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Product details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (31 Jan. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019993391X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199933914
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 1.8 x 14 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 697,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


a highly accessible primer to libertarian thought ... Recommended. (R.J. Meagher, CHOICE)

About the Author

Jason Brennan is Assistant Professor of Ethics, Economics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Ethics of Voting and co-author of A Brief History of Liberty. He also writes for the popular blog Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Dylan Evans on 28 Jan. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This short book is an excellent introduction to the basic principles of libertarianism. It is extremely clear and accessible, and illustrated with very topical examples. Indeed, the examples are so contemporary (referring, for example, to the 2012 US Presidential campaign) that I wonder if some of them may seem rather dated in a year's time. So, if you are going to buy this book, buy it soon! I found the structure of questions and answers very engaging, though it might not be to everyone's taste. It goes straight to the point and doesn't waste any time with useless padding. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone wanting to find out about libertarianism as quickly as possible.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Silouan the Athonite on 6 Jan. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I did not really know what to expect when I began reading Jason Brennan`s book Libertarianism. The book was recommended to me by a tutor at the excellent Ludwig Von Mises Institute. What quickly became apparent was that though the book is about economic conservatism it is extremely socially liberal. For example, here in the UK we do not have legal gay marriage which is, I read normal in Canada. Also, the author`s consistent support of free market deregulation is actually heroic after a while. For example, he talks of unrestricted immigration as a potential source of great wealth for everyone. He quotes Bastiat, if goods do not cross your borders then troops will. He champions the rights of minorities when he talks of how the war on drugs is ideological and harms more lives than it saves. In a similar vein he talks about how the ever corrupt and regulating big state weights education so that minorities suffer. He shames the west with its record on human rights up until the 1960s. Altogether this is an open minded and rather liberal exposition of Libertarianism that is stronger for its liberalism. The book`s attitude is a battle cry for the working man that has rejected socialism and wants to understand how to forward his life in the free market world of the 21st century. This book does not look back it tells you a lot of interesting information about the subject, embraces change and is very easy to read and enjoyable. Thank you Mr Brennan!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Thomas H. Burroughes on 20 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback
This is a useful - but flawed - introduction to libertarianism. Its strengths are that it is clearly written, with an engaging style and a useful bibliography at the back. I liked how it made it clear that libertarianism is not a "left" or "right" creed but something else entirely. I liked how it talked about its radicalism - this is one of the best aspects of the book. Not the least of its merits is that it is relatively short, so it will be useful for students as an introduction before hitting the longer books out there.

The book is biased, though. I was annoyed at its treatment of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, which carried a slight hint of condescension. Sure, Brennan does spell out the kind of values Rand supported that libertarians would support, and it does mention controversies such as her rejection of anarchism, but it is also a bit unfair, particularly on the issue of ethical egoism.

For instance, Brennan says Rand argued that the pursuit of self interest is Rand's only moral value. That surely is a mistaken way of putting what she wrote and said. Rand said one's life is one's highest value, and that one needed a range of virtues, given Man's nature, to achieve a happy and flourishing life. For many people, there is no sacrifice in working with others and in making others happy if that is what they want. What she objected to was the idea of sacrificing one's happiness and life for others, of giving up a greater value for a lesser one. (Hence her use of the idea of the "trader principle", of exchanging value for value, in explaining her ideas.) Brennan has no excuse not to know this sort of detail.
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0 of 8 people found the following review helpful By windwheel on 18 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback
Brennan is a youngish Academic in a terrible hurry to make a name for himself. He has latched on to Libertarianism because he is genuinely ignorant of the sort of intellectual challenges it must needs set itself to remain true to its own ethos.
Thus he has set himself up as a grotesque and meretricious cheerleader of a sport towards which his own back is turned.
This is a facile and ignorant book. There scarcely a single paragraph in this sophomore treatise which is not an embarrassment to those who have gravitated towards Libertarianism on the basis of considered reflection and an appreciation of current developments in Evolutionary Game and Complexity theory.
In no sense does his jejune effort impugn the cause in which- though denied enlistment, by reason of excessive stupidity, ignorance and bad faith- he storms imaginary barricades.
I consider him a disgrace to his current places of employment.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 17 reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
105 FAQs about libertarianism 2 Oct. 2012
By Paul Mastin - Published on
Format: Paperback
I'll start with full disclosure. I am a libertarian. I have little patience for the statism coming from the Rs and Ds. I have run for office as a Libertarian a couple of times. So I was predisposed to like Jason Brennan's Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know. But, subjectivity aside, I think Brennan provides a terrific, accessible guide to modern libertarian political thought.

