Many people comment – and properly so – on both the intellectual balance and the political astuteness that Bill Bradford brought to the libertarian movement. I want to add more personal observations.
One of the aspects of a legacy that is most difficult to capture is the one-on-one influence created through sheer kindness, enthusiasm, charisma, and other matters of “personality” which cannot be passed down through the printed word. Bill inspired those around him to stay focused on principles, to remain dedicated to liberty, and to keep up their passion for just plain enjoying life. In this regard, he reminded me of Murray Rothbard. I get a twinge of regret every time I realize that modern scholars who study Rothbard’s work will never truly understand his influence, which sprang largely from the energy that flooded each room he entered. So, too, with Bill. As impressive as his preserved words may be – and they are second to none – it is not possible to understand the void Bill leaves without knowing the personal power his presence exerted.
Let me provide merely two memories. On a personal note, Bill was once very kind to me during a difficult period of my life. His spontaneous emails and phone calls of friendship were never sentimental or intrusive; he simply let me know that I was connected to a larger community where I was valued and, perhaps, needed. People overlook the profound effect that such “small” acts of kindness can have on the lives of others. Bill’s daily life was a series of small acts of kindness; I think kindness had become a habitual way of acting but it was easy to miss this under the matter-of-fact brusqueness that Bill presented in his role as a hard-nosed editor and political cynic. No wonder he inspired almost unconditional loyalty from a legion of friends.
On a professional note, I remember a Liberty conference at which I showed him a copy of his magazine’s precursor, Benjamin Tucker’s Liberty (1881-1908). I did so because I had noted a remarkable similarity in the font and format of the Liberty banners that he and Tucker had chosen. A gleam of childlike glee filled his eyes. His delight was palpable and infectious.
I believe that his capacity to enjoy life was the secret to one of the characteristics I admired most about Bill: he never burned out; he just burned brighter. Especially during the terrible months after 9/11, when prospects for freedom
Bill Bradford never burned out; he just burned brighter.
seemed so desperately dim, he never wavered. Liberty and Bill were there. No wonder his contributors affectionately called him “Liberty Bill” behind his back. His kindness may have been well known … but no one wanted to conflict with that acid wit and risk a nickname in return