In Memoriam: R.W. Bradford

In Memoriam: R.W. Bradford

March 16, 2006

Death closes so many books that are still being written. A book that was closed over the holidays was the Bill Bradford volume. Bill was the editor of the magazine Liberty.  Bill was a friend and a tireless warrior for liberty itself.  The magazine was Bill’s creation (and will now continue under the leadership of Stephen Cox). David Friedman and others have called Liberty the conscience of libertarianism. It was.  If you’re not a subscriber, you should be. (To subscribe, write to Liberty Dept. L, P.O. Box 1181, Port Townsend, WA 98368 or call 1-800-854-6991.) 

My recollections of Bill deal mostly with his enthusiasm for challenging the conventional wisdom, for documenting the case for economic liberty, and for pushing all of us who knew him to put into writing some of our better thoughts. His ability to tease more out of us than we thought was there—to edit it into a manuscript that we wished we had written—was wonderful. I first floated my ideas on values-based communication as a Liberty editor (I was one of the many whom Bill persuaded to take on that role). My article, “Traitors to Our Class,” allowed me to explore my thoughts on the problems that the intellectual class’ love affair with collectivism has created for our cause. There I also began to discuss how we might still prevail. My view—then and now—is that we must reach out to those holding egalitarian ideas.

Every month, Liberty includes a section called “Reflections,” which deals with short thoughts on whatever item might interest the movement. It is an exciting part of the magazine and includes thoughts that later blossom into full-fledged articles. The major articles include wonderful pieces by key thinkers in the libertarian movement. A lot of my raw ideas first appeared there.

Bill located the magazine in one of the most remote areas in America, Port Townsend, Washington. His belief—which those of us in Washington, D.C. understand all too well—was that a bit of distance from the short-time, pragmatic focus of politics was necessary for serious thought. He was probably right, but by creating a forum for those of us entrapped in the shallow world of Washington, he created a place for our hopes and our deeper thoughts. 

Bill was a bit of an idealist. Unlike many of us, he never gave up on the Libertarian Party, although he was one of its harshest critics. He deplored party leaders’ petty infighting, yet found solace in the slimmest statistical evidence that our ideas were beginning to influence elections. And he continuously pushed for a LP that would seriously seek to reach the millions of Americans who espouse libertarian values but vote for conventional candidates. He made the case for a Club for Growth well before that group’s founding.  And, like the renowned socialist Norman Thomas, his hopes have had far more success in the broader world. 

Bill’s faith, hope, and confidence that friends of liberty would put aside their quirkiness, their egos, their zero-sum thinking, and combine into the force that he knew we could be was wonderful. On many occasions, he argued for a meeting of all friends of liberty. His belief was that, if we could ever create a movement rather than a balkanized band of fellow travelers, then the war for liberty would advance much more rapidly. I and others tried—and his summer meetings in Washington State and elsewhere did move us in that direction. Perhaps his dream of unity will some day be realized. As I joked with him, the trouble with libertarians working together is obvious: If two libertarians agree, each one knows the other has sold out!

Liberty, the magazine, is a great creative force. It allows the raw concepts that are essential if we are to prevail, to gain attention, to reach the activist core. Liberty was, and I trust will remain, a testbed for the ideas of liberty. I never wrote as much on these topics as I wish I had or should, but I wrote  much more because of Bill’s requests and friendship. I understand he noted that he suggested an epitaph: Bradford Dies, Liberty Lives! It certainly sounds like him—that bequest should be honored.