Choice: The Best of Reason
Liberty's most able foot soldier
By Steven Martinovich
Simply put, Reason is likely the best magazine you have probably never opened. Read by at least 60,000 people each month -- with its web site receiving another 1 million visits each month -- its primary audience is libertarians. It's a political philosophy hated by the liberals for its embrace of laissez-faire capitalism and by the conservatives for its support of what is considered very liberal social policy. In our traditional shorthand of dividing politics along a left-right continuum, libertarians are nowhere to be found.
Yet, as Reason proves every month, libertarians have a great deal to offer to political debate. Alone among the voices that noisily offer intrusive solutions for every perceived societal ill, libertarians focus on one issue: freedom. Instead of looking for more government intervention in our lives, libertarians fight for the right to make your own choices. It is fitting then that a collection of Reason essays has been collected in a volume entitled Choice: The Best of Reason.
There are few, if any, major issues that Reason hasn't addressed at some point and several are represented in Choice. The opening essay, In Praise of Vulgarity, argues that commercial culture -- far from being a pernicious influence -- is valuable for allowing people all over the world in crafting alternate identities. Also tackled are issues that include the war on drugs, urban planning, insider trading, Vaclav Havel's legacy and whether we're over-protecting our children. Several of the magazine's interviews with luminaries like Milton Friedman, Norman Borlaug, Christopher Hitchens and John Stossel are also included.
There are some undeniably powerful essays in Choice, chief among them is Edith Efron's 1992 blistering defence of Clarence Thomas where she accused Senate Democrats of the worst kind of racism for using a sexual scandal to smear the then prospective-Supreme Court justice. Illustrating how sex has long been used as a weapon against African-American males, Efron argued that Democrats unknowingly referenced the "Mythic Black Beast" slur, one that Thomas knew well thanks to Richard Wright's 1940 novel Native Son, a book Thomas has credited as being a major influence in his life.
Alongside such passionate pieces are lighter ones including interviews with comedian Drew Carey and columnist Dave Barry, how the QWERTY keyboard illustrates why free markets work, America's growing anti-defamation industry and why today's copyright restrictions are harming creativity. Unlike many of its grim and humorless peers, Reason has never been afraid of being entertaining while being informative. A marvelous example is its look at Mom and Dad, a once famous sex exploitation movie that outraged many Americans in the 1940s and 1950s with what was essentially a moralistic tale of out of wedlock pregnancy and venereal disease.
If there is a criticism of Choice it's that Gillespie decided to mine only the recent years of Reason in which to compile this collection. It would have been a wonderful treat to read some of the essays that the magazine published in the late 1960s and 1970s when Reason was, in Gillespie's words, "a typo-ridden mimeographed publication." Although Reason never pulls its punches today, a few samples of its early maverick days would have nicely illustrated how the magazine has matured since its launch in 1968 by Lanny Friedlander. That's a relatively minor quibble, however, and leaves Reason to hopefully consider future compilations.
Choice illustrates why Reason is so respected by all sides of the political debate. Although its writers obviously come to the debate with clearly defined principles, Choice's selections show that they and the magazine are not mere dogmatists. A premise is followed to its logical conclusion, along the way building a compelling argument in favour of liberty. It's unlikely -- sadly perhaps -- that a libertarian will be elected president any time soon but Choice argues that the movement nonetheless has a valuable contribution to make.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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