By Atilla Sulker | United States
By dipping his or her toes into libertarianism, one can find how extensive and comprehensive the literature is. The assortment is indeed full of fresh, fertile ideas comprising of a significant range of perspectives. But it is not just merely the genius of these ideas that makes the collection so comprehensive- it is also the passion behind the libertarian movement that has lead to continuing debate and the bettering of ideas within the movement.
Go visit the Rothbard library for yourself and you will see not just a mere library, but a cultural center, a true marvel. Books on economics, history, philosophy, anthropology, you name it. Rothbard was truly an interdisciplinary genius who devoted his life to reading and writing, hence the vastness of his contributions to libertarian academia.
I am but a budding enthusiast in the liberty movement, and of the massive number of books out there, I have only read a small portion of them. Here, in no particular order, are five books I have read that I think are very worthwhile reads. Some of these books are relatively popular and some were even written by bestselling authors, while others are more obscure and overlooked. Some focus on philosophy, others on economics.
- Liberty Defined by Ron Paul
Liberty Defined was the second freedom book that I read, after reading Rand Paul’s Taking a Stand. The book is organized in a very convenient fashion. One doesn’t need to read the book in order. Paul goes through 50 different topics, dedicating a chapter to each, all organized in alphabetical order. The book is a comprehensive treatise on Ron Paul’s positions on various issues, as the book indexes Paul’s position on the issues by chapter. I read the book in order the first time, but the second time, I flipped to random chapters as this can be easily done without throwing off the reader. The reader can quite literally flip to any chapter and become enlightened.
Most chapters are relatively short, but provide a concise account of each topic. Issues discussed include bipartisanship, Zionism, democracy, immigration, global warming, Keynesianism, and many more. This is also the book that introduced me to Austrian economics and the Mises Institute, as there is a chapter dedicated to Austrian economics. Any time there is an issue in the news, or if there is an issue in which you need to prime yourself, pick up the book and find the relevant chapter.
2. Theory and History by Ludwig Von Mises
Theory and History is a very interesting book to say the least and according to Dr. David Gordon, it is one of the easiest Mises books to read. The book is an epistemological and methodological treatise and outlines the praxeological method that ought to be used in the social sciences. Praxeology is the science of human action, with the chief premise being that humans engage in purposeful behavior.
The book sharply rebukes mainstream “scientific” methods of studying economics and establishes the premise that the social sciences differ greatly from the natural sciences in the sense that the social sciences study human action. Human action is entirely unpredictable and hence can not be predicted to the extent that events in the realm of the natural sciences can be predicted. Mises establishes the premise of methodological dualism, which asserts that the method used in the social sciences must be different from the method used in the natural sciences. Mises also discusses history and takes apart the Marxist interpretation of history. He puts emphasis on the free will and takes down such fallacious doctrines as materialism, determinism, and positivism.
3. Defending the Undefendable by Walter Block
Defending the Undefendable is one of those rare books that really gives the reader a mind blowing, mind changing experience. The book essentially does what is says it will do- it defends the undefendable. Block begins by establishing the non- aggression principle and uses this to guide the reader through the rest of the book. The book can actually be very convincing to non-libertarians, providing that the reader is to a degree sympathetic to the NAP, or at the very least has an open mind.
Once the reader considers the NAP, they will be able to understand how Block is able to defend these supposedly vile roles in society. One will see that Block puts heavy emphasis on the concept of voluntary exchange to advance his thesis. For example, in the first chapter titled “The Prostitute”, Block states that prostitution demonstrates a voluntary exchange of fees for sexual services. Reading this one chapter completely changed my perspective of prostitution, though I am still adamantly against prostitution personally.
Anyone who correctly understands the NAP and the concept of voluntary exchange will see that prostitution is actually just a peaceful exchange, just like any other exchange. The beauty of Block’s argument is that he maintains that one can be against prostitution, yet be in support of legalizing it. This is a very important point, and Block’s characterization of prostitution as an exchange helps to advance this point. Among other “evils” that Block defends include the inheritor, the stripminer, the pimp, the drug addict, and the blackmailer.
