More on the Death of Robert Anton Wilson


Jesse Walker noted his death today below (and gave a great short example of what made him a wonderful writer). For those unfamiliar with Robert Anton Wilson as libertarian, herewith a sample of things I wrote about him in my forthcoming book, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement:

Wilson made libertarian anarchism–both political and epistemological, even ontological–seem open-hearted, fascinating, with a mysterious and energetic history, something that could win hearts and minds against any number of competing means of modeling human social reality…..[he] was a grand recruiter for libertarianism, both through Illuminatus! and his series of optimistic, futuristic, epistemologically anarchistic essays and nonfiction works that stress the glories of no human limits, physical, spiritual, or political. This is true despite his separation from most aspects of the standard movement, and despite the fact that his work appeals on so many levels that one can become a Wilson Head without reaching his libertarianism. Through Wilson's influence one might become an Aleister Crowleyan, a Wilhelm Reichian, an old-fashioned Tuckerite, a techno-future-optimist in the manner of Buckminster Fuller or Timothy Leary. It is an aspect of the growing health of libertarian ideas that it is no longer the small pond it was up until the late 1970s, where it could be assumed that knowledge of or involvement in any aspect of the movement means you almost certainly were quite familiar with, and probably intimately involved with, all the other parts.

Indeed, many Wilson fans, I find, don't even recognize him as a libertarian figure at all. He did once write in an early 1980s article that "Ideologically, of course, I should have voted for Ed Clark, the Libertarian Party candidate; but I am not that kind of Libertarian, really; I don't hate poor people."*

But he also said, as quoted in my book, when asked to expound on the differences between him and the then-dominant Misesian-Rothbardian strain of the movement in a 1976 interview, "this is turning into a diatribe against the group I find least obnoxious on the whole politico-economic spectrum…The orthodox conservatives and liberals, not to mention Nazis and Marxists, are really pernicious, and the Austrian libertarians are basically OK."

Some personal things I didn't say in my book: The ideas, modes, thinkers, that he exposed me to explain my intellectual and professional life more than does any other single influence–and from the comments on various blogs today, I think that is true of hundreds of his readers, maybe thousands.

He was my gateway to Welles and Chandler, to Leary and Fuller, to Pound and Reich, to conspiracy theory and libertarianism, and to all the ideas and experiences, intellectual, aesthetic, and actual, that rolled from those varied and fascinating entryways into art, ideas, and living. I hope I can do good by the principles he helped imbue in me. He excelled as both novelist and essayist; he was a noble steward of the ideas he espoused, a brilliant and passionate popularizer, and the characters and scenarios and approaches to fiction of his novels reward constant reading with constant pleasure and insight–he was a pop-Pynchon of sorts in his sprawling, comic-serious approach to Big Crazy Ideas, who got a thousandth of the respect and delivered a thousand times the joy and humanity.

I, and many others, will continue to read his work with both intellectual and aesthetic pleasure from now and on into the limitless human future he helped so many of us to see. If anyone deserved to reach techno-immortality, it was him. That's what's making me saddest right now. The best of him remains, and will always.

That all said, two words should suffice. as Pound said of Eliot on his passing (and I know this because I read Robert Anton Wilson): Read him.

[UPDATE: *Thanks to Jesse Walker for providing me with that exact quote, which I paraphrased from memory, and somewhat misleadingly, in the original post.]