I had the pleasure of watching Judge Napolitano’s evening lecture live at Mises University 2014 as a virtual student. You can listen to the MP3 version here.
For the majority of the speech, it was typical Napolitano; witty, humorous, insightful, and unabashed about his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and how the Commerce Clause has caused so much harm to liberty and freedom in America. A Roman Catholic, he also has no qualms taking a swipe at Pope Francis’ recent statements on economics.
But, at the very end, around 56:30, he becomes extremely somber. I won’t quote him here because I think what he said has to be heard.
I will say this: I was caught completely off guard by his directness. He clearly sees dark clouds on the horizon and encouraged the students to be prepared for it when it comes, to hold fast to first principles no matter what their ultimate fate may be.
I have heard political speeches that speak of the future in dark, grim terms, yet this is the first time I have ever heard a libertarian articulate in front of a young audience in this kind of formal setting. This was not said at a political rally. It was not a cheerleading session.
Napolitano is also not one to be inflammatory or melodramatic. He chooses his words carefully. And the way it ended seemed as though he felt uncomfortable having to say it, but felt it needed to be said.
Truth be told, I had to listen to the end of the speech several times to make sure I heard him correctly. I believe I did.
Still, I might be reading more into this than intended. After all, he is speaking to students who are from other countries than the United States. But based on the tone of his columns, I think it is fair to say that he is making an observation that many of us are afraid to openly discuss, because to do so is to consider the unthinkable. In a speech he gave in 2012, (39:40), he concludes on nearly the same note.
If I’m correct, the setting in which Napolitano spoke about this was appropriate. Ludwig Von Mises, whom the Institute is named after, was an Austrian economist who was forced to flee his homeland after the Nazis took over due to his free market literature. His library and personal papers were confiscated, most or all of them never recovered. He lost everything and came to America barely able to speak English. His wife once recalled that it was the one time in her life she saw him weep. Yet, through all his hardships and sufferings, he never compromised on his first principles.