I met Ralph Raico at an Institute for Humane Studies conference in 1985. He took me and another student, Annie, out to lunch on the first day of the conference, before everyone else had arrived. Annie was a nurse, working in a mental hospital, and we talked about her work over lunch, and about the writing of Dr. Thomas Szasz who Professor Raico knew well.
At one point in the conversation, Annie said something about patients being wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia, and I asked her what, exactly, schizophrenia actually meant. She gave some sort of answer that wasn’t at all satisfying and I was prepared to let it go because that’s what polite people do. But Ralph Raico wasn’t polite. He wasn’t rude or ill-mannered, certainly not to sweet young Annie. But he said, very clearly (and in fact very politely) “that’s not what she asked.”
And everything changed. When you live in a world of murky communication, of saying what seems polite, or what the other people you identify with are saying, you may not be aware of the murkiness until someone shines a light on it. That’s what Ralph did. Until that moment, I really had not been around people who cared about truth, or about clarity. That one statement, and his insistence on answering the question I had asked, opened up for me a whole new world of communication and learning, and it was beautiful.
I think he was the first person I ever heard use the term “intellectual integrity” and mean it. His worldview - and by that I mean not so much his commitment to liberty, as his commitment to truth and to clear and honest communication, his utter intolerance for bullshit - was inspiring to me. It made me believe that the world was much bigger than I knew: that it was full of people like this, people who cared about the important things, people with whom one could have challenging and enlivening discussions. He inspired me to go out and seek this world.
The restaurant where we had lunch was Chinese, and I remember being embarrassed that I couldn’t use chopsticks well. At some point, the topic of Hong Kong came up, and I was intrigued by the idea of this tiny bastion of free enterprise. A few months later, I would make the decision to spend my junior year in college there, and I ultimately ended up living there for seven years. Of course the big wide world wasn’t all I expected it to be. There was plenty of murkiness, plenty of bullshit to wade through, including a lot of my own. And the people who cared about the important things weren’t that easy to find. But I can’t imagine what my life would be like without those experiences and I am eternally grateful for the inspiration that set me off on that journey.
I met Professor Raico a few more times over the years at conferences, and in the past few years he has written to me twice to commend me for articles I have written. I will never delete those emails.
I’m sure I am not the only person to have been inspired by who he was. It was many years before I realized it, but he had a profound influence on the direction of my life and on the values I have come to embrace. I’m sure there are many others who can say the same. I know that others will remember him for his scholarship, for his unyielding defense of liberty, for his intellect and for his biting wit. I will remember him as someone who shone a light of clarity through a world swimming in bullshit. And in doing so, he showed me that clarity, intellectual honesty and the pursuit of truth were all possible. He helped to show me a world bigger than I had imagined before, and inspired me to seek out more of it.
Tonight, it feels like that world just got a little bit smaller.
Rest in peace, Professor Raico.