R.W. Bradford, RIP


Raymond William Bradford, the founder and editor of Liberty magazine, died of cancer Thursday night. He was 58 years old. He gave me my first job in journalism, and I worked for him for three and a half years, squirreled away in his big creaky house in rural Washington state. He slept in the day and worked in the night, and he could talk for hours about American history, fringe politics, old movies, baseball, and his favorite foods. (I remember him querying Backwoods Home magazine to see if they'd be interested in an article on the proper preparation of popcorn.) He loved cats, maps, and motorcycles, and would cite Ludwig von Mises and David Letterman with equal relish. We had a running argument about whether it was possible for one item to be "more unique" than another. Now that he isn't here to correct me, I can say that Bill was one of the most unique people I ever knew.

I'm not sure where he was born, but he was raised in Traverse City, Michigan, the rebellious son of an IRS agent. He'd been active in libertarian circles since his teens, going back to his days editing the mimeographed zine Eleutherian Forum in the '60s; his early articles appeared in a variety of venues, including Reason. In the meantime, he did very well for himself as a dealer in rare coins, and used his earnings to launch Liberty in 1987. It established itself quickly as a lively mix of movement-oriented material—philosophical debates, recovered libertarian history, critical coverage of Libertarian Party politics—with the occasional travelogue or movie review thrown in just because it was a good read. As the magazine's audience broadened beyond its initial ideological base, its contents grew more varied as well; the writers soon ranged from Milton Friedman to Bob Black, from Randy Weaver to Randal O'Toole. The quality eventually dipped, but in its best years Liberty published some remarkably good material, all the more remarkable for being produced by a tiny staff on a shoestring budget in the middle of nowhere. We didn't even pay the contributors. For them, like Bill, it was a labor of love.

Eventually we had a falling out, and I spoke to Bill only once after I quit the magazine nine years ago. But in the last few months, after I learned of his condition, I mostly remembered the good times—all those conversations we would have about everything from Orson Welles to the Civil War. He was an ornery, eccentric, independent man, and he made the world a little richer by living in it.

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  1. Since Liberty often published crushing bad taste obits — see its obit of Yitzak Rabin (he deserved is, but still) — I’ll start by denouncing him. He had a falling out with everyone. Articles in Liberty were often shoddy and reactionary. I’m not a big fan of the LP but he did everything he could to poison an already tough environment for the LP with lies and innuendo. Then LNC Chairman Jim Lark caught him trying to tape an executive session meeting of the LNC. He lied about it and denounced Lark for catching him. He had his head up his ass when it came to the LP and politics in general even further than the LP, which is saying something. He will not be missed in libertarian circles — especially the likes of reason and reason readers who don’t want to read about internal libertarian politics and who is purer than thou back and forth crap. He may be remembered by cranks and ideological libertarian pessimists. But who remembers them?

  2. All comfort to his friends and family. There is always some pretty good stuff in every issue of Liberty. William Bradford was a friend of individual liberty.

    That was a nice note, Jesse. Thanks.

  3. Shit. My kids said to me a couple of days ago that this is the year of death. It sure is. Personal and otherwise.

    I was a long time subscriber to Liberty and in fact, that is where I became acquainted with the writing of one Jesse Walker. A guy who impressed me as much older than it turned out that he actually was. Wise beyond his years sounds trite but I had no idea he was just an infant in those days. If that sentence isn’t quite right blame it on the wine.

    Libertarians are cranks and Bradford was a libertarian so, I guess that covers the bases. Still, I can’t entirely agree with Spur. Maybe we come from different eras or perspectives. I hadn’t seen a copy of Liberty since shortly after Jesse left. Perhaps it degenerated.

    But still, 58 isn’t that old and cancer is a suck way to leave this world.

    Thanks for your thoughts Jesse. As for Bradford, hopefully we’re all wrong and there’s something better on the other side.

  4. One of my email signatures is from an old ad Liberty used to run, “Breakfast at the Spooners” (quoted from memory):

    “SMASH THE STATE? That’s a SWELL idea, Ruth, but what can I do?”

    “That’s easy, Sandy! Subscribe to Liberty. It’s subversion in a plain brown wrapper!”

  5. How appropriate that the the person that tried so hard to bring thoughtfulness to libertarianism is slagged by some bimbo dork cunt like spur. (I use the terms bimbo and cunt not in any sense of the feminine bit rather as the best terms of opprobrium that we have as word-smiths. Maybe Steven Cox and can add his two cents to this.)

