Life & Liberty: Beyond the Political


It's twelve years now since I met my first individualist. And the same since I first set eyes on REASON. Who would have guessed then that I would come to know the magazine from the inside out, living, breathing, and sweating it? But I can rummage through my mind and locate a sharply focused picture of my first issue of REASON, just as it looked on the rack in the college bookstore to which I'd been steered by that individualist.

It was the spring of 1972, and I was a young woman of 23. My mother had died the winter past, my wisdom teeth were being pried out, I voted for the first time in the presidential primary, and I met my first individualist. I hadn't a political bone in my body then. "The late '60s" had lived around me, or I around them. I knew neither what Berkeley meant nor who Goldwater was. But those individualists—for the currents of my life soon swept me around and among them—made sense. It took no double-barreled argument to convince me that individual liberty is good, nor that it is good across the board, from minds to markets and the other way, too.

In those twelve years the choices and chances of my life have conspired to pull me into the fray. I fight the good fight for individual liberty. But those who respect political freedom, I've noticed, and who hope to see it flourish even if furthering it is not their life's work, often lose sight of the individual and the individual concerns for whom and for which all of this matters.

Politics and political issues are important. Government is the most visible, and best-funded, enemy of freedom. So it is not surprising that those who march beneath the banner "free minds and markets" expend great effort seeking to track that institution and its coercive ways; to understand, argue for, and explore the practical implications of a polity differently ordered—ordered, that is, around the principle of individual liberty. And so our time, our conversations, the books we read, our magazines, can become overburdened with issues of politics and, in the 20th century, its attendant science, economics.

Yet we are more. We watch television, go to the opera, travel, select a restaurant, garden, check out the movies, shop, follow sports…We love and learn and raise kids, work and play and entertain.

One would hope that in all this our individualism remains intact and suffuses our endeavors with an appreciation of the wonders, mundane and sublime, of which human beings are capable. Why does the notion of "free minds" inspire? It is not only for its political implications—a person's right to speak his mind and to practice what he preaches (or not). We also honor something more elusive, something akin to enlightenment, to freedom from the burden of ignorance. Yet another facet draws in the imagination—the ability to create art, architecture, music, literature, ideas, products, processes, services. Similarly "free markets" has a richer attraction than the political—a person's right to work and trade freely. The individualist also delights in the bustle of activity and innovation that arises out of free exchange and unrestrained labor.

In each case, freedom in its political aspect provides the condition in which freedom in its richer, more-immediate senses may flourish. Political freedom is to be guarded so that each of us may have the opportunity to enjoy our lives as thoughtful and creative and productive individuals—as free individuals.

To reflect on, review, and, in what ways we can, celebrate individuals and their splendid array of endeavors is not to ease our guard over liberty. It is to remind us why, in the end, we care to remain vigilant.

Editor-in-Chief Marty Zupan began her association with REASON with a book review in the December 1972 issue.