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Escape from Leviathan: Libertarianism without Justificationism Paperback – 26 Apr 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: The University of Buckingham Press (26 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908684089
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908684080
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.5 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,467,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Lester ... tackles the subject with the consummate skill of an expert in the field. He is up to date with all the relevant literature. ... He is familiar with all of the philosophical issues and manages to breathe some new life into matters that have been discussed ad nauseam by libertarians over the years. ... his critique of democracy was a heady, almost intoxicating, refutation. ... Lester shows considerable originality, either when he is discussing some of the deepest problems in political theory or when he is making a contribution to some of the more casual issues of contemporary politics. ... he is not frightened to consider the major, and the deepest, intellectual conundrums in the doctrine. ... What is also surprising and refreshing is that Lester can produce arguments against interference and coercion that ... are inferences from the liberty principle itself. ... None of this is suggestive of a lack of intellectual ambition in Lester. ... such philosophical expertise. ... In a short review article it is impossible to do justice to Lester's remarkable book. He manages to say new and exciting things .... Lester's arguments are presented with sophistication and are informed by an impressive mastery of the secondary literature. --Professor Norman Barry

Lester argues that utility is compatible with liberty, understood in its classically negative sense. In the process, he has written a remarkable book, informed by a masterly knowledge of economics and filled with careful analytical detail. He deals with a vast range of criticisms, and in the process undoes a great deal of theoretical mischief on the relations between these important concepts, including much by philosophers of major reputation. His accounts of instrumental rationality, of property rights, of public goods problems, and of restitution for criminal cases, are important contributions and will be discussed with interest for long. Few among us will fail to benefit from reading it. --Professor Jan Narveson

Lester's book develops a sustained and at times fresh and surprising argument for its compatibilist conclusions. It constitutes a formidable intellectual challenge to the social democratic establishment in political theory. Professor Antony Flew This is a notably ambitious reconstruction of radical libertarian thinking from the ground up. Even those, like myself, who are unpersuaded by its reformulation of classical liberalism will benefit from reading Lester's book. --Professor John Gray

About the Author

J C Lester is a philosopher and a libertarian who has been writing on the superiority of liberty over politics for thirty years.

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rafe Champion on 21 July 2012
This book probably represents a landmark in the literature of liberalism on two counts. One of these is the robust statement of his major thesis on the compatibility of free markets, liberty and welfare. The other is the way he uses the non-authoritarian theory of rationality expounded by Karl Popper and William W Bartley.

"In practice (rather than in imaginary cases) and in the long term, there are no systematic clashes among interpersonal liberty, general welfare, and market anarchy, where these terms are to be understood roughly as follows...". Those who seek linguistic precision may be alarmed that his terms are to be understood roughly. Lester has quite deliberately avoided the kind of conceptual analysis, the teasing out of the meaning of terms, that Popper has labeled "essentialism". At least one reviewer noted the remarkable amount of meat that is packed into the book. This is partly due to the self-conscious avoidance of essentialism, partly to Lester's firm grasp on his materials and party to the mode of argumentation that he has adopted, following the non-justificationist or non-foundational line that has been articulated by Popper and Bartley.

The main characteristic of this approach is that it only attempts to achieve what is possible, which is the formation of a critical preference for one option rather than another, in the light of the evidence and arguments that are available up to date. He does not attempt the impossible, namely a logically conclusive proof of his case.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brian J. Gladish on 15 Sept. 2013
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I chose this book because I expected it to follow the thrust of my own thinking about the links between conjectural knowledge and the formation of society. However, I found that it simply claimed to use Popper's method of proposing a theory and then defending it against criticism. The author only touches briefly on the relationship between Popper's epistemology and methodology, and society, suggesting that it "is a useful part of the defense of libertarianism." It is, to me, a colossal failure to have Popper's ideas under your nose and fail to use it foundationally.

Lester does provide a great many arguments to defend libertarianism, but that was hardly the contribution I was looking for.
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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Don't miss this great book!! 21 July 2012
By Rafe Champion - Published on Amazon.com
This book probably represents a landmark in the literature of liberalism on two counts. One of these is the robust statement of his major thesis on the compatibility of free markets, liberty and welfare. The other is the way he uses the non-authoritarian theory of rationality expounded by Karl Popper and William W Bartley.

"In practice (rather than in imaginary cases) and in the long term, there are no systematic clashes among interpersonal liberty, general welfare, and market anarchy, where these terms are to be understood roughly as follows...". Those who seek linguistic precision may be alarmed that his terms are to be understood roughly. Lester has quite deliberately avoided the kind of conceptual analysis, the teasing out of the meaning of terms, that Popper has labeled "essentialism". At least one reviewer noted the remarkable amount of meat that is packed into the book. This is partly due to the self-conscious avoidance of essentialism, partly to Lester's firm grasp on his materials and party to the mode of argumentation that he has adopted, following the non-justificationist or non-foundational line that has been articulated by Popper and Bartley.

The main characteristic of this approach is that it only attempts to achieve what is possible, which is the formation of a critical preference for one option rather than another, in the light of the evidence and arguments that are available up to date. He does not attempt the impossible, namely a logically conclusive proof of his case. What is possible is to propose a theory or a doctrine and subject it to criticism, then if it stands up we may proceed with that theory or doctrine until such time as an alternative is proposed that has better credentials and stands up to criticism at least as well as the previous candidate.

Turning to the organization of the book, after the Introduction are four chapters; Rationality, Liberty, Welfare and Anarchy. Each chapter is tightly organised and packed with crisply presented arguments which resist efforts to paraphrase them. Consequently no short review will do justice to the contents of the book or its organisation. Lester's theory of rationality has to reconcile two extreme views in economics - the neglected subjective, "a priori" approach of Menger and the Austrians, and the standard objective, empirical account. He adopts the theory that agents are self-interested utility-maximisers and he addresses a number of standard objections that are raised against this concept. He argues, successfully in my view, that the objections do no damage to his thesis.

