35 Heroes of Freedom

Celebrating the people who have made the world groovier and groovier since 1968


"Things are a lot groovier now," declared former reason Editor-in-Chief Robert W. Poole back in 1988, on the occasion of reason's 20th anniversary. During the magazine's first two decades, he pointed out, all sorts of political and cultural changes had occurred, most of them unambiguously for the better. The Vietnam War was history, stagflation had been vanquished, and technology that enabled everything from cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars to automated teller machines to videocassette recorders had vastly improved everyday life. As important, "numerous personal freedoms we take for granted were very tenuous in 1968." By 1988, the women's movement had revolutionized the home and workplace, gays were out of the closet for good, and the acceptance of other alternative lifestyles and generally rising standards of living had created a far looser, more liberated society.

No one could have predicted that the next 15 years would be the freest in human history (or that most of us would acknowledge such phenomenal progress with little more than a shrug). Half a billion people or more have escaped the gray hand of totalitarian communism, and the percentage of people living in poverty is declining worldwide. The Soviet empire is kaput, and so are the Cold War proxy battles that poisoned relations around the world. South Africa's revolting apartheid system is no more, and South America, though a basket case in many ways, boasts mostly democratic governments. Globally, economic freedom is on the rise, bringing with it an invigorating, intoxicating mix of goods, people, and cultures. Scientific breakthroughs continue to enrich lives, alleviate suffering, and improve the environment. The digital revolution has given rise to new means of expression, commerce, and community.

The ideas that have always animated this magazine—that the good society is one in which people are as free as possible to pursue happiness on their own terms; that economic and civil liberties are indivisible; that markets and borders and societies should be open and that governments should be limited; that there is no one best way to run a country, a business, a family, a life—have moved from the fringes of the debate to the center, in some cases even becoming the conventional wisdom.

While there is no shortage of threats to life and liberty—from international terrorism to poverty-inducing trade barriers to the deadly war on drugs—these are indeed high times for a magazine devoted to exploring the promises of "Free Minds and Free Markets." For all of its many problems, the world we live in is dizzying in its variety, breathtaking in its riches, and wide-ranging in its options. Malcontents on the right and left who diagnose modernity as suffering from "affluenza" or "options anxiety" will admit this much: These days we've even got a greater choice of ways to be unhappy. Which may be as close to a definition of utopia as we're likely to come.

What follows is reason's tribute to some of the people who have made the world a freer, better, and more libertarian place by example, invention, or action. The one criterion: Honorees needed to have been alive at some point during reason's run, which began in May 1968. The list is by design eclectic, irreverent, and woefully incomplete, but it limns the many ways in which the world has only gotten groovier and groovier during the last 35 years.

Direct angry responses about obvious omissions and mistakes to letters@reason.com.

John Ashcroft. If Donny and Marie Osmond were a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll, the current attorney general is little bit J. Edgar Hoover and a little bit Janet Reno. Whether it's prosecuting medical marijuana users, devoting scarce resources to arresting adult porn distributors, or using tax dollars to create USA PATRIOT Act propaganda Web sites, Ashcroft has managed to create an unprecedented coalition of conservatives, liberals, and libertarians around a single noble cause: the protection of civil liberties.

Jeff Bezos. The world's greatest bookstore may yet go belly up, but Amazon's founder has revolutionized commerce and made all hard-to-find tomes easier to track down—especially if you live 1,000 miles from the nearest B. Dalton's. Now he's doing the same with clothes, toys, electronics, and more. His Segway enthusiasm notwithstanding, Bezos runs a company that consistently leads the pack in collaborative software, customer service, recommendations, you
name it.

Norman Borlaug. The "father of the Green Revolution" is one Nobel Peace Prize winner (1970) who fully deserved the honor. Not only did he help raise crop yields in the developing world so that literally billions of people didn't starve, he remains an outspoken critic of environmentalists who attack the biotechnology that will help wipe out world hunger, of international development programs that often do more harm than good, and of kleptocrats who fill their own stomachs while their citizens starve.

Stewart Brand. By introducing the Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, he helped give birth to the most individualist wing of the hippie counterculture. "We are as gods," the first issue announced, "and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory—as via government, big business, formal education, church—has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma…personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the Whole Earth Catalog." A couple decades later, he helped create one of the first great Internet communities, the Well.

William Burroughs. Along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, a member of the Beat Holy Trinity that helped to irrevocably loosen up Eisenhower's America. Not only is his fiction (Junky, Naked Lunch, Nova Express) relentlessly anti-authoritarian, he proved that you can abuse your body in every way imaginable and still outlive the entire universe.

Curt Flood. The Moses of free agency in professional sports, the star St. Louis Cardinals outfielder started the process that led to athletes' getting paid something close to what they're actually worth. While he never personally made it to the Promised Land of fan-alienating fat contracts, his principled martyrdom helped all American workers to finally shrug off the Organization Man mentality.

