A Sense of Life

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I was 18 and beginning my sophomore year of college. I was still getting settled in my dorm room, so it was a mess. A copy of Liberty lay on the floor near the door. A passerby noticed it, poked his head in the door, and asked if I was a libertarian.

We talked politics well· into the night. He accused me of “jibbering incoherently about autonomy,” and I said he was a spineless centrist. Still we bonded over Liberty, of which we were both fans and subscribers. Bill had introduced me to the guy who would be my best friend for the rest of my college career, yet it would be years before I would meet Bill.

It was this capacity for forging friendships that distinguished Bill from many libertarians. In a movement brimming with tyrants and sycophants, he was a voice of reason and decency. He was able to separate devotion to his principles from personal relationships, and so was able to bring to the same table (or at least the same magazine pages) parties whose ideas would otherwise never meet.

This magazine steadily pushes outward the frontier of liberty, not through careful adherence to a party line, but by seeking the truth and having fun doing it. Liberty has the courage of Bill’s conviction that freedom is right and good. He knew that the progress of liberty is neither retarded by heterodoxy nor helped by adherence to dogma. He knew liberty is most effectively advanced when people of common cause devote their energy to spirited dialogue and practical activism rather than internecine sniping.

In its optimistic, constructive, and inclusive outlook, Liberty is alone not only in the libertarian movement but in the wider culture. As a kid libertarian, Liberty was the only place I felt comfortable cutting my teeth on participation in politics. I knew from the very first issue I picked up that its writers and readers alike countenanced far-out ideas, middle- American values, and everything in between. And it was clear that the editorial voice and vision lent by Bill were overwhelmingly the reason this was so.

With Bill, what you saw was what you got. He could have had his staff screen his calls; it would have been sensible, as he always seemed to have 20 hours worth of work and only eight hours to do it in. But anybody could call the editorial offices and get Bill whenever he was around. If a letter to the editor claimed we’d made a mistake, he checked it out, scolded everyone for it (including himself), and had a correction prepared for the next issue. He was as good as his word and expected others to be the same. I shook hands on several things with him, but never signed a contract.

Most notable about him was his
“sense of life”: Rand would have approved. No matter how busy he was, he would take time to discuss, debate, reflect, or simply impress you with his vast knowledge of … whatever. One minute you’d be putting together a production schedule for the next issue; the next, with or without an evident segue, he’d be talking about the geography of the Pacific Northwest, or his last big motorcycle trip, or this really interesting guy he’d met in Hawaii a decade ago, or comparative numismatics in some island nation you’d never heard of. It didn’t matter whether he’d just arrived at work or was deep into a long day; the intensity in his face and voice, and the zest with which he told the story, were the same. The staff went through about a pot of coffee an hour, all day, every day, just to keep up.

Liberty was an improbable experiment at best. Bill was able to create it and keep it going because he was able to see opportunity where others saw too many obstacles. To see him stay up all night, fighting with Liberty’s aged computers to hammer out a statistics-laden article against a fast-approaching deadline, was a thing of wonder. I feel privileged to have seen it, and regret that I will not see it again.

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