“When I was in college,” explains journalist, author, and speaker Virginia Postrel, “I developed the career aspiration to be the editor of Reason magazine.” Just a few years after graduating, she had accomplished that goal (and much, much more), joining Reason‘s staff in 1986 and then running the magazine from July 1989 until January 2000.
Founded in 1968 by Lanny Friedlander (1947–2011), Reason is celebrating its 50th anniversary by hosting a series of in-depth conversations with past editors about how the magazine has changed since its founding, what we’ve gotten right and wrong over the years, and what the future holds for believers in “free minds and free markets.”
No one has had a more profound intellectual and journalistic influence on Reason than Postrel. During her tenure, Reason.com was launched in the early days of the web revolution; Reason was a four-time finalist for National Magazine Awards, the highest honor in the industry; and Ronald Bailey, Brian Doherty, Jacob Sullum, Jesse Walker, and I all joined our masthead. Postrel became one of the leading public intellectuals of her generation, publishing her first book, The Future and Its Enemies, in 1998. Since leaving Reason, Postrel became a pioneer in blogging; served as a columnist for The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal; and published The Substance of Style (2003) and The Power of Glamour (2013). She is, in the words of Vanity Fair, “a master D.J. who sequences the latest riffs from the hard sciences, the social sciences, business, and technology, to name only a few sources.”
In this wide-ranging discussion, Postrel lays out how her vision of the magazine differed from her predecessors’ and talks about how many of the issues that dominated her tenure—immigration reform, trade and regulatory policy, the biotech revolution—remain front and center in public discourse.
She also speaks to the strengths and limits of libertarian thought. “A lot of libertarians like to imagine that we can start with a clean slate…and have what I call ‘libertarianism as algebra,'” she says. “But that’s not how society works. We’re all embedded in history.”
Envisioning Reason as “a mainstream intellectual magazine with an unusual point of view,” Postrel explains, “I wanted Reason to be part of a long and deep and broad and complicated classical liberal tradition stretching back through thinkers, not just 20th century thinkers like Friedman and Hayek…that stretches back not only through those kinds of thinkers but also through the Scottish Enlightenment people, Smith and Hume.”
She also discusses her next book, “whose working title and I think final title is The Fabric of Civilization. It is about textiles, technology, and trade from prehistory to the near future.” She says the book allows her to explore topics ranging from human nature to history to computer code.
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