Lanny Friedlander, Founder of Reason Magazine, RIP


I'm very sorry to report sad news: Lanny Friedlander, the man who founded Reason magazine as a student at Boston University in 1968 has died at the age of 63.

He passed away on March 19 and will be buried on Monday. His barebones obituary is online at the site for the Blake Funeral Home, where there's also a guest book visitors can sign:

"Born in Boston on December 7, 1947, son of Herbert Friedlander of FL and the late Edith (Wolf) Friedlander.

"He served his country in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and was stationed aboard the USS Forrestal. He was the original founder of Reason Magazine which is still being published, and today has over 60,000 subscribers.

"In addition to his father, survivors include his stepmother, Eunice Friedlander of FL; his brother, Daniel Friedlander of Silver Spring, MD; two uncles, Sherman Wolf of Amherst, NH and Myron Wolf of Newton, MA; and a cousin, Frances Pastan of Silver Spring, MD.

"His Graveside Service will be held on Monday at 11:15 a.m. at the Massachusetts National Cemetery at Bourne, MA."

All of us at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that grew out of the magazine and publishes this website, extend our condolences to his family and friends.

Our debt and gratitude to Lanny can never be repaid in full but we hope that our efforts at moving the world towards peace and prosperity honor his memory.

Lanny's death naturally puts us at Reason in a reflective mood. The strangest part of it is that, though we're all his heirs and beneficiaries, nobody currently working at the magazine ever met him. It's been that way for a long time. As Virginia Postrel, editor in chief of Reason from 1989 until 2000, told me via email, not only had she never met him, but during her time at the mag, folks didn't even know what had happened to him.

Jesus, how did he so quickly become a ghost at the very mag he'd started? It wasn't due to some sort of Balzacian heist or gothic double-cross that's just as common at magazine startups as it is at Web 2.0 ventures. Though to be honest, there is a bit of Jane Eyre to it. When I began working at Reason in late 1993, I remember asking around a bit about this Friedlander guy who'd gotten the ball rolling, whose name was all over the early issues, right there, at the top of the masthead even. Stories bubbled up that, lacking money and a business sense but possessing great design chops, Lanny had sold the mag to a trio of early contributors (Bob Poole, the first president of the nonprofit Reason Foundation that publishes this website and remains our top transportation guru; Manny Klausner, who sits on our board of trustees; and Tibor Machan, a philospher at Chapman University and a syndicated columnist). He moved to New York and worked with design legend Massimo Vignelli. (Read Poole's memories of Lanny here.)

Then began a long downward spiral familiar to anybody who reads histories of magazines, especially those started in late '60s and early '70s: mental problems, substance problems, health problems, money problems. The old-timers at the foundation and others in the pioneer days of what has become the libertarian movement told me that contact became sporadic and then stopped altogether. We libertarians are pretty lousy at the self-gratifying and self-aggrandizing myth-making that seems to come more naturally to righties and lefties. In the absence of an official mythology, I started thinking of Lanny as libertarianism's answer to Syd Barrett, the mad genius founder of Pink Floyd who got something great started and then couldn't or wouldn't live in the world he did so much to create. Shine on, you crazy anti-draft, anti-tax diamond, wish you were here.

When we opened our D.C. offices a few years ago, I hunted around for a picture of Lanny to put on the walls—libertarians aren't much for shrines to fearless leaders, but come on!—and nobody in the organization could find one. The only one of him I've ever seen was a blurry black-and-white snapshot that had captured him sometime in the late '60s or early '70s, wearing period chunky glasses, wind flapping around what looked to be a combover in the making. We had used it in a video for our 35th anniversary, but even it had disappeared. (And by it, I mean the photo and the video we made!) Without knowing where he was living (or even if he was living), we saved a seat for Lanny at our 35th anniversary bash in L.A. and I prayed that he would show up unexpectedly, like a member of the Lost Battalion finally wandering back home, dust-covered, battle-scarred, and beaten to hell. But finally honored.

He didn't show, of course and alas. It was like he had disappeared, vanished into the ether like a mirage across a huge, hot, shimmering desert. Had he ever really existed in the first place?

