By Joel D. Hirst
EspañolThrough the author bio on an article I read somewhere I came to learn about the book The Triumph of Liberty by Jim Powell. I immediately went online, as I often do when something intrigues me, and purchased a previously owned copy from Amazon and waited expectantly. A few days later, the book arrived; a plain blue hardback cover with the word “WITHDRAWN” stamped in bold red across the binding like an ugly indictment. The book had been checked into a university library in the Midwest a decade before, and never checked out — not once.
Unfazed, I began to read.
This remarkable book is a compendium of short biographies of dozens of the men and women who dedicated their lives for the cause of liberty. Some are well known — names like Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglass. Some are controversial — people like Lysander Spooner and Ayn Rand. Some of them are from ancient history — like Cicero. Some are economists like Ludwig Von Mises and Frederic Hayek; others are novelists like Victor Hugo and Louis L’Amour; while still others are musicians like Ludwig Von Beethoven. Many of them are virtually unknown, like Thomas Szasz, who fought against the medieval treatment of mental patients in the United States in the 2oth century. All of them are patches in freedom’s extraordinary quilt.
There are two things that struck me about the stories in this book. The first is the amazing diversity in which those who love freedom labored. The protagonists fought for the free man in parliament, through literature and music, in the arena of economics and philosophy. Some struggled publicly and have their names enshrined on marble monuments; and some privately and have been forgotten. Yet all of them made liberty a life’s cause.
The second thing that struck me is the effect of this struggle on the people themselves. The fight to be free became an all-consuming passion for these men and women of courage; costing them reputations, money, employment, and for many even their lives. Despite knowing this, they still embraced the cause; they could do nothing else.
As I closed the book, my heart reinvigorated by so great a cloud of witnesses, I saw again the blood red accusation “WITHDRAWN.” What a telling statement; in a country founded upon the ideals of liberty, a book about her champions cannot find a place. I wonder what the book’s protagonists would have thought about the modern era. I suppose they would not have been surprised — as those who still struggle today are not surprised — that our bright ideas are so often discarded. What I know for certain, they would not have surrendered; their own lives are proof of that.
Today, there is a new generation who also is not surrendering. Novelists like Mario Vargas Llosa; authors like Mustafa Akyol; politicians like Maria Corina Machado; economists like Walter Williams; and so many others. Like those who came before, they have made the cause of liberty their life’s calling.
And so the struggle goes on, as it probably always will. Those whose ideas bring liberty and prosperity — the men and women of the mind — “keenly setting brush-fires in people’s minds” as they struggle against those who chose violence and slavery. But as we go forward, we can take solace in “The Triumph of Liberty,” knowing that we are making common cause with a great movement of people and that our idea — the freedom itself which we love so much and wish was the birthright of every man — is and always will be inevitable.
Joel D. Hirst is a novelist, author of The Lieutenant of San Porfirio and its Spanish-language version El Teniente de San Porfirio: Cronica de una Revolucion Bolivariana. This article first appeared on Blog.JoelHirst.com.