I’ll Never Know As Much As Ralph Raico

I’ve been reading in a particular tradition of thought for about 5 years now. During that time, its safe to say that I’ve read between 175 – 200 books. I average about a 350 – 400 page book a week. A lot of the books are longer and take two weeks to read instead of one.

I’m currently reading a book by a historian named Ralph Raico. Its a collection of essays on the history of liberalism. His argument is that true liberalism, or classical liberalism, today goes by the name of libertarianism. The original liberal philosophers and economists were primarily concerned with limiting the power of the State. They fought for a social order based on property rights, free markets, international trade, and peace. They stood foursquare against increases in government power and would have scorned the “liberal” platform that exists today.

However, a discussion of  the nature of liberalism will have to wait for a future article. What I’d like to discuss is the fact the Ralph Raico knows more about history than I’ll ever know. It is a humbling experience to look at the bibliography for a single essay in his book and see more books than I’ve yet read.

By doing a simple arithmetical calculation, I’ve determined that over the course of my life I won’t even read a quarter of what he’s read. If I ever try to write about a topic that he’s already written on, his paper will always be better and more informed than mine. His writing style oozes wisdom, and his footnotes show a level of learning that seems impossibly advanced.

And he’s not the only one. Book after book, I’m reminded about how much I’ve yet to learn and how much I’ll simply never be able to know.

At times I think, “is it even worth it, doing all this reading?” I mean, these guys have already written what I’d want to write and so much better than I can. Why tread over ground that’s already been covered by geniuses?

But I’ve come to few realizations.

First, these writers are full time professors in most cases. Their whole job is reading and writing. I, on the other hand, am an accountant. I can only read at night. I write for a half an hour in the morning. My productive time for scholarship is severely limited. This doesn’t make me less intelligent. It just means that my intelligence is occupied by other pursuits.

Second, I have qualities that many of these professors lack. My life isn’t spent in classrooms and at seminars. I rub shoulders with the common folk. While I genuinely appreciate the style and sophistication of Professor Raico’s essays, they are probably too profound for a regular working stiff. I, on the other hand, have both the skill set and the desire to communicate his findings to regular Joe’s in way that they can grasp.

Third, by just making an effort to enlighten yourself, you’ve done enough. Comparing yourself to others is a dangerous game. There will always be those who know more than you, earn more than you, and seem to out class you in every way. Forget about all of that. The only thing that each of us can do is give it our best shot. I know that I dedicate as much time as I can towards reading and writing about liberty, peace, and free markets. It really doesn’t matter that I won’t be the next Ralph Raico.

There is another way that I think I can really shine. Instead of reading every book under the sun, I may just keep reading these same 200 books over and over again. This way I will have a true mastery of the material that I’m familiar with. I won’t have the breadth of knowledge that others have, but my depth of understanding will become formidable.

In any event, Ralph Raico is a truly inspiring writer and definitely somebody worthy of admiration.


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