The structure of Brennan's book, a series of questions grouped by topic, make it a very useful reference. It's worth reading straight through, but each short chapter can also stand alone, particularly the latter chapters addressing specific contemporary issues. Covering libertarian foundations, political theory, economics, and modern problems, Brennan lays out the basics of libertarianism.

Starting with the basics, Brennan gives the core of what libertarianism is about: individual liberty, mutual consent, cooperation, tolerance, mutual respect, volunteerism, equality, responsibility, and radical freedom. Answering the criticism that libertarians are too reliant on market solutions without acknowledging market failure, he points out that government also fail, and that while market failures eventually self-correct, government failure becomes entrenched. Although markets and governments both fail, we should favor free markets and not government intervention, as governments stifle freedom and exercise their monopoly on coercive power. Whether the issue is civil rights, poverty, the environment, crime, or international trade, government intervention, Brennan argues, is always the wrong choice. He lays out the arguments in deceptively simple terms, but in such a way that demands further study and response.

If I have a quibble with Brennan, it is his tendency to homogenize the libertarian movement. He does draw distinctions between some different types of libertarians, and occasionally notes alternative views, but most of the time it's "Libertarians believe. . . ." I only bring this up because he fails to acknowledge that many libertarians are pro-life. He writes, "Libertarians advocate women's reproductive freedom, including the rights to have an abortion, use birth control, . . ." While it's true that many, probably most, libertarians do so, I wish he would acknowledge the view of some libertarians that an unborn child warrants the same protections as a newborn or an adult.

Libertarianism deserves a spot on the shelf of any libertarian or libertarian leaning reader, but it should also be on the shelf of Ds and Rs. Pick it up, select a question, and be honest enough to compare your ideas with Brennan's on a given issue. At the very least, you will come to appreciate the libertarian position. If you're not careful, though, you may find that you agree with him.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary review copy.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Great Condensed, Straightforward Intro. to Libertarianism 17 April 2014
By coltrane - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, Jason Brennan offers a clear, straightforward, and readable introduction to the libertarian political perspective, carefully acknowledging along the way the range of differing opinions held by libertarians on key issues (with an exception, see below). The book is written in an easily referenceable question-and-answer format, and is divided by topic. The chapters and even individual questions can be consulted in any order, independently of the rest of the book. To this end, in the course of answering a particular question, Brennan helpfully cites other places in the book that give a more in-depth look at something perhaps only briefly mentioned. The author can be commended as well for often introducing anti-libertarian perspectives or objections without providing any direct libertarian rebuttal. In this way, the book serves to familiarize the reader with both the libertarian viewpoint on various political, social, and economic topics as well as common rejoinders or alternative takes from non- or anti-libertarians. Brennan deftly wields thought experiments and examples to illustrate how otherwise abstract ideas can be practically applied. On the negative side, I would like to have seen footnotes with explicit references included throughout the book. For example, Brennan cites many studies, statistics, and ideas directly, and although he sometimes gives the reader enough information to go off of in their own search, the sheer number of such instances leaves this reader desiring the inclusion of footnotes to assist in locating these. However, Brennan provides an excellent selection of texts and articles for further reading at the end of the book, divided into specific subcategories. Additionally, a helpful glossary of terms often employed in political philosophy can be found at the back of the book. The only critique I might give content-wise has to do with the matter-of-fact way that Brennan writes of libertarians as advocates for women's abortion rights. As I understand it, libertarians are nearly as divided as the country as a whole on the issue of abortion choice. In any case, at least a passing mention of a broadly "pro-life" libertarian perspective (cf. the website "Libertarians for Life" at could have been included. Despite this little nitpick of mine, the book is a solid presentation of libertarianism, and one that is much needed given the typical straw-manning that occurs in both ordinary and even professional political discourse. Thus, Brennan's distinction between classical liberal, hard libertarian, and neoclassical liberal perspectives is useful in addition to his general way of dispensing with caricatures along the way. I would highly recommend this book to any non-libertarians who are interested in truly understanding the position as well as anyone who has newly identified themselves with libertarianism.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Excellent primer on libertarian thinking 5 Aug. 2013
By Glenn Corey - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book could serve as an excellent introduction to libertarian ideas and the libertarian approach to government, society, and politics. It is ideal for people who are undecided about their political leanings, those interested in learning more about libertarianism from a libertarian, and those who are already comfortable with libertarian ideas but want something more structured. It could be used as a sort of guide or reference for basic answers to most of the major questions that arise in conversations about libertarianism (or any political philosophy). Both libertarians and non- or antilibertarians could benefit from reading it. As noted by other reviewers, the Q&A format and straightforward, conversational tone make the book very accessible.

