Nev's Legacy of Liberty
You've seen his name on big signs all over Australia, but you probably don't know the man.
Neville John Kennard (1937 - 2012) was a unique and courageous Australian. A business success story, an adventurer, and an uncompromising warrior for the cause of liberty.
His pathway to that cause began in the early 1960's, when he found himself running his father's small equipment hire business in NSW. Nev was in his mid-20's, had not been to university, and had only "scraped through" his high school leaving certificate.
Uneducated (so he thought) and thrown into the deep end, he felt he'd better learn something about economics.
Not yet realising that his lack of a university economics "education" was to his advantage, he walked into a Dymock's bookshop and purchased an economics textbook.
Unfortunately for him, that textbook was Economics by Paul Samuelson.
Like anyone in touch with reality, Nev was unable to find sense in the Keynesian screed. Frustrated, he gave up, thinking he just wasn't smart enough. Little did he know, that his inability to find sense in the truly nonsensical, was a good thing.
Meanwhile, hidden away in some obscure bookshop, lay Nev's salvation. The works of Mises and Rothbard. Luckily for the cause of liberty, he would eventually find them. In fact, he found them through another author ... Harry Browne.
In 1970, Nev's brother came back from America with a book by Browne, an investment analyst who would later run for US President on the Libertarian Party ticket. The book was 'How you can profit from the coming devaluation'. Mixed in with Browne's economic forecasts were healthy doses of economic theory and libertarianism, with references to the works of Mises and Rothbard. Nev said that Browne's books opened the door for him. He used a bibliography to order books by the likes of Mises, Rothbard, Henry Hazlitt and Albert Jay Nock.
Finally ... economics that made sense.
One of the books Nev managed to get his hands on was Murray Rothbard's For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto. This text introduced Nev to the Rothbardian philosophy of self-ownership. It was a philosophy that he would come to embrace.
Having connected with this philosophy that was so anathema to the mainstream, Nev was suddenly isolated. It seemed like all his mates wanted to talk about was football, surfing and miniskirts. Starved of ideological brethren, he became lonely. Then came a historic moment in the history of Australian libertarianism. In the midst of the nightmare that was Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, the Worker's Party was formed.
Nev discovered the new party via an ad in the newspaper, and began attending meetings in Sydney. He had found the fellow travellers he was looking for.
Despite its eventual dissolution in 1981, the Worker's Party was critical in that it coalesced much of Australia's libertarian forces. Networks were formed that would persist beyond the life of the Party.
Nev, and other members of the Worker's Party, didn't pursue the cause of liberty for their personal business interests. Nev was a true ideologue. A revolutionary. And he certainly acted like it.
- He attended big-shot Mont Pelerin Society meetings and accused them of being "practically devoid of ethics or morality."
- He would call-out other businessmen for their weak and unprincipled free-market advocacy.
- He would have meetings with politicians and ask if they were embarrassed about their parasitism on the taxpayer and lack of productive worth.
- He loudly preached anarcho-capitalism, knowing full well the damage this could do to his "corporate reputation".
None of this helped his popularity, or his business interests. Indeed, he pursued this cause in spite of his business interests. Deregulation in the equipment hire or storage business, with reductions in overhead costs, would only allow new competitors to more easily compete with his well-established businesses. Further, a free market in land and housing in a country as vast as Australia, is most certainly not a guaranteed winner for the storage industry.
No, Neville Kennard pursued this cause because he believed it was just.
In 1976, Nev got a call from one Greg Lindsay. Mr Lindsay was looking for financial support for the creation of an institute that would propagate libertarian ideas. Kennard immediately cut him a cheque, and became the first donor and first Chairman of a fledgling Centre for Independent Studies (CIS).
But Nev went even further.
Despite Nev's contribution, Lindsay was getting nowhere with the CIS. Nev decided to step in and put Lindsay on the Kennard's payroll. Lindsay was then able to quit his day job, and work full time on the CIS.
The CIS then grew to abandon Nev's philosophy. In a speech to the First Australian Mises Seminar in 2011, he noted that "As the CIS became more successful ... it became more devoted to fundraising. It became more mainstream ... more and more part of the ruling class." He continued "The big end of town was placed on the board. They were invited to nice parties, made big donations and he (Lindsay) didn't want to rock the funding base."
Nev's petitions to Lindsay for a more principled approach were repeatedly knocked back. Indeed, in the mid-90s, Nev noticed that the CIS's increasing "moderation" was drying up interest among the youth. Anxious to alleviate this problem and pursue a principled philosophy, he sought Lindsay's permission to create a "radical wing" within the CIS.
It was about this time that he was introduced to the work of Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
Professor Hoppe first met Nev in 2008. Nev had contacted Hoppe and asked if he could attend the 2008 Property and Freedom Society meeting in Bodrum, Turkey. They became close friends, and Neville became the Property and Freedom Society's most generous donor. That Nev was willing to give so much to such a "radical" organisation, run by the world's most prominent living anarcho-capitalist, tells us alot about his own attitudes to compromise.
Perhaps the pithiest statement in Prof. Hoppe's tribute to Nev was this ...
"He was a hard-core Rothbardian, an uncompromising anarcho-capitalist, and a formidable intellectual fighter."
Writing capaciously and eloquently for Economics.org.au in his last couple of years, Neville continued to denounce the CIS and IPA, saying they "don't work", are "fundamentally statist" and questioned whether they "have the guts" to debate him publically.
Needless to say they didn't, and they don't.
Two of Nev's final acts for the cause of liberty are perhaps his most important. In 2011, he sponsored Prof. Hoppe's trip to Sydney to serve as keynote speaker at the very first Australian Mises Seminar. The seminar was a pioneering event and a great success. Without Nev's sponsorship, the seminar simply would not have been possible.
Despite his deteriorating health, he backed up to again fund a keynote speaker, Dr. Walter Block, for the second Australian Mises Seminar, in December 2012.
These seminars, along with efforts like Liberty Australia, Economics.org.au and Aussienomics, have provided the means to capture and sustain the momentum that resulted from Australian interest in the US Presidential campaigns of Ron Paul.
The group of young and "radical" Aussies that have been brought together in a persisting and constantly-engaging online community, has been tremendous. With the Australian liberty movement consolidated, thriving, and ripe for co-operation, the movement is capable of rapid growth. Having at least one yearly event where people from all over Australia meet face-to-face, provides a crucial yearly reinvigoration. Atomisation becomes unthinkable.
That is why Nev's contribution has been so critical.
Most of Nev's philosophical admirers are alot younger than he was. As Ben Marks wrote, "Nev was the oldest resident-Australian anarchocapitalist by about 50 years..." . In fact, Nev's most extreme admirers, and kindred spirits, are all members of the organising committee of this very seminar. And it is through the Australian Mises Seminar, which he made possible, that his true legacy will live on.