REASON Profile: Sharon Presley


The issue of authoritarianism is a major one for Sharon Presley—"I don't believe that we can have a nonauthoritarian political society without nonauthoritarian personal attitudes"—and is the unifying theme between her interests in psychology (her M.A. in research psychology in 1971 from San Francisco State College dealt with a comparison of conservative and libertarian youth on measures of intellectual orientation and autonomy and she hopes to start this fall on a Ph.D. in personality and social psychology), anarchism (which she came to in 1968 after attending Rampart College's Freedom School and reading Lysander Spooner's NO TREASON), and feminism (she makes the point that a feminist who is consistent in applying the idea of personal autonomy and independence should be politically a libertarian). Her writings and speeches at libertarian conventions have reflected these interests.

Ms. Presley's interest in libertarianism started after reading ATLAS SHRUGGED in college in 1962. She became active in the Goldwater campaign and in 1965 she helped found the contemporary libertarian movement's first organization: The Alliance of Libertarian Activists (in Berkeley). At present she lives in New York City and is co-proprietor, with John Muller, of Laissez Faire Books—the nation's only libertarian bookstore (see REASON, September 1972 for Paul Lepanto's article on its founding)—and is editor of the store's book review newsletter and catalogue. She is also an associate editor of Free Life Editions, a new libertarian publishing company.

Her major criticism of libertarians deals with "the inability of many of them to apply abstractions to real-life situations. Many libertarians seem to think that just because they're libertarians they're automatically gifted with ability, so they don't have to work hard and learn skills—their incompetence then causes them to be ineffectual. And we need new and specific ideas about how to apply principles in specific, concrete situations. One of my pet peeves and an example of many libertarians' inability to translate theory into practice: over half of the libertarians who write to John's and my store address their letters 'Dear Sirs' or 'Gentlemen.' Most libertarians say they are against sexual stereotyping but many don't look at how their own actions continue to reflect unconscious sexist thinking!"