Works to Help Non-Libertarians Understand Libertarianism:

A student of mine writes with this question:

I consider myself to be a classical liberal (free trade, freedom of expression, freedom of religion ...)with an exceptionally large bleeding heart (there is no excuse for having hungry kids or the mentally ill out on the streets), but I am trying to understand what it means to be a libertarian.

So this is a law student who has not previously been exposed much to libertarianism and would like a good and serious, but somewhat accessible, introduction to libertarian thinking. I thought of Nozick (perhaps too arcane for the general reader) and Hayek (perhaps too economic and nonresponsive to this person's interests). And there are plenty of works, of course, that cover more specific questions, such as voluntary provision of charity or public goods.

This is a question I get on a fairly frequent basis, and one for which I am usually flummoxed for an answer. So I figured I'd throw it out to readers, as I suspect many of you might have works that you recommend as particularly useful to somebody looking to understand libertarianism better.

I'd be especially interested in hearing from non-libertarians about works that you may have found especially useful in helping to understand libertarianism from an "outsider" perspective (even if you obviously did not find yourself to be persuaded) in the end).

While you are at it, please feel free to add any personal recommendations you may have for "Conservatism for Non-Conservatives" or "Liberalism for Non-Liberals" as well.

Sarah (mail) (www):
I still haven't met a "serious" Book on Libertarianism that I think works well; I have my friends read Anthem and talk about the ideas in it afterwards. It's short, it's mostly about basic principles, and hey, dystopian novel(la)s rock.
2.3.2006 10:19am
asdf (mail):
I would recommend reading the following blog maintained by a staunch libertarian:

It's an extraordinary blog.
2.3.2006 10:19am
BossPup (mail):

How abnout Boaz's book "Libertarianism: A Primer"? From what I understand, the book is a general introduction into libertarian thought, but is written in a fairly accessible format. Alternatively, you could recommend something from Richard Epstein. Of his works, I would probably go with Skepticism and Freedom. As it is a defense of classical liberalism, it might not be accessible to someone who doesn't yet get the basics.

Of course, you could always go with the Incredible Bread Machine by RW Grant, but that might be a bit too simplistic.
2.3.2006 10:20am
Oh my word (mail):
Cowboy Capitalism is a book I have recommended in the past. It compares European-style big government welfare programs to free market orientations such as the United States. It demonstrates how, in the long term, so many of these well-intentioned programs are bad for the top and bad for the bottom and create serious problems of dependency, cultural withering, and, ultimately, sustainability. It is written to address the concerns of a bleeding heart who sees a place like Sweden as a more utopian situation. The conclusion is that places like Sweden have probably done themselves irreparable harm.

It's the best book I know for that, and while it has a lot of numbers, it's a short read--maybe 150 pages--and written to be generally accessible.
2.3.2006 10:20am
Steve Donohue (mail) (www):
Charles Murray's "What it means to be a libertarian" is a good place to start. Thorough, yet not doctrinare.
2.3.2006 10:20am
I think a law student can handle Nozick. I'd also recommend reading Nozick in conjunction with one of his prominent critics, such as Jonathan Wolff.
2.3.2006 10:28am
BC (mail):
Ayn Rand's Virtue of Selfishness or Harry Browne's Great Libertarian Offer. Both good, easy introductions...
2.3.2006 10:29am
David Sucher (mail) (www):
I am always puzzled by 'isms' which start with the ism itself rather than simply emerging out of a series of specific propositions.

For example, when confronted with a novel situation, I often hear an 'ism-ist' ask "Well what is the ----- position?" rather than "Well what makes sense here?"

I call that leading with ideology.
2.3.2006 10:35am
I would suggest Give Me a Break by John Stossel, which goes through his personal transformation from liberal to a more libertarian point of view
2.3.2006 10:37am
I was also going to suggest "The Virtue of Selfishness."

I am not a big L Libertarian, and would not go as far as Rand, but am something of a small l libertarian.
2.3.2006 10:40am
Nevermind (mail):
Actually, Boaz's Libertarianism: A Primer is OK, but reads a bit like a Libertarian Party tract to me: hopelessly naive. Much better is the "Libertarian Reader" which he edited around the same time. It's a wonderfully varied mix of readings, ranging from the Tao Te Ching all the way through very modern stuff. Nozick is in there, so is Locke, Mill, Adam Smith, and other stuff you'd expect, but it also has excerpts from Mencken, Frederick Douglas (on self-ownership), and a number of other surprises. Definitely the best thing I've ever found on the origins of libertarian thought.
2.3.2006 10:44am
alkali (mail) (www):
I would recommend Oakeshott's "Rationalism in Politics" to anyone. Whether it is more libertarian or conservative I cannot say.

For "liberalism" -- by which I assume you mean the strain of political thought that runs roughly from Roosevelt to LBJ to the modern Democratic Party -- I would suggest Thomas Geoghegan's books "Which Side Are You On?" and "The Secret Lives Of Citizens," and any collection of Michael Kinsley's columns ("Big Babies" is a good one).
2.3.2006 10:54am
The student's issue is that he or she is "trying to understand what it means to be a libertarian." I'm not sure that a book on libertarianism is necessary to address that. It seems to me to be sufficient to say: In contemporary American politics, "Libertarianism" = Classical Liberalism. I tend agree with David Sucher and would add that it seems a bit neurotic and navel-gazey when people want to read up on their own beliefs. However, I still haven't figured out whether a political philosophy should be the result of or the source of one's positions on specific issues.
2.3.2006 11:02am
As a nonlibertarian, I found Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" very helpful and enlightening.
2.3.2006 11:06am
M (mail):
Jonathan Wolff's _An Introduction to Political Philosophy_ is an excellent general introduction that covers some of the basic arguments for most of the main political approaches. (His book on Nozick, noted above, is also excellent.) I'd guess that any decent law student should be able to handle Hayek's Constitution of Liberty, though of course Hayek is not a libertarian if that word is to have any meaning distince from classical liberal, since Hayek supports significant poor relief, probably a negative income tax, etc. His arguments are also different from those normally associated with libertarianism (no 'natural rights' stuff.) John Keke's _Against Liberalism_ is a good introduction to conservative though that doesn't require you to swallow the Catholic church (Like Kirk) or some completely unconvincing arguments about norms, tradition, etc. like Burke or Oakshott. (This _A Case for Conservativism_ is less good, I think.) For "high" liberalism Wolff's book above is perhaps the best, though it can't hurt to go right to one of the sources and read Mill's _On Liberty_. Some of the more distinctly political essays in Dworkin's _Taking Rights Seriously_ (especially "Liberalism") would also be good, and the whole book is worth reading for a law student.
2.3.2006 11:08am
Jeff Bergman (mail) (www):
An interesting book for these purposes would also be Jonathan Rauch's "Government's End." Rauch is not a committed libertarian, but he understands and sympathizes with its critique of the welfare state. His book is a great journalistic account of rent-seeking in Washington by organized interests, with substantial use of public choice theory to support his observations. May not explain libertarianism from a theoretical standpoint, but it *will* show what gets libertarians all riled up.
2.3.2006 11:11am
Juan Non-Volokh (mail) (www):
I've had Todd's question quite a bit too. OF the above mentioned works, I think the Murray volume and the Liberatarian Reader edited by David Boaz really work the best. If you want to go truly old school, I'm a fan of Humboldt's The Limits of State Action. Humboldt was exceedingly influential on the thought of J.S. Mill (who was, in my opinion, a fairly derivative and unoriginal thinker). For novels, I think Heinlien's Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is more interesting and nuanced than Rand's Anthem.

For people who want to understand American conservatism (whether or not they are themselves conservatives), George Nash's The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 is an indispensable intellecutal history, but it may be more than some want. One of the things that makes it valuable is that it shows post-war American conservatism is anything but monolithic, and was much more small-l libertarian than it is today. As an alternative, George Carey edited a volume, Freedom and Viritue, for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute which is also quite good. It largely reprints of essays by leading conservative thinkers, and it focuses on the debate within American conservatism on the nature of freedom and the extent to which the state should concern itself with questions of morality.

Peter Berkowitz also edited two small volumes for the Hoover Institution -- Varieties of Conservatism in American and Varieties of Progressivism in America -- that are handy primers on the current debates within both the left and right.
2.3.2006 11:12am
VC Reader:
I read David Boaz's Libertarianism and found it informative and accessible.
2.3.2006 11:18am
Michael Wade (mail) (www):
As a former student of yours, Prof. Zywicki, two books that stand out as complementary to the GMU curriculum are:

(1) "The Joy of Freedom: An Economist's Odyssey", David R. Henderson -- very easy to read; great introduction to libertarianism; basically describes the author's own discovery of small-l libertarianism and offers several, easy to understand, real life examples of freedom at work.

(2) "Capitalism and Freedom", Milton Friedman -- This is a bit more in depth and esoteric than "Free to Choose", but it is still very understandable, especially by someone studying law and economics. Whereas "Joy of Freedom" is adheres more to Austrian economics, this book is pretty mainline Chicago-style.
2.3.2006 11:19am
C (mail):
Ditto on the Charles Murray, David Boaz, and Milton Friedman books. I can also recommend The Economic Way of Thinking, by Paul Heyne, et al., and Beyond Politics, by William Mitchell and Randy Simmons
2.3.2006 11:30am
GregC (mail):
I agree with Steve Donohue that a bleeding heart should begin with Charles Murray to learn more about Libertarianism. After all, it was Murray's "Losing Ground" that, along with Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Department of Labor report "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," made the combined moral/intellectual case for welfare reform long before it was politically respectible.

I come from a "big labor" family of coal miners and steel workers (Go Stillers!), so I can sympathize with your student. I took many years before I was convinced that libertarian policies would be better than central planning (or government "steering" as the current vouge has it) for ordinary, working class people. And Murray and Moynihan's arguments played a central role in that transformation by making it clear that government, even when it means well, can often make real problems much much worse.

Perhaps most compelling to me, though, has been the public choice literature. Though there are many from which to choose, I find that "Beyond Politics: Markets, Welfare, and the Failure of Bureaucracy," by William Mitchell and Randy Simmons, is an easily accessible and relatively slim volume that makes a good introduction.

I also often recommend to novices Milton Friedman's "Bright Promises, Dismal Performance" and "Capitalism and Freedom," though I know many Friedman fans prefer "Free to Choose."

Finally, I very strongly recommend for those who have not studied economics a series of short essays by economist Ronald Nash called "The Economic Way of Thinking" that appeared in what used to be called the Freeman (later, Ideas on Liberty, and now The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty). The first in the series of seven or eight can be found here:
2.3.2006 11:34am
Free guy:
Libertarianism by John Hospers is one of the best introductions. Hospers was the first Presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party in 1972, and he is an emeritus Professor of Philosophy. Below is a link to the page of his book:
2.3.2006 11:38am
chris fountain (mail):
I'd go with your first two - Road to Serfdom and Anarchy, State and Utopia. I read them both in college before rotting my brain by practicing law for the past 20 years. If your student hasn't spent too long in class, he should still be able to handle both authors.
2.3.2006 11:40am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I was going to suggest Charles Murray's What it Means to be a Libertarian also. It's a nice, soft introduction to libertarianism; capital-L Libertarians would probably think he's soft on statism, but for those of us small-l libertarians, it's a good starting place.
2.3.2006 11:42am
Tim DeRoche (mail) (www):
As a bleeding-heart liberal in college, FREE TO CHOOSE was the book that did it for me....because it's a very compassionate take on libertarianism.
2.3.2006 11:47am
Tom Anger (mail) (www):
I recommend Arnold Kling's Learning Economics, which is available on the web, here. But I would like to deal directly with the student's implied question, which seems to be how the "less fortunate" would cope under a regime of liberty.

