One day in January 1999 my son Robin and I were helping at the local library's used-book sale. An enlightening encounter developed late in the afternoon, beginning when a young woman with "nerd" written all over her --- petite, pallid, wearing a white sweatshirt, with black straight hair in a bowl-shaped cut --- came to the desk and asked where to find advanced economic texts. I showed her the "Business" shelves and requested more specifics. She hesitated, then admitted that she was seeking books by Hayek, Rothbard, von Mises, et al. I recognized these as big names in the Austrian School of free-market economics. She was rather startled to hear that this was, coincidentally, a subject I had studied (as an amateur) many years ago.
We found nothing along her desired lines; she had wanted something readable to lend to a friend. She did fill a couple of paper sacks with books on history and politics. I volunteered to look in my basement for old libertarian economic tomes that I could give her, and passed her a copy of my family business card so that she could reach me via email.
We shook hands, and she said her name --- perhaps it was "Eileen" or "Ellen". She warned me, with some embarrassment, that the email account she used was at the Heritage Foundation where she works. She was about to exit when she asked whether she could leave her heavy bags of books behind the counter to be picked up later. Eileen/Ellen said she had to walk several blocks north to return a rented videotape, and the books which she had bought were quite unwieldy. Robin and I said "Sure!", but warned her that the sale ended at 4:30pm, half an hour before the Library itself closed.
After a busy final hour it was time to lock the doors, with no rematerialization of Eileen/Ellen. Robin and I scratched our heads and decided to take her books outside in hopes of seeing her on the street. We walked around the library and indeed, about 10 minutes later, spied her hastening back. A light drizzle had started to fall, so we volunteered to give her a ride home.
Her directional sense was deeply flawed: Eileen/Ellen's wanted to get to her condo on a nearby street, but turned us the wrong way. We crossed the highway going west and ended up on the opposite side of town. But the ride in our ancient car (the 1972 Dodge Dart) gave us a good chance to chat.
Eileen/Ellen told us a little of her background. She confessed that she had recently registered to vote as a Republican --- clearly not something she was proud of. But she felt that the Libertarian Party wasn't viable any more. Traditionalist/minimalist approaches to government (such as Calvin Coolidge's) had come to seem best to her. With significant regret she admitted that she had worked on the 1996 Dole campaign for President before finding her current job at the conservative Heritage Foundation. About that time we located her home and dropped her off; we haven't heard from her since.
Libertarianism (especially in its more extreme variants, including philosophical anarchism) is simple and appealing, particularly to the young. (My personal political history is a case in point.) Part of growing up, however, is learning to sort out appropriate simplicity from its false friends, doctrine and narrow-mindedness. Eileen/Ellen seemed to be moving along that difficult road ... toward appreciating the real complexities of life.
Sunday, May 28, 2000 at 14:34:24 (EDT) = Datetag20000528