Bryan Caplan  

The Late Great George Walsh

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This has been a week of nostalgia.  As I moved from 8 Carow Hall to 11 Carow Hall, I learned two things:

1. Progress has turned the bulk of my possessions (especially hard copies of articles) into trash.

2. Time has turned a few of my possessions into nigh irreplaceable treasure.

My favorite treasures, perhaps, are the lecture tapes of the late great George Walsh.  I met him once in 1989.  Today I discovered that he died back in 2001, and I miss him.

Who was George Walsh?  While I am not an Objectivist, I consider him to be the greatest of the professional Objectivist philosophers.  Walsh didn't write much, but he was a great reader and an amazing speaker.  In the late 80s and early 90s, Laissez-Faire Books sold tapes of his lecture series on Marxism, the Judeo-Christian Tradition, Rousseau, Protestant Fundamentalism, and the Role of Religion in History (eventually transcribed and turned into his only book).  All of these lectures are first-rate.  I probably listened to each series at least five times.  And as far as I can tell, they're no longer available for sale.  (If someone knows how to legally put these on iTunes, please let me know).

Walsh's two great strengths: Old-fashioned scholarship and a brilliant sense of humor.  Unlike modern "publish-or-perish" academics, Walsh's priority was learning his topic forward and backward.  When he lectures on Marxism, for example, you can tell that he spent decades reading not just the collected works of Marx, but dozens of minor Marxists, critics, and apostates.  Then he went on to study the actual history of Marxism, and the complex connections - and disconnections - between theory and practice. 

Walsh's lectures distill these decades of scholarship and reflection into an overpowering pedagogical tonic.  You might think such a concentrated drink of information would be too strong to digest.  But Walsh's wit makes it go down like ice cream.  If you can get your hands on these tapes (and an old-fashioned casette deck), you're in for a treat.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Sam Wilson writes:

Would you be willing to play the tapes as background noise during game afternoon one of these weeks?

I couldn't make it yesterday. I'm up in the mountains (hills) of Central VA for the week.

Russell Hanneken writes:

I completely agree with Bryan's assessment of George Walsh. I would also recommend Walsh's essay "Ayn Rand and the Metaphysics of Kant." The gist of it is that Ayn Rand didn't get Kant's metaphysics. Even if you don't care about Ayn Rand, you might enjoy his superb presentation of Kant's ideas.

Zac Gochenour writes:

Now if only Bryan would make digital copies of the tapes so that they will never be lost (all physical media degrades).

geoffrey writes:

I read his book and listened to the tapes years ago..

Thanks for bringing back fond memories..

Where the tapes or book is now, I have no clue... maybe my ex-wife has them... hmmmm...

Craig writes:

Thanks for posting; and thanks for the link to his book (didn't know it had been published).

Re his humour - in a lecture on Newton, Walsh noted that the great physicist once wrote his friend Locke re his attempts to introduce Newton to women. Walsh added (dead-pan) that Newton's letters were "not ones of thanks."

Sulla writes:

Well the only way that I can think of right now to put those tracks on iTunes is via iTunes Podcasts:

Lauren writes:


The key question in Bryan's post is the term "legally."

You are right that it's easy to put mp3 files on iTunes. It's also easy to turn tapes into mp3 files. The big question is whether or not Bryan has copyright permission to do so. Not being available for sale doesn't mean that the rights are not owned by someone.

Specifically, the rights to these lectures may be owned by Laissez Faire Books or their assignees. If someone is interested in pursuing this, he might start by contacting Lassez Faire Books to find out who owns the rights. If it's Laissez Faire, then maybe they'd be willing to grant permission to Bryan to convert his personal-use tapes to mp3 files and list them with iTunes.

Sulla writes:

Just wondering, what are Bryan's stances on intellectual (imagined?) property ?

I'm kind of interested in hearing this guy so I might as well email them.

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