However, I did have some problems with the book. One is related to something the other three-star reviewer pointed out, which is that the author does not represent the full spectrum of views held by libertarians on some views. That reviewer noted the author's omission of libertarians who are opposed to abortion; my issue has to do with public education. The question asked is this: "What would libertarians do about failing public schools?" The answer, while good enough as far as it went, failed to mention the solution that a growing number of people are going for: home- or unschooling. The homeschooling movement has gained much more widespread acceptance in recent years simply because it has shown to work so well for many families. I don't think there is a major institution of higher education now in this country that doesn't accept homeschoolers. In fact, a growing demographic group of homeschoolers is that of public school teachers who are homeschooling their own children. The author also fails to mention another idea promoted by some libertarians, which is to either do away with public schools entirely or at least not make schooling mandatory. In addition, homeschooling may not be for everyone, but allowing people who don't use school facilities to keep their tax dollars that would otherwise go to the schools would introduce some healthy competition into education.

My second problem with the book was that it mentioned that such and such a writer "found that..." but then fails to mention any titles of books or articles where the study appeared. There is a decent list of suggested readings at the end of the book, but many of the authors actually mentioned in the text don't appear on that list.

All in all, it was a very worthwhile read, though, and I highly recommend it, despite giving it only three stars.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Statement of libertarian principles 25 Mar. 2013
By Gderf - Published on
Format: Paperback
This little volume of the Oxford Press 'What Everyone Needs to Know' series is a very complete statement of Libertarian principles. The clarity helps me to restate my own ideas.
The case for libertarianism is well made. Liberty is found more in market societies, not in socialist economies. Government failure has proven more damaging than market failure.
Three types of libertarians are defined: classic liberals, hard libertarians and neoclassic liberals. A major premise favoring libertarianism is Lord Acton's premise that power corrupts.
There's a good discussion defining negative and positive liberties. Libertarians deplore use of violence. The civil rights movement implies violence to promote noble objectives. Tyranny of the majority is a predominant factor of our current popular democracy. A libertarian president would reduce spending. A no growth economy is a zero sum game.

Brennan states the libertarian belief that consent, not force should be the main principle of governance. He emphasizes tolerance for feminism and freedom of choice, including freedom to make bad decisions. Private enterprise transfers resources from non-profitable to profitable enterprise, government does the opposite. Redistribution is, at best, a short term solution.
Property rights solves problems. The "tragedy of the commons" is due to overuse when people think that others bear the cost.

The book is especially good on the history of Libertarian and associated thought. Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Ron Paul and many others are included. It contrast libertarian ideals with the rest of the social spectrum including especially John Rawls and Ayn Rand. The book doesn't cover pretenders such as Obama supporters claiming he is a centrist, another form of libertarian, which Obama is decidedly not.

My reservation is a lack of reality based political analysis. Libertarianism appears to be an impotent political force. Especially as Brennan says it is growing in popular appeal. Libertarians being apolitical doesn't explain the phenomenon. Regrettably, I vote Libertarian only when both principle candidates are totally obnoxious. It amounts to throwing my vote away. It appears to be wishful thinking to expect a real 'third way.' Lack of political clout makes a statement of principles simply quixotic. The most important consideration is how to cope with a libertarian hostile environment. That's missing from the book.

Centrists have abdicated politics to the point where Obama supporters claim centralism, which is ridiculous. Brennan says that libertarians tend to vote Republican, but that the tendency is shifting. As much as I regret being in bed with red necks and other extremists, it seems that the only possibility of getting back towards the political center is by a conservative vote. Is there no way to make the Libertarian Party a political reality or will it take a different and independent movement? Might the Tea Party splinter from Republicans and expand? It's a shame we don't have a proportional representation system where a 15% representation could swing the balance in a coalition government.

I do take a couple of philosophical exceptions to the analysis. The BofR is not a wide statement of popular rights. It would be wider if the BofR had not been written. Madison's original position was that a BofR was unnecessary, due to the implied reservation of unenumerated rights to the people. The subsequent incorporation doctrine of the Fourteenth, Brennan points to a doubling of GDP growth since 1950. However, government spending now accounts for nearly half of current GDP so that gains have accrued to government, not to the public.

This is an excellent and convincing statement of Libertarian principles, albeit lacking in reality based political analysis.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Solid Q&A Approach to Modern Libertarianism 17 Mar. 2013
By Edward J. Barton - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brennan's Q&A format, taking the reader through the history, foundational beliefs and modern application and issues of the Libertarian movement is well written and relatively easy to digest. He looks at Libertarianism in light of the 2008 and forward US political and international climate, and the contemporary and relevant cites and examples will resonate with most readers. The book covers the Libertarian positions on "What" it is, Human Nature, Ethics, Government & Democracy, Civil Rights, Economic Freedom, Social Justice and Contemporary Issues. If you are interested in understanding the basis of Liberal thought in modern America, pick up this easy to read book.
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