Vince Miller, RIP

Published June 29, 2008


My world just became a little quieter.

Jim Johnston informed me by email of the death this morning of Vince Miller, cofounder and president of the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL). He was hospitalized for pneumonia a few weeks ago, then diagnosed with something called “Valley Fever.” He died in a hospital while in a coma. He was 69 years old.

Vince and I were talking and trading emails just a month ago. He was excited about ISIL having taken over Laissez Faire Books, rescuing this libertarian movement institution from bankruptcy. He and his long-time business partner, Jim Elwood, had just taken possession of the LFB inventory. “On the home front our place has been taken over by books,” he wrote, “to the point where we’re going to have to move soon. There are books piled to the ceiling throughout the house. The garage and basement are filled.”

That sounded pretty close to heaven to me, but Vince and Jim were making plans to move to Phoenix, where “thousands of bank-foreclosed homes going at bargain basement prices. It’s kind of scary and sad — but definitely a renter’s market. … we can hardly wait to flee an increasingly more fascistic California (tax and gun hell). Hope you and Diane are well and prospering.”

I’m not sure when I first met Vince, but it was not long after 1989, when ISIL was formed by the merger of the Society for Individual Liberty, founded by Jarret Wollstein, Dave Walter and Don Ernsberger in 1969; and the Libertarian International – founded by Vince in 1980. My personal debt to the Society for Individual Liberty began a decade earlier, and is enormous.

In 1978 (or very close to that year), I ordered SIL’s famous set of pamphlets written by Jarret Wollstein setting forth libertarian positions on many of the biggest issues of the day. I still remember spreading the pamphlets out on my bed and reading each one in turn, thinking to myself, “I agree with that, I agree with that, I agree … I must be a libertarian!”

It was an epiphany, and it set me on a path that led to the creation of The Heartland Institute and a going-on-24-year career advancing libertarian ideas. I still keep a set of the brochures in my desk drawer. They are each marvels of clear, plain, and persuasive writing.

Wollstein is still writing and updating the pamphlets for ISIL, and something like 5 million of those pamphlets have been distributed. ISIL has sponsored translations of the pamphlets into dozens of foreign languages, as well as translations of such libertarian books as Ken Schoolland’s The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible: A Free Market Odyssey, Karl Hess’s Capitalism for Kids, Mary Ruwart’s Healing Our World, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and Frances Kendall’s Super Parents Super Children.

Vince made ISIL his life’s work, and what an important achievement it is. The group’s statement of principles reads: “The International Society for Individual Liberty is an association of individuals and organizations dedicated to building a free and peaceful world, respect for individual rights and liberties, and an open and competitive economic system based on voluntary exchange and free trade. Members and affiliated organizations pursue these goals through independent action, using their freely chosen strategies. The association exists to promote the exchange of information and ideas, to study diverse strategies and to foster fellowship.”

ISIL’s main programs are a truly excellent Web site at; blogs on school choice, health care reform, and environmentalism; “Freedom News Daily,” a daily libertarian news compiler; annual international conferences that thousands of college students have been able to attend on scholarships; the pamphlet series I mentioned earlier (now consisting of 38 different titles); and the newly acquired Laissez Faire Books mail-order business.

Vince presented a great description of ISIL’s programs, with an emphasis on its international conferences, on ISIL’s 25th anniversary (counting from the founding of Vince’s Libertarian International in 1980) in 2005. Here’s the link:

So… now what?

Emerson, in his much-quoted essay titled “Self-Reliance,” said “an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man … and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.” Vince Miller was one such person, and though he has left us, his shadow, ISIL, remains.

ISIL is one of the most important libertarian institutions in the world. It fills a unique role in the movement by being explicitly libertarian, avoiding short-term public policy debates, effectively using the Internet and inexpensive brochures for outreach, and supporting emerging libertarian activists and movements around the world. It’s important that this remarkable organization survive Vince’s departure.

Tax-deductible contributions to ISIL can be made online from the “ISIL Store” on ISIL’s Web site at, or you can send a check to The International Society for Individual Liberty, 836-B Southampton Road #299, Benicia, CA 94510-1960. Right now would be a good time to make a generous contribution. I just did.

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Joseph Bast ([email protected]) is president of The Heartland Institute.