Free Minds & Free Markets

35 Heroes of Freedom

Celebrating the people who have made the world groovier and groovier since 1968

"Things are a lot groovier now," declared former reason Editor-in-Chief Robert W. Poole back in 1988, on the occasion of reason's 20th anniversary. During the magazine's first two decades, he pointed out, all sorts of political and cultural changes had occurred, most of them unambiguously for the better. The Vietnam War was history, stagflation had been vanquished, and technology that enabled everything from cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars to automated teller machines to videocassette recorders had vastly improved everyday life. As important, "numerous personal freedoms we take for granted were very tenuous in 1968." By 1988, the women's movement had revolutionized the home and workplace, gays were out of the closet for good, and the acceptance of other alternative lifestyles and generally rising standards of living had created a far looser, more liberated society.

No one could have predicted that the next 15 years would be the freest in human history (or that most of us would acknowledge such phenomenal progress with little more than a shrug). Half a billion people or more have escaped the gray hand of totalitarian communism, and the percentage of people living in poverty is declining worldwide. The Soviet empire is kaput, and so are the Cold War proxy battles that poisoned relations around the world. South Africa's revolting apartheid system is no more, and South America, though a basket case in many ways, boasts mostly democratic governments. Globally, economic freedom is on the rise, bringing with it an invigorating, intoxicating mix of goods, people, and cultures. Scientific breakthroughs continue to enrich lives, alleviate suffering, and improve the environment. The digital revolution has given rise to new means of expression, commerce, and community.

The ideas that have always animated this magazine -- that the good society is one in which people are as free as possible to pursue happiness on their own terms; that economic and civil liberties are indivisible; that markets and borders and societies should be open and that governments should be limited; that there is no one best way to run a country, a business, a family, a life -- have moved from the fringes of the debate to the center, in some cases even becoming the conventional wisdom.

While there is no shortage of threats to life and liberty -- from international terrorism to poverty-inducing trade barriers to the deadly war on drugs -- these are indeed high times for a magazine devoted to exploring the promises of "Free Minds and Free Markets." For all of its many problems, the world we live in is dizzying in its variety, breathtaking in its riches, and wide-ranging in its options. Malcontents on the right and left who diagnose modernity as suffering from "affluenza" or "options anxiety" will admit this much: These days we've even got a greater choice of ways to be unhappy. Which may be as close to a definition of utopia as we're likely to come.

What follows is reason's tribute to some of the people who have made the world a freer, better, and more libertarian place by example, invention, or action. The one criterion: Honorees needed to have been alive at some point during reason's run, which began in May 1968. The list is by design eclectic, irreverent, and woefully incomplete, but it limns the many ways in which the world has only gotten groovier and groovier during the last 35 years.

Direct angry responses about obvious omissions and mistakes to

John Ashcroft. If Donny and Marie Osmond were a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll, the current attorney general is little bit J. Edgar Hoover and a little bit Janet Reno. Whether it's prosecuting medical marijuana users, devoting scarce resources to arresting adult porn distributors, or using tax dollars to create USA PATRIOT Act propaganda Web sites, Ashcroft has managed to create an unprecedented coalition of conservatives, liberals, and libertarians around a single noble cause: the protection of civil liberties.

Jeff Bezos. The world's greatest bookstore may yet go belly up, but Amazon's founder has revolutionized commerce and made all hard-to-find tomes easier to track down -- especially if you live 1,000 miles from the nearest B. Dalton's. Now he's doing the same with clothes, toys, electronics, and more. His Segway enthusiasm notwithstanding, Bezos runs a company that consistently leads the pack in collaborative software, customer service, recommendations, you
name it.

Norman Borlaug. The "father of the Green Revolution" is one Nobel Peace Prize winner (1970) who fully deserved the honor. Not only did he help raise crop yields in the developing world so that literally billions of people didn't starve, he remains an outspoken critic of environmentalists who attack the biotechnology that will help wipe out world hunger, of international development programs that often do more harm than good, and of kleptocrats who fill their own stomachs while their citizens starve.

Stewart Brand. By introducing the Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, he helped give birth to the most individualist wing of the hippie counterculture. "We are as gods," the first issue announced, "and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory -- as via government, big business, formal education, church -- has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma...personal power is developing -- power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the Whole Earth Catalog." A couple decades later, he helped create one of the first great Internet communities, the Well.

William Burroughs. Along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, a member of the Beat Holy Trinity that helped to irrevocably loosen up Eisenhower's America. Not only is his fiction (Junky, Naked Lunch, Nova Express) relentlessly anti-authoritarian, he proved that you can abuse your body in every way imaginable and still outlive the entire universe.

