I like to think of myself as a person who has relevant thoughts. I was raised in a household that carried on intellectual conversations and dabbled in political and philosophical thought, always with an opinion of course. In the fifth grade I argued politics with my teacher, Mr. Morris ( Harvey, if you’re out there, I appreciate your decorum in those days), taking my slant from the National Review my father favored and that I actually did read. Needless to say, there weren’t many other 10 or 11 years olds who were willing to put up their political views against a teacher, or anyone else for that matter.
This carried on for quite some time, and in my freshman year of high school, a friend and I rallied up enough nerve to join an “a-political” conservative student organization called Young Americans for Freedom. We were brave, illuminated and full of energy on behalf of the cause. I was among a handful of enthusiasts who picketed the office of then senator Alan Cranston, an arch, liberal adversary of our determined laissez-faire conservatism. William H. Buckley would have been proud, I believed, had he had an inkling of the event. I, for one, considered it the most radical event in my young repertoire of political activism. It was, in retrospect, the only event that I can recall. I was in the midst of older students, though (many of them college age in addition to us high schoolers), and the whole era was so full of earnestness and idealism, so one was as good as one hundred. At least I had done something, and senators counted as establishment regardless of your politics and which establishment you identified with.
We used to go to “meetings”. I use the term loosely and in quotation marks because these meetings, such as they were, actually weren’t. There were supposed to be strategies and events (like the picketing), and sometimes a narration of an adventure that was far beyond anything we could hope to experience ourselves. Some of us who were still too young to drive would be chauffeured there by our parents. I can barely believe that mine were willing to do this, now that all of these years have passed. They were the type to sit up and wait for me to come home from a date or a night out with friends, so for them to leave me at the apartment of college age kids without having checked it out themselves is hard to fathom. Especially considering that the meetings quickly turned into parties, complete with black lights and strobes, marijuana and closed bedroom doors… Conservative politics was not immune, it turned out, to pre-marital sex or pot. I think I was shocked, although I was mainly clueless.
Our parents never imagined that their innocent, conservative little children were in the midst of rather grown up, socially forward individuals who were, while entirely sold on their politics, were equally enthralled with the new freedoms that the opposition had welcomed first. It is not difficult to understand how this organization, so bound up in the status quo of the early 60’s, took a slam dunk into the more esoteric libertarian movement of the latter part of the decade. Several members moved on into the political arena as journalists or staff members, and one of them is currently an influential member of congress. The path was very nearly circular for them.
I stayed on the outside of most of that. I was never particularly daring and, while the allure of the libertarian movement had something going for it, the purity of the philosophy is completely lost when it becomes a political arm. That ruined it for me. I doubt it had any real influence on most of our lives, except for the nearly bohemian aspect that it attained , at least on the west coast, where it “tuned in” with the rest of the youth movement of the 60’s. I can recall attending a “conference” at Cal State Long Beach (it lacked university status back then) where music played, vendors sold books, documents and food and everyone looked appropriately hippie-ish. It was a clean version of the Haight, someplace George Harrison would have enjoyed instead of being repulsed by dirty, drugged out kids.
I bought a copy of The Anti-Capitalist Mentality, by Ludwig Von Mises at that festival. I never read it. I’m guessing that was happening a lot back then. I was also beginning to realize that, at the tender age of 15, not many boys were impressed with my ability to carry on a political debate with a teacher. Even though my classmates were becoming aware of relevance as a means of coming of age, it still was outranked by football, school spirit and being “cute”. I remember being in the library on one occasion, and having a flirtatious conversation with a boy I liked, and making the mistake of saying something political. He replied with something pithy and got up and left. It was clear that politics was not going to work in this environment. I made a decision that day and never looked back.
Next thing I knew, I was in the drill team. I had a uniform, a short skirt and boots. I didn’t talk about politics anymore at school, and most certainly not to boys. My life became centered around only that which was relevant to high school success. It didn’t make it all perfect. I didn’t have much in common with most of those guys, even if I did do the pep thing. My friend from the political awareness days ran away from home and ended up living with some guy who was “old”…in his twenties. Well, it was illegal, and her poor parents hadn’t found her, last I heard.
I’m back to being relevant some of the time. I’ve eased up on my no politics rule for social encounters. But, it’s not as interesting as it was back then. No hippies, no lines in the sand. No communists to oppose or cold war stories to be regaled with. William Buckley is gone, and the adventuresome college kid who told about being in Czechoslovakia when the tanks rolled in is now, himself, in political office.
I guess that’s good. At least he’s not a libertarian.