I am sorry to have to report the death of another old friend, Gary North, who passed away a few days after his eightieth birthday.
I joined Gary North’s community many years ago, a few years before the birth of bionic mosquito (which now is itself approaching twelve years). He was one of the most important influences in my education and, therefore, to this blog.
I recall his having recommended three books to his general audience, books that he said had greatly influenced him. I have written extensively on each of these three books, and for those interested, the posts can be found here; I only touch on each of these here:
Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life
Barzun offered a sweeping history of Western history since the Reformation and Renaissance. His work helped to shape my understanding of both the good and the bad of the Enlightenment. He also touches on the liberty that was developed in the earlier, so-called, Middle Ages. His book can be considered an encyclopedic reference for the time in question.
Martin Van Creveld, The Rise and Decline of the State
“Government” and “the state” are two entirely different things. He made clear that there was no such thing as a “state” before 1300, with the institution taking full form only in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia.
Thereafter, until the time of the French Revolution, the state instrumentalized – bureaucracy, armed forces, statistics, police, prisons. Until 1945, the state was seen as some kind of ideal. Thereafter, the entire concept has been in decline. He offered a prescient insight, as one of the possibilities that would follow this decline:
At worst, the tables may be turned, and people may find themselves living under, or governed by, organizations that are less accountable and more authoritarian.
This possibility has become the reality. We see this clearly today.
Nisbet greatly advanced my understanding of the value of community and a common culture if one is actually pursuing liberty. While the non-aggression principle offers what not to do (don’t hit first, don’t take my stuff), what is it that is necessary to do in order to move toward liberty? Nisbet helped move me in this direction by offering an answer to this question.
Regular readers of this blog can quickly see how each of these three books has greatly influenced my thinking.
North also influenced my understanding on Antonio Gramsci (here and here), which further contributed to my view that it is, in fact, the Christian culture (and Christianity more fundamentally) that can be the only foundation for liberty. There are many libertarians who, like Gramsci, see Christianity as an impediment toward their respective ends. For these libertarians, as an impediment toward liberty; for Gramsci, as an impediment toward communism. Only one of these can be right, and as Christian culture has been in decline, it is obvious which one of the two is right.
North was far along in understanding this cultural reality long before I ever paid any attention to it. From the official eulogy, written by Craig Bulkeley:
By the mid-1970’s, now in his thirties, North saw clearly that America was far down the fast track of radical transformation and on its way to ruin.
Vietnam and the societal turmoil this brought on; Keynesianism and socialism; Nixon; the banning of Bible reading in schools and the legalization of killing unborn children. Even Christian organizations promoting situational ethics. Christians waiting for the rapture, and not bothering with life on this earth.
North lived through and saw all of these, and recognized the consequences of where we were headed. He made it his calling to do something about it. He would write countless books and tens-of-thousands of articles. He developed a homeschool curriculum. He would write a verse-by-verse exposition on the economic principles to be found in the Bible. This project took him forty years – a project he did part-time while working on all of his other projects.
I also had the privilege of hearing him speak in person several times at Mises Institute events. He could speak without notes, always in a logical and ordered manner. I recall when he donated his library to the Institute – I suspect that the collection is larger than that held at many public libraries. And I suspect he read all of these.
Returning to the eulogy, Bulkeley offers eleven principles followed by North during his life. I have taken to heart many of these, and fallen short on others – even those I find valuable. I offer summaries of each of these here:
First, a person must know his life’s calling: the most important thing he can do in which he would be most difficult to replace.
Second, remember the prophets. Isaiah’s job was to speak even when people would not listen and the work appeared fruitless. Elijah’s job was to speak even when he seemed to be the only one left. Jeremiah’s job was to speak but still conduct business (buy the land) knowing God’s plan for the future will prevail.
Third, forget trying to be in the “Inner Ring,” as C.S. Lewis called it.
Fourth, stick to your knitting. Do not get sidetracked. Press on.
Fifth, work to serve. Meet a need. Provide or do something useful.
Sixth, discipline your time. It is the one resource that cannot be replaced. Once it’s gone, it cannot be recovered.
Seventh, strive to be the best, but don’t worry if you are not No. 1.
Eighth, understand that you can’t fight something with nothing.
Ninth, don’t pay too much attention to your critics.
Tenth, be confident in God’s power and his plan to change the world.
Eleventh, pay your tithe. It reminds a person that he owes everything to God.
One could live a worse life than the one offered by following these principles. I don’t think anyone can ever read everything written by North, but internalizing these principles might be possible and will be enough of a lifetime goal.
As mentioned, I joined North’s community many years ago, and frequently commented (not as bionic). I did also leave several years ago, having been in the community for a half-dozen years or so. I wrote this at the time. A eulogy, I guess, for the person that left the community.