Spotlight: Educator for Freedom
"People say that libertarians are impractical, idealistic, on cloud nine…but that is exactly what the world needs—an idealist's position
—ROBERT T. LEFEVRE
Vitality emanates from Robert LeFevre, who, at the age of 66, retains his status as author, teacher, businessman, and libertarian extraordinaire. "Libertarian ideas have been in the atmosphere since Plato," declares LeFevre, "and I was thinking in terms of freedom, without knowing it, in my childhood."
LeFevre was born in Idaho and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota in a free-enterprise-oriented family. His father was conservative both economically and politically, and strongly believed in the private management of private property.
As a young newsboy who delivered papers to help support himself, LeFevre's heroes were Ernest Thompson Seton—whose naturalist books inspired an early fascination with animals—and Hugo Gernsback, whose science fiction works first stimulated LeFevre's inclination for creative writing. LeFevre's initial ambition was to become a naturalist; he is still fond of all kinds of animals and has been a vegetarian all his life. As a youth, LeFevre considered the possibility of writing animal stories as his vocation, thereby combining his two favorite interests, but as he matured he became more intrigued with people than animals, and the art of communication emerged as an appealing avenue for exploration.
During World War II, LeFevre witnessed a kind of communication that was not at all appealing and he was painfully educated to the value of liberty. Freedom ideas became a genuine concern for him during the war and directly afterward, especially since a number of the federal government's regulatory war measures were not removed when the war was over. "I protested this." remembers LeFevre, "and 1 was rudely awakened to the realization that values I had viewed as intrinsically American were not intrinsic at all. Politicians were doing things they had promised not to do and yet I, and not they, was regarded almost as subversive."
Other forces that influenced LeFevre's commitment to freedom were Rose Wilder Lane and her volume, The Discovery of Freedom, and his association with the Foundation for Economic Education. A reinforcement of another sort occurred when LeFevre ran for the US Congressional seat in Los Angeles' 14th District in 1950. He had been drawn away from his lucrative business career by the economic orientation of the United States, an orientation that LeFevre considered to be a dangerous Marxist drift toward socialism. He ran as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic area and his subsequent loss, in a campaign LeFevre felt was sabotaged, convinced him that freedom had to be sought in the private arena.
LeFevre's quest for a viable alternative caused him to read extensively, brought him in touch with many intelligent people, and culminated in the establishment of the Freedom School. LeFevre founded the Freedom School to provide an environment conducive to the expression of the principles of freedom and free enterprise: "I felt the true merit of these ideas could be revealed only by in-depth study," says LeFevre. He had planned only to start the school and allow an academician to run it, but the idea of a "freedom" school was so innovative that LeFevre became President, chief fund raiser, and the primary teacher. The Freedom School opened in 1957 and operated for a number of years, but was virtually destroyed by a storm in 1965. The costs of rebuilding were prohibitive and LeFevre was forced to give up the school.
Moving to California, LeFevre opened Rampart College as a non-campus institution to continue the work of the Freedom School. For nearly 10 years Rampart College served as one of the leading disseminators of libertarian philosophy on the West Coast, offering courses (in person and on tape), books, and pamphlets—and publishing a short-lived magazine called Pine Tree (later changed to Rap). Rampart personnel played key roles in organizing a series of libertarian conferences in the early 1970's that are credited with creating the Southern California libertarian movement. LeFevre left Rampart in 1975, and it closed its doors the following year. Its extensive library has been sold to the Northwood Institute of Cedar Hills, Texas.
LeFevre's career includes many other areas of involvement, especially media. He has been a disc jockey, a newsman, the news director for a television station, and an editorial writer for the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, of which he was also editor-in-chief for five years. From 1954 to 1965 LeFevre's output was 1600 words daily, all of which was published in various editorials for Freedom Newspapers. LeFevre had also begun to write books about politics and libertarianism: The Power of Congress, The Nature of Man and His Government, This Bread Is Mine, The Philosophy of Ownership, Constitutional Government in the Soviet Union, and The Libertarian are among his works. One of his volumes, Lift Her Up Tenderly, is an economic dialogue between an older man and a young girl attempting to establish a fundamental philosophy of life based upon free enterprise.
LeFevre is still writing and has now expanded into the fields of fiction and science fiction (see his "Return From the Stars," REASON, May 1978). He continues to promulgate his libertarian ideals, conducting seminars for the management personnel of various companies. He is usually booked solidly a year in advance. He also publishes a quarterly newsletter, LeFevre's Journal, which is supported by the voluntary contributions of 10,000 readers, but plans to discontinue it at the end of the current year so that he can write more fiction.
At 66 LeFevre shows no signs of slowing down and has more vitality than many teenagers. "I love being alive, I love my work," claims LeFevre, "and I am lucky enough to do what I like and get paid for it. I am grateful to all of the politicians who have fouled things up so badly that I will have a job to do all my life."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Spotlight: Educator for Freedom".