March 1, 2021

To hold an unchanging youth

Carl Watner

(June 27, 1948 – December 8, 2020)


“To hold an unchanging youth is to reach, at the end,
the vision with which one started.”
— Ayn Rand
IF I KEPT IN TOUCH with people more dependably, I would have learned about the death of Carl Watner much sooner than I did.

Carl Watner was one of the few great men of the modern libertarian movement, and I don’t use that term often about anyone.

I first heard of him in the 1970s, when he was still in the cemetery business and had used his connections to locate the grave of Lysander Spooner, which was in somewhat shabby condition. He got it cleaned up and its location publicized. The marker you see in the link is not the one Carl found, but rather one that was erected later.

Carl also located the essay “Vices Are Not Crimes” and identified it as Spooner’s. It had been omitted from the six-volume Collected Works set that had come out a year or two before.

With George Smith and Wendy McElroy, Carl founded an organization called The Voluntaryists. Its slogan was “Neither Ballots Nor Bullets,” and it was one of the first free-market anarchist organizations to explicitly reject political action and voting as means for achieving the free society. Wendy posted some reminiscenses in 2018 about the founding. They published a few pamphlets and began the newsletter The Voluntaryist. Over time, Wendy and George went on to other projects, but Carl remained, as it were, chained to the oar he had chosen. Copies of the newsletter are available from the website Voluntaryist.com, where you can also find links to articles Carl published in other venues and to the books he published. The Voluntaryist didn’t just include arguments against taxation, violence, war, police, and every other known instrument of coercion; Carl was also a tireless researcher. He would latch onto something most of us take for granted, and see what he could find about its origins. And, of course, what he found was that those origins lay in the freely taken actions of free people trying to solve a problem. Of particular pleasure to me was his discussion of how time zones came into being.

At some point, Carl began looking into ways to live independent from the state. The Amish were of particular interest to him. Eventually he purchased a farm in South Carolina and lived there for the rest of his life with his wife, Julie (who had been a star student of Patricia and Kevin Cullinane, either at their Academy of the Rockies in Idaho or their Freedom Mountain Academy in Tennessee), and their children. In his quest for independence, he ultimately generated his own electricity and grew most of his own food. He opened the Inman Feed Mill in nearby Spartanburg, and he minted some 1-ounce silver rounds bearing the inscription “Value Me As You Please.”

Carl was particularly impressed with the three-volume work of Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, a work I recommend to all libertarians, even if they think its ideas unrealistic. (I do not.) Sharp’s investigation of nonviolent opposition to states solidified Carl’s anti-political stance and his conviction that the use of force was always unproductive.

Carl was one of the important “archivists” of the movement. My discussion of the development of Roy Childs’s thought would have been much weaker without Carl’s help in supplying me with copies of Roy’s early writings, which I knew about, but had not read.

But why do I insist on calling him one of the great men of our movement? For this reason: For nearly 40 years Carl remained true to every word he wrote. He took the ideas of voluntaryism seriously enough to apply them to every aspect of his life, and he didn’t stop until nature forced him to.

Although we had a couple of phone conversations, I never met Carl, but knowing that he was out there sometimes gave me the oomph I needed to complete some project or other that I had started. I valued his arguments against the use of violence and I profited from his arguments against the state.

I hope that when I am gone, I will be fortunate enough that someone will write of me half of what I can say about him. Ω

March 1, 2021
 Mr. Neff is the managing editor of The Last Ditch.


© 2021 Ronald N. Neff
Published in 2021 by Thornwalker


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