Ed Crane, Winner of the 2013-2014 Thomas Szasz Award for
Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties

By Richard E. Vatz (presented October 28, 2013 at the Thomas S.
Szasz Award Cocktail Reception)


     There are a number of criteria I have used historically to assess the deservingness of candidates for the Thomas Szasz Civil Liberties Award.  Not to disparage my fellow award-givers who sometimes vote per whether a potential recipient shares every jot and tittle of their political philosophy, but I vote to support those who, in the words of the exemplary recipient of this Award, Jeff Schaler, “are with me, fighting against self-appointed engineers of the human soul in their own ways, engineers empowered by the state to deprive people of liberty and justice in the name of compassion and science.”

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     Even in the Szaszian world there is the paradox that while Tom demanded freedom of thought and philosophy and argued relentlessly against the therapeutic State, he believed that people have the right to disagree without being punished for their philosophy and positions.

     So generally I look favorably at candidates not who demonstrated the strictestfealty to Szasz’s philosophy and policy recommendations, but those for whom there is room for disagreement, and that disagreement must be respected.

     Tom and I agreed on the liberty reflex wherein we infer human agency in human decisions and opposition to those who abjure explanations of human choice in scenic terms, wherein they are “psychologically determined to behave as they do” or that they should be able to escape the criminal justice system through psychiatric exculpation.  We also agreed that people should not be incarcerated for taking what are now illegal drugs, but we agreed that obtaining drugs is not a right and that self-drugging for competitive advantage in sports was arguably correctly outlawed.  We disagreed regarding whether people who threatened other people necessarily should be incarcerated and on other issues as well.
     Ed Crane is an eminently deserving winner of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties.  That does not mean that he is or must be politically correct to those who award the Szasz Award.   

     I am not an expert on Mr. Crane’s views but I know enough of them to be an admirer: he loves Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative and its tenets; he admires my hero, Ronald Reagan, albeit the support is attenuated by President Reagan’s periodic insufficient support of limited government.

     As Jim Dorn, CATO’s Vice President for Monetary Studies, Senior Fellow, and Editor of Cato Journal, and a great former Towson University colleague of mine put it, Ed Crane founded Cato on the premise of individual freedom and limited government.  His dedication to libertarian principles and civil liberties for more than 35 years, and his fierce refusal to bow to the power politics that is the heart and soul of Washington, and to maintain Cato’s independence, are traits that Thomas Szasz admired. 

     Ed Crane  opposes neo-cons, and some of my best friends are neo-cons, but as I say, the paradox of supporting individual liberty, at which Ed Crane excels, does not require philosophical lockstep, certainly with the Thomas Szasz Award Committee.
      His unwavering support of limited government in a presidential era of unlimited support of expansive government control of virtually every aspect of living and suffering and working and dying is exemplary, and his support of the Constitution is equally profound.  I always think that someone who receives the Szaszian Civil Liberties Award should have experienced political threats and fighting and being misquoted and (intentionally) misinterpreted, which Tom Szasz experienced his entire life.  Certainly Ed Crane, one-time head of Youth for Goldwater at Berkeley and later in the political fights at CATO, more than qualifies on those grounds as well.
     Finally, he has a sense of humor and is unthreatened in contentious conversation…he once described a libertarian convention, of which he obviously approved, as “a scene right out of a Star Wars bar scene.”

     In Jeff Schaler’s words he “did it his way,” and that is eminently consistent with Tom’s conceptualization of the Thomas Szasz Award.  The words “commitment to liberty” are more than frequently part of his conversation – it is not just a passing fancy for him.

   Ed Crane is most deserving of the Thomas Szasz Civil Liberties Award.

Professor Vatz of Towson University is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt; 2013)

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