Kenneth R. Gregg, RIP
David Beito links to Jesse Walker's obit at Reason. Both Beito and Walker restate what seems to be everyone's impression of Ken (including mine): that he was a thoroughly decent fellow. Beito bears this out with an anecdote about Ken's "characteristic modesty." He was invited to join the Liberty and Power group blog because of the knowledge of libertarian history he demonstrated in his comments there.
Ken was initially reluctant. With characteristic modesty, he wondered whether he would be out of his element on an academically-oriented blog. Fortunately, he relented. It was very much our gain.
His modesty, as becoming as it was, was utterly unwarranted. As I mentioned in the comments to Beito's post, I joined Samuel Edward Konkin III's old LeftLibertarian list (Ken was an associate of SEK2 since the early days of the Agorist movement) in 2001, and was immediately struck by Ken's wealth of knowlege on the early history of classical liberalism, and comparatively obscure sidelines and offshoots of the libertarian movement that most libertarians had never heard of. I got my first introduction to Thomas Hodgkin, which influenced me so heavily, from Ken's promotion of his works online.
More generally, if you search the archives of the original LeftLibertarian list for the name of any intellectual figure in 19th century liberalism, or in the many strands of 20th century geolibertarianism, you'll probably come up with a post ending in the familiar "Just Ken" byline.
He belonged, with Shawn Wilbur, Roderick Long and George H. Smith, to what amounted to a standing informal seminar on libertarianism's historical roots.
The only full online version of Stephen Pearl Andrews' Science of Society (including Part Two), that I'm aware of at least, is also available at CLASSical Liberalism thanks to Ken. You really should check out his blog to see for yourself the breadth of his interests--it's really too much for me to put across in a short post.
What I remember is, first, his knowledge and his enjoyment of sharing his interests with others; and second, his character. I don't think he ever displayed a malicious attitude or made an unkind remark about anyone in the hundreds of his messages and blog posts I read. That's not something many people can say about themselves--I certainly can't.
All I knew about Ken until a couple of years ago involved his intellectual life. But like everyone else, he had a life in meatspace, and the events of his last years pretty well sucked the enjoyment out of his historical interests and left him with little energy for pursuing them. Two of his three children, James and Elizabeth, were killed by drunk drivers--in completely unrelated incidents, four years apart. The second death, Elizabeth's, happened in October 2006. The depression from that took its toll, as you might expect, and he eventually went into hospice for end-stage congestive heart failure. His friend Pam Maltzman says that he died peacefully in his sleep, with his wife Debbie nearby.
At his son James' funeral, he read this passage from Paine's Age of Reason:
We have not in all cases the same form, nor in any case the same matter that composed our bodies twenty or thirty years ago; and yet we are conscious of being the same persons. Even legs and arms, which make up almost half the human frame, are not necessary to the consciousness of existence. These may be lost or taken away, and the full consciousness of existence remain; and were their place supplied by wings, or other appendages, we cannot conceive that it would alter our consciousness of existence.
In short, we know not how much, or rather how little, of our composition it is, and how exquisitely fine that little is, that creates in us this consciousness of existence; and all beyond that is like the pulp of a peach, distinct and separate from the vegetative speck in the kernel.
Who can say by what exceedingly fine action of fine matter it is that a thought is produced in what we call the mind? And yet that thought when produced, as I now produce the thought I am writing, is capable of becoming immortal, and is the only production of man that has that capacity.
Statues of marble or brass will perish; and statues made in imitation of them are not the same statues, nor the same workmanship, any more than the copy of a picture is the same picture. But print and reprint a thought a thousand times over, and that with materials of any kind – carve it into wood or engrave it in stone, the thought is eternally and identically the same thought in every case. It has a capacity of unimpaired existence, unaffected by change of matter, and is essentially distinct and of a nature different from everything else that we know or can conceive.
If, then, the thing produced has in itself a capacity of being immortal, it is more than a token that the power that produced it, which is the selfsame thing as consciousness of existence, can be immortal also; and that as independently of the matter it was first connected with, as the thought is of the printing or writing it first appeared in. The one idea is not more difficult to believe than the other, and we can see that one is true.
I'm an agnostic on such matters, but I hope Ken's doing some catching up now with two of his kids. In any case, the thoughts he produced will be with us for a long time.
My condolences to his wife Debbie and his surviving daughter, Katherine.