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Susan Callaway

Sunni: Hi Susan, and thanks for setting aside some time to speak with me today! How are you doing?

Susan: Glad to talk with you, as always. I’m enjoying an early springlike morning here in Wyoming, with very welcome rainclouds all around.

Sunni: How are things in wonderful, wild Wyoming? It sounds like you’re very happy to be there.

Susan: A good cup of coffee and a Wyoming sunrise find me about as well and happy as a body can hope for. There are real challenges here, of course, and I’m not getting any younger, but I am completely at home and ask for very little—except maybe a little rain. We’re awful dry here and both the prairie and forests need rain badly.

Sunni: I remember the dryness well. It’s a very different kind of beauty than I was used to, but it’s harsh too.

Susan: Harsh? Yes, I suppose [pauses] but remember all of my years living in the desert. It’s a different kind of harshness and though I adapted to it and respected it, there and here, I never really worry much about it. I respect the fact that it is dangerous to go out in extreme cold for example, and take precautions, that’s all. Too many people either ignore things like that—and wind up needing to be rescued or whatever—or they obsess about them and become paralyzed so they can’t do or enjoy anything. Sad either way.

Sunni: Absolutely. I suppose before I start grilling you, a bit of introduction is in order. You’re the founder of The Price of Liberty, a longtime Knight of the Liberty Round Table—which is how we met—and are currently active in the Free State Wyoming Project. For many years you worked as a nurse, but saw problems with mainstream medicine and as a result, know a lot about herbalism and other alternative healing methods. And that barely scratches the surface of all you’ve been doing! [laughs] Anything major that I missed?

Susan: My mother, sister, and I spent nearly 20 years as a part of the libertarian movement in California. I went so far as to serve three years as County Central Committee chair for San Bernardino County after the LP was formalized into a political party. I helped to organize the ballot status drives and campaigns that followed, working hard for Ed Clark and many others over the years. I spoke at conventions and put on volunteer training sessions, published the newsletter and all of the rest that goes with activism. At the same time, I was active as an adult leader for the Boy Scouts of America. I started as a den mother for cub scouts and progressed to the top adult leadership training chair for the local council. I learned a great deal in the process, much of which served me well in both politics and nursing/teaching later on. During most of those years, I also had two young sons and a small homestead-type farm where we produced all of our meat, milk, eggs, and most of our fruits and vegetables. I boarded horses and other animals, sometimes training ponies for children. Just remembering all of that is exhausting!! A single day of it would certainly kill me now. Thank God for youth! [chuckles]

Sunni: Wow, I didn’t know a lot of that! And there’s already so much stuff I want to cover with you, I’m at a bit of a loss at where to start. Guess I can’t go wrong with one of the standards, though. It’s fascinating to me the many paths individuals can travel to discover the freedom philosophy. For me it was music and fiction; for some it’s history; and others, economics or politics. I think a strong undercurrent these days is the inescapable intrusion of the state, too—bureaucracy is impossible to avoid any more, unless one becomes a total hermit. From what you’ve just said, it’s clear that you’ve been fairly self-reliant for quite some time. Is that how you discovered the freedom philosophy?

Susan: Just as the mighty Mississippi starts with the raindrops falling on a single hillside, my freedom journey started—so to say—with my mother’s milk the day I was born. She was a true individualist, though it took many years for her to understand what it meant in the larger context of society. She put the highest value on integrity, personal responsibility, and love of her neighbor—which always translates to non-aggression. Her example and teaching are what brought me where I am today.

I was introduced to Jefferson and the writings of the American founders at an early age. I read Locke, Paine, and many others by the time I was in high school. But it wasn’t until I was 30 or so that I began to seriously question the validity and viability of the Constitution and the idea of limited government. The more I read [pauses] and the more life experience I had, the less compatible all that seemed with individual liberty and responsibility. You just can’t have it both ways ...

Sunni: True. But that does seem a very challenging insight for many people to make. Limited government would sure be better than what we have now, after all; and I think a lot of minarchist types also forget that the American revolution was a fairly radical experiment back in the day. We’ve—well, some of us have learned from it—that a limited government can and will find a way to spread. With the context of this grand experiment’s failure in our minds, I like to think Jefferson and at least a few others would have embraced anarchism.

Susan: The argument over limited government versus self government is difficult for most people to think about rationally. They have little experience with true self government, and so don’t trust themselves. Also, the man who has no bread—true liberty—is very likely to view half a loaf as far better than none. There is real risk in reaching for the other half. Not everyone is willing to stretch that far. That seems obvious because mankind has put up with tyranny—sometimes more, sometimes less—for most of history. That didn’t happen because most men burned to live free and self responsible. I suspect we will always be a minority.

Sunni: I think you’re right, but I think we’d also agree that that doesn’t necessarily relegate our ideas to irrelevance. So you’ve been overtly pro-freedom for pretty much your entire life ... The reason I put it that way is because you seem to me to be one of those people whose fundamental way of being is much more congruent with liberty than others.

Susan: I do not remember a time when I did not regard myself as a unique individual, with responsibility for myself and my actions/choices. Not that I’ve always lived up to that, of course, but I’ve never been able to fool myself—for long, anyway—that others were to blame for my problems or shortcomings.

The Price of Liberty: Commentary on news and issues of interest to freedom-lovers

Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

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Loose Cannon Libertarian -- Garry Reed