Ralph Raico, RIP

I was saddened by the news of Ralph Raico’s passing on December 13.

At Cato summer seminars during the 1980s, he delivered fabulous lectures about the history of liberty and its adversaries. He focused on European intellectual history and the development of classical liberalism. He was clear, concise and passionate, and his talks sparkled with memorable details. I still cherish audio cassettes of those lectures.

Ralph attended the Bronx High School of Science, earned a B.A. at the City College of New York, and joined the New York libertarian underground during the 1950s. His friends included Ronald Hamowy, Leonard Liggio, George Reisman, Robert Hessen, and other eager students of liberty. For a while, Ralph and his group, calling themselves the “Circle Bastiat,” met for discussions with Ayn Rand’s group, “the Collective.” Ludwig von Mises invited Ralph to attend his graduate seminars at New York University. Ralph became a close friend of Murray and Joey Rothbard.

By 1960, Ralph was at the University of Chicago for a Ph.D. in intellectual history. F.A. Hayek was his thesis advisor. Ralph started a quarterly student journal called New Individualist Review and served as editor-in-chief. Each issue featured about a half-dozen articles. The first issue appeared in April 1961. The lead article was “Capitalism and Freedom” by Milton Friedman. The second issue featured “Freedom and Coercion” by Hayek. And so it went, a cavalcade of scholarly stars, including three future Nobel Laureates. The authors included George Stigler, Yale Brozen, Karl Brunner, Henry Hazlitt, W.H. Hutt, David Levy, Walter Oi, Sam Peltzman, Wilhelm Roepke, B.R. Shenoy, Gordon Tullock, Joe Cobb, and E.G. West, in addition to Hayek and Friedman. A few conservatives joined the fun, too—William F. Buckley, Jr., M. Stanton Evans, and Russell Kirk.

As it happened, in 1962, when I had to decide on a college, I received a subscription flyer for New Individualist Review. I was familiar with a number of the authors, because I had read issues of The Freeman that my father had in his home office, and they published some of the same authors. So, the University of Chicago was where I had to go. While many college kids did fraternities or football, I did NIR. I met Ralph, joined the staff of New Individualist Review, and altogether 17 issues were published. NIR involved insightful, inspiring, and sometimes amusing exchanges among students and professors in history, economics, philosophy, science, law, and business. For better or worse, NIR was a spontaneous phenomenon that never focused on becoming an institution. Gradually, everybody got their degrees and moved on. I was the last editor-in-chief (1968).

Ralph had so much literary talent that there were hopes he might produce a glorious history of liberty, like Lord Acton talked so much about but never started. Alas, time slipped through their fingers and—for now—that big story is still out there.

Nonetheless, Ralph became known for elegantly-crafted articles, pamphlets, and chapter contributions that helped illuminate the history of liberty.

Ralph translated Mises’ 1927 book Liberalismus, an excellent basic statement of classical liberalism, into English (1962), and a number of publishers have reissued his splendid translation.

He also wrote:

  • Die Partei der Freiheit: Studien zur Geschichte des deutschen Liberalismus (1999), about the fateful struggles of German classical liberals during the 19th century.
  • The Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton (2010), his University of Chicago Ph.D. thesis.
  • Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School (2012). 
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