Ayn Rand was not the only great “mother” of the modern liberty philosophy. Isabel Patterson and Rose Wilder Lane have also been recognized for their intellectual contributions. But ideas don’t enact themselves, and other extraordinary women have been essential architects of the movement itself, especially one who deserves to take a place among that pantheon: the late Andrea Millen Rich.
At the age of 79, Andrea died last week at her home in Philadelphia after a long battle with lung cancer.
For nearly half a century, she had a profound influence on the growth of the libertarian movement, and on the countless individuals she befriended, mentored and supported. I was honored to be among them. She consistently went out of her way to help so many, including myself, bring out our best.
Andrea was actively involved with the Libertarian Party from its inception. She was president of Laissez-Faire Books for almost 25 years. She hired the brilliant polymath Roy Childs to edit the Laissez-Faire catalog, which became the monthly journal of the freedom movement. The LF locations in New York City and San Francisco were gathering places for freedom-lovers; I never missed a chance to visit when I was in town. And that’s only to mention a few of her many projects.
There are others who can speak more fully to Andrea’s achievements. I can only share a few memories of my experience with her as a microcosm of her larger impact.
In the fall of 1988, I was invited to speak at the Laissez-Faire Supper Club, a regular gathering that Andrea held in lower Manhattan. I asked whether I could speak on why the defense of freedom must rely on core values that Objectivism promotes, and her answer was an emphatic “Yes!” So I accepted. And in the open spirit Andrea promoted, a great discussion ensued.
But the talk had consequences I couldn’t have imagined, exposing rigidities in the philosophical community of Objectivists, followers of the philosophy founded by Ayn Rand. Speaking to libertarians was an unpardonable sin in the eyes of orthodox Objectivists. Denounced for the talk, I broke from the Objectivist establishment and founded what is now The Atlas Society.
I had known and worked with Andrea before then. In 1986 I published The Evidence of the Senses, my work in academic epistemology. It was based on my doctoral thesis in philosophy and was addressed mainly to academic philosophers in the field. In that respect, as David Hume said of an early work, “it fell stillborn from the press”—no philosophers were interested.
But Andrea was. Because the book laid out an Objectivist view, she (and Roy Childs) embraced it, as she did other Objectivist works. She made a deal with the publisher for a paperback edition, guaranteeing sales. She promoted it; I autographed God-knows-how many copies; and they sold. I never expected this response from the libertarian community to a work so far removed from politics. That was one of the reasons I never looked back on an academic career. In a real sense, Andrea helped me find my path in my career.
I have vivid memories of attending the wonderful gatherings Andrea and her husband Howie had at their place in New York’s Greenwich Village. They were connectors, bringing together people from their extensive networks, creating a community of thinkers and activists. It was truly the libertarian salon. Among many other connections, I met John Stossel at their table. I have always felt Andrea was instrumental in making it safe for him to transition into his current role as a prominent and effective exponent of our ideals. Among many other consequences, John spoke at several Atlas Society events, and I appeared in one of his ABC documentaries (“Greed”). Andrea later managed the “Stossel in the Classroom” project, which packaged “Greed” and other videos for classroom use and have been viewed by millions of students.
Political activism is serious business, and Andrea was serious about it. Her achievements reflect her commitment, skill, and acumen. But my favorite memory of her and Howie, in gatherings large, small, and personal, is their great humor and sense of fun. In their company, libertarians could be the happy warriors. Like Cyrano de Bergerac, we could wield the devastating sword of our logic with light-heart panache. I saw this aspect of Andrea most clearly when we went to see dance performances at the Joyce Theater in New York, especially tap-dancing. Andrea loved the crisp, clean power of the dancers and their exuberant joy.
Life can be like that. Our movement can be like that. Andrea helped make it so.
David Kelley is the founder of The Atlas Society. A professional philosopher, teacher, and best-selling author, he has been a leading proponent of Objectivism for more than 25 years.