Libertarian History/Philosophy

Remembering Tibor Machan

One Reason co-founder remembers another.


I first came in contact with Tibor in 1969, after listening to his radio show on KPFK in Los Angeles. He had a 15-minute weekly commentary on this left-wing Pacifica-affiliated station, at a time when the left was somewhat more tolerant of diverse views. He impressed me with his coherent and insightful observations about liberty, delivered in his robust voice. I contacted Tibor, and we quickly became friends.

At the time, I was a litigation lawyer at a mid-sized Los Angeles law firm. I had become a libertarian at NYU Law School, in the early 1960s, after studying with Sylvester Petro and Ludwig von Mises (who taught at the NYU Graduate School of Business) and becoming acquainted with Murray Rothbard, who was then working on his magnum opus, Man, Economy & State.

There was an embryonic libertarian movement, barely visible to the general public. During that period, there were several small-circulation libertarian magazines, mostly short-lived. Tibor asked me if I'd like to come to Santa Barbara to meet Bob Poole to talk about taking over a magazine called Reason.

At the time, Tibor was a doctoral student in philosophy at UCSB. My wife, Willette, and I drove to Santa Barbara to meet Tibor and Bob and their wives.

Although none of us had any professional journalism experience, both Bob and Tibor had published articles in Reason. The magazine had several hundred subscribers, but its Boston University student-founder, Lanny Friedlander, had no assets to fulfill their subscriptions. Tibor and Bob asked if I'd help them to take over the magazine. I was delighted to join with them. We formed a partnership to acquire Reason from Lanny in 1970, and we began publishing the magazine in California in 1971, in addition to our full-time professions.

We were all young and highly motivated, and we were all libertarians. Tibor and Bob were more influenced by Ayn Rand, while Mises and Rothbard were my mentors.

Tibor gave me excerpts from Atlas Shrugged to read. Although he was a devoted admirer of her work, Tibor had been "excommunicated" by Rand in the 1960s for a letter he sent to her to clarify a question he had. But he kept in contact with Nathaniel Branden, who actively marketed Rand's work and developed an international movement for her philosophy of Objectivism.

Tibor arranged to interview Branden for Reason in 1971—a significant journalistic achievement, because it was Branden's first public statement after his dramatic split with Rand in 1968. We actively promoted the Branden interview, and this led to a major increase in new subscribers for Reason.

At the time, no one had any sense of "the libertarian moment." Rather, it wasn't unusual to be referred to as a libertine—and I was once even mistakenly introduced as a librarian.

Tibor, Bob, and I made a unique team. As a philosopher, a systems engineer, and a lawyer, we each worked well together from our cross-disciplinary backgrounds. Coincidentally, all three of us had done graduate work at NYU.

Tibor contributed mightily to the moral arguments for liberty, a significant aspect of Reason from the beginning. Mutual respect and collegiality were key components of our team, and we all learned a lot from each other.

Tibor had a passion for the color orange, well-known to his friends. He always wore orange socks, and his car, an elegant Volvo P-1800, was, of course, painted orange.

Tibor was kind, generous of spirit, and he thoroughly enjoyed ideas. He was a prolific writer and an energetic speaker—and although English was not his native language, Tibor was remarkably eloquent in English.

Tibor played less of a role with Reason after the three of us founded Reason Foundation in 1978, but he continued to participate in a variety of ways. Tibor and I stayed in contact, and we periodically dined together.

Tibor was a visiting professor at Franklin College in Switzerland in the mid-1980s. He had a sense of adventure, and he once drove five hours from Lugano to meet me and Willette for a memorable lunch at Fredy Girardet's acclaimed restaurant in Crissier (near Lausanne).

In a little-known chapter of his career, I retained Tibor as an expert witness on business ethics in a hotly-contested case in federal court in the 1980s. His analysis of the duties owed by employers to their employees helped lead to a successful resolution of the case for the bank I represented, which had hired a group of mortgage bankers from another bank.

Tibor had an international network of friends, professional colleagues, former students, and admirers—and an exceptional family. He left an impressive legacy of work. His keen mind, his warmth, his passion for ideas and for life, and his friendship will be missed.