The student implies that there is a tension between liberty and what he or she might call "fairness." The idea seems to be that some kids are hungry and some mentally ill persons are homeless because . . . because what? Because persons who are not hungry or homeless have taken food and health care from the hungry and homeless? No, that can't be the answer, if you understand that the economy isn't a zero-sum game.

Perhaps the hungry are hungry and the homeless are homeless because those who are "more fortunate" aren't paying enough taxes to provide for our "less fortunate" fellow citizens? On the contrary, taxes (and regulations) stifle economic growth, which benefits everyone who is willing and able to work. That includes the parents of children who might otherwise go hungry. That includes persons who are prone to mental illness but who would have greater access to health care, given a job and/or health-care benefits.

So, a regime of liberty would actually be to the advantage of most of the "less fortunate" among us. The "least fortunate" would benefit from private charity, which is stifled by the present regime, which I call the regulatory-welfare state.

For more about the effects of the regulatory-welfare state on the general welfare, go here. For evidence that taxation suppresses private charity, go here and read to the end.
2.3.2006 12:00pm
Article III Clerk:
Excellent and accessible primers on conservatism include John Kekes's A Case for Conservatism and the companion book, Against Liberalism; Robert Nisbet's Conservatism: Dream and Reality is among the very best.
2.3.2006 12:00pm
how about recommending a subscription to Reason? I would describe my political leanings the same way your student does and have found the magazine to be very insightful and thought provoking. Also, its nice to see a different take on the issues of the day rather than reading a book that might be decades old. But I think all these books are great recommendations too.
2.3.2006 12:02pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
May be as fiction is doesn't qualify as "serious", but Atlas Shrugged has to be mentioned.

Perhaps it qualifies as "serious" if you actually read the "This is John Galt speaking" section.
2.3.2006 12:06pm
djd (mail):
Isabel Paterson's God of the Machine is old but solid. More philosophical but still accessible is David Schmidtz's essay in Social Welfare and Individual Responsibility.
2.3.2006 12:24pm
Nevermind (mail):
I'd forgetten about Bill Mitchell and Randy Simmons "Beyond Politics." Also a good selection. Bill passed away recently, by the way. Those of us who knew him will miss him. His obituary and a link to an online guestbook can be found here.
2.3.2006 12:28pm
Ari Indik (mail):
In addition to echoing the recommendation for "The Libertarian Reader" and a subscription to Reason, I'd recommend the compendium "Choice: The Best of Reason." I got it free with my subscription a year ago, but I'm not sure if they're offering it anymore.
2.3.2006 12:34pm
Aaron Brown (mail):
As a 1st year law student, I too would recommend Boaz' Libertarian Reader. I have read it in its entirety once and find myself going back to it often. I also enjoy reading Friedman when I have an opportunity, though those damned law professors have significantly reduced those opportunities! I also think reading Schumpetter (sp?) is advisable to put all of the plant closings one hears about in the news into perspective.
2.3.2006 12:36pm
Lowell R. (mail):
The ultimate "bleeding-heart libertarian" work has to be Mary Ruwart's "Healing Our World" (an earlier version is available online somewhere).

"Liberalism for Non-Liberals" -- Any sociology textbook. I won't go into a higher-education rant, but... you know. Or, if you want something under $90, try Mulhall's "Liberals and Communitarians," as non-philosophers probably consider the latter a subset of liberals, and the latter seems much more popular nowadays in theoretical circles anyway.

"Conservatism for Non-Conservatives" -- Anything by Gertrude Himmelfarb, or Russell Kirk's "The Conservative Mind."
2.3.2006 12:38pm
Knox Harrington (mail):
For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto by Rothbard is fantastic. I would also suggest Liberty Against Power by Roy Childs, Jr., Omnipotent Government by Mises, Moral Principles and Political Obligations by A. John Simmons, and the usual cast of characters like Locke, Mill and Constant for a more classical approach. Beyond Politics is excellent but for those who don't want such an emphasis on Public Choice go to Liberty Fund or Laissez Faire books and see if you can find something in the general interest section - H.B. Acton or some more Mises perhaps?
2.3.2006 12:52pm
To understand the reason that people are/become libertarians, I was best served by reading Atlas Shrugged. Friedman and Hayek have explained WHAT it is wonderfully, but I think you need to understand WHY first.
2.3.2006 1:05pm
Kovarsky (mail):
"no government except for tanks and lighthouses" by, uh, i forget.
2.3.2006 1:15pm
Null Hypothesis (mail):
I teach political science, and use R.J.Rummel's "Power Kills: Democracy as a Method of Nonviolence" to introduce students to how the KIND of government matters in both foreign relations and internal politics. Of great importance is Rummel's discussion of how society (and government) is based on coercive power, authority power, or exchange power. Focusing on this last form is a great intorduction to libertarianism, with lots of good theory, but also the tremendous empirical point that libertiarian societies are least likely to kill their own citizens (what Rummel calls democide..which introduces another of his books: Death by Government).
2.3.2006 1:16pm
Matthew Regent:
I began my own political evolution as a Perotista centrist, then became a Republican and a conservative, then realized I didn't really fit with many of the contemporary definitions of conservative. When I was a college freshman in 1997, I began to read Locke's writings on natural rights and property rights and realized that I was actually a classical liberal, but that our left-right spectrum in modern American politics had shoved me into the "conservative" corner.

As such, I think Locke is a good start for our big-hearted classical liberal law student.

I also don't think he's alone in his ideas. I think our generation (are we X or Y? who knows) is largely comprised of classical liberals with a conscience, those who believe in a basic leave-us-alone governmental temperment, but who also want the state to facilitate those functions that the marketplace isn't so good at, like making sure everyone can get basic medical care when needed, or ensuring that class mobility is present via universal access to education, which has always seemed to me essential to any functioning meritocracy (with the alternative being a society in which capable poor kids have no way of becoming marketable due to an inability to attend university, which would hurt both them and the market as a whole).

That's the fundamental fallacy of "big L" libertarianism. Less governmental interference does not always lead to a more efficient marketplace because sometimes the marketplace is made inefficient by other, nongovernmental factors. A good example of this can be found in the early 20th Century, when big business began to monopolize, which screwed up the market, and the government had to do MORE, not less, to make the market work efficiently again by breaking up the monopolies that were corrupting the market.

But I digress. Point is, check out Locke and go from there.
2.3.2006 1:33pm
Henry Woodbury (mail):
I would mention P.J. O'Rourke's Parliament of Whores, just in case all the serious stuff bogs the guy down.

IMHO, I can't imagine recommending Atlas Shrugged to a bleeding heart. Really, I can't imagine recommending that bloated, tendentious, melodrama to anyone. I don't doubt that Rand has many insights, but Atlas Shrugged represents the kind of ideology I like least: separatist, anti-democratic, utopian. When I read it, long ago, it made me not want to be a libertarian.
2.3.2006 1:52pm
eddie (mail):
I would like to know when libertarianism became synonymous with conservatism?

Did I miss that day in class?
2.3.2006 1:58pm
John Wismar:

I don't think they're synonymous at all. What has happened in the US, IMO, is that libertarians and conservatives have formed a coalition of convenience. In particular, fiscal libertarians caucus with conservatives due to overall agreement on economic policy issues. They tend to disagree with conservatives on social issues, but consider those issues secondary or, in many cases, not the purview of the Federal government in the first place.
2.3.2006 2:26pm
Anthony Sanders (mail):
If you want a to-the-point explaination of freedom nothing beats Frederic Bastiat, including "The Law" and other essays of the time. Short and convincing. Your student could read them during class at
2.3.2006 2:39pm
anonymous coward #2:
I'd recommend a basic theories of justice reading list split between books oriented more towards the classical liberal end and the modern liberal end:

The Principles of Morals and Legislation - Jeremy Bentham

Utilitarianism - John Stuart Mill

Anarchy, State and Utopia - Robert Nozick

A Theory of Justice - John Rawls

Spheres of Justice - Michael Walzer

Justice, Gender, and the Family - Susan Moller Okin
2.3.2006 2:41pm
Definitely "Free to Choose." Lots of concrete examples of good intentions + force = bad results, which is perfect for educating the bleeding heart.
2.3.2006 2:50pm
Neal Lang (mail):
It seems to me to be sufficient to say: In contemporary American politics, "Libertarianism" = Classical Liberalism.

Not quite! I was having a hard time deciding on a "self-defining" answer as to just which political/economic philosophy best describes my beliefs. Typically I bounced back and forth between "libertarian" and "conservative" until I read an essay by Gregory M. A. Gronbacher, Ph.D, at the time he was Director of the Center for Economic Personalism Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty entitled: Catholic and Classical Liberal or Why I am not a Modern Liberal, Conservative, or Libertarian. From Mr. Gronbacher I determined that I was, in fact, a Classical Liberal.

Some mutually acceptable definitions of terms is necessary before one can began to discuss their "political/economic philosophy". To that end I offer the following definitions which find to be adequate for discussion purposes from: Dictionary of Key Terms for a Free and Virtuous Society
CLASSICAL LIBERALISM: A term used to describe a political philosophy commonly held in nineteenth-century England and France but now undergoing a renaissance in the United States. Classical liberals advocate free markets, a vibrant array of nongovernmental institutions (such as civic groups, schools, churches, etc.), and minimal tax-financed government services. Classical liberals firmly believe that both persons and property should be protected from physical harm. They also emphasize the strict enforcement of contracts. Classical liberals, following Lord Acton, consider liberty to be the highest political value but not to the point of becoming a worldview. Examples of classical liberal thinkers include Frederic Bastiat*, Lord Acton*, Alexis de Tocqueville*, John Locke*, John Stuart Mill*, and Friedrich Hayek*.

CLASSICAL ECONOMIC THEORY: Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, best represents the school of classical economic theory. Classical economists were occupied mostly with the production of capital. These economists determined prices for goods not by consumer demand, as we do today, but by how much an item cost to produce (natural price theory). Because the science of economics began about the same time as modern natural science, the classical economists frequently employed scientific and philosophical ideas in their writing. Key thinkers include Adam Smith*, David Ricardo*, and John Stuart Mill*.

ECONOMIC PERSONALISM: (see Personalism) Economic personalism is a new body of scholarship that attempts to integrate the principles contained in Christian social thought with the accomplishments of contemporary economic science. Economic personalists seek to produce an economy that is truly humane, one worthy of human dignity. Such an economic arrangement would have to not only respect human freedom, individual choice, human creativity, and the right to market initiative, but would also have to generate wealth.

