The Late Great George Walsh
By Bryan Caplan
This has been a week of nostalgia. As I moved from 8 Carow Hall to 11 Carow Hall, I learned two things:
1. Progress has turned the bulk of my possessions (especially hard copies of articles) into trash.
2. Time has turned a few of my possessions into nigh irreplaceable treasure.
My favorite treasures, perhaps, are the lecture tapes of the late great George Walsh. I met him once in 1989. Today I discovered that he died back in 2001, and I miss him.
Who was George Walsh? While I am not an Objectivist, I consider him to be the greatest of the professional Objectivist philosophers. Walsh didn’t write much, but he was a great reader and an amazing speaker. In the late 80s and early 90s, Laissez-Faire Books sold tapes of his lecture series on Marxism, the Judeo-Christian Tradition, Rousseau, Protestant Fundamentalism, and the Role of Religion in History (eventually transcribed and turned into his only book). All of these lectures are first-rate. I probably listened to each series at least five times. And as far as I can tell, they’re no longer available for sale. (If someone knows how to legally put these on iTunes, please let me know).
Walsh’s two great strengths: Old-fashioned scholarship and a brilliant sense of humor. Unlike modern “publish-or-perish” academics, Walsh’s priority was learning his topic forward and backward. When he lectures on Marxism, for example, you can tell that he spent decades reading not just the collected works of Marx, but dozens of minor Marxists, critics, and apostates. Then he went on to study the actual history of Marxism, and the complex connections – and disconnections – between theory and practice.
Walsh’s lectures distill these decades of scholarship and reflection into an overpowering pedagogical tonic. You might think such a concentrated drink of information would be too strong to digest. But Walsh’s wit makes it go down like ice cream. If you can get your hands on these tapes (and an old-fashioned casette deck), you’re in for a treat.