John Hospers, RIP


John Hospers, the Libertarian Party's first presidential candidate, has died at age 93. He was both the least and most successful of the party's nominees: His 1972 campaign received fewer popular votes than any of its successors (not surprisingly, since he was on the ballot in only two states), but it also was the only campaign to get a vote in the Electoral College, thanks to a libertarian-leaning elector who couldn't bring himself to cast a ballot for Nixon. (Hospers told the tale of his presidential run in an entertaining memoir for Liberty [pdf].)

Hospers was a rarity: a professional philosopher who admired rather than despised Ayn Rand. He had a brief friendship with the novelist that ended, as so many of her friendships did, with Rand expelling him from her life; you can read his memories of their relationship in another two Liberty articles [pdf and pdf]. Despite their falling out, she was an influence on Hospers' politics, tugging him in a libertarian direction even as Rand refused to apply the L-word to herself. Along with his many books of academic philosophy, Hospers would write Libertarianism (1971), a general introduction to the libertarian worldview.

Hospers was more hawkish than most members of the libertarian movement, pushing back against the LP's dovish positions through his involvement with the Defense Caucus, which supported a more active foreign policy. Later he joined the GOP, where he was a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus. As a result, many people associate him with the right wing of the movement, but that was only partly true: He leaned left on many environmental issues [pdf] and, as an openly gay man at a time when that entailed greater risks than now, he was certainly no social conservative.

Hospers wrote a film column for Reason in the '70s and periodically contributed articles on other subjects to the magazine as well. I knew him slightly when I worked for Liberty, and I found him unfailingly courteous and friendly; we disagreed on many things, but he always came across as someone who enjoyed rather than was offended by disagreement. Requiescat in pace.