I’ve been a libertarian activist since the age of 16 or so—long before the term libertarian became known and widely used by the general public.  Indeed, when I announced my conversion to parents, friends, and associates I distinctly recall a number of them saying something to the effect of “Gee, I didn’t know the librarians had their own party!”

Well, we didn’t have a political party or, indeed, much of an organization, at least not in any substantial sense: We were just a bunch of kids with mimeograph machines (yes, it was that long ago), and our main means of communication was publishing what would today be called fanzines—and, of course, letter-writing (another lost art).  The names of these publications are fated to be lost to history.  Commentary on Liberty (put out by David F. Nolan and Don Ernsberger, of Philadelphia Young Americans for Freedom) was our very own New York Times, where news of “the movement” and various opinion pieces on strategy and tactics were eagerly debated, but there were many others: The Innovator (a “retreatist” zine, which advocated “dropping out” of “statist society,” long before Tim Leary popularized the hippie slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out”), and various journals devoted to endless reiterations of the philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand, including my own, The New Radical.  (Only one issue appeared, but it was a doozy.)

The two major influences on us young libertarians were Ayn Rand, whose novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were The Answer, as far as we were concerned, to all of life’s problems, and Barry Goldwater, whose 1964 campaign for the presidency gave me my first dose of political consciousness.  Rand had always disdained politics, regarding an effort to change the prevailing liberal-collectivist consensus as premature: It was, she said, “too early” to engage in politics, because the issue was “philosophical.”  That didn’t sit well with us, and with me in particular.  After all, for someone who said “mine is a philosophy for living on earth,” it seemed to me that Miss Rand’s concerns were suspiciously abstract and even otherworldly.

Goldwater appealed directly to our need to do something, and I distinctly recall listening to the Arizona senator give a televised address—it must have been a paid advertisement—the content of which I mostly ignored, until he uttered a word that made me prick up my ears and pay attention.  The word was freedom, embedded in the phrase “the freedom of the individual.”  I sat there rapt, taking in every word, and then traipsed down to the local Republican headquarters, eager to sign up for The Cause.

There I met members of the John Birch Society, who took me into their confidence and told me that the local Republicans would have nothing to do with Goldwater, and so the task of campaigning for Barry had fallen to them.  I visited the home of a local Bircher, the mother of one of my schoolmates: The poor guy was much embarrassed by his mother’s activism on behalf of the JBS, which had established a noisy presence in our little liberal suburb.  His mother took me under her wing, furnishing me with numerous pamphlets, which I found impressive by their sheer quantity.

I was most impressed, however, with the vitriolic response to the Goldwater candidacy, especially in the local media.  Extremism!  Fascism!  Right-wing zealotry!  It seemed the whole world was against Barry—and to a young libertarian like myself, who saw the world as a generally hostile and irrational place, this was confirmation enough of the slogan we Goldwaterites heartily embraced: “In your heart, you know he’s right.”

I recall reading in The Innovator a letter from someone named Murray Rothbard, whose books I had heard about but not yet read, which consisted of a sustained attack on Goldwater as a vicious warmonger whose election would lead to World War III.  What?  How could he say such a thing!  And what does a mere economist know about it, anyway?  I dismissed the letter as crankish nonsense, little knowing that I would later—years later—come to agree with every jot and tittle.

Many of us were members of Young Americans for Freedom, the conservative youth group set up by Bill Buckley to bamboozle the underage set into supporting the Cold War and the mildly reactionary domestic program advanced by National Review, which we young libertarians read from cover to cover with a very critical eye.  But there was, as yet, no “real” libertarian magazine, one that published regularly and was read by pretty much everyone in the movement.  That is, until Lanny Friedlander, a student at Boston University with whom I had been corresponding, wrote to tell me he was starting a magazine that would actually be printed, not mimeographed, and he had decided to call it Reason.  Naturally, the cover would feature a photo of Ayn Rand.

I waited, impatiently, for the first issue to arrive, and when it didn’t I wrote Lanny: What is going on?  Where is it?  A week or so later I received my answer in the form of a long-distance telephone call from faraway Boston.

Now you have to remember that long-distance phone calls were a Very Big Deal back then.  The operator would ring you up and announce, “You have a person-to-person long-distance call from so-and-so, in such-and-such a place.”  She would then ask your name.  My mother had naturally answered the phone, and when the operator asked for me, the parental alarm went off.  “You have a long-distance call from someone named Lanny Friedlander,” she said, eyeing me suspiciously, as was her wont.  “Why is he calling you?  Who is he?”

“He’s the editor of Reason magazine, Mom!” I said, grabbing the phone.  Breathlessly, Lanny told me the good news: The magazine would be out in a week!  And the cover was going to be fantastic!

It arrived in the mail soon enough, and our movement was launched.  We were going to achieve “Freedom In Our Time”—yes, that was our slogan, imbued as we were with the impetuous optimism of youth.

Looking back on all that today, I can say that this slogan still energizes and inspires me, and that I believe it—or want to believe it—with the same intensity and dedication that moved me as a boy of 16.  And what astonishes me is that, with the upcoming presidential campaign of Sen. Rand Paul—our Robert A. Taft—it just may become a reality.