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Nick Gillespie is the editor-in-chief of Reason.com and Reason TV, the online outlets of Reason, the nation’s foremost lib­er­tarian mag­azine. From 2000 to 2008, he served as Reason editor-in-chief, winning the 2005 Western Pub­li­ca­tions Asso­ci­ation “Maggie” Award for Best Political Mag­azine. The Daily Beast named Gillespie one of “The Right’s Top 25 Jour­nalists,” calling him “clear-headed, brainy, and among the foremost lib­er­tarians in America.” He spoke at Hillsdale College on March 19.

How did you come to lib­er­tar­i­anism? What’s your story?

I would say it was a couple of things. One is that I when I was in high school, my brother went away to college and started reading “Reason” mag­azine. He started sending it home to me, and I thought it made sense. I was always anti-authority. And also I stumbled across a copy of “Free to Choose” by Milton and Rose Friedman that my parents had. I started reading and I thought, this is like a secret history of how things really work and nobody’s talking about it. It rang true with me. By the time I got to college, I called myself a lib­er­tarian.

Who are your main intel­lectual influ­ences?

People like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek are cer­tainly up there. Leslie Fiedler, who is a lit­erary and culture critic. Also people like former Reason Editor Vir­ginia Postrel, my pre­de­cessor, had a massive impact on me. These were people who were engaging the world with a bias toward liberty, and fig­uring out what works.

Hayek or Mises?

I would have to say Hayek. What I like about Mises is his axiomatic beliefs about certain things, but what I prize about Hayek is his emphasis on the limits of knowledge. This seems to be a really important concept that is con­stantly for­gotten by people in charge.

What do you see as the primary policy goal of lib­er­tar­i­anism?

Things that move us toward decen­tral­ization of power. The way I used to talk about it when Windows was still a dom­inant oper­ating system is that the way a com­puter operates, what you want is an oper­ating system that allows as many dif­ferent apps to run at the same time without crashing the system. That’s what clas­sical lib­er­alism really does.

How do you think lib­er­tar­i­anism as a third party helps achieve those goals?

I’m not par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in elec­toral pol­itics. Where I think public choice eco­nomics is hugely important is what it asks is not simply what the rhetoric of people is, but what are the outcome of their actions. In that way, it gets to what actually matters as opposed to people sprin­kling magic words. It’s amazing how much slack people will give if you say the right words as you’re repressing them.

Lib­er­tar­i­anism is a pre-political attitude. It can inform you if you’re in the Repub­lican Party or the Demo­c­ratic Party or the Lib­er­tarian Party. It can express itself in a lot of dif­ferent ways, like through Jimmy Carter, who is the great dereg­u­lator of the American economy, not Ronald Reagan. He dereg­u­lated inter­state rail­roads, trucking, air­lines. That all hap­pened under Jimmy Carter and he was abetted in it by people like Milton Friedman. Lib­er­tar­i­anism is an impulse, not a set of beads on a string.

Another con­tro­versial person here is Ayn Rand. What do you think of her message?

I’m not a devotee of Ayn Rand. But what stands out about Ayn Rand is that she and Jack Kerouac are the only fiction authors from the 1950s who still have mass audi­ences that sell hun­dreds of thou­sands of copies a year and rock people’s worlds. Many of the ques­tions that she raised are still rel­evant today. She probably had as big of an effect on the left as on the right, fore­grounding indi­vid­u­alism. One of her char­acters says “I’ll never live for another person,” and, on a certain level, that’s grotesque for anybody who is a parent. On another level, saying that in a world of big gov­ernment and big business, that’s a pow­erful statement.

Do you think Rand Paul should be pres­ident?

I don’t think anybody should be pres­ident. I think Rand Paul is the most inter­esting politician to come on the national scene in a very long time.

Hillary Clinton just endorsed gay mar­riage. What do you think is the future for that issue?

I think gay mar­riage is over as an issue. When you look at public opinion polls about gay issues, the moral appro­bation toward the issue has faded. The larger ques­tions are: what is the con­nection between the state and indi­vidual choices? It’s as big of a deal as it is because the state is involved in bestowing certain ben­efits such as tax incen­tives. I think what we’re starting to see is that if you want to live in a society that is truly plu­ral­istic and tol­erant, and that doesn’t mean everyone agrees every lifestyle is morally valid, but just tol­erant, then we have to start shrinking the scope and the size of the state. The state should rec­ognize all people as equal.

The title of your talk is “Tonight you’re young, tomorrow you’re unem­ployed.” What should young people do pro­fes­sionally and per­sonally to handle this?

Stu­dents today are much more pro­fes­sional than they used to be. That’s mostly a good thing, but often there’s a sense that every­thing has to be pro­gram­matic. I think I ben­e­fitted ulti­mately from not being like that; it was just the world I was born into. The best thing you can do is rec­ognize that you should live your life as a work of art. You should do things that are inter­esting to you. You should follow what you find inter­esting and figure out how to pay for it.