By David Henderson
Over on “The Austrian Economists,” Peter Boettke writes an appreciation of the late Robert Nozick, who would have turned 70 on November 16. The title Pete gave it has caused most commenters to focus on Nozick’s smarts, but Pete’s appreciation is much more wide-ranging.
I have two of my own appreciations. I first met Nozick at the 1975 Libertarian Party National Convention in New York City. Nozick was a delegate from Massachusetts. I had just arrived at my first assistant professorship at the University of Rochester’s Graduate School of Management, bought my first car on credit (an orange-colored, but it turned out, lemon) VW Rabbit. I drove down to NYC to visit my friends who were delegates and talked myself onto the convention floor. I arrived just in time to see the fireworks. No, not the late Bruce Evoy, “the delegate from Virginia,” doing an amazing oration of Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, although that happened a minute after I got on the floor. What I witnessed was the near-implosion of the Libertarian Party after its newly nominated Presidential candidate Roger MacBride rejected two vice-presidential candidates, one because he was tax resister and the other because he was openly homosexual.
That evening, a bunch of my friends, including Ralph Raico, the late Murray Rothbard (kind of a friend), and the late Roy Childs, along with Nozick and others, arranged a meeting with MacBride in MacBride’s suite to discuss the conflict. I went along and watched. What I remember is how charismatic, articulate, and passionate Nozick was in arguing with MacBride. I had more sympathy with MacBride than Nozick had because MacBride seemed genuinely worried that having either rejected candidate as a running mate would make the Presidential campaign a one-issue campaign. Nozick seemed to have no such sympathy. Still, it was neat to see him in action and what transpired was the opposite of the kind of discussion that happened in the smoke-filled rooms of the major parties.
The second thing I remember that always stands out was from an interview Nozick did in the 1970s or 1980s, I believe with Reason, in which he talked about a left-wing student who threatened to forcibly prevent Nozick from teaching a class on capitalism at Harvard. Nozick took the man aside and, in his recounting, threatened to “beat the s**t out of him.” The class went on as scheduled.