In 1975, I returned to my hometown of Laredo, Texas, to practice law in partnership with my father. I was still a Democrat, a liberal one. Even though I had graduated from The Virginia Military Institute and had been commissioned as an infantry officer, I had turned against the Vietnam War in 1970 during my third year at VMI. Having grown up in one of the poorest cities in the United States, I believed in Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. I believed that a principal role of government in society was to take care of people, especially the poor and downtrodden. I served on the board of trustees of the Laredo Legal Aid Society and was the local representative for the American Civil Liberties Union.
One day I was rummaging around the local public library looking for something to read. I was despondent and disillusioned. All my political candidates had lost their races. The political process had left me empty. Something seemed dreadfully wrong, but I didn't know what. And then I discovered four little different-colored books that changed the course of my life. They were entitled Essays on Liberty, volumes 1-4.
It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. It was a real road to Damascus experience. I discovered libertarianism. It was here that I began learning the principles of liberty from Ludwig von Mises, Frédéric Bastiat, Leonard Read, Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, F.A. Harper, Clarence Manion, Dean Russell, Frank Chodorov, Edmund Opitz, Ben Moreell, Hans Sennholz, Bettina Bien Greaves, and other giant libertarian thinkers, all of whom took an absolutely uncompromising approach to the principles of liberty. It was their uncompromising approach that had such an enormous impact on me. They helped me to break through to the truth.
I learned that I had been lied to since the first grade. Like everyone else, I had been taught that I was living in a free country. It was a lie then, and it is a lie now. Freedom entails much more than political, intellectual, religious, and civil liberties. It also entails economic liberty.
I also learned that liberals were wrong about the welfare state. It doesn't help the poor and downtrodden. It ensures their impoverishment and their dependence on the state. It destroys the freedom, hope, and dignity of those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Those four little books ignited a fire of liberty within me that will remain burning until my dying day. From the time I discovered libertarianism in the late 1970s, there have been few things more important to me in life than to be free.