PERSONALISM: (see Economic Personalism) Personalist philosophy analyzes the meaning and nature of personal existence. Yet it acknowledges the mysterious character of human existence. This recognition, however, does not eliminate the possibility of investigating the mystery, but it does affirm that no theory or set of insights can ever fully explain human life. The human person is an infinitely complex subject.
A distinct feature of personalist philosophy is that human dignity and the intrinsic value of persons are revealed in human experience. Personalist philosophers maintain that experience ought to be the starting point for the philosophical analysis of the person. Reflection upon experiences accents the unique aspects of being human, namely, consciousness and freedom. Personalist philosophers view persons as active beings with awareness of their environment, not unmoved, abstract, or rational entities. Key thinkers include Emil Brunner*, Pope John Paul II, Emmanuel Mounier*, Martin Buber*, Max Scheler*, and Gabriel Marcel*.

AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS: Austrian economics is a school of economic thought founded with the publication of Carl Menger's Principles of Economics in 1871. Austrian economists believe that economics is a science of timeless and universally true propositions regarding how human beings fulfill their needs and wants through social cooperation given scarce resources. The Austrian school has several identifiable tenets including methodological individualism (see Individualism), economic value subjectivism, and strong opposition to government intervention in the market. It is often thought to be the economic "ideology" of conservative and classical liberal thinkers (see Classical Liberalism). One reason for this identification is because of its individualistic and anti-statist features. Another is due to the central role it attributes to private property in the market system. Key thinkers who followed Menger include Ludwig von Mises*, Eugen Boehm-Bawerk*, Friedrich Hayek*, Murray Rothbard*, and Israel Kirzner.

CAPITALISM: Capitalism can be described as a free-market system of economics. Economic liberty is the cornerstone of the free-market system. Economic liberty entails freedom from unnecessary government intervention in the market place, legal protection of private property, and the freedom to buy and sell almost anything at any time.

Free-market thought has its origin in several sources including the work of the French physiocrats, the late Scholastics, and the British classical economists, notably Adam Smith. Classical economics (see Classical Economic Theory) later developed into various schools of economic thought. Three prominent schools include the Austrian school, the Chicago school, and the Virginia school (sometimes called the Public Choice school). The single defining characteristic unifying all three schools is a tireless defense of human liberty, particularly, economic liberty. Forceful admonitions against direct government involvement into the economy unites every free-market economist regardless of background and theoretical viewpoint. Free-market economists agree that, while the intentions of government may be honorable, intervention disrupts market processes by curtailing liberty and spontaneous development. Key thinkers include Adam Smith*, Ludwig von Mises*, Friedrich Hayek*, Milton Friedman, Wilhelm Roepke*, James Buchanan, Gary Becker, and Michael Novak.

CONSERVATISM: Although the term conservative can mean many different and often contradictory things depending on the context, it is generally a description of an outlook or disposition that is traditional. The word "traditional" may simply refer to a political or social attitude, or to a more or less well-defined set of political policies designed to preserve traditions (moral, political, cultural) inherited from the past. It is important to note that conservatives' defense of the traditional does not simply stem from the fact that it is old, but that it is somehow true. Conservatives support this claim by appealing either to the moral values of Christianity or to natural law (see Natural Law). Conservatives resist change. They stress the limits of human reason, and regard human nature to be tainted by sin. Today's usage is often associated with such terms and concepts as family values, the political right, and the Republican party. Key thinkers include Edmund Burke*, Russell Kirk*, Richard Weaver*, and Leo Strauss*.

NATURAL LAW: A philosophy that understands morality (see Morality) to be universal, objective, and derivative from human nature. Reasoned reflection upon human nature yields rules or laws of conduct for moral behavior. Natural law undergirds man-made positive law because it is rooted in the nature of humankind. The natural law tradition is a theistic system. It precludes any contradiction between revelation and reason because God, who authored the Ten Commandments, also designed human nature. Formative influences were Aristotle*, Cicero*, St. Thomas Aquinas*, Franciscus Suarez*, Hugo Grotius*, Henry Veatch, and John Finnis.

MORALITY: Morality is any intellectual system which tries to explain right and wrong. Strictly speaking, morality deals only with the realm of human actions and intentions. The key to understanding any moral system is to identify what determines or acts as the standard of right and wrong. For Christians, it is the Scripture and natural law (see Natural Law). For relativists, it is either societal trends or individual preferences.

Religious liberals, such as Lord Acton, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Frederic Bastiat, consider a virtuous citizenry to be an essential component of a free society. Typically, however, secular liberals regard morality (and religion) as an exclusively private and personal matter. It is up to each individual to decide upon his own moral code. According to secular modern liberals, the government may only insist that individuals refrain from violence and theft, and honor all freely entered contracts. From the classical liberal perspective, the objective, rational, and cross-cultural moral norms of Christianity provide the basic understanding of virtue.

NEO-CLASSICAL ECONOMIC THEORY: Neo-classical refers to a modern school of economic thought that has sought to sever classical economic theory (see Classical Economic Theory) from the philosophy of natural law (see Natural Law) and to restate it in terms of strait mathematics. Distinct features of neo-classical theory are the concepts of methodological individualism (see Individualism) and the subjective theory of value. Key thinkers include Thorstein Veblenx*.

INDIVIDUALISM: The term "individualism" has a great variety of meanings in social and political philosophy. There are at least three types that can be distinguished: (1) ontological individualism, (2) methodological individualism, and (3) moral or political individualism. Ontological individualism is the doctrine that social reality consists, ultimately, only of persons who choose and act. Collectives, such as a social class, state, or a group, cannot act so they are not considered to have a reality independent of the actions of persons. Methodological individualists hold that the only genuinely scientific propositions in social science are those that can be reduced to the actions, dispositions, and decisions of individuals. Political or moral individualism is the theory that individuals should be left, as far as possible, to determine their own futures in economic and moral matters. Key thinkers include Ludwig von Mises*, Friedrich Hayek*, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick, John Locke*, and Herbert Spencer*.

LIBERTARIANISM: A term used to describe a political philosophy closely related to classical liberalism (see Classical Liberalism), yet evolving from different philosophical roots. While there are festering controversies among libertarians, all writers share a common commitment to the efficiency and freedom-enhancing nature of the market, private property, the rule of law, and the sovereignty of the individual. Libertarians evaluate political systems on the basis of how well they respect human liberty. Liberty, for libertarians, means that a person is free to the extent that his choices and actions are not impeded by laws and institutions. Libertarians strongly object to the legal regulation of immoral practices such as abortion, sale of pornography, and drug use. They consider any voluntary, uncoerced exchange between individuals to be acceptable. Key thinkers include Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick, Rose Wilder Lane*, Ayn Rand*, and Murray Rothbard*.

MODERN LIBERALISM: A term used to describe a political philosophy with progressive cultural and political viewpoints. Modern liberals are not always hostile to the free market, but they do think that if left to itself the random nature of the market will produce poverty and inequality. They argue that state action is necessary in all areas where human welfare is at risk, including direct government assistance, pensions, unemployment insurance, and health care. Liberals actively lobby for social change through political and legislative means. Their motivation for proposing radical reforms usually stem from a perceived violation of justice, fairness, or a sense of social equality. Today's usage is often associated with such terms and concepts as legal activism, government regulation of the economy, and the redistribution of wealth. Key thinkers include John Kenneth Galbraith, Upton Sinclair*, John Rawls, Reinhold Niebuhr*, and Walter Rauschenbusch*.

FREEDOM: Freedom has at least four meanings. The first is a metaphysical sense having to do with the will. In this sense freedom is the ability to self-govern. Classical liberals speak of a second kind of freedom a notion of negative freedom. Negative freedom is freedom from restraint and coercion. It is linked to individualism (see Individualism) in that the concept implies a personal or private sphere of action in which individuals can do as they wish by being free from external restraint. A third sense of freedom is the Christian understanding. Christians accept that freedom is the power to choose the good. A person is only free to the extent that he can live a life of virtue. This is contrasted with a fourth sense of freedom, namely, license. Most modern liberals think of liberty as license. License means the ability to do whatever one pleases with very few restrictions and without regard to any objective moral code. An important note: liberty is the right to exercise choice, free from coercive state regulationis necessary for virtue. But virtue is ultimately necessary for the survival of liberty. Key thinkers include Frank S. Meyer*, Leonard Read*, and Rose Wilder Lane*.

LIMITED GOVERNMENT: The idea that government is not all-competent. Government is one social institution among others having its own distinct sphere of responsibility and authority. The tendency of government is to assert regulatory authority beyond its proper bounds. Limited government was an essential idea undergirding the founding of the American republic. The framers of the Constitution, who had experienced first-hand the tyranny (see Tyranny) of the British monarchy, reckoned that it was imprudent to endow one branch of government with supreme power. They reasoned that unless authority was distributed equally among different branches of government, fallen human nature would eventually cause leaders to become tyrants. As Lord Acton wrote nearly a century later, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Key thinkers include John Jay*, James Madison*, Alexander Hamilton*, Thomas Jefferson*, and John Adams*.

TYRANNY: A form of government where a single ruler is vested with absolute power. The defective version of monarchy (see Monarchy, Statism, and Totalitarianism). Any absolute and oppresive power. Infamous tyrants include Mao Tse-Tung*, Adolf Hitler*, and Joseph Stalin*.

MONARCHY: Literally government by a monarch or sovereign, such as a king or emperor, who has supreme power over a realm. Key contemporary advocates include Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.

STATISM: Generally, a program or viewpoint that looks to the state for resolution of social and moral problems, rather than to individual effort. Specifically, a condition where the nongovernmental institutions of a society develop an overextended and unhealthy reliance upon political structures for the solution of problems. Statism stands in direct violation of the principle of subsidiarity (see Subsidiarity, The Principle of) and sphere sovereignty (see Sphere Sovereignty). Statists believe that the resolution to social problems should be obtained through legislative measures.

TOTALITARIANISM: This is the view that any institutional separation between the state and nongovernmental organizations (such as churches, private hospitals, civic groups, charities, etc.) must be eliminated. Totalitarians insist that all the major institutions of society should be directed by the state (see Statism). Key political movements include Italian Fascism, Nazism, and Communism.

SUBSIDIARITY, THE PRINCIPLE OF: A principle from Catholic Social Teaching but with correspondences to American federalism (see Limited Government) and the Dutch Calvinist concept of sphere sovereignty (see Sphere Sovereignty) which views society as comprised of various networks of natural mediating institutions (such as family, neighborhoods, churches, voluntary organizations, the free press, among others). Each of these institutions has natural functions, responsibilities, and obligations. For example, families raise children, churches provide moral and spiritual guidance, and so on.

Subsidiarity teaches that the higher or more complex social structures (such as government) should not interfere unnecessarily in the affairs of the lower social structures (such as the family). Unnecessary interference from the higher structures robs the lower structures of their natural functions. Over time this interference can cause the breakdown of the mediating institutions in a society. If breakdown occurs politics will replace private association as the infrastructure of society.

Subsidiarity does allow for the interference of higher institutions in the affairs of lower ones in situations of crisis, emergency, or when they are not capable of being self-sufficient. However, when such interference occurs it should be specifically focused, limited, temporary, and seek to reestablish the institution's self-sufficiency.

SPHERE SOVEREIGNTY: A principle of Reformed Christian social ethics, usually associated with the thought of Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper*, that identifies a number of God- ordained creational spheres, which include the family, the state, culture, and the church. These spheres each have their own organizing and ruling ordinances, and each maintains a measure of authority relative to the others. Just social and political structures, therefore, should be ordered so that the authority of each sphere is preserved (see Limited Government and Subsidiarity, The Principle of).

