John Hospers, R.I.P.

My old philosophy professor has died. He was the only person I’ve ever met who both received a vote in the electoral college for president of the United States and published leading textbooks in ethics and aesthetics. I am fairly confident that he was the only person of whom that will ever be said.

When I enrolled at the University of Southern California in 1973 to study philosophy, John was chairman of the department. I already knew about him, however, as I had read his book Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy for Tomorrow and had heard him debate against socialism the year before, alongside the late R. A. Childs, Jr. That was when John was the first presidential candidate of the brand new Libertarian Party. (He and his running mate, the first woman ever to receive an electoral vote, Tonie Nathan, were on the ballot in only 2 states that year.) It wasn’t a very vigorous campaign, but it helped thousands of people to say, “You know, I don’t fit in with either the left or the right; they’re both abusive of liberty.” Besides that electoral vote the Hospers campaign helped to launch a long-term political alignment that is very much with us today, as people increasingly see issues in terms of personal liberty and responsibility, rather than as a battle between two different flavors of statism.

John was a gentleman, thoughtful, and kind. I remember meetings and seminars with him in his office, when he was always engaged, challenging, and willing to reexamine his own views when challenged in turn. He was a scholar and a thinker.

John Hospers was born on June 9, 1918, so he had just reached his 93rd birthday. He had a long life full of interesting experiences and left the world a better place than it would be had he not been here. He will be missed, but his legacy will continue on. He helped to nurture a movement for liberty that broke away from the absurd left/right spectrum. That alone is a worthy monument.