Yes, and his legacy hasn't disappeared, whether in terms of magazine design or the world of ideas.

One of his earliest admirers was Louis Rossetto, the co-founder of Wired, the magazine that not only redefined what magazines should look, feel, and even smell like back in the '90s but reshaped our dreams of what the future could be. Louis was a student at Columbia when he first encountered Reason and Lanny. Not long after that meeting, Louis and his compadre Stan Lehr would write one of the great magazine articles of all time: "The New Right Credo—Libertarianism," published in January 10, 1971 edition of The New York Times, of all places. Here's how it ends:

John F. Kennedy, one of the leading reactionaries of the sixties, is remembered for his famous line, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Today, more and more young people are instead following the advice of David Friedman: "Ask not what government can do for you… ask rather what government is doing to you." When Friedman's remark is as widely known and as enthusiastically received as Kennedy's, the libertarian movement will be well on its way toward the liberation of the United States.

Sweet fancy Mises! JFK as reactionary! In 1971, no less! How totally freaking awesome (and accurate) is that!?! That piece not only helped create a still-continuing cycle of stories about how libertarianism is ever-poised to become the hot new ideology of the young and beautiful, it foreshadowed Louis's later, better-remembered pronouncements about the "digital revolution" and "Bengali typhoons." Here's Louis on Lanny:

At the time, Reason wasn't just a magazine of libertarian ideas. For me, it was my gateway to good design, and a refreshing step beyond theory by showing how "free markets and free minds" were relevant to the disruptive events taking place around me. And hell, it was just cool. Weird to say, but for a while when I was a college sophomore, I just wanted to be Lanny. Probably why I got involved in The Abolitionist. So, in some ways, he sent me on one of the grand adventures in my life.

Nearly 20 years after it hit the stands, you still see Wired's design DNA in virtually every publication out there, whether in meatspace or online. Which means there's some Lanny code recombining on the page, behind the scenes. Indeed, even though Louis spends his days now redefining the chocolate business rather than cyberspace, Lanny's spirit hovers above it all, a silent guardian angel.

And at Reason, here we are, 40-plus years on from Lanny's first pronouncement that we would, as he wrote in that gloriously typo-ridden mimeographed first issue, trade in "Logic, not legends. Coherance, not contradictions." This, he thundered as loudly as you can thunder in the fuzzy purplish ink of mimeo, "is our promise. This is the reason for REASON."

As an outfit, we've come a long way from then in terms of circulation, visibility, prestige. Staffers and contributors move seamlessly on to bigger (though not better!) platforms and our opinions are not merely tolerated on the nation's yak shows and op-ed pages but actively solicited. Far more important, the ideals of "Free Minds and Free Markets" are no longer fringe, even if they are everywhere in damn short supply. Libertarian is an increasingly important signifier, both to people who agree with our ideas and people who are scared as hell of a world in which freedom rules. We can debate whether "The Libertarian Moment" is indeed upon us, but it's beyond dispute that our ideas matter more now than ever.

I wish that Lanny could have enjoyed it more while he was here, and I wish to hell that he would be with us as the future unfolds. Thanks to longtime reader and supporter Bob Smiley, we managed to reconnect with Lanny not long ago, and started sending him the magazine at the Veterans Administration facilities he was living at (ardently anti-draft, Lanny had nonetheless served in the Navy during the Vietnam War).

As it happens, Reason's long-time science correspondent, Ron Bailey, received a note from Lanny last December. Ron had written one of his casually brilliant pieces about advances in genomics and how they are lengthening and improving our lives. Lanny dropped him this letter:

To witness a short-termer writing about "the prospects of immortality in the foreseeable future" is heartbreaking enough. But there is a universe of pain and fear and hope and pride encoded in that postscript that is simply too vast and boundless to process.

Lanny, we may have never known you, but we will surely never forget you. You are not only with the magicians now, you were one of them all along.

Nick Gillespie is editor in chief of Reason.tv and Reason.com. He served as Reason magazine's editor in chief from 2000 to 2008. With Matt Welch, he is the author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, which will be published in late June by Public Affairs.