Curt Flood. The Moses of free agency in professional sports, the star St. Louis Cardinals outfielder started the process that led to athletes' getting paid something close to what they're actually worth. While he never personally made it to the Promised Land of fan-alienating fat contracts, his principled martyrdom helped all American workers to finally shrug off the Organization Man mentality.

Larry Flynt. Where Hugh Hefner mainstreamed bohemian sexual mores, hard-core porn merchant Flynt brought tastelessness to new depths, inspiring an unthinkable but revealing coalition between social conservatives and puritanical feminists -- and helping to strengthen First Amendment protections for free expression along the way.

Milton Friedman. The 91-year-old Nobel Prize-winning economist didn't just co-author Free to Choose, the book that pumped up Arnold Schwarzenegger's mind. He's brought libertarian ideas both to a mass audience and to the elite ranks of policy makers, helped to end the draft and discredit wage and price controls, popularized the privatization of schooling and pensions, and made criticism of the war on drugs respectable.

Barry Goldwater. The iconic Arizona senator offered "a choice, not an echo" in his laughably doomed 1964 presidential campaign. He bridged the tradition of Western individualism with the then-barely-glimpsed future of Sunbelt anti-governmentism, inspiring later revolts such as California's Prop. 13. Though he might have used nukes in Vietnam, he more likely would have pulled out; he also helped convince Nixon to resign. A maverick to the end, he even supported gays in the military.

F.A. Hayek. He mapped the road to serfdom during World War II and paid a steep price -- decades-long professional isolation -- for daring to suggest that social democracy had something in common with collectivist tyrannies of the right and left. The economist-cum-philosopher lived to see his arguments vindicated by the failure of the Third Way and even took home a Nobel Prize in 1974. Building on the work of that other great Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, and combining a respect for inherited wisdom with an understanding that freedom is fundamentally disruptive, Hayek showed that the uncoordinated actions of individuals generate wonders -- market prices, language, scientific progress -- that the deliberate designs of central planners never could.

Brian Lamb. The Great Stone Face of C-SPAN has produced more must-see TV than anyone else in the history of the medium. There's no reason to pick a favorite among the likes of Booknotes, Washington Journal, and all the other C-SPAN fare, but his greatest contribution may well be his first: turning a surveillance camera on the den of iniquity known as the U.S. House of Representatives.

Vaclav Havel. Havel demonstrated definitively that the simple act of speaking truth to totalitarians, while being willing to suffer the consequences, is more potent than a
thousand tanks. He pushed artistic boundaries, defended the right of rock stars to be filthy, helped engineer the most magical of the Communist-toppling revolutions, and then remained an influential moral voice long after his regional counterparts faded away.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

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  • ||

    I don't get the Larry Flynt. Just because someone exercises a specific freedom doesn't make them a "hero of freedom." He's and advocate for federal funding of Planned Parenthood and even did a gag about S.E. Cupp, saying that she "read a little too much Ayn Rand in high school."

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    You probably haven't read the editorials in Hustler then.

    Flynt is a true (for) freedom fighter.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    And he's probably not going to read your comment either, since his was made almost 2 months ago

  • Almanian!||

    I ONLY buy "Hustler" for Flynt's editorials.

    *aside to CampaigningInYourPark - are there REALLY 'editorials' in Hustler? WHO KNEW?*

  • Cylar||

    Why is Reagan missing from this list? The man who did more than anyone else to get rid of Soviet communism? Thatcher made the list but he didn't? Huh?

    Why is Ashcroft included? The citations of his contributions to freedom sound backhanded and sarcastic. Either the list is sincere, or it isn't. Consistency please.

    Ted Turner is just another media figure who cozies up to dictators and calls for government imposition of population control. His CNN network has proven to be little more than an apologist for Democratic presidential administrations. Hardly a key nominee for freedom.

    Ron Paul is an isolationist loon who thinks the US should turn its back to the plight of suffering people in other countries, even to the point of ignoring the American interest sometimes inherent in helping them. His unnecessary presence in presidential elections has done much to help elect socialist candidates by helping to water-down the Republican vote.

    He's a 9/11 "Truther" and has legions of deranged followers...some of them bitter racists. His 20 years in Congress have produced absolutely no notable legislation passed into law, save for a couple of public buildings erected in his native Texas. For someone who's apparently a hero to so many, he seems to have remarkably few concrete accomplishments. Thankfully, he's retiring and his son Rand seems to have more sense and less loopy fans.

  • sarcasmic||

    His 20 years in Congress have produced absolutely no notable legislation passed into law

    Why is that a bad thing? Show me a "great accomplishment" by a politician and I'll show you lost liberty, increased debt, and more interference in our daily lives by government assholes.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    You forgot "Go fuck yourself"

    All of Cylar's complaints about The Good Doctor are features, not bugs.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    Soviet communism got rid of itself for the reasons laid out by Mises 70 years before: without a price system and ecosystem, centrally planned economies can't distribute goods efficiently. Reagan solidified massive federal budgets and defense spending, took the next step in continuing American intervention in the ME, embraced gun control, and in general was a friend of cronyism and empire building. That he managed to tame the inflation beast is notable, but it's difficult to see him as a friend of individual freedom.

