The magazine would eventually become a glossy publication with a circulation of 50,000, complete with a website that now records four million hits a month. Not to mention Reason.tv, which offers both original broadcasts and archival videos online. But its founder foundered.
An opponent of the draft, he enlisted in the Navy during the Vietnam War, but didn't make it overseas before his illness was noticed and he was discharged. He surfaced in New York, where he found work as a graphic designer and may have driven a taxi, like Robert de Niro's character in "Taxi Driver." He made a pilgrimage to Paris to visit the grave of Jim Morrison of The Doors, but the authorities there sent him home when his behavior grew erratic.
After that, he slipped from sight. Nick Gillespie, who runs Reason.tv, remembers looking for a picture of its founder to hang on the wall when Reason opened its Washington office in 2007. He couldn't find one. Any more than Lanny Friedlander could be found. He was lost in more ways than one. People wondered, when they did wonder about him, if he was dead or alive.
Then, last December, after Reason ran an article about recent advances in genomics -- the study of genes and the mapping of the genome -- the magazine's science editor got a letter from Mr. Friedlander. "I think you should take your thinking one step further," he wrote the editor, "and write about the prospects of immortality in the immediate future. I also wonder if magicians can reverse the effects of old age." The letter ended: "P.S. I started Reason magazine in 1968."
Maybe he'd written the letter from one of the succession of psychiatric hospitals where he would largely spend the rest of his life. Or he might already have moved to the Veterans Affairs halfway house in Lowell, Mass., his last known residence. He resisted taking his medication, saying it slowed everything down -- like a 78 rpm record played at 33 1/3. The trajectory of his final years might be summed up as sad, sadder, saddest.
No more was heard of him till his obituary appeared. ("Lanny Friedlander, 63, of Reason Magazine, Dies"--New York Times, May 7, 2012) Requiescat in pace. At last.
Who knows what contributions such a mind unhindered by his mania might have made to the American political tradition? He might have founded a party of Pure Reason, or become a raging liberal in his old age, or somehow steered past the libertarian shoals and found safe harbor in the traditional conservatism of a Burke or Tocqueville.
Lest we forget, the godfather of American neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, began his intellectual parabola as a Trotskyite at City College of New York. He, too, founded a modest little magazine in his youth.
Lanny Friedlander's one, guiding idea still lives. It is the belief that all the issues in the world can be resolved by pure reason. Without reference to experience, prudence, tradition, custom or what Edmund Burke called moral sentiments. But this great believer in reason had lost his reason. Or rather everything but. To quote Chesterton: "The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. He is the man who has lost everything except his reason."
In the eyes of those who make a cult of reason, politics (and everything else in life) is reduced to a problem in logic, and the answer -- to everything -- should be as clear as a proof in plane geometry. That, too, is a form of madness.