Civil Liberties

Alan W. Bock, RIP

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I am sorry to report that Alan Bock, a longtime columnist at The Orange County Register and a stalwart friend of liberty, died yesterday at his home in Lake Elsinore, California. Alan, who was 67, retired from the Register, where he had worked since 1980, a couple of months ago after the cancer he thought he had beaten showed up in his liver. His farewell column struck an optimistic note:

I remain convinced that the cause of individual liberty is the most noble and constructive political cause around. Albert J. Nock noted that there are two ways for people to relate: through honest exchange and mutual agreement or by one party imposing its will on the other through force, the threat of force, or fraud. He called these the economic means and the political means.

There are plenty of things more important than politics: your family and friends and treating them right, the search for spiritual meaning in an often confusing and ambiguous world, art, music, science, simple enjoyment of the good things in life, struggling to make good choices rather than destructive ones, and supporting your children in their intellectual endeavors and at soccer and softball games. All these challenges, however, can be handled better – not necessarily easily, but better – in an atmosphere of personal liberty and freedom to make one's own choices than in a repressive regime that makes choices for you and forces them on you.

Thomas Jefferson put it strikingly when he said that the majority of mankind was not born with saddles and bridles so as to be ridden by their natural masters. He also said that the natural order of things is for government to advance and liberty to recede.

There are reasons to wonder about his pessimism, however, with the recent turmoil in the Middle East providing the latest example. Most revolutions (ours was a rare exception) replace on old regime with one just as bad or worse. But the restiveness of the ruled, the death of communism, and other events show that the desire for liberty is also a constant – that most people sense that they can make decisions about their own lives better than a bureaucrat in a faraway capital and that it is their natural right to do so.

Liberty is forever under siege and forever on the advance. I remain optimistic about the long haul.

In addition to his copious newspaper and magazine writing, Alan was the author of four books, including Ambush at Ruby Ridge (1995) and Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana (2000). I first met him when I commissioned and edited the Reason article that became the basis for the former book, which deftly shows how the 1992 confrontation between Randy Weaver and armed federal agents at his property in Idaho foreshadowed the Waco disaster that unfolded the following year. I believe it was the first book-length treatment of the subject. Likewise Alan's book about the medical marijuana movement, which was published four years after Californians approved the Compassionate Use Act. That book, together with his frequent critiques of drug prohibition for the Register and Alternet, earned him the Drug Policy Alliance's 2007 Edward M. Brecher Award for Achievement in the Field of Journalism.

Over the years I ran into Alan several more times at drug policy conferences and at Reason's offices in Los Angeles. Although he pulled no punches in his attacks on oppressive government policies, he always struck me as a mild-mannered, cordial, kindhearted man with a warm smile and an easy laugh—an impression confirmed by colleagues who knew him much better than I did. The other day, guest-blogging at The Agitator, Alyona Minkovski asked, "How do you convince Americans that libertarians have compassion?" Part of the answer, I think, lies in defending the victims of government overreach, something Alan did not hesitate to do, whether the victims were patients who found relief in a forbidden plant or religious separatists who sought refuge from a corrupt world. But Alan also showed compassion in the way he interacted with other people, and being a mensch is harder than being a critic.

Cathy Taylor, James Bovard, and Justin Raimondo remember Alan here, here, and here. His column archive is here.

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  1. Sounds like a good guy. Rest in peace.

  2. Never heard of him.

    1. Nice jab, asshole.

      1. Nahh…at least Max is honest in his ignorance….and it’s good to see that his handicap hasn’t stopped him from pontificating.

  3. At first, I thought it said Chip Bok, RIP, and I wondered where we would get our Friday Funnies. Then I realized we weren’t getting them from him anyway.

    (Bad) Jokes aside, Alan was a champion for liberty and will be sadly missed by those who read his column or were lucky enough to have met him.

    1. Sad and unjust, isn’t it? That people like that are virtually unknown, and every neoconservative and liberal assclown that crawls out of the shitpit and writes a more than 100 words becomes a superstar with SOME significant group, somewhere.

      1. At least Alan Bock was a superstar within our insignificant group.
        RIP Alan.

  4. Thanks, Alan, for your pen in support of liberty for these many years starting with YAF’s “New Guard” in 1968.

  5. I live in OC and remember reading some of his work. Such a pity since he reminds us Southern Californians that there are alternatives to the LA Times editorial board.

  6. Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. RIP.

  7. Very sorry to hear this. I have read his work for years.

    Certainly one of the best proponents of the libertarian message out there.

  8. Besides being a powerful libertarian voice, Alan Bock was a wonderful gentleman and a great colleague when I worked with him at the Orange County Register. In our conversations in the run-up to the Iraq War in winter 2002-03, he correctly predicted the federal government would use the war as a pretext to infringe on privacy rights and greatly expand its authority. The war on terror, he feared, would become a permawar used to justify diminished civil liberties and a much more secretive and powerful government. Bingo — on this and so many topics.

    Alan Bock will be missed.

  9. I didn’t recognize his name until I saw his obit, and now I know who he is, and that he had a big influence on me and my young skull of mush. His Reason cover story “Ambush at Ruby Ridge” was one of a few memorable early milestones in my world-view awakening. I don’t know how I or anyone else could have made sense of Waco or the Oklahoma City bombing without it.

  10. We wish to express our condolences to Jennifer and the kids. My Wife and I knew Alan and Jennifer before they were married back in the 70’s and 80’s and attended their marriage. We even helped them move several times in Whittier, CA. Jennifer was a great cake maker adding flowers to the cakes. We had good times together. Alan had a very large classical music collection which we enjoyed. We have been out of touch for years but will remember the good times and miss him dearly.

  11. I have known Alan Bock since early 1969, when we both were involved in Young Americans for Freedom in southern California. Alan was an original member of The Libertarian Caucus of Cal-YAF and took part in the 1969 YAF Convention in Los Angeles.

    When the Libertarian Caucus split from YAF, Alan Bock co-wtrote the statement at the press conference announcing The California Libertarian Alliance.

    Alan Bock spent many years actively promoting freedon mostly by writing and editing. He took a serious approach to issue advocacy, using journalistic methods to seek out the facts to back up his position.

    I already miss Alan Bock, but having known him, it is impossible to get sad while thinking about him. He was a gentleman and a scholar, and a libertarian.

  12. I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve heard my grandfather say, “I thought this was supposed to be a Republican paper” after reading something Bock penned in The Register. There could be a Twitter account and a TV show… Shit my grandfather says after reading something Bock wrote.

  13. I didnot know he died until today, 12/3/2011. Alan was a great man! He helped many people and was a voice for freedom. I am sad he is gone.

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