possible for a Christian to put a high value on a child’s life who he doesn’t know?
Part of the problem, of course, is that Randians haven’t yet discovered that God really does exist, and therefore it is entirely rational for them to believe that those who have are acting irrationally. Moreover, Rand was not being logical in suggesting that simply because people in society like to help others, that that necessarily means that they’ll turn to the state to do so.
But what attracted me so much about Rand is the strong moral foundations she presented for a free society, even if the roots of her convictions are different from mine.
Q: What preparation do you recommend for budding activists?
Hornberger: Discover what you love and are good at and concentrate on that.
Q: What do you do for leisure ö any hobbies?
Hornberger: I’m single, 50, Catholic, and have a well-worn copy of Cooking for Dummies. I love to cycle and have twice done Bike Virginia, a five-day bike ride involving a thousand riders. I also hike and occasionally do some scuba diving. For the last few years, I’ve gotten interested in languages, and so I’ve become fluent in Spanish and I’m now learning Italian. Last summer I attended a language school in Florence and cycled on weekends in Tuscany – an awesome vacation, especially since I also love opera. While in Florence, I got interested in Renaissance Art and I just finished a book on the Medici family. I watch Spanish and Italian television programs regularly.
Q: If you could give us one of the biggest lessons you have learned from your life experiences so far, what would it be?
Hornberger: As Scott Peck puts it, life is hard. But it is also a great adventure if you confront it directly – family interactions, fascinating experiences, meeting new people, having fun, making fine friendships, working hard, and fighting important battles. My goal is, as Thoreau put it, is not to get to the end of my life and discover that I have not lived.