Jesse's news reported below about the impending death of Loompanics drove me, first, to spend over a hundred bucks picking up all those rainy-day books I always assumed would be there and thus took my time on grabbing, and second to some heavy nostalgic musings, since Loompanics was my direct link into libertarianism as a bookish youth.
I had read, and of course been blown away by, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy back in the early '80s, and naturally assumed that Principia Discordia was just a made-up fantasy. (This was before I learned that every single thing in that novel is the literal and absolute truth–make sure you remember that as you read it, as everyone should.) Then I saw an ad in the back of Amazing Stories, of all strange places (though that venerable science fiction mag was also the place I first learned, over and over again from a semi-permanent back page ad berth, of the mysteries and wonders of the Rosicrucians), indicating that it actually existed and an actual book company with the curious name of Loompanics was selling it.
I ordered it of course, and had my (way too young to be reading this sort of thing, natch) mind further blown by the reckless, mad, antinomian, anything-goes, willful and brave world of alternate and hidden history, dangerous techniques to save your own life (or wreck it–hey, it's up to you) and nestled in there a sober and serious sounding book called Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. Anything in one lesson sounded like quite a bargain, so that was included in my very next Loompanics order. As for many, many other libertarians, that introduction to Bastiat-inspired free-market economic thinking (its main message: always consider the secondary and tertiary effects of actions and policies, or, to sum it up, breaking a window isn't good for the economy) led me on the path that brings me to where I am today.
Loompanics got its curious name from its first publication: an index to National Lampoon magazine, a deserved favorite of hipsters and heads of all varieties back in the 1970s, pre-Animal House. Another one of its early publications in the 1970s was an index to another magazine, a little libertarian journal that goes by the name of Reason.
Some of those in the comments threat on Jesse's original post seem to think it's "bad for libertarianism" that sellers of books instructing people in illegal activities like making your own weapons or drugs are thought of as libertarian. Well, Loompanics head Mike Hoy is just as unhappy with the connection between his operations and the larger libertarian movement as you–in this interview he gripes loudly about how libertarian mags like Reason and Liberty for years refused to run his ads or rent their subscriber lists to him, and generally condemns mainstream movement libertarians as wimps.
Was Loompanics' existence, and links to libertarianism, bad for libertarianism, as some in the comment thread on Jesse's original post insist? I'm sure it is true in some cases that the existence of people doing things with their liberty that people who don't like people to have more liberty don't like–whether it be doing certain drugs, or selling books on how to make them, or selling books on ideas that most people consider invidious or kooky–makes people who don't like what some people choose to do with their liberty not embrace libertarianism. It is the fate of all libertarians to have to feel embarassed sometimes about things that other people who call themselves libertarians say or do. Alas, it is just one of the many, many costs of freedom. If libertarianism's only hope is convincing everyone that in a free society no one will do or say anything they don't like or approve of, well, those with hope for a more libertarian future might as well stock up on Loompanics' wilderness survival books and disappear off the grid.