Larry Flynt. Where Hugh Hefner mainstreamed bohemian sexual mores, hard-core porn merchant Flynt brought tastelessness to new depths, inspiring an unthinkable but revealing coalition between social conservatives and puritanical feminists—and helping to strengthen First Amendment protections for free expression along the way.

Milton Friedman. The 91-year-old Nobel Prize-winning economist didn't just co-author Free to Choose, the book that pumped up Arnold Schwarzenegger's mind. He's brought libertarian ideas both to a mass audience and to the elite ranks of policy makers, helped to end the draft and discredit wage and price controls, popularized the privatization of schooling and pensions, and made criticism of the war on drugs respectable.

Barry Goldwater. The iconic Arizona senator offered "a choice, not an echo" in his laughably doomed 1964 presidential campaign. He bridged the tradition of Western individualism with the then-barely-glimpsed future of Sunbelt anti-governmentism, inspiring later revolts such as California's Prop. 13. Though he might have used nukes in Vietnam, he more likely would have pulled out; he also helped convince Nixon to resign. A maverick to the end, he even supported gays in the military.

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 offered by
conservatives, she explained why a system of peaceful, voluntary exchange is morally right as well as efficient.

Dennis Rodman. As a cross-dressing, serially pierced, tattoo-laden, multiple National Basketball Association championship ring holder, the Worm set an X-Men-level standard for cultural mutation. His flamboyant, frequently gay-ish antics place him in apostolic succession to a madcap handful of athletes such as Joe Namath, Rollie Fingers, and Muhammad Ali, all of whom challenged the lantern-jawed stiffness that had traditionally made sports stars such dull role models.

Louis Rossetto. The genius behind Wired magazine didn't merely chronicle the digital revolution that continues to shape our world: He helped to conceptualize and realize it. Long after the tech bubble burst, his crucial insight—that new technologies are undermining all existing authorities and empowering end users in new and subversive ways—remains a guide to the future.

Julian Simon. In books such as The Ultimate Resource and The State of Humanity, the late "Doomslayer" patiently and exhaustively collected the data proving that neo-Malthusians such as Paul Ehrlich and Lester Brown were blowing smoke about environmental degradation and overpopulation. More impressive still: This oracle of optimism suffered from depression much of his adult life.

Thomas Szasz. Since the 1961 publication of The Myth of Mental Illness, the great and tireless critic of the therapeutic state (and longtime reason contributing editor) has never stopped pointing out the coercive implications of politicizing medicine and medicalizing politics.

Margaret Thatcher. The much-maligned Iron Lady set the pace for the rollback of nationalized industries throughout Western Europe, doing the heavy lifting needed to change England from the Sex Pistols' land of "no future" to today's Cool Britannia. More important, she outsmarted the racist "repatriation" crowd that put her into office through pro-small-business policies that helped complete the Pakistanization of the U.K. On top of it all, she was the only reliable supporter of the U.S. in the Cold War's final stages.

Clarence Thomas. After surviving the Hiroshima of confirmation hearings, Thomas has emerged as an all-too-rare advocate on the Supreme Court for federalism, the enumerated powers doctrine, and a constrained view of the Commerce Clause. He's also a reliable defender of freedom of speech in such diverse contexts as advertising, broadcasting, and campaign contributions.

The Tiananmen Square martyr. By putting his life on the line in front of his government's tanks, he provided not only one of the most memorable images of the last 35 years but one of the most inspiring too. The free China of the future owes him a statue or two.

Ted Turner. By launching CNN, the socialist idiot savant created the 24-hour news cycle, familiarized audiences around the world with the idea of globalization, proved the necessity of cable television, and inspired countless imitators who have collectively reshaped and improved the news media by giving voice to more and more viewpoints. Bonus points: After 50 years of confrontation via the Olympics, Turner's ironically titled Goodwill Games flop provided a hint that the Soviet Union likely would end with not a bang but a whimper.

Evan Williams. With a little luck and a lot of technology, Williams did as much as anyone in history to provide the once-scarce freedom of the press to millions of individuals, through his co-founding of Pyra Labs, which introduced easy-to-use Blogger technology and free-as-air Blogspot hosting to the masses.

The Yuppie. This widely reviled Reagan-era social construct opened up to ordinary people countless pleasures and pursuits once reserved for the upper class, from "gourmet" food to good-looking cars to nicely designed furniture to fancy-pants literary devices to an obsession with Tuscany. In striving "upward," Yuppies spurred a massive exfoliation of choice at all levels of American society.

Phil Zimmermann. By inventing and distributing Pretty Good Privacy, a free, easy, and damn-nigh uncrackable e-mail encryption program, he gave dissidents everywhere the ability to communicate without fear—all while challenging his own government's attempt to control that ability. He's living proof that a single individual with a good idea can make a huge difference.