Ronald N. Neff, rest in peace

TLD Managing Editor Ronn Neff died on September 26, 2021, of a prolonged illness. He was 72.

I extend my most profound sympathies to his wife, also a dear friend, and to his entire family and his wide circle of friends.

Almost all of the TLD writers were friends of Ronn, and were recruited by him.

Ronn and I founded The Last Ditch as a print newsletter in 1994. We moved on line in 1996 and folded the print version in 1998. At first, Ronn was senior editor of TLD, and then this spring, when I expressed the desire to retire as editor-in-chief, he agreed to take over, declining any title more elevated than that of managing editor.

He was not only my collaborator but also my dear friend of 54 years, from the time we met as freshmen at Indiana University in the fall of 1967. We became anarchists together, in late 1969. I came to consider Ronn my brother, although we were not related.

Ronn is the author of the “Polite Totalitarianism” and “Penrose Stairway” series, both landmarks of libertarian analysis. Another of his important works is “Roy Childs on anarchism,” an extended introduction to our posting of Childs’s “Epistemological Basis of Anarchism.” We were proud to be the first to post Childs’s essay on line — and it was all thanks to Ronn’s efforts.

We have posted many, many other writings by Ronn, and I invite you to explore our table of contents, and visit or revisit those gems.

His magnificent work never received its due recognition.

I met Roy Childs through Ronn, just as I met Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, and Jared Taylor, for whose publication, American Renaissance, Ronn worked for years. It was through Ronn that I met almost all of the dissident thinkers and writers I’ve ever known.

Ronn was managing editor of Sobran’s, Joe Sobran’s monthly newsletter, from its beginning in 1994 until its end in 2007. Also, until the onset of his illness, he had worked for many years as copy editor for Jacob Hornberger’s Future of Freedom Foundation. Upon receiving the news of Ronn’s death, Mr. Hornberger posted an eloquent tribute to our great friend.

Ronn grew up mostly in Marion, Ind., and had lived in the Washington, D.C., area since the early 1970s.

The departure of Ronald N. Neff leaves a giant absence, and not just in my own heart and mind.

It may be that the time is coming when I must say “envoi” to The Last Ditch itself. I will find it difficult to continue long in the absence of Ronn.

Ronn was the owner of the Thornwalker domain. I urge readers to take a look at that larger domain, where Ronn posted much of a more philosophical or theological nature. You should not delay, though. It is possible that the domain will go dark sometime this fall.

With warm memories,
Tom McPherren
(“Nicholas Strakon”)

By Paul E. Michelson:

The moral libertarian
R.I.P., Ronn Neff

One of the clearest, finest, and most important of Ronn Neff’s writings is his January 2021 “Morality and Practicality.” Indeed, this essay could stand as a memorial to the man, the thinker, and the writer. Published less than a year ago, this was an incisive and relentlessly logical response to the question, “What has morality got to do with the current situation?” In his typical let’s-not-beat-around-the-bush style, Neff replied at the outset: “Everything.” The piece is a demolition of the relativism, pragmatism, and positivism that have been the underpinnings of what has passed for thought in America across the spectrum for nigh unto two centuries, and a suggestion of how moral people might proceed in 2021. It is also a stirring defense of the individual vs. the collective; of truth, beauty, and goodness vs. appeals to practicality; and of morality vs. passive-voice ethics.

Also worthy of notice is Neff’s call for historical consciousness and memory in a society that is not only ahistorical but actually hostile to history. His affirmation that “A man with a long memory is not likely to be a faithful servant of the short term. A man with a long memory is likely to make connections, to see contradictions and inconsistencies. He is likely to notice the effects that flow from a policy or action, not merely those that were promised or appear to be produced” is deeply relevant to our getting out of the massive hole we have dug ourselves into. Celebrate his life and friendship by reading this essay that is so contrary to today’s milieu. You will have to read it several times to get it all to sink in. Do it.

Then there was Ronn Neff the friend. In the same piece, he wrote that some “necessities may take a lifetime to make themselves felt.... ‘Necessary for what?’ And the answer is not ‘To live.’ But ‘To live in a certain way.’ Consider friends. Aristotle insists that in ranking the various goods and pleasures of life, friends must rank very high. Indeed, he asks whether we can call a man happy if he has no friends. And surely it matters what kind of friends one has.”

Ronn Neff was that kind of friend: one that counted, one that contributed to a life of good for those around him. Now, no more semi-irascible e-mails. No more wry commentaries on what is and what is to come. No more periodic visits from Northern Virginia to the hinterlands of Indiana. And no more just sitting around a restaurant table laughing and having a generally good time, often at our own expense. He will be deeply missed, particularly by the rather few of us who shared his Christian faith. Memento mori.

September 27, 2021

Our friend Fran Griffin of the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, and the publisher of Sobran’s, wrote an eloquent tribute to Ronn. I recommend it to your attention:

“Ronald N. Neff: Renaissance Man, Devout Catholic, and My Friend”