In the history of the modern libertarian movement – roughly, from the 1960s onward – the editorship of Reason magazine has a special emblematic status. That’s largely because Reason has been around since the beginning. In those days, the movement, such as it was, consisted largely of college students and outright teenagers, such as myself, who published innumerable mimeographed “magazines,” albeit with oftentimes printed covers. The titles of these short-lived periodicals — Commentary on Liberty, Invictus, the Libertarian American, and others too numerous to mention – are long forgotten, yet the effects of these spirited and surprisingly sophisticated early efforts are still being felt today – for example, in the very existence of Reason magazine, which was the product and literary culmination of that era.
In any case, the inaugural issue of Reason was, for me, an occasion to remember, because it was the reason for my first long distance telephone call. My mother was in awe of me, and slightly suspicious: Back in those days, after all, a long distance phone call was a big deal: the operator would call, and say “I have a long distance phone for So-and-So,” and here I was, a gangly pimply teenager with a mimeograph machine who knew who John Galt was, and very little else. I could hear her downstairs, asking: “And who’s calling?”[pregnant pause]
“Hey, you’ve got a long distance phone call from Lanny Friedlander.”
Lanny was the guy I’d been corresponding with about his plan to start a new libertarian magazine, one that would be offset printed, and by god not mimeographed. Cool! The movement was reaching a new level of professionalism! I grabbed the phone and the news was good: the mag was coming out next week. A print run of 1,000, and a cover featuring who else but Ayn Rand: a stylized black-and-white drawing printed on gold- colored paper, with the inside pages black on white, and the whole thing stapled somewhat awkwardly together.
Reason went on to improve both its physical and literary qualities, and was soon sold — handed over? — to Bob Poole, who edited it until sometime in the early 1990s, I believe. I had my disagreements with Bob, as did the “Rothbardian” wing of the movement, mostly over foreign policy, but I never expected the mag to degenerate so rapidly under his successors. Virginia Postrel, one of the more pretentious writers around, claimed that her own personal philosophy, which she calls “Dynamism,” is superior to libertarianism, but the real ideological direction of Reason became all too clear when Reason began taking on a distinctly neoconnish air. When the magazine became so boring that not even the funders could stand to read it, they got rid of Postrel and installed one Nick Gillespie, who is the kind of guy who will wear a black leather jacket to his “One on One” interview wih John McLaughlin (!). During Gillespie’s thankfully brief reign, Reason became the go-to place for articles on why we ought to legalize methamphetamine immediately, if not sooner. The mag’s response to the Iraq war: a “debate” in which both pro and anti sides were given equal time. No such equal time, alas, for the opponents of meth legalization — after all, some things just aren’t debatable.
Now those poor abused funders have gotten rid of Gillespie, and installed one Matt Welch, whose career as a “war-blogger” is perhaps a clue to the magazine’s future direction. Who is Welch? Well, here’s how he describes his politics in a blog entry on his personal weblog:
““I’m a liberal. I take liberalism to mean a belief in policy geared toward easing poverty, extending rights to every walking human who hasn’t utterly forfeited them, getting the government out of the morality business, regulating markets judiciously, ensuring the pervasive yet hopefully efficient delivery of non-market goods such as education, health care and national defense, and otherwise having the sense to let the private sector handle private concerns.”
Healthcare and education “non-market goods”? Not according to any libertarian I’ve ever met, but it seems they don’t make libertarians like they used to.
None of this would matter too much, except to us “movement” libertarians, except that, under Welch’s editorship, Reason has been in the vanguard of the campaign to smear Ron Paul. See my debunking of this odious effort here. But Welch hasn’t given up his grudge match: he’s got an editorial in the new issue of Reason raking over the coals of the Ron Paul non-“scandal.” My answer is here.
I’ll leave my readers with this thought: a “war-blogger” who spent his energy attacking critics of US intervention in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, once he’s appointed editor of the premier libertarian magazine, spends his energies attacking the only libertarian in the presidential race — and one who, furthermore, is the most antiwar of all the candidates.
The sad decline of Reason magazine — from a feisty opponent of the Welfare State into yet another neocon mouthpiece — is depressing, but there is an up side: it gives more of a potential audience to TAC, which, however you describe it, is inherently more interesting to libertarians than anything the self-described liberal Welch will ever produce.