    Does spur know anything of Bradford’s relationship to Roy Child’s or Murray Rothbard or Karl Hess? What a petulant pinhead. As a writer for Liberty I have more reason then most to be pissed off at RW. I called him Spike, not in the biker sense of someone that uses needles but because he would spike my submissions so often, even after promising he would run a whole series on anything I would submit. Hey, maybe I submitted crap, killing a piece is always the editor’s prerogative. RW was a great man. I told him once that his place in libertarian history was assured and I think it surely will be. The pathetic spur criticizes the obits in Liberty. Has spur bought all the back-issues like I have? Has he read the Jesuit justification of lying to authorities in the interest of God? Has he read Gerry Spence’s justification of defending Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge? Has he done anything other them carp and criticize because RW had the temerity to criticize the Libertarian Party because it had been taken over by the Washington Smoothies like Harry Browne and his under-the-table-henchmen? Harry is still on the lecture circuit and RW has to take shit in the grave from punk bimbo dork cunts like Spur. How fucking appropriate. Yeah, RW was a pain-in-the-ass micro-manager. That does not exclude him from the ranks of truly great libertarians. If you want to carp and hector and criticize as you thumb though your dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged to find “the one absolute truth” well yeah, RW was not your cup of tea. He actually had an independent brain and would challenge you to use yours. Some of the best intellectual times of my life were at Liberty Magazine Editors Conferences. I am really pissed right now at RW because he never let on he had more then some kidney troubles and I never had a chance to duke it out over his pernicious consequentialism or his hanging-from-a-strangers-balcony simplistic moralism, but he had a giant intellect and did more for true libertarianism then all the “spurs” in the universe. My deepest sympathies to Kathy, his lovely wife, a women with more class and dignity than any woman I have ever met in my life. I hope they keep the magazine alive. It was a valuable contrast to the Stepford-wife cargo-cult libertarianism of people that just spout Ayn Rand bromides for their whole life.

    Ride free brother. There is no helmet law in libertarian heaven. Say hi to Roy and Murray and Karl for me.


  6. Thanks for posting the note. I’ve come to know Bill over the past year and a half while working for Liberty, and I believe he would appreciate the kind words, and likely also the denouncements (even from anonymous sources). Bill was certainly unique: a man who could turn an argument about a comma splice into a ringing damnation of the sacrifice bunt, touching on Hawaiian warfare and Mexican smelters along the way.

    The one thing I’m sure he would want known is that Liberty will continue to be published.

    Thanks again, Jesse. Rest in peace, Bill.

  7. Awfully sorry to hear about this. Liberty was the first libertarian magazine I’d ever subscribed to (yes, even before Reason). I’m glad to hear it will still be published.

    Anyone unfamiliar with Liberty or Bradford’s writing (which is, unfortunately, too many libertarians) can find the Liberty archives here:

  8. I am sorry to hear the news about R.W. Bradford. The third piece of fiction I ever published was in Liberty, back in 1999, and I just published another one there in 2005. My only experience with Bradford was as an author dealing with an editor, and I found him to be nothing but professional.

  9. Paul Rako,
    Jebus, after reading your comment, I’m convinced spur knows what he’s talking about.

  10. While I discovered both Reason and Liberty at about the same time, I naturally gravitated towards Reason- But I still buy and enjoy Liberty once in a while, warts and all, and found myself recently wondering why Reason never linked to articles there or ever really even acknowledged its existence. Better late than never I suppose.

  11. Thomas Szasz lured my toward Libertarianism, but it was Liberty magazine that hooked me. RIP, RWB.

  12. spur is way off base. You could find a lot of things to criticize Liberty magazine for, but its coverage of the LP is not one of them. First, Bradford covered the LP as if it mattered — because even though it’s never made an impact in the outside political world it has mattered a lot to libertarians and it mattered a lot to Bradford. For that, the LP should be thankful.

    Bradford’s exposure of corruption, incompetence and wackiness at the highest and lowest levels of the LP really wouldn’t have mattered to anyone *but* people who care about liberty and are interested in how to most wisely invest resources to advance it. Though Bradford to the end remained an LP member and voter, he gave plenty of us good reason to stay away.

  13. Every time I get together with one of my old Liberty co-workers, we spend most of our time trying to figure out what the hell we went through while working for Bill. Brian’s comment about being a “personal manservant for an eccentric millionaire” rings pretty true for me. It was the model Bill wanted – and since his enterprise attracted a lot of independent minded eccentrics, the predictable result was a lot of conflict and angry words, and ill feeling.

    On the other hand – Bill never tried to mislead me. The night he hired me (from across the country, sight unseen), he told me the terms under which I’d work, and explained to me that he was a cantancorous bastard and I’d have to get used to it. It was my first professional publishing job, and it opened the door to many other opportunities for me. For that I’m grateful.

