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Butler Shaffer, RIP

We mourn the passing of our good friend Butler Shaffer, who died yesterday afternoon at the age of eighty-four. Butler was a libertarian at a time when there were very few libertarians in the world. Like many supporters of the free market, he was first attracted to the Republican Party. He supported Barry Goldwater for president in 1964, but he soon came to realize that limited government was a chimera and that the state was by nature opposed to liberty.

As he put the issue in a letter to me in November 2014,

It was just a few months more than 50 years ago that I sat in the Cow Palace in San Francisco as part of my state’s delegation to the Republican National Convention (i.e., the Goldwater Convention) … Afterwards, I was enjoying a drink at the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel with one of Goldwater’s advisors. I asked: “Now that Goldwater has the nomination, let us suppose that he gets elected president. What do you think he would do to begin cutting back on federal government power?” “What do you mean?” my acquaintance answered. I reminded him of Goldwater’s book, “The Conscience of a Conservative,” wherein he proposed eliminating a few government programs (federal involvement in education being one area). The other man answered: “don’t be absurd: if Goldwater gets elected president, the most we would hope to accomplish would be to slow down the rate of growth of government.”  

This conversation helped to confirm the sentiments to which I was already becoming more firmly attracted. I went back home; walked away from any delusional thinking about “cleaning up the whorehouse”; and never looked back.

With this view of the state, Butler was naturally attracted to the anarchism of Murray Rothbard and Robert LeFevre, and he wrote from this perspective for the rest of his long life.

His brand of libertarianism was decidedly un-PC. For example, he strongly opposed the extreme feminist view that abortion is always morally acceptable. In an article written in October 2015, he said:

If one is to avoid the inconstant fluctuations of fashion in designating who is/is not a “person,” the standard I have found to be less arbitrary than others is found in what gives each individual a sense of uniqueness: DNA. Once the sperm fertilizes the egg, a genetically distinct individual is in the process of development. The abortion defenders emphasize the “developmental” nature of what they label a “fetus,” a word chosen for its dehumanizing tendencies, so as to treat the being as little more than a form of protoplasm which, like the woman’s appendix, can be removed from her body by her will. I once had a feminist colleague try to convince me that a child did not acquire DNA until after it had been born!

He had no sympathy for the deep state’s efforts to destroy Donald Trump. In a column for LRC on September 19, 2018, he said:

Celebrity entertainers have been quick to abandon the civilizing sentiments that otherwise make life peaceful and decent. It is the advantages associated with public fame that allows many of them to blithely speak of killing Donald Trump, blowing up the White House, or prancing across a stage with a mock-up of Trump’s severed head. That so little moral contempt has been expressed by those conditioned to laugh or applaud the performances of these people, tells much about the state of our culture.

Butler belongs in the pantheon of genuine heroes, along with his friends Murray Rothbard and Burt Blumert. Fortunately for us, another of those heroes, Butler’s friend Ron Paul, is still here to lead us and inspire us. Wherever people value liberty, Butler Shaffer will be remembered with respect and admiration.

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The Mises Institute exists to promote teaching and research in the Austrian school of economics, and individual freedom, honest history, and international peace, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. These great thinkers developed praxeology, a deductive science of human action based on premises known with certainty to be true, and this is what we teach and advocate. Our scholarly work is founded in Misesian praxeology, and in self-conscious opposition to the mathematical modeling and hypothesis-testing that has created so much confusion in neoclassical economics. Visit

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