The Titan of San Francisco has fallen.
The liberty movement has many leaders. There are the political leaders like Ron and Rand Paul. There are organizational leaders like Lew Rockwell, social leaders like Tom Woods, and academic leaders like Walter Block. Robert Wenzel was a unique kind of leader. I would call him the consummate intellectual street fighter. He was a boxer of the mind. Built like a fighter, wrote like a pit bull and armed with the gift of a strategic and tactical mind that rivaled Sun Tzu. Robert Wenzel was the philosophical and liturgical Bruce Lee of liberty.
It’s said that Bruce Lee was the master of muscle contraction of all things. He could pack more power in the shortest of punches than any man on Earth. That was Bob Wenzel. He could knock you out with one tiny hit and you’d be on the floor before you even realized he threw a punch.
He had a depth and breadth of intellectual vision that was hard to describe. He could get quick and concise points across with so few words, right down to the root of a point, that made everyone else’s writing look like a flowery waste of time by comparison.
Bob had more influence on my day-to-day life than any other libertarian. I say that simply because ever since I discovered EconomicPolicyJournal from Lew Rockwell, out of which grew TargetLiberty, I visited them every single day I used the internet, literally without exception. My mundane, everyday life will be very different now that he’s gone.
Now when I type the letter “e” on my browser and the autocomplete fills in economicpolicyjournal, a lump comes to my throat. Sometimes in the middle of the day I remember something he wrote and a tear falls from reddened eyes. I have to cry for a few seconds just to let it out. And then I continue walking.
Bob got me through the insanity that was 2020. Without his calm, collected, rational mind, I may have completely lost it. As the world has turned into a progressively (pun intended) more frenetic insane asylum, with people now literally dressing up as lunatic germophobes complete with ridiculous masks over their faces and most people shooting themselves and their children up with wildly experimental drugs, Bob’s was the steady voice of stability and strength I turned to when I felt I was on the verge of going completely mad. He was never hysterical about anything, not even masks or experimental vaccines. He was simply levelheaded and logical.
I remember on a particularly bad day, Bob knocked me back to my senses with one of his signature punches. You see, for Bob Wenzel, this whole craziness has been nothing more than an educational experience about defiance. How far can you push back against lockdowns and mask mandates, and how best to do it? Who are the easiest targets, and what are the most practical approaches? He saw it all as an exercise of libertarian muscle to prepare for the future. He gave his suffering readers a guide to doing battle in an age of totalitarian madness.
In my neighborhood I come across people who really battled in this war together with me, people for example who literally ran to the local police station to badger the cops after they heard I was booked for refusing to mask up. I embrace these people when I see them now in an understanding that only war buddies in the trenches have, I would imagine. I feel like I was on the front lines with them being shot at by lunatics, that we really saved each other’s minds.
I feel exactly that way about Bob too, except Bob wasn’t just a foot soldier in the field. He was certainly that, but he was also a general, directing battle orders to blazing pockets of liberty resistance all across the world. I call him the Titan of San Francisco because only someone with titanic mental stillness could possibly roam around the Ground Zero of totalitarian lunacy that is San Francisco and simply observe it with a keen sense of level-headed intellectual interest.
He had no desire, it seems, to move to Florida or Texas. He stayed in the trenches, behind enemy lines. He did it for us, because he could handle it, while most of us simply cannot. He knew it was ugly, but he loved to study the ugly, to find its weak points. To probe it. He had that unique ability. He never really complained. He just analyzed and moved forward.
There’s another thing about Bob that was singularly unique. I can’t think of any other libertarian in the world who did not belong to any specific “camp” within the movement. Bob was a lone wolf that disparate parts of the liberty community came to for wisdom. He was entirely his own thing. He stood entirely on his own and shone brightly because of it.
Bob Wenzel had this incredibly keen bird’s-eye view of liberty and political strategy and how the two could be woven together. He could spot a fake instantly, direct us against going down a wrong path he saw as dangerous, and sounded the alarm to us all when he saw the movement making what he thought was a mistake. He wasn’t against reaching out on principle across enemy lines though. He was able to discern when the liberty movement could and should unite with a different group against a common enemy, and when it was inappropriate to do so.
I did not agree with Bob on everything, but I was always 100% sure of two things when it came to Bob’s stance on any issue.
- I knew he would always arrive at his conclusions from consistent principles. This seems like an obvious point for libertarians, but it’s not. There is almost always some position on some issue that just doesn’t seem to fit, an outlier you just can’t understand why or from where. So usually you just let it go as some quirk. With Bob, all his positions were entirely thought through, logical and internally consistent without exception. He gave you his entire reasoning process from the beginning. Even if you didn’t agree with him, you always knew where his positions came from.
