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L. Neil Smith
L. Neil Smith: A Tribute
by Sean Gangol
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
I can certainly say that the last two years have been brutal when it comes to losing the people that I admire the most. First there was the tragic death of J. Neil Schulman back in 2019, who had a major influence on my libertarian beliefs. Last February, Rush Limbaugh lost his battle with lung cancer and while he was not a libertarian, I admired him for the way he pioneered a form of media that mainstream leftist haven’t been able to suppress. Then on August 27, we lost the man who established this very journal, L. Neil Smith. When I heard the news of Neil’s passing on his Facebook page, I was filled with great sadness. While I didn’t know Neil like some of the contributors of this journal did, it still felt as if I had lost a mentor, since he was the man who introduced me to the concept of libertarianism. My first exposure to Smith’s works came when I read Mitzvah and Hope, which he co-wrote with Aaron Zelman.
At the time I didn’t know where I belonged on the political spectrum. I knew that I wasn’t a raging liberal (the modern kind). I didn’t think of myself as a conservative, since I had this basic image of the average Right-Winger being an anti-gay, anti-abortion, prude who blamed everything from Rock-n-Roll to violent video games for all of society’s ills. You have to remember I was a young pup between the age of twenty and twenty-one when I first discovered the political spectrum, so my views on liberals and conservatives were relatively simplistic. I had never even heard the word, libertarian, until I read Hope. I know that there some who have criticized the novel for being a libertarian fantasy, which isn’t that far off the mark. It’s about a wealthy tech mogul/professor who becomes president while running under The Libertarian Party, so it is obvious that you have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief to enjoy the novel. Despite the unlikeliness of the plot, I did like the idea of finally having a president that forces the government back into the restraints set by the Constitution. It also got me thinking about certain notions that I never thought about before, such as the futility of The War on Drugs or whether we really need all these government organizations that have no right to even exist under the Constitution.
When I finished the book, I did an internet search for his other works and that was when I when I discovered The Probability Broach and The American Zone. These were the books that made me question my deeply held beliefs of whether we even needed government for the most basic of functions. I also began a search for his out-of-print works in second-hand bookstores and various booksellers on the net. At the time I couldn’t get enough of his writing. What I loved the most about his novels is that they were not only thought provoking, but fun to read. I especially loved the North American Confederacy series with its humorous story lines and offbeat characters. It’s also worth pointing out that it was his writing that introduced me to the works of Robert Heinlein. I know that some of you were Heinlein fans going all the back to grammar school, but I didn’t really discover his work until I was well into my twenties.
Though I think Neil’s biggest influence over me was the creation of this very journal, which has actually given me a home for my articles for the past fourteen years. It’s also the place where I got to read Neil’s articles every week. It always amazed me at how there were times when his articles seemed to reflect my own thoughts. One of those times was when he changed his longtime stance on open borders, where he gave the exact same reasons that I had for not buying into the concept. It was also amazing to see his skepticism of Donald Trump when he first entered the presidential race, only to become one of his biggest supporters down the line. That was exactly how I felt about Donald Trump. He was far from my first choice as president, but I found myself defending his presidency to the very end. I would have almost sworn that Neil and I shared a psychic connection, if I were one to believe in such a thing.
While I do hope that this publication will go on, it will feel strange not reading Neil’s commentary week after week. Yet, Neil would be the one to tell us that the fight for individual freedom must go on without him. While I would certainly agree with this sentiment, I will certainly miss the witty and brutally honest commentary that I have come to love from the man who introduced me to the fundamentals of libertarianism. I know that Neil was an atheist, but I would like to believe that he is in the afterlife with J. Neil Schulman and all the great freedom fighters that are no longer with us, sipping margaritas in the name of liberty. I give my condolences to his family and anyone else that was close to him. To Neil, go in peace, brother.
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