STATE, THE: An extremely confusing and complicated term throughout the history of political philosophy. The role and significance of the state in social and political life is the single most important issue dividing liberals (see Modern Liberalism) and conservatives. Liberals employ the coercive power of the state to correct, what they regard, as the inequitable distribution of goods and services caused by the market. Conservatives think of the state as an organism that serves to maintain the unity and integrity of society. However, if the state extends its reach too far into the activities of individuals it will threaten the well-being of the social fabric. Contemporary writers generally provide a definition of the state that describes those features which distinguish it from other social institutions. They distinguish between the state and law. All societies have rules of some kind that regulate behavior, but the agency (state) used to enforce the rules varies between societies. The modern state is distinguished by the public nature of its rules, its centralized authority, its fixed geographical boundary, and its use of coercive power.

Let the discussion begin!
2.3.2006 2:53pm
Cynicus Prime (mail) (www):
Definitely don't start with Atlas Shrugged for a bleeding heart. It's more likely to put liberals off such ideas. I'm almost done with it myself for the first time, and while I have fallen madly in love with it, my socio-political evolution had already progressed to a point where I could accept it.
Being new to this sector of the political spectrum, I can't suggest much else. My own philosophy merged parts of things I picked up through the years. I started out genetically Republican as a teenager, voted for Nader in my first election, and now I use "J GALT" as my name on NTN trivia when I visit a Buffalo Wild Wings or Bennigans. Go figure.
Back to the subject at hand... If your target has a devilish sense of humor, I might suggest a Bill Hicks CD or two. While the late comic has shades of anarchism and communism in his rants, his fundamental axiom is libertarian: "What business is it of yours what I do, read, buy, see, say, think, who I fuck, what I take into my body – as long as I do not harm another human being on this planet?"
2.3.2006 2:56pm
TheHat (mail):
I agree: free trade, freedom of expression, freedom of religion. Wonderful. I would add: freedom from government oppression in the support of social programs. In other words: Get your god damn sticky fingers out of my wallet!
2.3.2006 3:04pm
ericvfsu (mail):
Here's a potential Jeopardy question.

Answer: Michael Oakeshott and Ayn Rand are authors recommended for introductory reading on this subject.

Question: What is Libertarianism?
2.3.2006 3:08pm
DrawingDead (mail) (www):
You may want to direct him to the Liberty Fund, who has an excellent library of largely libertarian classics. A lot of stuff that's otherwise tough to find is there.
2.3.2006 3:13pm
ericvfsu (mail):
Oakeshott's Rationalism in Politics is conservative to the core. Not to say that it champions conservatism as practiced here in the U.S. I would describe Oakeshott's politics as conservative in demeanor and skeptical. His work is very difficult to distill in a few sentences, but I can assure you that it does not champion nor will it in any way elucidate Libertarianism.

Ayn Rand is essentially a polemicist. And polemicists and pamphleteers have their role to play in our society, but serious explanation of political thought is not that role. If you want to fire this person up, convert him, repulse him, or just give him a little something to think about then have him read Ayn Rand. However, it sounded to me like he was asking for serious reading.
2.3.2006 3:24pm
JF (mail):
Only two calls for Nozick thus far, so I have to give another vote for Anarchy State and Utopia
2.3.2006 3:41pm
For a deeper understanding of modern liberalism, I would recommend Karl Popper's "Open Society and its Enemies".
2.3.2006 3:55pm
Chip Smith (mail):
Believe it or not, I recommend Walter Block's Defending The Undefendable. By limiting his examination to the extreme cases that reflexively come to mind in objection to libertarianism - slumlords, blackmailers, misers, private roads, child labor, etc. - Block's pithy book serves as a great crash course as well as a kind of litmus test of the reader's feelings on questions of force and freedom.
2.3.2006 4:22pm
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):
Are we making any distinctions between 'Classical' Liberalism and Libertarianism? To my mind, however their sympathies may coincide, the philosophy as outlined by thinkers like Hayek and even Friedman to a degree are of a different species than those of Nozick &Rand.

Also, I think the diffuculty of picking out books on "Modern Liberalism" is that 'Welfare-State' Liberalism ultimately owes the same debt to thinkers like Mill, Locke, Popper &dare I say Hayek that Classical Liberals do. Certainly more to them than the likes of Richard Rorty.

I would say my favorite 'Liberal' book is 'Liberty' by Isaiah Berlin; a book that affirms the superiority of 'negative' rights over, 'positive ones and objects to the totalitarian impulse while still retaining an understanding that "Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs." As he put it.
2.3.2006 4:27pm
Guest2 (mail):
I like Atlas Shrugged, but I agree that it has a lunatic quality that makes it, in its entirety, not the best choice for a bleeding-heart seeker. However, I would strongly recommend that this student, or anyone with bleeding-heart communitarian leanings, read just Chapter 10 in Part 2 of Atlas Shrugged (entitled "The Sign of the Dollar"). It contains the tramp's story of what happened when the owners of the Hammond Car Company tried to run it along altruistic lines. It can sound facile in summary, but it's immensely powerful the way Rand spins it out. In my experience, that chapter does the best job of expressing the why of libertarianism.
2.3.2006 4:28pm
Jon L:
Sounds like the student wants to know what it's like to ride along in a libertarian head. I can't think of a recommendation not already mentioned, but one I think would be useful (though I don't know what it would be) would be a source about what it feels like to be libertarian -- e.g., expressing the frustrations &enthusiasms, a libertarian's more visceral responses to common topics &current events, what it feels like to hold libertarian positions in majority liberal communities.
2.3.2006 5:12pm
Defending the Indefensible:
_Our Enemy: the State_ by Albert Jay Nock.
2.3.2006 5:16pm
I would add John Simmon's Moral Principles and Political Obligations - not because it is a primer on libertarianism but because it helps debunk the existence of any moral obligation to obey the law, which is an integral part of the journey.

I agree with Road to Serfdom, the Law, Capitalism and Freedom - all relatively short reads and all of which are illustrative of some basic truths. Nozick is okay, as well.
2.3.2006 5:38pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
I would like to second with Juan Non-Volokh's recommendation of Robert Heinlien's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. IMHO, Heinlien was a far better writer than Rand. His books are better written, have more interesting plots and characters and his political thinking is far deeper.

Although it was not a libertarian book, Starship Troopers was one of the most profound political reflections of the 20th century. Unfortunately, Academia is not ready to take it seriously.
2.3.2006 5:42pm
I am not a big L Libertarian, and would not go as far as Rand, but am something of a small l libertarian.

Ayn Rand was not a Libertarian. She didn't like the Libertarian movement and specifically refrained from calling her philosophy Libertarianism when that movement was first started, mostly by followers of her works. Her protegy, Nathanial Branden, had actually urged her to give the name Liberalism to her philosophy, but she rejected that for reasons which one can find online.

She chose to characterize her political stance as a "Radical for Capitalism" and called her philosophy

Most students who get interested in Libertarianism do so because of common ground it shares with Ayn Rand's ideas, whether they realize that or not. Most who then reject the Libertarian Party do so because of its divergence from her ideas, whether they realize that or not.

For any young thinker interested in a society based upon the rights of the individual as opposed to the various forms of collectivism, there is only one starting place: "The Fountainhead." After that, "Atlas Shrugged," and then the rest of Ayn Rand's writing, most notably her essays.

After Ayn Rand, the greatest champion of the individual who ever wrote, and the first person to lay out the moral basis of capitalism, as opposed to its economic (i.e., Mills) or political justifications, everyone else is an "also ran."

If "bleeding heart" is meant to denote someone who has compassion for others, I defer to nobody, and have never found that inconsistent with my belief in Objectivism.

Naturally, many devoutly religious people are not going to like Ayn Rand, as most of the world's religions are philosophically antithetical to laissez-faire capitalism.

Religious conservatives like William Buckley have been trying for almost fifty years to discredit the ideas of Ayn Rand, and paint her as a nut. To decide if they are right, one has to read her oneself.
2.3.2006 6:06pm
If you want to fire this person up, convert him, repulse him, or just give him a little something to think about then have him read Ayn Rand. However, it sounded to me like he was asking for serious reading.

Hee haw. Best laugh I have had in a long time. "The Fountainhead" happens to be the book cited mostly frequently after The Bible when people are asked what book influenced them most in their lives.

Only someone to whom "ideas" are not serious could write the above comment.
2.3.2006 6:18pm
Neal Lang (mail):
How did the Objectivist politics end up in the position of barring the means of physical self-defense (or, by extension, the defense of others)? The cause can be found in Objectivism's consent theory of government. Citing the Declaration of Independence, Rand argues as follows (Rand 1963d, 110).

The source of the government's authority is 'the consent of the governed.' This means that the government is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of the citizens; it means that the government as such has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific purpose.

There is only one basic principle to which an individual must consent if he wishes to live in a free, civilized society: the principle of renouncing the use of physical force and delegating to the government his right of physical self-defense.

As mentioned, Rand held that "men have the right and the moral obligation of self-defense" (1961, 56). However, she also held that they must "renounc[e] the use of physical force" (1963d, 110) as the price of their admission to "free, civilized society". The apparent tension between these two tenets evaporates when one realizes that according to Rand all individuals must delegate the right of physical self-defense to government. Therefore, in Rand's "free, civilized society", only government possesses "the right of physical self-defense" (which it exercises on behalf of individuals). Thus the converse of Rand's claim that "if a society provided no organized protection against force, it would compel every citizen to go about armed" (1963d, 108) seems to be that if a society does provide organized protection against force, it must compel every citizen to go about "legally disarmed" (1963b, 98; 1963a, 82) and defenseless -- because any private capacity for force is an unnecessary evil, a "threat" to government, and a "potential violation of individual rights".

This view is stunning, breathtaking -- and false.

There are several difficulties with the idea that the source of government's authority is the fact that the citizens have consented to "renouncing the use of physical force and delegating to the government [their] right of physical self-defense" (1963d, 110).

First, government has no rights; it has powers, which in the American tradition of constitutional government are specifically enumerated and therefore strictly limited. Rand recognizes this when she says that "the nature of the proper governmental services must be constitutionally defined and delimited, leaving the government no power to enlarge the scope of its services at its own arbitrary discretion" (1964a, 118), but she is not consistent on this issue and often claims that governments possess not powers but rights.

Second, there is no good reason for an egoist to renounce the use of physical force in all circumstances (although renouncing the initiation of force or the post-hoc use of force in retaliation is a different matter). Specifically, an egoist would never relinquish his right of physical self-defense, since that would be tantamount to pacifism in the face of initiations of force both by other individuals and by government. In the context of initiation of force by individuals, it's important to note that government police forces cannot be everywhere at once and are therefore not always in a position to "protect men from criminals" (1963d, 112) by interrupting the initiation of force. Even given the deterrent effect of the potential intervention of police forces, the fact is that the police are often reduced to the role of taking notes after the damage is done. Furthermore, as Rand points out and as history shows, "potentially, government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights" (1963b, 98), since the centralized criminality of a totalitarian government can wreak far greater havoc than the scattered activities of individual criminals or even the relatively organized predations of criminal groups such as drug gangs or the Mafia. These facts make it necessary for individuals to possess the right and capacity to use force in self-defense.

