The Reading Room

A Goodbye to a Good Man

The movement for human freedom just lost one of its great champions. The Cato Institute’s “North Star,” David Boaz, passed away on June 7, 2024, at the age of 70. I commend you to read the many heartfelt remembrances already published about this intellectual giant.
For me, one element stood out: he was a genuinely good person. Economic historian Dierdre McCloskey said of what made Boaz successful, “The ancient formula here is that the speaker, the person in politics or scholarship or science, should be a ‘good man’ skilled at speaking. [...] And that’s what he is. He’s a ‘good man,’ skilled at speaking for freedom.” (9:40-10:10 of the video on the Cato Institute’s tribute page.)
Boaz’s virtues spring from his colleagues’, friends’, and students’ many farewells. Quite apart from his successes in the policy arena, he seems to have been an inspiration for countless instances of personal and professional development – and consistently with a sunny disposition. Individual flourishing and human cooperation were not simply political ideals but also personal imperatives for him. In a world with its share of negativity and toxicity, having leaders and role models such as this, projecting an unshakeable goodness, is equally as valuable as the level of scholarly and institutional work that Boaz also happened to achieve.
Tom Holland in his 2004 history of the late Roman Republic, Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, described (pp. 195-96) Cato the Younger – the Cato Institute’s namesake – as carrying an
expression of a profoundly held moral purpose, an incorruptibility and inner strength that the Romans still longed to identify with themselves, but had rather assumed were confined to the history books. . . .Cato moved to the rhythms of no one’s principles but his own. Drawing his strength from the most austere traditions of the Republic, he fashioned himself into a living reproach to the frivolities of his age.
With only slight alteration to this passage, we can say that, after all his years with the Cato Institute, Boaz may have turned into Cato the Younger himself. We might just as well say that the Cato Institute is worthy of its name largely because Boaz was always there to maintain its namesake’s moral standards.
To paraphrase Cato Institute President and CEO Peter Goeller, it is now the duty of everyone who shares Boaz’s principles to honor him by upholding, in both our personal and professional lives, “these values as faithfully and as capably as he did.” Happily, Boaz’s persona is readily available on the internet. We need only continue to watch, read, and learn from him and his example.