December 2004 -- Ayn Rand 's ideas inspired many people; one of them was me. When I began reading Atlas Shrugged in the summer of 1964, I had no idea that doing so would change not only my understanding of the world but also my choice of career.
Rand's powerful vision of rationality and liberty hit me at an opportune time. Previously inspired by Barry Goldwater's libertarian-oriented The Conscience of a Conservative, I was in the thick of the student "Goldwater for President" movement. And thanks to MIT's required courses in modern Western ideas and values, I'd been introduced to Aristotle, Locke, Hume, Smith, and Mill (along with many others), and on my own had discovered Friedman, Hayek, and Mises. I was ready for an integrated worldview that explained why I'd never been comfortable being labeled a conservative.
After reading Atlas Shrugged I burned with a desire to change the world.
But more than that, after reading Atlas Shrugged I burned with desire to change the world to be more like Galt's Gulch. Or at least to write about the flaws of statism and the potential of liberty. But I was being channeled into aerospace engineering by an educational system that had been mobilized by Sputnik to win the Cold War via science and engineering.
While ensconced in my first aerospace job, I decided to try my hand at advocacy journalism, researching and writing a long article on why government should get out of the business of regulating airlines. Not knowing where else to submit it, I sent it to a fledgling libertarian monthly called Reason, published in mimeograph(!) by student Objectivist Lanny Friedlander in Boston. It became the cover story of the first typeset and offset-printed issue of Reason. And when it was reprinted in the much larger magazine The Freeman, generating a dozen letters from serious people, I had one of those life-changing moments. Somehow, I was going to move into the ideas business.
It took more than eight years to get to the point of being able to make a living as an advocate of liberty. The first step was joining forces with Objectivist scholar Tibor Machan to buy Reason from Friedlander and run it as a glorified hobby business from my house. I switched from aerospace engineering to policy analysis at a non-ideological think tank, learning how such organizations operate. Finally, in the summer of 1978, we opened the doors of the Reason Foundation, with me as president and editor-in-chief of the magazine. Within a few years, I'd expanded the foundation's scope to include policy studies on privatization and deregulation.
Many factors led to the creation of the Reason Foundation, but the single most important one was the influence of Ayn Rand .
Robert W. Poole Jr. launched the Reason Foundation in 1978 and served as its president until 2001.
This article originally appeared in the December 2004 issue of Navigator magazine, The Atlas Society precursor to The New Individualist.