Third, we can apply something like Lysander Spooner's argument against the American government's constitutional authority to Rand's consent theory of government: even if once upon a time someone somewhere recognized the authority of government by explicitly consenting to "renouncing the use of physical force and delegating to the government his right of physical self-defense", that person's consent could in no way substitute for my consent. From: Gentlemen, Leave Your Guns Outside

Ayn Rand is Objectivist and not a Libertarian.
2.3.2006 6:31pm
Neal Lang (mail):
Are we making any distinctions between 'Classical' Liberalism and Libertarianism? To my mind, however their sympathies may coincide, the philosophy as outlined by thinkers like Hayek and even Friedman to a degree are of a different species than those of Nozick &Rand.

Perhaps this, from "Catholic and Classical Liberal or Why I am not a Modern Liberal, Conservative, or Libertarian" may help distinguish between the two Political Philosophies:
3. The Problems with Libertarianism

Libertarian is a term used to describe a political philosophy closely related to classical liberalism, yet evolving from slightly different philosophical roots. Libertarianism tends toward individualism, utilitarianism, and the view that the market is the ideal regulatory institution in society. Key thinkers include Milton Friedman, Tibor Machan, Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick, and Ayn Rand.

As with our other types of political thought, there are variations within libertarianism. There is no exact set of policy prescriptions that all libertarians would agree to, nor one single definition of liberty to which all libertarians would give assent. Still, there are some defining traits that we will now examine.

Libertarians can be distinguished for their love of personal and political liberty and their desire to find non-coercive means to achieve social ends. They equate coercive force with governmental action; therefore they are creative in their attempts to think up nongovernmental solutions to social problems. In addition to this strident nongovernmental approach, libertarians in general, adopt a "live and let live" attitude when it comes to personal morality.

Perhaps it can be said that the difference between a libertarian and a classical liberal is only a matter of degree. Libertarians would like a bit less government, if any, and are willing to use the "no harm" principle of Mill as their sole criteria for social policy more often than classical liberals. Perhaps there are no substantial differences between classical liberals and libertarians other than choice of words, tone, and policy details.

For the sake of this essay, however, I wish to distinguish classical liberals from libertarians in one primary way. I want to focus on the meaning of positive freedom, that is, a sense of freedom for, as opposed to a freedom from. I do not want to argue that negative and positive freedom are radically opposed to one another; in many respects they presuppose each other. Rather, what I am trying to say is, given the intellectual backgrounds, and the particular emphasis of thought, libertarians tend to focus more on negative freedom–being quite skeptical of the notions of a positive freedom--while classical liberals are often more open to using such concepts and engaging such terms.

Therefore, my distinction, although somewhat artificial, and in all likelihood to be opposed by classical liberals who disagree with the idea of a positive liberty and libertarians who favor such an idea, will provide for us the central distinguishing difference between these two theories. Even if one rejects the difference between classical liberalism and libertarianism proposed here, the distinction between positive and negative liberty is still worth investigating.

a. An Incomplete View of Liberty

Libertarians see the need to protect the freedoms of individuals against the overarching power of autocratic states and dogmatic orthodoxies. And because states and orthodoxies, including religious orthodoxies, expressly espoused some idea of what would be good for the people, and what would allow them to be truly free, any positive version of liberty was suspect as a threat to negative liberty. Liberty, negatively understood, was asserted over tyrannical, autocratic, or paternalistic power.

There is good reason for being wary of notions of positive liberty. If one asserts that there is an objective set of goods for human nature and an ideal orientation for our freedom, then it is too easy to translate such an agenda into a political program. From there, the dangers of coercing individuals into accepting such a vision are serious. One need only think of religions past reliance on coercive measures in order to understand the heart of the concern. People who believe in a positive sense of liberty are likely to feel that they know what is best for others. As it has often been noted, it is usually best to avoid people who claim they know what is best for you – they often interfere, or worse, restrict your liberty.

Yet such concerns do not invalidate the question of what is our liberty for? For what purpose, to what end, should we employ our liberty? The gift of freedom carries with it questions of its proper use: how does one best employ her liberty? Lord Acton chose to define the issue of human freedom by stating that true liberty was not freedom to do merely what one wanted, but rather, to do what one should. While I firmly support the idea that only the individual can properly answer this question for himself, I do not accept any relativism or subjectivism that it seems to imply. By centering the discussion on liberty versus license, I believe I can make the point clearer.

b. Liberty or License?

Focusing solely on negative liberty results in a skewed notion of liberty and its relation to morality. Many libertarians today would say that freedom and truth are wholly separable, since anyone is free to affirm the truth and abide by it, to ignore the truth or even to deny it and act against it. If freedom were bound by truth, they ask, how could it be freedom? Yet liberty without some transcendent truth to which it is ordered is really mere license.

Libertarians disagree with Lord Acton and the ancients and understand freedom as license. The implication is that human freedom, in order to be truly respected, must have no limitations or restrictions placed on it. All actions and decisions must be the result of a purely unrestricted inner decision on the part of the actor. Morality in this scheme is falsely treated as an external force of coercion that limits a person's freedom.

Our society in general has seen the devastating results of having adopted the modern interpretation of freedom. The passions rule. Rather than view the passions as being capable of clouding our better judgment (a classical view), modern society allows the passions to inform most of our actions. "Give in to the feeling", "go with the heart", "do what feels good". Pleasure reigns. The results are often social decay and destructive behaviors. We impose ourselves on the world and subject it to our whims and passions through actions that have little or no relation to the objective order.

I admit that my complaint here is not a completely fair one. One the one hand I want to assert that it is not the role of a political theory to also offer a moral theory. Libertarianism is under no obligation to offer a moral theology or ethics in order to be valid. Yet I also want to assert that a political theory must be able to compliment a sound moral theory and accommodate its concerns into its own political matrix.

Again, this is not to call for coercive measures to implement any specific moral or religious agenda. Rather, this complaint recognizes that all of our concerns about liberty must take into consideration the moral aspects of the discussion. Indeed, one cannot truly separate liberty from truth and morality, to do so is to no longer speak of genuine liberty. The very notion of liberty implies issues of moral responsibility and the purpose of our freedom.
2.3.2006 6:48pm
Neal Lang (mail):
Regarding a comparison between the two "Liberalism", again from the same source we have this analysis of "Mordern Liberalism":

This section seeks to differentiate classical liberalism and other dominant social and political theories. It also seeks to highlight the superiority of classical liberalism over that of modern liberalism, conservativism, and libertarianism. I will briefly define each of these systems of thought, not doing any of them justice, and then comment, rather irresponsibly, on their shortcomings.

1. The Problems With Modern Liberalism

Modern liberal is a term used to describe a person whose political and cultural views are considered by most to be progressive. In its modern and American usage, a liberal is someone who advocates social change through an activist political and legislative agenda. Such changes are usually in the name of justice, fairness, or some sense of social equality. Today’s liberal is often associated with such ideas as legal activism, big government, regulation of the market, the redistribution of wealth, and the inscription of human rights into positive law. Key thinkers include J. K. Galbraith, John M. Keynes, Upton Sinclair, and John Rawls.

It is fair to say that modern liberalism is the dominant social/political theory in the United States today. Our government and other social institutions reflect the past 50 years of modern liberalism running its course in American politics. The welfare state, increased government regulation of economic matters, high rates of taxation, intrusive laws, the politicization of society, an increased concern for equality, the expansion of legally protected personal rights, and the redistribution of wealth are indicative of modern liberalism’s attempt to use the government for social engineering.

Many argue that modern liberalism is the natural outgrowth and result of classical liberalism. Others contend that modern liberalism is the perversion and corruption of its earlier forms. I agree with the latter.

Modern liberalism came to prominence shortly prior to the Great Depression in America. Population growth in the United States, great increases in wealth, and subtle changes in political theory were all accentuated by the financial collapse of the early 1930s. The apparent failure of the market left many turning to the social institution of government for solutions and answers. This slowly but steadily solidified into new ways of thinking which permeated the culture at large.

Differences over the proper role of government became the central distinguishing feature between classical liberals and modern liberals. Later differences would emerge, but the purpose of government provided the initial split. In a sense, modern liberalism can be identified by this one trait: statism. Let us now examine this defining characteristic of modern liberalism, which also serves as its central flaw.

a. Statism: The Politicization of America

The central flaw of modern liberalism is that it conflates society with the state. All social action is understood as political action. Now, in a broad sense this may be true if one relies upon an Aristotelian understanding of political. Aristotle was correct in that men are political animals. We are political by nature. However, in making this observation, Aristotle was stating a general fact about human nature and not offering a concrete course for political action. Modern liberals tend to interpret and understand political in the modern sense, that is identifying the political solely with the structures of government.

By conflating the political and the social, modern liberals politicize social life. The primary means of change, the central instrument of social progress, and the crucial social actor becomes the government. Is there unjust discrimination taking place among the people? Then enact a law or propose a governmental program. The society needs to help those who are poor and in need? Create governmental bodies that can address these needs.

The result of this conflation is statism. Statism is defined as a society’s unhealthy reliance on the political structures to solve what are essentially moral and social problems. All possible concerns are deemed within the competence of the government, be they concerns of national defense, economic regulation, or the minutiae of child rearing. The natural limitations of government are ignored, and thus government grows out of control, accepting no limitations upon its scope of powers, usurping the functions and rightful claims of other mediating institutions.

b. Secularization and Moral Relativism

Modern liberalism’s second fatal flaw is its insistence on the secularization of society. There is a tendency in modern liberalism to treat religion as a personal idiosyncrasy that has no role to play in the public square. Given the inflation of the role of the state (government), the required degree of secularization is immense.

In the name of pluralism and individual rights, modern liberals see any assertion of religious conviction in the public sector as a violation of personal rights and the separation of church and state. Morality, which is essentially linked to religion, is relativized along with religion.

The government soon comes to believe that it must remain value-free and neutral on all moral issues. Of course, such a position is absurd. Morality permeates all aspects of life. There are moral values imbedded in issues ranging from environmentalism to balanced budgets. The government as a social agent takes moral stands on a host of issues. Yet the charade of moral neutrality is continued even today.

The overall cultural consequence of such secularization is a pervading moral relativism. So, instead of a political pluralism with a tolerant state which respects its limitations to make moral judgments, we have a moral pluralism with a state increasingly confident it can provide a morally free society while still imposing concerns of equality, tolerance, and social justice–all of which are essentially moral claims.

In a truly free society, a healthy and honest pluralism would exist and thrive. This pluralism would be an expression of the diverse viewpoints and worldviews that exist in any contemporary society. Pluralism permits individuals to think and believe whatever propositions they assert as valid. Yet true toleration does not imply that all moral propositions are of equal merit or veracity. Indeed, the very idea of tolerance implies some deficiency of which one must be tolerant. In addition, true toleration does not equal complete permissiveness: for example, a free society would stop individuals from acting on those propositions that would physically harm others or others’ property.

Moral relativism weakens any social order. Without a set of sure principles with which to conduct their lives and govern their actions, the social order slowly loses any sense of purpose. Today's modern liberal form of toleration is really a lack of moral conviction masquerading as enlightened generosity. The modern tendency to abandon all standards of moral truth results in various forms of relativism and undermines democracy itself.

