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F.A. Hayek. He mapped the road to serfdom during World War II and paid a steep price -- decades-long professional isolation -- for daring to suggest that social democracy had something in common with collectivist tyrannies of the right and left. The economist-cum-philosopher lived to see his arguments vindicated by the failure of the Third Way and even took home a Nobel Prize in 1974. Building on the work of that other great Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, and combining a respect for inherited wisdom with an understanding that freedom is fundamentally disruptive, Hayek showed that the uncoordinated actions of individuals generate wonders -- market prices, language, scientific progress -- that the deliberate designs of central planners never could.
Brian Lamb. The Great Stone Face of C-SPAN has produced more must-see TV than anyone else in the history of the medium. There's no reason to pick a favorite among the likes of Booknotes, Washington Journal, and all the other C-SPAN fare, but his greatest contribution may well be his first: turning a surveillance camera on the den of iniquity known as the U.S. House of Representatives.
Vaclav Havel. Havel demonstrated definitively
that the simple act of speaking truth to totalitarians, while being
willing to suffer the consequences, is more potent than a
thousand tanks. He pushed artistic boundaries, defended the right of rock stars to be filthy, helped engineer the most magical of the Communist-toppling revolutions, and then remained an influential moral voice long after his regional counterparts faded away.
Robert Heinlein. The author of compelling science fiction with individualist themes was the entry point for millions of readers into rabid, late-night arguments about rights, responsibilities, the state, and really alternative sexual practices. If you don't grok Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Time Enough for Love, you just plain can't grok anything.
Jane Jacobs. There's Jane Jacobs the scholar, whose books (especially The Death and Life of Great American Cities) undermined the ideas of planners who either hated the city or thought they could mold it into a grand monument without regard for how the people who lived in it preferred to live their lives. And then there's Jane Jacobs the activist, who went to the barricades to keep people like Robert Moses from ripping out the heart of the particular cities she lived in. Few others did as much to defend the lives people forged for themselves against the static visions planning elites love to impose.
Alfred Kahn. As head of the defunct Civil Aeronautics Board during the Carter years, "the architect of deregulation" pushed for free markets in the airline industry, ushering in an age in which virtually every slob in America could afford to fly and providing an unassailable example of markets delivering better prices and greater safety than government regulation. Snobs sniff that Kahn turned once-classy airlines into buses in the sky, which is just one more reason to praise him.
Rose Wilder Lane. The daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lane extensively edited and shaped that great alternative history of American settlement, the Little House books, which place the family, community, and commerce -- rather than male adventure, escape, and violence -- at the heart of our national experience. She was a prolific author in her own right and, along with Isabel Patterson and Ayn Rand, one of the three godmothers of modern libertarianism. Lane's The Discovery of Freedom: Man's Struggle Against Authority remains a powerful statement about the evolution and necessity of individual rights.
Madonna. As one of the first music video megastars, the Material Girl led MTV's glorious parade of freaks, gender-benders, and weirdos who helped broaden the palette of acceptable cultural identities and destroy whatever vestiges of repressive mainstream sensibilities still remained. Along the way, her continuous self-fashioning has brought so many avant-hip trends to the masses that we can even forgive her current fake English accent and children's book phase.
Nelson Mandela. Mandela cheerfully served a prison sentence that would have left Jesus bitter and spiteful. Sprung from jail, he showed remarkable forbearance and amity in overseeing South Africa's post-apartheid transition, creating a model for how the world might finally push past centuries-old racial strife. His quest for personal freedom continued into his ninth decade, when he divorced the murderous Winnie and happily remarried.
Martina Navratilova. The dominant tennis player (male or female) of her day, Martina defected from Czechoslovakia in 1975 to pursue personal and professional freedom, writing, "I honestly believe I was born to be an American." As the first superstar athlete to admit she was gay and the first woman to play tennis like a man, Martina did more than inspire movies like Personal Best; she smashed stultifying stereotypes like so many poorly hit lobs.
Willie Nelson. One of the great crossover artists in popular music, the Texas legend pulled off a Martin Luther King Jr.-like achievement by uniting hippies and rednecks in a single audience. An inadvertent hero to tax resisters everywhere, Nelson brought the battle against puritanism to the very roof of the Carter White House, where he famously smoked dope to relieve his -- and our -- national malaise.
Richard Nixon. Between waging secret wars, enacting wage and price controls, and producing Watergate, Tricky Dick did more than any other single individual to encourage cynicism about government and wariness of presidential power.
Les Paul. Paul was a terrific jazz guitarist who invented the solid-body electric guitar in 1947, helping usher in America's most liberating cultural invention of the latter 20th century, rock 'n' roll. He pioneered multitracked recording and built the first eight-track, which put the D into DIY while allowing bands like the Beatles to make lasting works of art.
Ron Paul. Paul is the only member of Congress who always votes according to the principles they all should follow. First, he asks if the program is authorized by the Constitution. If it is, he then consults his campaign promises, which include pledges to never raise taxes or increase spending. Look for his votes in the nay column.
Ayn Rand. While her private life outstripped
them in terms of melodrama, there's no denying that novels such as
The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged introduced
libertarian ideas to millions of readers in a vivid, compelling
way, encouraging them to reject the cult of self-sacrifice, oppose
the demands of collectivism, and question the rule of experts. In
contrast to the half-hearted, pusillanimous defenses of capitalism
conservatives, she explained why a system of peaceful, voluntary exchange is morally right as well as efficient.