It speaks volumes of a man — and of his career — when people don’t wait until he’s passed away to pay him tribute. That’s what outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did for Milton Friedman this past Wednesday night at The American Spectator‘s Annual Dinner, before the world heard the sad news of his passing. Said Rumsfeld on Friedman’s contribution to America’s defense policy:
I looked at the first edition [of The American Spectator] the other day, and the — they sent me the people who’d written in it, and Milton Friedman had a piece in there on the all — the case for the all-volunteer Army. And I think it was your very first edition. And Milton Friedman, God bless him, who’s still going strong and is such a talent, he had piece in there, and the Spectator printed it. And here we are today, with the finest force on the face of the Earth, the best-led, the best-trained, the best-equipped. And there’s never been a military like the military we have today, and it’s all volunteers.
The next day we heard the sad news of Professor Friedman’s passing. And that night, at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation’s Freedom Day Dinner — held in celebration of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall — came more tributes, from Atlas President Alejandro Chafuen, Heritage Foundation President Edwin Feulner, and former Fraser Institute Executive Director Michael Walker, who offered a toast to a man he called a good friend. Chafuen is worth quoting:
This morning, as soon as I arrived to my office, on this day of Atlas’s Freedom Dinner — at which we celebrate the victories of freedom over totalitarianism — I told my staff: “How nice would it be if Fidel Castro would depart from Earth today?” What a surprise I had moments after, when news came that it was not the aging Cuban tyrant, but our wonderful friend and mentor Milton Friedman who would be leaving us. Although I have been taught not to judge on these matters, I am pretty sure that Castro will not end in the same place as Friedman. Not in history, and not in heaven.
Thankfully, tyrannies pass away sooner or later, while the ideas of liberty are eternal. Coincidentally, the last time I was in the same room as Milton Friedman was at Atlas’s 25th Anniversary celebration in San Francisco earlier this year. That he would be remembered so fondly at events like this is testament to the movement he helped energize. That’s reason for optimism of the kind that was characteristic of Milton Friedman. (Atlas has a special Friedman page with links to other tributes.)