    Your Ron Paul fulmination isn't even worth commenting on. To the slagheap with you, last month's troll.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Soviet communism got rid of itself for the reasons laid out by Mises 70 years before

    No, Reagan most definitely sped it along. There is ZERO evidence of WHEN it would have collapsed under it's own weight and plenty to believe it would have been quite some time, considering it was being basically subsidized by the West.

    Ronald Reagan should be at the very top of the list.

  • CE||

    You expect libertarians to demand consistency? Oh, wait...

  • Dave's not here||

    You have to read between the lines to figure this out. He's included because he was so reviled that the backlash against him created the coalition noted in the article.

  • TJ Boz||

    How in the world can you include Margaret Thatcher on this list? Ask the people of Derry if Thatcher was "Hero of Freedom". Gross.

  • Acosmist||

    Is this some Irish terrorist apologism? I just want to know why precisely it sounds so stupid. If so, cool, I know to ignore it.

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  • TJ Boz||

    The universe is just an illusion to you isn't it?

  • Goldwin Smith||

    So how is this post any different from a neocon claiming that any article on "blowback" is terrorist apologia?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I'm going to guess the four people on that cover. Margaret Thatcher, Madonna, Herman Cain and the guy who played John McCain in Battlestar Galactica.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    How could you put Zimmerman on the list??!!!! #justicefortrayvon

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  • Goldwin Smith||

    So why did Thatcher make the list and not Reagan? It's not like either of them were all that libertarian.

  • TJ Boz||

    Yeah. The editors seem to have forgotten about Thatcher and her Bloody Sunday while at the same time honoring the Tiananmen Square martyr. Wow. SMH.

  • Goldwin Smith||

    What Bloody Sunday are you referring to? I'm not sure what sort of role she played in 1972 beyond being a member of Heath's cabinet.

  • TJ Boz||

    I'm referring to the Bloody Sunday when Thatcher used alien technology to implant chips in the people of Ireland.

  • Goldwin Smith||

    Well I think calling it "her Bloody Sunday" implies that she had a direct role in it which I'm not sure of since she was Education and Science Secretary at the time.

  • TJ Boz||

    I know. Thank you for playing.

  • Goldwin Smith||

    Trying to get a rise from the reasonoids who hate the IRA now aren't you?

  • TJ Boz||


  • Drake||

    1988 - Ahh. As good as it got in my lifetime.

    HW Bush took over a few months later and began rolling back Reagan's modest reforms and raising taxes. It has been an accelerating slide towards totalitarian shit-hole ever since.

  • Almanian!||

    1988 - the year I (finally) graduated from college. It's been mo' money, mo' money, MO' money ever since.

    No thanks to the government at any level. The pricks.

  • Drake||

    Year I graduated too. It's been mo' money alright.

    If you told me then that my family income would be well-over 200k, I'd have been thrilled. Until you explain how much would be sucked up by taxes, kids, gas, heating, etc... and that I would still be fairly broke (other than 401k and home equity - so on a day-to-day basis).

  • Almanian!||


  • CE||

    Me too actually.

  • Nazdrakke||

    as it got in my lifetime.

    Drake is undead?

  • Drake||

    Just realistic.

  • Nazdrakke||

    On a positive feedback note, reading Heinlein as a teen definitely put me on the libertarian track. Of course, perhaps it was just meant to be, as I'm named after a character from his books.

    oh, and, Ashcroft? WTF?

  • Raven Nation||

    On Ashcroft; I remember someone arguing that the man most responsible for the economic boom of the 1990s was James Carville b/c he pissed off almost everyone (D & R) in DC in the first six months. So no one wanted to work with the administration, nothing got done & the economy could take care of itself.

  • Almanian!||

    John Ashcroft? Huh. not the first one who jumped to mind.

    Les Paul? I love the old dead guy, but....freedom? Hmmm.

    And this is why I hate "Top 10", "Best Of" and other lists.

  • CE||

    Shouldn't Ron Paul be numbers 1-34, and Ronald Reagan get one vote at number 35?

  • skunkman||

    William Burroughs? My gosh man. The dude murdered his wife! He is far from a hero of of freedom. Now if you want to start a list of useless wastes of skin, he has my vote.

  • Takagi Wei||

    No one could have predicted that the next 15 years would be the freest in human history (or that most of us would acknowledge such phenomenal progress with little more than a shrug).

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