When Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1996 and 2000, passed away on March 1, 2006, it was a sad day for the cause of liberty. Harry may have possessed the most remarkable intellect of our time. He had an uncanny knack for making profound points in ways that anyone could understand.
Harry was the ultimate role model when it came to the power of the understatement. Unlike so many screaming twit-heads who pop up on our television screens each day, he never raised his voice, never exaggerated and never engaged in personal attacks. He was living proof that there is no replacement for knowledge and wisdom when it comes to changing the hearts and minds of people.
Harry’s calm, civil way of expressing his libertarian beliefs earned him the respect of many big-name interviewers on national television. I recall him appearing on talk shows a couple of times with other presidential candidates. In such situations, he was so far above his counterparts intellectually that I was almost embarrassed for them.
As those closest to him would have expected, Harry Browne left a eulogy, to be read at his funeral, which his devoted wife, Pamela, recently posted on the Internet. Every word that Harry ever wrote was well thought out and meaningful, and his self-eulogy is no exception.
Below is an abridged version of his moving words. (To economize on space, I did not include the entire text, but I trust I have not changed the context.)
Setting Your Sights
As I look back over my life, I can see so many ways in which I could have done things better than I did, and I certainly wish I’d learned a lot of things sooner than I did.
To have made so many mistakes, and yet to have had so much. It proves that you don’t have to be perfect to succeed.
When I die (if ever), I’d like the epitaph on my tombstone to read:
“I didn’t do everything I wanted to do,
I didn’t become everything I wanted to be,
But because I aimed for the stars,
I reached the top of the world.”
I don’t advise being careless or sloppy. I do advise that you hold fast to your beliefs and act in the best way you know how, but then forgive yourself whenever you fail to measure up to your standards.
You will never be perfect. But you can be free and happy.
It’s sad that, like so many giants who have come and gone over the centuries without the general public even knowing who they were, Harry Browne will be but a footnote in U.S. history. Freedom champions such as Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand and Harry Browne come and go virtually unnoticed by sitcom addicts, while knaves like Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton have presidential libraries built in their honor to remind people of the well-edited highlights of their accomplishments.
Ditto with so many charlatans who are applauded, even revered, by the masses. Millions of sleepwalking individuals sing the praises of fools like Jimmy Carter, clowns like Al Sharpton, shakedown artists like Jesse Jackson and all-around scoundrels like that sweet little Southern belle from Chicago known to all as “Hillary.”
And what about the death of a bimbo like Anna Nicole Smith rating nonstop front-page coverage? I think we would all do well to reflect on the people we most admire and the reasons we admire them. Is it because of their good looks? Their glibness? Their cleverness? Their athletic ability? Their money? Their outrageous behavior? Their notoriety?
As to holding fast to your beliefs, Harry was the perfect role model. Though his inflexibility irritated a lot of people, throughout his life he remained vigilant about not compromising his integrity. Whatever else he may or may not have been, Harry Browne was ethical to the core. Above all, he was intellectually ethical.
Yet, Harry pointed out the importance of forgiving yourself when you fall short in this area. Human beings are not perfect. But, as with shooting for the stars, when it comes to success, a person should strive to be perfect and hope that his shortfall doesn’t bump him off the highroad. Clearly, in today’s relativist environment, many people do not even make a pretense of having a desire to act ethically.
As any sane person can see, the world has been knocked off its rational and moral axis. It takes moral vigilance to be committed to truth, which carries with it a commitment to ignore most of the popular rhetoric of the day – both from those around you and from “the people of the lie” who flood our television screens.
I don’t think it was by accident that Harry closed his eulogy with the words, “But you can be free and happy.” This, I feel, was the underlying theme of Harry Browne’s life. I still believe that “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World” is Harry’s best and most important work. This remarkable book stands for the essence of what the collectivist mind most abhors: freedom from those who would like to force you to act in accordance with their anti-freedom agendas.
If you find all this as inspiring as I do, you may want to view the full version of Harry’s Browne’s self-eulogy online.