    Knowing Bill wasn’t an easy experience, but I’m glad that he lived and accomplished what he did, and I’m happy that I knew him. God knows we all have a rich treasure trove of Bill stories that will last us a lifetime.

    Jim Gill

  14. Sorry Warren, I have to disagree with you.

    Talking atrocious shit about a dead guy before the body has even assumed room temperature is real bad form. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not surprised that it would happen in a libertarian forum. Why is it that a higher-than-average percentage of professed libertarians seem to have skipped all of the Miss Manner’s columns? Last time I checked I think it was called Social Graces.

    Given that Paul is obviously a friend of RWB, as such, it is unsurprising that he would hand out a verbal ass kicking, particularly to someone who has hidden behind an anonymous handle while spewing venom.

    Contrast Spur’s SPURious comments with those of Jim Gill or even Brian Doherty’s. Maybe Spur just needs a Dale Carnegie class or something.

  15. I only had a few experiences with Bill, running two articles in Liberty; but he always treated me with respect, good will and professionalism.

    He struck me as a dedicated man–dedicated to ideas and dedicated to the transmission of ideas through Liberty. I wish the world had more folks like him: people who welcome a debate, are willing to sink time into a labor of love, and never give up on the power of words to transform our world.

    God bless, Mr. Bradford’s family and friends at this difficult time.

  16. Reading Jesse and Brian’s remembrances of working with Bill makes me somewhat wistful, as I have to reflect on one of the more difficult decisions I’ve ever made. Bradford offered me a job — I believe it was Jesse’s old job — back in 1997. Though at the time, the opportunity to get paid for being involved in this movement that had consumed all my free time seemed a godsend, I ultimately decided my cityfied behind wouldn’t be able to cut it in rural Washington state. Nonetheless, at least once a year, I think back on that, and wonder what might have been.

    I can’t say I knew Bill well. We exchanged some emails and spoke a few times while I was at the Independent Institute, but we were never more than distant acquaintances. And I’ll admit that, when he was alive, there were plenty of times that I slagged Liberty as a rag.

    But Bradford himself — while no doubt a crank, like so many of us are — always impressed me as a guy who managed to live life on HIS terms. The older I get, the more I recognize that this is a most impresive feat that only can be pulled off only by the truly exceptional and the truly cracked. Bill was a little bit of both.

    In liberty, always, rest in peace.

  17. Paul Rako,

    I may be a cunt but I am not friend of either Ayn Rand or Harry Browne, though I was influenced by Rand and voted for Browne for lack of better options. Liberty occasionally had good articles but it was a rag. And on the subject of the LP again, let me say he was way off base. Browne and crew were (are?) corrupt to a point but he sought to replace them with folks who turn the LP even more inward and into even more of a club — any sign of success in the LP and Bradford had knives out. He also slagged off a lot of innocents and good activists in the LP in his single sided search for his own truth (Bill Winter, Ron Criceknberger RIP and Jim Lark to name just a few). He would have done us all a favor by ignoring the LP sending in his membership card. He paid his $25 a year and no more to gain access, not to help the LP out.

    Roy Childs — yeah and? I knew him too…a bit on the self destructive side to say the least and again someone no one remembers under 40…

    Murray Rothbard — purging, basketball loving, LP dividing bastard — his most well known sycophant is Raimondo — what does that tell you. Again, largely forgotten.

    Karl Hess — Ask his neighbors in West Virginia whether he was a good friend or a good neighbor. Again, largely forgotten.

    I may be a bimbo, dork cunt but you are a minge-like rude chav so take that. 😉

    To end things on a nice (and nasty) point — he did as RJ Lehmann says live life on his own terms and thats better than most the robots out there. His ‘terms’ however would make most want to work in a cubicle their whole life.

  18. I met Bill when we were serving on a LP platform committee at one of the national conventions in the early eighties. He published my first article (on the News Election Service) in one of the early issues of Liberty. He could not pay for the article at the time, but went to the trouble of “shopping” it to another, more established, publication which then bought a re-write from me.

    I remember Bill as a complete person – a funny, thoughtful, curious, knowledgeable, wild and crazy guy who was absolutely serious about individual liberty. I look forward to my print edition of Liberty as much as I do to my monthly Reason. They represent different perspectives, but share common roots.

    I am saddened by his loss.

  19. spur,

    Murray Rothbard largely forgotten?? That’s just silly. In many cases his voluminous work was ground breaking. Also, his principled stands were and are still inspiring. No spur, most of us haven’t forgotten Mr. Libertarian. Although, I imagine that there are fans of big government ideologies who wish Rothbard was largely forgotten.