Liberty is incompatible with moral relativism because an immoral people cannot be trusted with freedom or even self-government. These were the beliefs expressed by most of the Founding Fathers.
2.3.2006 6:59pm
Ross Levatter (mail):

The tramp told the story, in Atlas Shrugged, of the 20th Century Motor Company, not Hammond Cars. Art Hammond transferred his company to Galt's Gulch. The 20th Century was the company that John Galt worked at, and left when they developed a company policy of forced altruism. Galt, and Rand, would have nothing to do with ... the 20th century. (I think perhaps she'd not be terribly happy, so far, with the 21st, either...)
2.3.2006 7:59pm
Scott Scheule (mail) (www):

I'm afraid I don't have time to read all the comments thus far, so some of these suggestions may be repeats.

1. Milton Friedman, Free to Choose: this book started my interest in economics, and it more than anything gave me a sense of what libertarian means in the political landscape. Before that I was a libertarian, but was largely one based on a gut feeling of what was right. Capitalism and Freedom is well worth reading as well.

2. David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom: the anarcho-capitalist/libertarian primer, probably the best. David inherited his father's style for making utilitarian arguments in hopes of reaching a wider audience than the libertarian stronghold.

3. Richard Epstein, Takings: thought I doubt the book will convert anyone who isn't on the verge of converting, it does at least help one understand where a libertarian, specifically a Lockean one, is coming from: essentially, Richard's maxim that the distribution of the gains from government is as important as the increase.

I don't recommend Rand. If there is a spark of libertarianism within someone, then she'll breathe it to life, but that spark lacking, her work lacks any sort of persuasive appeal, and the literary merit alone is not enough to justify the read.

Those are the books I've read. I've not read Anarchy, State and Utopia but if it's as good as Nozick's other works, I'm sure it's worthwhile. Friends of mine also recommend Barnett's Structure of Liberty with enthusiasm.
2.3.2006 9:23pm
Scott Scheule (mail) (www):
Ah, I see someone mentioned Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. A fantastic work, though I'm not sure it meets your student's prescription.
2.3.2006 9:27pm
eeyn524 (mail):
A lot of the works mentioned are "prescriptive" rather than "descriptive", and any one of them taken alone would be likely to provide a self-consistent but overly narrow view.

Reading straight through four or five issues of "Liberty" magazine selected at random from the past 10 years would be about equivalent to one book, and would give a broader view of what people who call themselves libertarians really think.
2.3.2006 11:51pm
Neal Lang,

What are you talking about? Ayn Rand would be the first to argue in favor of a person's right to defend himself when another initiates force against him.

There's a huge distinction between granting to government the sole responsibility to defend the country and to wage war, and an individual's right to defend himself against those individuals who seek to initiate force against him.

Please cite the source of the quotes you attribute to Ayn Rand. You give page numbers, but from what?

As for the quotes you cite from that "Catholic and Classic Liberal" text, whatever that is, not only does it misstate Rand's core beliefs (her philosophy has nothing to do with Utilitarianism) but it appears to be total psycho babble.

One of the great things about Rand is the clarity of her writing. Have you ever read her? It's hard to believe you have, since you have so misstated her views.
2.4.2006 4:57am
Zywicki (mail):
I think when this student uses the term "classical liberalism," he is not using it in the precise way we often use it, which is to say 18th Century liberalism, or a rough precursor to modern liberalism. I think he is using to mean something like "standard liberalism" of today.
2.4.2006 12:06pm
moof (www):
This cartoon:

2.4.2006 1:34pm
Neal Lang (mail):
Please cite the source of the quotes you attribute to Ayn Rand. You give page numbers, but from what?

Rand, Ayn. 1961. "For the New Intellectual", in For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. New York: Random House.

—. 1963a. "Collectivized Ethics", The Objectivist Newsletter 2(1), January 1963. Reprinted in Rand 1964b.

—. 1963b. "Man's Rights", The Objectivist Newsletter 2(4), April 1963. Reprinted in Rand 1964b.

—. 1963c. "Collectivized Rights", The Objectivist Newsletter 2(6), June 1963. Reprinted in Rand 1964b.

—. 1963d. "The Nature of Government", The Objectivist Newsletter 2(12), December 1963. Reprinted in Rand 1964b.

—. 1964a. "Government Financing in a Free Society", The Objectivist Newsletter 3(2), February 1964. Reprinted in Rand 1964b.

—. 1964b. The Virtue of Selfishness. New York: Random House.

"Read 'em and weep!"
One of the great things about Rand is the clarity of her writing. Have you ever read her? It's hard to believe you have, since you have so misstated her views.

Actually, when I was editor of my college newspaper in the mid-1960s I ran a weekly student-written column devoted to the analysis and critique Ayn Rand's fictional and non-fictional writings. It was well received and popular, possibly because of the appeal of her underlying hint of rebellious anachy. For awhile I even fancied myself an adherent.
ANARCHISM: The belief that it is possible for there to be an orderly social order in the absence of any government. While various schools of anarchism exist, all share the common view that a society can peacefully exist without any state structures. Key thinkers include Karl Marx*, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon*, Pytor Alekseyevich Kropotkin*, and Murray Rothbard*.

Fortunately I grew-up, got a job, got married, had a family, and so I "put away childish things".

The quotes are Rand's own. I am sorry if her reality doesn't meet your expectation of her myth.

Of course, Rand was an Objectivist and not a Libertarian.
"Objectivism" was actually Rand's second choice for the name of her philosophy. Rand said that "existentialism" is the more appropriate term, because her philosophy recognizes both the metaphysical primacy of existence and the ethical goal of maintaining one's own existence. However, Existentialist philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre had already co-opted this term for a very different view. Consequently, Rand chose "Objectivism."

The key tenets of the Objectivist metaphysics are captured in three propositions:

* Existence exists.
* Existence is Identity.
* Consciousness is Identification.

The axiom of Existence affirms that reality (the universe, that which is) exists, and that it exists independently of human consciousness. The Law of Identity states that anything that exists is determinate, that is, has a fixed, finite nature (i.e., "A is A"). The axiom of Consciousness affirms that one is conscious and that the function of consciousness is the identification of reality.

In addition to these three basic axioms, Objectivist philosophy affirms the Law of Causality as a corollary of the Law of Identity. The Law of Causality states that things act in accordance with their natures. These propositions are all held in Objectivism to be axiomatic. According to Objectivism, the proof of a proposition's being axiomatic is that it both (a) is self-evident and (b) cannot coherently be denied, because any argument against the proposition would have to suppose its truth.

Rand was neither a classical empiricist (like Hume or the logical positivists) nor a classical rationalist (like Plato, Descartes, or Frege). She disagreed with the empiricists mainly in that she did not consider the distinction between sensations and perceptions to be meaningful. Thus, she did not believe in the possibility of perceptual error or illusion, only the misunderstanding or improper conceptualization of perceptual data. Neither did she consider the analytic-synthetic distinction to have merit, including the view that there are "truths in virtue of meaning," or that "necessary truths" and mathematical truths are best understood as "truths in virtue of meaning." She similarly denied the existence of a priori knowledge. Rand also considered her ideas distinct from foundationalism, naive realism about perception like Aristotle, or representationalism (i.e., an indirect realist who believes in a "veil of ideas") like Descartes or Locke.From: Objectivist philosophy

Unfortunately, Rand's idea wih regards to individual possession and use of firearms isn't quite compatible with Objectivism as it has been defined:
A fully consistent Objectivist theory of government remains to be developed. However, it is clear that such a theory would not hold that the price of admission to "free, civilized society" is "renouncing the use of physical force and delegating to the government [one's] right of physical self-defense" (1963d, 110). Rather, it would hold the exact opposite: that society cannot be free and civilized if the individuals within it are compelled to "leave their guns outside" and relinquish their fundamental right to self-defense.

Apparently, Rand rejects the Founders basic concept of "Self-evident truths", without which America loses its legitmacy. Additionally, the key insight into the thinking of the Founding Fathers regarding the purpose for government and government's relationship to "the People" is expressed in the Declarationof Independence. Governments are instituted among men "to secure these (Self-evident) rights", and "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed". Whenever their government becomes "destructive to the (Self-evident rights)", "the People" reserves the "right to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government". From this is understood that "the People", in order to exercise this "right", must retain the "means" - which explains "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" free from government infringement. Unfortunately, Ayn Rand doesn't see it quite that way.
2.4.2006 2:01pm
Matt22191 (mail):

I see that Neal largely beat me to the reply, which is entirely appropriate. But just so it's clear, and you don't have to bounce between posts to find it, the quote on renouncing physical force and delegating the right of self-defense to government comes from "The Nature of Government," which you can find here.

Rand is a decent way to get people young people thinking about liberty, but I can't take her very seriously. As Neal suggested, the reality differs significantly from the myth. P
2.4.2006 2:16pm
Matt22191 (mail):

"[T]o get young people thinking about liberty," not "to get people young people . . . " And please ignore the errant "P" at the end of my last.
2.4.2006 2:18pm
Neal Lang (mail):
I think when this student uses the term "classical liberalism," he is not using it in the precise way we often use it, which is to say 18th Century liberalism, or a rough precursor to modern liberalism. I think he is using to mean something like "standard liberalism" of today.

Classical Liberalism was the roots of the "American Revolution" and a "new World order" of "God, Man, Government". This "Liberalism" was not "a rough precursor to modern liberalism". The "rough precursor to modern liberalism" was the Jacobin radical Liberalism of the "French Revolution". Unlike the "Classical Liberalism" and "new World order" of the "American Revolution", the "French Revolution" was fought for a "World order" of "Man, Government". Lacking the moral basis of the "American Revolution", the "libertine" Liberalism of the French lead to an orgy of destruction of established institutions and order, and death. The observations and disappointment of our Founders with the French liberalism was obvious in their contemporary writings. In the end, even the radical liberal, Thomas Paine, lost his enchantment with the "French Revolution".

The effects of the two liberalisms is quite evident. While France has seen 5 Republics and several monarchies and dictatorships in the 200 or so years since its revolution and 1st constitution, the American Republic has seen only one. While France's history since its revolution was filled with violence and upheaval, America's has seen only one violent episode. That one, the Civil War, was directly related to the single provision of its Constitution that rejected the Classical Liberal, "Self-evident truths" expressed so clearly in its Founding document, the Declaration of Independence".
2.4.2006 2:39pm
Neal Lang (mail):
This cartoon:

2.4.2006 2:50pm
Neal Lang (mail):
16 Perverted Law Causes Conflict

As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose — that it may violate property instead of protecting it — then everyone will want to participate in making the law, either to protect himself against plunder or to use it for plunder. Political questions will always be prejudicial, dominant, and all-absorbing. There will be fighting at the door of the Legislative Palace, and the struggle within will be no less furious. To know this, it is hardly necessary to examine what transpires in the French and English legislatures; merely to understand the issue is to know the answer.

Is there any need to offer proof that this odious perversion of the law is a perpetual source of hatred and discord; that it tends to destroy society itself? If such proof is needed, look at the United States [in 1850]. There is no country in the world where the law is kept more within its proper domain: the protection of every person's liberty and property. As a consequence of this, there appears to be no country in the world where the social order rests on a firmer foundation. But even in the United States, there are two issues — and only two — that have always endangered the public peace.

