on 28 January 2013
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.
on 6 January 2013
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!
on 20 November 2014
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. It is bad enough that socialists and conservatives cannot get Rand straight, but this is from someone who presumably has read quite a lot about her.
Brennan later goes on to say that most libertarians argue that one has a duty to promote the welfare of one's fellows, but this will strike many libertarians I know as misleading, if not downright wrong. The very word "duty" begs the question of "duty according to whom"? Who imposes that duty? Traditionally, the answer would be some sort of God, but that plainly won't work for an agnostic/atheist, as many libertarians are. I certainly do agree that libertarians want others, as well as themselves, to flourish, be free and have a good life, but when terms such as "duty" and "promoting general welfare" come out, it begs a lot of questions. He also uses the term "social justice" in a positive sense, and yet as he must know, the late F A Hayek was damning of this term as being collectivist. Ideas of duty to promote welfare are the bedrock of the Welfare State, and the rest of it.
This is a book of some value, but to be honest its flaws and biases disappointed me, hence the two stars.
on 18 December 2013
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.