    Your swipe at Justin Raimondo is also without merit. Raimondo is a scholar of the libertarian movement, and his contributions include a book on Rothbard:

    The content of that exceptional volume makes your calling Raimondo a sycophant vis a vis Rothbard meaningless. Also, Raimondo’s contributions to individual liberty are considerable. is the most frequented libertarian site extant. Wanna know what foreign policy travesty the neocon’s and our government are going to try to commit in the future? Read Raimondo now. His record of prediction is strong.

  20. I’d like to give a shout-out to RWB as well before this thread morphs into a Raimondo-based donnybrook.

    I too spent 6 months interning for Liberty in 1994 (likewise sight unseen, driving from the other side of the continent). As others have said, it was an exciting and fun atmosphere, a volatile stew of doctrinaire libertarianism, motorcycles, whacky literature, fringe investment advice, etc., with RWB as the ornery-but-gregarious ringleader. I’m sure he rubbed many people the wrong way (as evidenced by some of the testimony here), but it really was a pleasure conversing with somebody who had so much worthwhile input to offer on damn-near any topic that popped up… and he did so with wide-eyed excitement, no matter how arcane or seemingly dull the subject matter. Fun, crazy times in a sleepy, quasi-hippy town that dead-ended on the Puget Sound. God speed, RWB.

    (Bo Pogue)

  21. Oh, shit. That’s awful. I actually spoke to Bradford by phone on a few occasions-we were discussing the possibility of my working for Liberty. What started as a job interview ended up being a long conversation about all sorts of things. He struck me as witty, urbane, and exceedingly intelligent.
    Liberty has never been as big as Reason, but I’ve been reading it about the same length of time. The mag, and Bradford’s articles were always interesting and often challenging. I’m not sure the libertarian movement will immediately realize it, but the loss of Bradford is a big blow.
    RIP, RW Bradford.

  22. Good lord…how many H&R folks/Reasonoids have either worked for, or had a chance to work for RWB? He offered me an assistant editor position earlier this year. With much regret, I declined. I wanted very much to work at Liberty, and the offer was in many ways the culmination of a long-standing dream to write for a mag like Liberty or Reason. In the end, I realized that it just wouldn’t work from a financial perspective, and stayed in my small town reporting job. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t wonder if I did the right thing, and I went so far as to send an e-mail suggesting we talk about the position again.
    That’s a long and roundabout way of saying that it’s interesting to see how many folks here have been associated with the man.

  23. Hey Wine Commonsewer,
    Yes, there is something better on the other side; but unfortunately no libertarians made the trip up.

    Seriousness aside, why assume all libertarians are atheists? Some of us believe in God or gods or some sort of afterlife.

  24. The Other Side? *My* sources tell me it’s populated by toga wearing libertarians who are hand fed grapes by doting and scantily clad former editors of the Nation.

  25. At last he was,nt a reporter for the NYTs

  26. Good to read so many posted thoughts here; and thanks, Jesse, for sharing your memories.

    I posted some thoughts at my own Notablog.

  27. I never met Mr. Bradford, but I have subscribed to Liberty for a good number of years now. I look forward to its arrival in the mail more than I do that of Reason. I can only judge Mr. Bradford by his magazine. Based on that, I’ll say that he and his staff educated and entertained me greatly. My thanks to him for that. I hope there are lots of others who feel the same way. I agree with Rick Barton and The Wine Commonsewer’s second post.

    I can’t believe that Mr. Bradford was so bad that, so soon after his death, he deserves the posts here that are laced with vulgarities.

    My sympathies to his wife and friends. I hope someone is out there who can pick up the banner he carried and charge ahead with it.

  28. When Bill hired me, he demanded a commitment of at least a year, which I gave. He fired me seven weeks after I moved cross-country, on the grounds of ‘it wasn’t working out’, which he refused to explain any further. He then denied that we’d ever had a contract and went on to drag out my meagre severance settlement for seven months because I’d retained a lawyer to handle it for me.

    Whether Bill Bradford was a good man, I’m not qualified to judge, but as an employer, he was a lousy libertarian.

  29. There are few men would be polarize a group in death like this. Like everyone has mentioned: he had some good points and certainly some faults.

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  30. There are few men would be polarize a group in death like this. Like everyone has mentioned: he had some good points and certainly some faults.

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    ps. I am very impressed with the number of comments he had. Bill Bradford must have been quite the man to garner so much attention.

  31. There are few men would be polarize a group in death like this. Like everyone has mentioned: he had some good points and certainly some faults.

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    ps. I am very impressed with the number of comments he had. Bill Bradford must have been quite the man to garner so much attention. I hope his family is doing well.

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