17 Slavery and Tariffs Are Plunder

What are these two issues? They are slavery and tariffs. These are the only two issues where, contrary to the general spirit of the republic of the United States, law has assumed the character of a plunderer.

Slavery is a violation, by law, of liberty. The protective tariff is a violation, by law, of property.

It is a most remarkable fact that this double legal crime — a sorrowful inheritance from the Old World — should be the only issue which can, and perhaps will, lead to the ruin of the Union. It is indeed impossible to imagine, at the very heart of a society, a more astounding fact than this: The law has come to be an instrument of injustice. And if this fact brings terrible consequences to the United States — where the proper purpose of the law has been perverted only in the instances of slavery and tariffs — what must be the consequences in Europe, where the perversion of the law is a principle; a system?

18 Two Kinds of Plunder

Mr. de Montalembert [politician and writer] adopting the thought contained in a famous proclamation by Mr. Carlier, has said: "We must make war against socialism." According to the definition of socialism advanced by Mr. Charles Dupin, he meant: "We must make war against plunder."

But of what plunder was he speaking? For there are two kinds of plunder: legal and illegal.

I do not think that illegal plunder, such as theft or swindling — which the penal code defines, anticipates, and punishes — can be called socialism. It is not this kind of plunder that systematically threatens the foundations of society. Anyway, the war against this kind of plunder has not waited for the command of these gentlemen. The war against illegal plunder has been fought since the beginning of the world. Long before the Revolution of February 1848 — long before the appearance even of socialism itself — France had provided police, judges, gendarmes, prisons, dungeons, and scaffolds for the purpose of fighting illegal plunder. The law itself conducts this war, and it is my wish and opinion that the law should always maintain this attitude toward plunder.

19 The Law Defends Plunder

But it does not always do this. Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Thus the beneficiaries are spared the shame, danger, and scruple which their acts would otherwise involve. Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons, and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim — when he defends himself — as a criminal. In short, there is a legal plunder, and it is of this, no doubt, that Mr. de Montalembert speaks.

This legal plunder may be only an isolated stain among the legislative measures of the people. If so, it is best to wipe it out with a minimum of speeches and denunciations — and in spite of the uproar of the vested interests.

20 How to Identify Legal Plunder

But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law — which may be an isolated case — is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system.

The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights. He will claim that the state is obligated to protect and encourage his particular industry; that this procedure enriches the state because the protected industry is thus able to spend more and to pay higher wages to the poor workingmen.

Do not listen to this sophistry by vested interests. The acceptance of these arguments will build legal plunder into a whole system. In fact, this has already occurred. The present-day delusion is an attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it.

21 Legal Plunder Has Many Names

Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on. All these plans as a whole — with their common aim of legal plunder — constitute socialism.

Now, since under this definition socialism is a body of doctrine, what attack can be made against it other than a war of doctrine? If you find this socialistic doctrine to be false, absurd, and evil, then refute it. And the more false, the more absurd, and the more evil it is, the easier it will be to refute. Above all, if you wish to be strong, begin by rooting out every particle of socialism that may have crept into your legislation. This will be no light task.

22 Socialism Is Legal Plunder

Mr. de Montalembert has been accused of desiring to fight socialism by the use of brute force. He ought to be exonerated from this accusation, for he has plainly said: "The war that we must fight against socialism must be in harmony with law, honor, and justice."

But why does not Mr. de Montalembert see that he has placed himself in a vicious circle? You would use the law to oppose socialism? But it is upon the law that socialism itself relies. Socialists desire to practice legal plunder, not illegal plunder. Socialists, like all other monopolists, desire to make the law their own weapon. And when once the law is on the side of socialism, how can it be used against socialism? For when plunder is abetted by the law, it does not fear your courts, your gendarmes, and your prisons. Rather, it may call upon them for help.

To prevent this, you would exclude socialism from entering into the making of laws? You would prevent socialists from entering the Legislative Palace? You shall not succeed, I predict, so long as legal plunder continues to be the main business of the legislature. It is illogical — in fact, absurd — to assume otherwise.

23 The Choice Before Us

This question of legal plunder must be settled once and for all, and there are only three ways to settle it:

1. The few plunder the many.
2. Everybody plunders everybody.
3. Nobody plunders anybody.

We must make our choice among limited plunder, universal plunder, and no plunder. The law can follow only one of these three.

Limited legal plunder: This system prevailed when the right to vote was restricted. One would turn back to this system to prevent the invasion of socialism.

Universal legal plunder: We have been threatened with this system since the franchise was made universal. The newly enfranchised majority has decided to formulate law on the same principle of legal plunder that was used by their predecessors when the vote was limited.

No legal plunder: This is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, harmony, and logic. Until the day of my death, I shall proclaim this principle with all the force of my lungs (which alas! is all too inadequate). [2]

24 The Proper Function of the Law

And, in all sincerity, can anything more than the absence of plunder be required of the law? Can the law — which necessarily requires the use of force — rationally be used for anything except protecting the rights of everyone? I defy anyone to extend it beyond this purpose without perverting it and, consequently, turning might against right. This is the most fatal and most illogical social perversion that can possibly be imagined. It must be admitted that the true solution — so long searched for in the area of social relationships — is contained in these simple words: Law is organized justice.

Now this must be said: When justice is organized by law — that is, by force — this excludes the idea of using law (force) to organize any human activity whatever, whether it be labor, charity, agriculture, commerce, industry, education, art, or religion. The organizing by law of any one of these would inevitably destroy the essential organization — justice. For truly, how can we imagine force being used against the liberty of citizens without it also being used against justice, and thus acting against its proper purpose?


[2]: Translator's note: At the time this was written, Mr. Bastiat knew that he was dying of tuberculosis. Within a year, he was dead.

From: The Law

By that great Classical Liberal Frenchman, Frédéric Bastiat.
2.4.2006 3:06pm
Neal Lang and Matt:

It is shocking how badly you misinterpret Ayn Rand. The degree to which you fail to understand her meaning is so great that further debate with either of you is likely to be unproductive.

In the interest of accuracay, however, let me just make these simple points:

l) There is no "hint" of rebellious anarachy in her writings. Ayn Rand was completely against any form of anarchy, and if you read the excerpt Matt links in his post above, you can read in her own words why she believes any form of anarchy is antithetical to a civilized society. Her concept of an objective body of laws to guide the conduct of individuals living together in a society is best expressed, according to her, in our Constitution. Sorry you don't find it a persuasive documment.

2) You do not understand Ayn Rand's point about retaliatory physical force. She is merely saying that if someone breaks into your house and smashes your TV, you cannot break into his house and smash his TV. That is why we have a police force, and courts: to act as the individual's agent in protecting a person's rights. It is in that sense that she argues that a person must cede to government the responsibility of protecting his rights when they are violated by the use of force of another.

This has NOTHING TO DO with defending your life, or that of your family, if someone threatens it by initiating force. NOTHING. There is a difference between the case where someone says he is going to kill you, in which case she would argue you should contact the police rather than going to his house and killing him first, and when someone breaks into your house and shoves a gun in your face, in which case she would not only argue you should shoot him before he shoots you, but that it is morally imperative that you do so.

Taking selective quotes from a discussion of the proper role of government in handling the nation's defense and in being the sole agent of the retaliatory use of force, and arguing they imply Ayn Rand thinks a person should give up his own life rather than defend himself is beyond belief. Her concept of the use of force happens to be exactly the same as is in our Constitution, which is why if a person uses force in self-defense, he has not broken the law. She never argues that a person should not own a gun (what on earth made you think that?).

Islamic terrorists who are actors without a state who initiate force against others would be a shining example of what Ayn Rand argues against.

The best way to understand Ayn Rand's political view of a proper society is to read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (including its amendments) of the United States.

I'm glad you have moved on to less "childish" things, because you do Ayn Rand's ideas a tremendous disservice when you so distort her meaning.
2.4.2006 3:55pm
Neal Lang (mail):
l) There is no "hint" of rebellious anarachy in her writings. Ayn Rand was completely against any form of anarchy, and if you read the excerpt Matt links in his post above, you can read in her own words why she believes any form of anarchy is antithetical to a civilized society.

Hmmm! Funny, Murray Rothbard thought there was when he associated himself with Ayn Rand's objectivism group in the late 1950s. In her frictional works, the extreme individualism of her heroes can easily be confused with anarchical rebellion.
2) You do not understand Ayn Rand's point about retaliatory physical force. She is merely saying that if someone breaks into your house and smashes your TV, you cannot break into his house and smash his TV. That is why we have a police force, and courts: to act as the individual's agent in protecting a person's rights. It is in that sense that she argues that a person must cede to government the responsibility of protecting his rights when they are violated by the use of force of another.

Unfortunately we have her own words that state SPECIFICALLY:
There is only one basic principle to which an individual must consent if he wishes to live in a free, civilized society: the principle of renouncing the use of physical force and delegating to the government his right of physical self-defense. (Rand 1963d, 110)

Sorry, "physical self-defense" is not the same as "retaliatory physical force". Her own words belie your interpretation of them.
The fundamental difference between private action and governmental action—a difference thoroughly ignored and evaded today—lies in the fact that a government holds a monopoly on the legal use of physical force. It has to hold such a monopoly, since it is the agent of restraining and combating the use of force; and for that very same reason, its actions have to be rigidly defined, delimited and circumscribed; no touch of whim or caprice should be permitted in its performance; it should be an impersonal robot, with the laws as its only motive power. If a society is to be free, its government has to be controlled.

Part of Rand's problem is her naive concept that government "power" is not corruptive. Truly amazing considering her roots. However, if "government holds a monopoly on the legal use of physical force", than there is no reason for "the People to keep and bear arms". How else would you explain her words words here?
If men of good will wish to come together for the purpose of upholding reason and establishing a rational society, they should begin by following the example of the cowboys in Western movies when the sheriff tells them at the door to a conference room: 'Gentlemen, leave your guns outside.' (Rand 1961, 57)

I am sorry if the truth hurts, but "there you are!"
The best way to understand Ayn Rand's political view of a proper society is to read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (including its amendments) of the United States.

Unfortunately, her Objectivist "Worldview" leaves no room for the "laws of nature and of nature's God", or the "Self-evident truths" of man being "created equal" with "Creator endowed, unalienable rights". Like Existentialist philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, Rand's "Objectivism", places man at the center of the universe. Also her idea that only "government holds a monopoly on the legal use of physical force" could never accept the Founder's "new World order", the most profound concept revealed in the Decalaration of Independence:
That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

With government controlling a "monopoly on the legal use of physical force", there would be no means left to "the People" to "abolish" a "destructive" government.
I'm glad you have moved on to less "childish" things, because you do Ayn Rand's ideas a tremendous disservice when you so distort her meaning.

Frankly, it would be impossible to "distort her meaning" beyond its actual "childish" naivete.
2.4.2006 6:03pm
If men of good will wish to come together for the purpose of upholding reason and establishing a rational society, they should begin by following the example of the cowboys in Western movies when the sheriff tells them at the door to a conference room: 'Gentlemen, leave your guns outside.' (Rand 1961, 57)

Oh dear. Your misinterpretation of what she is saying above is so complete that it defies the imagination. But it does explain your misinterpretation of everything else she writes.

