"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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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.