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Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism (Studies in Law and Economics) [Paperback]

Richard A. Epstein

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Book Description

1 Jun 2003 Studies in Law and Economics
With this book, Richard A. Epstein provides a spirited and systematic defense of classical liberalism against the critiques mounted against it over the past thirty years. One of the most distinguished and provocative legal scholars writing today, Epstein here explains his controversial ideas in what will quickly come to be considered one of his cornerstone works.

He begins by laying out his own vision of the key principles of classical liberalism: respect for the autonomy of the individual, a strong system of private property rights, the voluntary exchange of labor and possessions, and prohibitions against force or fraud. Nonetheless, he not only recognizes but insists that state coercion is crucial to safeguarding these principles of private ordering and supplying the social infrastructure on which they depend. Within this framework, Epstein then shows why limited government is much to be preferred over the modern interventionist welfare state.

Many of the modern attacks on the classical liberal system seek to undermine the moral, conceptual, cognitive, and psychological foundations on which it rests. Epstein rises to this challenge by carefully rebutting each of these objections in turn. For instance, Epstein demonstrates how our inability to judge the preferences of others means we should respect their liberty of choice regarding their own lives. And he points out the flaws in behavioral economic arguments which, overlooking strong evolutionary pressures, claim that individual preferences are unstable and that people are unable to adopt rational means to achieve their own ends. Freedom, Epstein ultimately shows, depends upon a skepticism that rightly shuns making judgments about what is best for individuals, but that also avoids the relativistic trap that all judgments about our political institutions have equal worth.

A brilliant defense of classical liberalism, Skepticism and Freedom will rightly be seen as an intellectual landmark.

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About the Author

Richard A. Epstein is the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School and the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author of a number of books, including Simple Rules for a Complex World and Principles for a Free Society, and coeditor of The Vote: Bush, Gore, and the Supreme Court, published by the University of Chicago Press.

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100 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost a classic 10 Jun 2003
By Wayne C. Lusvardi - Published on
Anyone looking for a balanced, albeit compassionate, but not mushy, defense of limited government should be directed to read this superb book. All writing is social. For some time Epstein has been having a running dialogue - or shall we say a running battle of words - in his books with apologists for the welfare state such as Cass Sunstein's contrapuntal book The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes (1999). Epstein deftly exposes the flawed assumptions of his opponents - that more taxes and regulation do not result in greater liberty, compassion, or even a bigger economic pie. The problem with Epstein's book, as opposed to those of his rivals, is few outside academia may read it. Epstein can sometimes write eloquently - such as when he summarizes the "melancholy truth" that wealth redistribution works for the powerful not the needy with the apt phrase: "there is many a slip between cup and lip." Epstein can out-reason both his opponents on his Left and Right - such welfare absolutists as Cass Sunstein on one hand, and such moral relativists as laissez fairest Richard Posner on the other (Economic Analysis of Law 1998). But his book appeals to the rational and those of his Big Government opponents to the emotional. Unfortunately, few may find Epstein's first chapter on "Two Forms of Skepticism" (which he never really explains) as engaging and may likely put the book down at that point. Epstein explains that this is perhaps the last book in his trilogy (Simple Rules, 1995 and Principles for a Simple Society, 1998) and apologizes to his family for taking time to write a book for which he says they don't entirely approve. I would hope that Epstein would write a fourth book, albeit a dumbed-downed, more emotional and experiential book that would have wider appeal and of which maybe even his family would approve. But then if he did that maybe his compelling arguments for limited government would be diluted and lost. So my suggestion for readers is to plod through Epstein's "inepstein" beginning of his book and you will find it worthwhile. Then again, a classic is a book that appeals to a wide range of readers, and maybe Epstein will someday write us such a book. He nearly does it with this one. Highly recommended.
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