Neal, the above quote is not talking about literal weapons. It is putting forth the argument that men deal best with each other when they abandon rule by brute force and interact with each other on a rational basis.

Also, you have to read the body of her work to understand what she means by delegating to the government the right to self-defense. She is putting forth the argument against anarchy, and endorsing the right of a government in a free society to maintain a police force and an army.
Unlike anarchists, or some libertarians, she does not endorse the idea of competing police forces, or armies. A discussion between you and Ayn Rand wherein you patiently explain to that childish thinker that a person doesn't always have time to call the police when faced with an immediate threat to his life would be worthy of Saturday Night Live.

Murray Rothbard does not speak for Ayn Rand. She speaks for herself, a fact she made abundently clear in her writings.

PS. Notice, in her example, she doesn't have the Sheriff saying "Gentlemen, hand over your guns." Fortunately, Neal, in our society, most people do not bring their guns into conference rooms, or courts.
2.4.2006 8:58pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I would suggest your liberal student not waste his time reading about libertarianism. You people crack me up. Just tell him if he wants to see what a true Libertarian society would look like, imagine the Amish without the social harmony. How a modern, industrial, society would be possible without heavy involvement of government in all aspects of it, from economic policy to encouraging technological development is beyond imagination. There is not one major advance or technology of the last 100 years that was not directly invented by or flourish because of government support or intervention. I defy any of you to name one. Even the modern corporation exists only because the government says it exists. It would have no legal standing without government sanction.

Libertarianism is nothing more than a rich man's anarchism. Some infantile fantasy that if the government would just get off my back and stop harassing me everything would be wonderful. If you were really a serious Libertarian, you would stop teaching Law at a public university.
2.4.2006 10:26pm
ericvfsu (mail):
I would like to apologize to Minnie. I try to always be respectful of others and when I said that Ayn Rand's work was not "serious reading" I should have known that was not respectful to those who are serious about her ideas.

Minnie, I have read most of Rand's major published works and she made a significant impression on me - essentially she demonstrated why individual liberty is such an important value (and not just important to the individual). That is the gift that Rand gave to me at a quite young age. However, I do not think that her philosophy, Objectivism, is the best foundation for society or the lone individual that I control (me). I suppose most would put me in the Classical Liberal camp with streaks of sceptical conservativism and libertarianism. Andrew Sullivan is one of my favorite political commentators.

2.5.2006 6:40pm
ericsfu, Thank you for the sweet apology. Labels are always difficult. Each person must think for himself. In the end, anyone who guided by reason, respectful of the rights of others, and possesses a kind heart is likely to be on the right path.

I always liked Andrew Sullivan also. I was disappointed to have to stop reading his site after he wrote an article in favor of the English practice of fox hunting, one of the cruelest, most hideous of all sports.

I can forgive people a lot of sins, but defending the torture of the innocent is not one of them. The minute Sullivan revealed his Yoo side, it was Sayonara Andrew Sullivan.
2.6.2006 12:15am
I'd recommend The Man Versus the State by Herbert Spencer (published by Liberty Fund).
2.6.2006 4:41am
Neal Lang (mail):
Oh dear. Your misinterpretation of what she is saying above is so complete that it defies the imagination. But it does explain your misinterpretation of everything else she writes.

Neal, the above quote is not talking about literal weapons. It is putting forth the argument that men deal best with each other when they abandon rule by brute force and interact with each other on a rational basis.

Firearms aren't "brute force" - clubs, stones, and bolders are "brute force". As the saying goes: "God didn't make men equal, Sam Colt did."

There is only one way to interpret "government must have a monopoly on the use of force. It explains what exactly she means when she says - "leave your guns at the door".
Also, you have to read the body of her work to understand what she means by delegating to the government the right to self-defense. She is putting forth the argument against anarchy, and endorsing the right of a government in a free society to maintain a police force and an army.
Unlike anarchists, or some libertarians, she does not endorse the idea of competing police forces, or armies. A discussion between you and Ayn Rand wherein you patiently explain to that childish thinker that a person doesn't always have time to call the police when faced with an immediate threat to his life would be worthy of Saturday Night Live.

I have read many of her works - cover-to-cover, she lost me when she opined that:
There is only one basic principle to which an individual must consent if he wishes to live in a free, civilized society: the principle of renouncing the use of physical force and delegating to the government his right of physical self-defense. (Rand 1963d, 110)

The illogic of this thought is monumental, and completely anathema to "self-government".
You might believe - whether from the blurb or from the book's fans - that Atlas Shrugged is some sort of inspired and inspirational political-philosophical epic about the human spirit, but it actually reeks of large-scale adolescent power fantasies combined with a depressingly negative view of the human condition. While Objectivists - not to mention many libertarians - treat it as virtual Holy Writ, others would be better regarding it as a quaint period piece of crank fringe literature by someone who spent too much time thinking and not enough time living in the real world. While it's not as ridiculous as, say, Dianetics, in parts it comes very close; although it tries to be a novel of political allegory which presents and works out Objectivist ideas, it fails both as a novel and as political allegory.

The only way in which Atlas Shrugged can be said to succeed is in its presentation of Objectivist principles, which are laid out in John Galt's long, long, long radio broadcast near the end of the book. These principles leave a nasty taste in the mouth, with their elevation of the individualistic pursuit of wealth, regardless of the consequences, above all other things; compassion, sympathy, cooperation and working for the common good are all regarded as products of human weakness and are to be disregarded. Such a contempt for basic human values far outweighs anything worthwhile Objectivism may have to say about the merits of individual aptitude and self-reliance. Ultimately, the effect of reading Atlas Shrugged is comparable to being on the receiving end of a long, hysterical, and largely baffling lecture about a subject you're not really very interested in.

A few words about Objectivism itself: in its sanction of personal greed and concomitant disdain for those less well off or differently inclined, not to mention its promotion of an explicitly favoured subspecies of the human race, Objectivism has a lot in common with - of all things - certain principles and practices of a certain pseudo-religious organisation which I know better than to refer to by name. (Try "never reward a downstat", for starters.) Indeed, it's probably not too much to say that Objectivism is the missing link between this organisation and libertarianism.

One last oddity. The cover of the copy I was lent proclaims the book to be a special "35th anniversary edition", published in 1992, but what's so special about 35? It's the product of two prime numbers of little significance, except that one of them happens to be the number of digits on one hand or foot and the other is the number of days in a week. Is the number 35 meaningful to Objectivists for some reason?
From: Review of Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged is to Objectivism what Dianetics is to the Church of Scientology, unfortunately Rand's "glass is always half full".

Indeed, Ayn Rand makes Matthew White "choices for the 10 most overrated people, trends or events of the 20th Century" and he sums up her contributions to humanity with:
18. Ayn Rand (1905-82)

Well, technically, I suppose I can only award her an honorable mention since I've never actually read any of her works, but life is too short to waste precious days reading books that are endlessly pushed on me by people who -- how shall I put this delicately? -- lack credibility.

The works of Ayn Rand easily rank as the philosophy most recommended by the least reliable people that I've ever encountered. They don't even attempt to make their philosophy sound appealing to new recruits. The core philosophy of all the Randites I've met seems to be "Some people are better than others -- for example, I'm better than you are -- and the better people deserve more," and "All social interaction is evil."

Hell, even Klansmen are willing to buy me a beer if I pass the color test.

That pretty much pegs her, IMMHO.
2.6.2006 10:05pm
Neal Lang (mail):
PS. Notice, in her example, she doesn't have the Sheriff saying "Gentlemen, hand over your guns." Fortunately, Neal, in our society, most people do not bring their guns into conference rooms, or courts.

You might have a point if she didn't preface her "disarmament scheme" with the idea that it was the price of admission for "men of good will" entering into "a rational society".
2.6.2006 10:15pm
Scipio (mail) (www):
A Critique of Pure Tolerance (I think it's still out of print)
The Revolt of the Masses, by Ortega y Gasset
The Laws, by Plato
2.6.2006 10:43pm
Neal Lang (mail):
I always liked Andrew Sullivan also. I was disappointed to have to stop reading his site after he wrote an article in favor of the English practice of fox hunting, one of the cruelest, most hideous of all sports.

Au Contraire', mon ami. In England, Fox Hunting was the sport of the gentry. In fact, hunting of any sort is truly a majestic experience. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Meditations on Hunting by Jose Ortega Y Gasset, a spanish "liberal" politician/philosopher turned anarchist, and read it.
n absolute necessity for the animal rights debate., July 18, 1998 - Reviewer: A reader

Ortega delves into the art of hunting, and gets to the root of the matter. Both the nature of human, and of animal are examined. Be forewarned, this is heavy duty philosophy, not just an article on where to hang a tree stand. Ortega wrote in the early twentieth century, and so some will think his ideas are dated, and that we know much better now. This gives rise to the thought that humans change rapidly. Ortega's work stands because we do not substantially change over just a hundred or even a thousand years. This is why Shakespear and the Bible are still applicable, and why Ortega's Meditations On Hunting still stands. The act of hunting has changed over the centuries, to evolve into sport. Ortega delves into this also, and his answer to our inner questions, and the current questions of animal rightists is so clear and distilled that it shines in one's brain. It is rare to find one so clear in academia.
2.6.2006 10:50pm
Neal Lang (mail):
A Critique of Pure Tolerance (I think it's still out of print) The Revolt of the Masses, by Ortega y Gasset
The Laws, by Plato

Interestingly, Plato viewed his perfect society like Ayn Rand:
In Plato's ideal state, the one-man rule of a tyrant is replaced by the one-man rule of a philosopher-king. The king uses a professional military/police class — the Guardians — to keep everyone else in line. Like the people of the former Soviet Union, the common people of Plato's ideal state would be trained periodically (once a month) in use of arms, but would have no right to arms, and arms would be centrally stored in state armories (Plato, Laws).

In Plato's utopia, "no one, man or woman, must ever be left without someone in charge of him; nobody must get into the habit of acting independently in either sham fighting or the real thing, and in peace and war alike we must give our constant attention and obedience to our leader. . ." (Laws).

The country most in harmony with Plato's theory of government is modern Singapore: tightly regulated, with a subject's entire life carefully controlled by a "benign" state.

Plato's most important philosophic descendent is the German Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 1831). Hegel provided the intellectual foundation for fascism, seeing the state as sacred, and the individual as absolutely subservient to the state. (Hegel and Plato differed on many other issues, such as the basis of perception, but their politics were essentially similar.)From: Arms and the Greeks by David Kopel

Interestingly, I find Plato's "Guardians" alot like the Activist Judiciary.
2.6.2006 11:08pm
William Moose:
For a bleeding heart? Brink Lindsey, Against the Dead Hand. And Michael Barone, Hard America, Soft America.
2.7.2006 2:28am
Andrew Levy:
Jeez, this poor student!

Just tell him to read Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," and J. Neil Schulman's "Alongside Night." If he likes those, and generally agrees with the philosophies outlined in them, he can move on to Nozick, Friedman, et. al.

As for Rand, "The Fountainhead" is the only book of hers I would recommend to anyone older than 21. This is not to say that her ideas are without merit, but simply that as she "progressed," her writing became more strident and tougher to take, unless you're at that certain age where you think YOU'RE John Galt.
2.7.2006 3:00am
She only wrote one book after the Fountainhead.
2.8.2006 9:33pm