- This is even more important. Bob was not one to take a position on something he didn’t know much about. If he did not know all the facts about any area of controversy, he would be honest about it and say he didn’t know enough to take a stance. The intellectual honesty required for that is immense.
Bob also had some serious moxie, chutzpah. I think he may have been the only street libertarian in history to get himself invited to the Federal Reserve to speak. He took full advantage of the opportunity and finished his speech with the only poetic flourish I ever heard him use. When a pit bull intellectual street fighter gets poetic, you know it’s got to be good. And boy was it. He closed his epic speech with a call for all the fed officials there to “leave this place to the four-legged rats.” Whenever I’m overwhelmed with sadness that he’s no longer here to guide me, I think of that line, laugh to myself, and it fills me with strength.
Finally, I want to address a touchy subject. With God’s help I’ll do it appropriately. I’m a Biblical guy with a Rabbinic background. When I see leaders I automatically compare them to Biblical figures. Bob Wenzel died during the week of the Torah portion of Beha’aloscha in the book of Numbers. In that portion we read these verses:
Moses said to Hovav son of Reu’el the Midianite, Moses’ father in law, “We are going to the place that God said He will give us. Come with us and it will be good for you, for God has spoken well for Israel. [Hovav] said to him, “I won’t go, for only to my land will I go.” And Moses said, “Please don’t leave us, for you know our journeys in the desert and you have been our guide. If you come with us, the good that God said he will do for us, will be for you as well.”
The medieval Rabbis, the Rishonim, ask what Moses meant by that last statement. What good, exactly? Both Hizkuni and Nachmanides say that Moses was giving Hovav an inheritance in the land to live alongside the Israelites as allies. And so they did.
But there’s another question here. What is this name, Hovav? In Exodus, the name of Moses’ father-in-law is Yisro, Jethro. In the Torah it seems this one guy has seven different names and it’s unclear why. He’s like this mysterious shadowy character, a supposed priest of Midian who can’t even afford security for his own daughters to draw water from a well. Moses had to save them, which is how he met his wife. And yet this mysterious guy is extremely influential.
Jethro is the one who gives Moses advice on how to organize a society politically. Initially Moses was judging all cases by himself, killing himself with the entire burden. Jethro, AKA Hovav, tells Moses this is a very bad idea and this wise Midianite sets up an entire administrative judicial system for Israelites which they followed in the desert.
When I think of men like Bob Wenzel, I think of Jethro, the man with a shadowy identity, the man with seven different names. Nobody really knew who Robert Wenzel was. He supposedly had different names as well. But you know another Biblical character whose name we never knew? Moses. Moses was obviously named by his mother Yocheved who hid him from the Egyptian government for three months, but we do not know what that name ever was. The name “Moses” was given to him by Pharaoh’s daughter when she found him in the basket floating in the Nile.
Bob was certainly a mysterious character, but those that would criticize him for maintaining that mystique are shallow, superficial, and basically whacked out of their minds. We knew him as Robert Wenzel, whatever his name may have been. He was a gift to this world, and I thank God for putting his soul here for 63 years.
I was honored to be called “the Great Rafi Farber” on EPJ just a few days before he died. I hope I can live up to that honor. I will do my best. In my final correspondence with him, I asked him for a review of an article I wrote arguing that Mises’s monetary regression theorem implies that the very existence of fiat money is actually a logical impossibility, and all of what we call “fiat money” is actually just gold substitutes inflated to varying degrees. I asked him if I got the logic right on that or if I was missing something. He responded, “Hi Rafi, This will take an extended reply, so give me some time.”
I wish I could Bob. But time is not mine to give. I was really looking forward to your Bruce Lee smackdown, if that’s what was coming to me.
Last thing. I recall one EPJ post where Bob said that if his blogs help inspire many libertarian foot soldiers but only a handful of leaders and generals, he will have considered his life a success. I’m no general, at least not yet, but perhaps I’m a battalion or division leader or something. Without Bob’s guidance I would not be where I am today. His life was a smashing success.
Bob, you were what Jews call a Gadol HaDor, a great man of his generation, and your work deserves to be canonized in the Misesian libertarian tradition forever.
I love you Bob, and I miss you. Yehi Zichro Baruch. May his memory be for a blessing.
One thought on “In Memory of Robert Wenzel, The Titan of San Francisco”
So grateful to read this moving piece– we are all so much richer for RW’s body of work. Your writing captures my feelings so well.
Oh, my sorrow remains, but I share it with fine memories, and good friends.