Obituaries

Brian Doherty on R.W. Bradford

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Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty is away from a computer and can't blog this himself. He sends along these thoughts about recently deceased Liberty magazine founder Bill Bradford, who died at 58 after a long battle with cancer:

Personally, he gave me my first professional journalism gig, as an editorial intern at Liberty. He was the first to put me on the permanant masthead of a mag (as a contributing editor to Liberty) and paved the way for everything else I've done as a professional journalist or professional libertarian, for which of course I am grateful beyond hope of repayment.

For the world, he did one of those great tasks that the free market and its wealth, that he celebrated so long and so well, allows. He made enough money in his first profession to hunker down with a maniacal dedication to a dream that apparently no one expected of him–or knew they wanted until he created it. He produced Liberty relentlessly and with never-ending waves of hard work, because he thought the libertarian movement needed an "inreach" periodical (as opposed to an outreach one) to hash over intra-movement history and debate. He added to this a Menckenesque love of any sort of interesting or quirky human adventure without any necessary ideological point or connection to any larger current debate.

For a while—the first five years, especially–he produced the best specifically libertarian movement magazine I've seen. That's especially valuable for someone doing what I'm doing this year–writing an intellectual and institutional history of the movement.

Like all libertarian luminaries, he was wildly eccentric, very difficult to argue with, and mostly through it all a real hoot to be with, read, or just contemplate. Interning at Liberty in the winter and spring of 1990 had certain aspects more like being manservant to a wealthy eccentric than a journalism intern, but through the seven-day weeks of 16-hour days, I was almost always having fun, with Bill (and Tim Virkkala, then his assistant, and one of the top five brightest and most intelligent people I've ever met) and his wonderul libertarian library and his endless store of anecdotes and observations and thoughts on matters libertarian. It was one of the most exciting and exhilarating periods of mad overwork I've ever had.

He rarely left his house during my six months there, but once he took me out and taught me how to ride a motorcycle. Then he took me on the back of his bike for a long ride through the redwoods and lots of great and revealing talk about Mises and the true and wild extent of his a priorism and hanging out in bars with Rothbard and the movement and libertarian ideas. And he always made those ideas, and hashing them over everywhichway, seem not just a noble and important pursuit, but, even more vitally, a fun and fascinating one. I wish there were more peace in my head right now about him being gone to write this better, but better say something than nothing to honor a dead friend, I figure.

He had a goal of visiting every single county in the United States. I very, very much hope he managed to do it.

Thanks for everything, Bill.

Brian Doherty

The staff of Reason sends its condolences to Bradford's family and friends. The Web site for Liberty, which will publish a special issue commemorating the life and work of its founder, is here.

NEXT: R.W. Bradford, RIP

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  1. Liberty was and is a great magazine, and Bradford was always fun to read. In libertarian circles, he was an important force in arguing for the supremacy of consequentialism and against the incompetence and corruption of the LP. I will miss him, and hope the magazine can continue without him.

  2. Thanks for posting Brian’s thougts.

  3. Growing up in NYC I never knew about libertarianism till I read Liberty, I’ve been hooked since. It is, and hopefully will continue to be a great read.

  4. Very sad news indeed.

    I subscribed to Liberty from the very first issue and they’re all sitting beside me in my office here in Edinburgh – along with every copy of Reason since 1972.

  5. “Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty is away from a computer and can’t blog this himself.”

    Away from a computer ? Where in heck is that ?

  6. That’s quite a collection you have David.

    …he thought the libertarian movement needed an “inreach” periodical (as opposed to an outreach one) to hash over intra-movement history and debate.

    I read Liberty when I was just a libertarian minded Republican–when I was the only libertarian I really knew. I think reading Liberty may have scared me away from calling myself libertarian in public for a while. …I suppose this explains why. …all those scary ideas! (…that I now hold so dear.)

    That’s especially valuable for someone doing what I’m doing this year–writing an intellectual and institutional history of the movement.

    What an important task! …and is that ever needed! That’s likely to make for some real controversy, some real debate. What a great idea! …and who better than Doherty to do it?

    I already want a copy.

  7. Looks like Richard Pryor bought the farm too.

    What is it with these things going in bunches?

  8. Eugene McCarthy too.

  9. Indeed, what a strange news day, in which I learned of the deaths of Pryor, McCarthy, and Bradford all within five minutes. The Internet is both wonderful and terrible.

  10. Godspeed, Mr. Bradford, and may you spend eternity arguing the merits of limited government with the Cosmic Engineer.

    Thanks to Mr. Gillespie for the channeling of the thoughts.

  11. I’d like to see a book containing the best of Bradford’s articles and commentary.

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