4. The Case Against the Fed by Murray N. Rothbard
The Case Against the Fed was one of the last books written by Murray Rothbard. It is by far the best take down of the Federal Reserve that I have ever seen, especially considering its mere brevity (at only 158 pages). Take for example End the Fed by Ron Paul. This is also a great book and a sharp rebuke of the Fed, but even this book doesn’t take down the Fed in the same concise, step by step fashion in which Rothbard does. This is a key factor regarding the uniqueness of Rothbard’s book. It is very step by step and makes sure the reader understands the fundamentals before advancing to the topic of the Fed.
Rothbard starts by explaining exchange, loans, and counterfeiting, then begins to advance this and applies it to fractional reserve banking. Towards the middle of the book, Rothbard digresses and begins to talk about the history of the Fed and the competing interests that led to its formation. Towards the end of the book, he beautifully wraps up his thesis and explains how the Fed inflates money.
One will also notice that Rothbard uses a lot of diagrams to represent bank transactions. In this way the reader will see that he is crystal clear with his explanation, and if anything is confusing, it is the concept rather than Rothbard (This is what sets Rothbard apart from Mises, but this should not discourage you from reading the brilliant works of Mises). For this reason, Rothbard makes an excellent choice for someone who is a novice, and this book is a must for anyone who wants to understand central banking.
5. Reassessing the Presidency by John V. Denson and others
Reassessing the Presidency is just the book we in need in this day in age with the growing power of the president and the indoctrination of people into worshiping big government. The book features many essays written by many great libertarian scholars including Joseph Salerno, Thomas DiLorenzo, Thomas Woods, Ralph Raico, and David Gordon among others. These essays take down the fallacious praise given to many American presidents by mainstream historians.
With the infamous libertarian Alabama Judge John Denson as the editor, the collection contains scorching essays on numerous topics including Abraham Lincoln and mercantilism, the abuse of antitrust legislation, and the origins of the American empire. If there is one chapter that I must single out as the most impactful for me, it is the chapter on the electoral college by Randall G. Holcombe. Reading this chapter was one of those mind blowing moments. The thesis is that the American republic was not meant to be a democracy and senators were not meant to be directly elected. This is very important as the 17th amendment, which allows the direct election of senators, has led to steady growth in government. For a more in depth analysis of this topic, read Holcombe’s book From Liberty to Democracy.
Additionally, Reassessing the Presidency also examines some presidents from a more positive view, these presidents including Martin Van Buren and Grover Cleveland. Nonetheless, even when examining libertarian leaning presidents, the authors do not hesitate to acknowledge any of the shortcomings of the presidents. The book starts with a chapter on rating presidents from a libertarian perspective and conveniently ends with a chapter on the impossibility of limited government by Hans-Herman Hoppe. The book is long at 791 pages, but it is nonetheless a very rewarding experience, sharply rebuking mainstream views of the presidency. I would suggest the writing of a second volume which incorporates recent presidents (as this book was written in 2001), as well as presidents that have not been given significant attention within this work.
There are many great books on liberty out there and this list is just a very small sample. I think that some of these works in this list are very overlooked including Theory and History, The Case Against the Fed, and Reassessing the Presidency, so I hope that I have provided you with some further reading. I think all these books are very much standouts and deserve more attention. I now leave you with a list of other great books:
- The Revolution: A Manifesto by Ron Paul
- Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman
- The Betrayal of the American Right by Murray Rothbard
- The Myth of National Defense by Hans-Hermann Hoppe and others
- Crony Capitalism in America by Hunter Lewis
- Speaking of Liberty by Lew Rockwell
- I Chose Liberty by Walter Block
- Principles of Economics by Carl Menger
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