Liberty is formulated as the absence of initiated or proactively imposed cost, or in the case of a mutual clash of imposed costs, the minimisation of imposed costs. This means avoiding or minimising the subjective costs imposed on us by other people, without our consent. Lester explains this formulation, compares it with typical libertarian alternatives to illustrate its strengths and then tests it by attempting to solve some problems presented to libertarians by David Friedman and John Gray. This is the longest chapter and it covers a huge amount of ground, including intellectual property rights and a theory of restitution for crimes and torts. In addition to the criticism of Friedman and Gray there is also a rejoinder to Amartya Sen and to Karl Popper.

The criticism of John Gray is important because for some time he enjoyed a high profile as a rare instance of a classical liberal Oxford don. Lester also responds to Gray's charge of "restrictivism", directed at liberals on the ground that they do not accept that freedom is "an essentially contested concept". In response, Lester accuses Gray of "conflationism", that is, importing a raft of contentious theories from elsewhere (psychology, hermeneutics, epistemology) to muddle and confuse the issues, at the same time appealing to various authorities and ultimately overriding interpersonal liberty in favour of some other goal.

Welfare is a sticking point for many people of good will who support freedom but believe that they cannot be libertarians because of all the poor people who need assistance. Actually support for deserving poor people could be provided by a VWA (Voluntary Welfare Association), dispensing funds from voluntary donations from all the people who currently vote to support welfare policies. The main targets in the chapter on welfare are R M Hare, Amartya Sen, Bernard Williams, John Rawls, John Harsanyi and Alan Ryan.

The final chapter on anarchy is very short because most of the work to defend private property and the market order has been done in previous chapters. "Basic conceptual confusion and mere prejudice are more the real problems" (page 193). He casts a critical eye over some conceptual aspects of the state and then he turns to John Rawls again as an exemplar of confusion and prejudice. Finally, Lester identifies the way that Rawls has simply ignored the libertarian position on the state, which is perceived as providing the arena where the most divisive issues can be removed from the political agenda.
No Solid Foundations.... 13 Nov. 2014
By Agisthos - Published on Amazon.com
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Escape From Leviathan is written in the style of British libertarianism. Unlike US libertarianism which is influenced by figures such as Mises and Rothbard and uses an intellectual approach based on natural rights and Austrian economic theory, British libertarianism is more influenced by F.A Hayek and Karl Popper.

Hayek's subjectivism and relativism about being able to know objective truth is also influential in the United States among a segment of libertarianism, but what interests me here is Popper's methodological approach called Critical Rationalism that has caught on with our British friends of liberty.

I have limited in-depth knowledge or exposure to Critical Rationalism and its method of conjecture & refutation apart from reading all the blogs by the leading lights of the British libertarians. So the following comments are not about Popper's work or method itself, but are a reflection purely on how this method seems to be applied by its adherents in the British sphere of libertarianism.

So... a difficult debate in Libertarianism concerns how we should come to conclusions regarding the best social, economic and political order. The question is one of methodology, what philosophical method of acquiring knowledge will best allow us to follow the correct course of action?

On one hand you have what are called Positivists or Empiricists. These are people who claim that knowledge about the world can only come from experimentation and observation. Logic and human reason is fallible and thus should not be relied upon. We should only rely on the scientific method with its data and statistics to lead the way. This is the approach taken by the Milton Friedman wing of Libertarianism and the Chicago school of economics.

On the other hand you have the Misesian Rationalists. They claim that the scientific method is correct for the hard sciences but not for the social sciences of economics and politics - because these are made up of humans, always changing, never static, and any observation is but a limited snapshot in time that is misleading for use in the future. So instead we must use deductive reasoning and logic based on simple truths about human nature and our world, this will lead to the correct way forward. This is the approach taken by the Murray Rothbard wing of Libertarianism and the Austrian school of economics.

So here it gets interesting for Popper's Critical Rationalist followers like JC Lester, they seem to occupy a space between these two positions. On the one hand they reject the rationalist use of deductive reasoning and logic - they consider it as being fallible because of human error and bias. But at the same time they can see the errors of using the scientific method in the social sciences. They understand a distinction must be made between the hard sciences and social sciences.

So instead they use Popper's method of conjecture and refutation. The method seems to goes like this.... you put forward a proposition, and see if we can come up with anything to refute it. If not, and we agree it seems correct, we move on. It's like intellectual discovery by consensus. All the propositions and refutations are done by quoting other authors and then vague musings about their ideas. There is a complete aversion to using theoretical analysis or following any steps in deductive reasoning. It’s like every argument is made in clay, with the author avoiding commitment to any definitive statement, and instead just marshalling a large number of ideas by other authors.

I’m sure the followers of Critical Rationalism will think I have misrepresented what this method is, but at the end of the day it’s how this method is actually applied in the real world, in this sphere, that ultimately counts. It seems to be just a descent into pure methodological relativism and subjective musings. If this is the philosophical backbone of British libertarianism then it’s no wonder it has been such a useless intellectual movement over there.

I am reminded of Murray Rothbard’s infamous article ‘The Hermeneutical Invasion’. A lot of the insight Murray had about the Hermeneutical method can be applied to the Critical Rationalists libertarians in my opinion. I hope JC Lester’s does not take offence because I enjoy his articles and other work he has written, but not this book. I did notice him saying to another reviewer that Critical Rationalism is not to be used ‘foundationally’, which is probably a pointer as to why it does not gel with me.
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