Ed Driscoll

'Shine on You Crazy Anti-Tax Diamond'

With Reason Magazine founder Lanny Friedlander passing away at  the all-too-young age of 63, Nick Gillespie looks back at “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!?! The conclusion of 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 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.

Click over for Friedlander’s earlier cover designs; nice to see Helvetica used for something urging the shrinking of government and its separation from business, rather than the reverse.