Friday, 24 July 2009

The Free Man’s Library

BlueSkyBookStackWhat books should the interested individualist have on their shelves and their bedside table? What should the would-be freedom-lover be reading to get up to speed for the intellectual battle?  I’ve offered a few suggestions myself for eager readers, and half a century ago writer Henry Hazlitt (author of the essential classic Economics in One Lesson amongst other treasures) offered his own definitive ‘short-list’ representing the cream of “the liberal tradition.” 

Did I just say LiberalI sure did.

      One of the crowning ironies of the present era [says Hazlitt in the introduction to his reading list]  is that it is precisely … the people who flatteringly refer to themselves as "liberals" who have forgotten or repudiated the essence of the true liberal tradition. The typical butts of their ridicule are such writers as Adam Smith, Bastiat, Cobden ("the Manchester School"), and Herbert Spencer. Whatever errors any of these writers may have been guilty of individually, they were among the chief architects of true liberalism. 
    Yet our modern "progressives" now refer to this whole philosophy contemptuously as "laissez faire." They present a grotesque caricature of it in order to refute it to their own satisfaction, and then go on to advocate more and more governmental power, more centralization of government … more and more discretionary power for an appointed bureaucracy...

Which gives you both the reason for Hazlitt’s list, which appeared in book form as The Free Man’s Library, and the reason you should be interested in it: because if you don’t know capitalism’s proud history and the intellectual tradition of liberty and laissez faire, then you leave your “progressive” enemies free to redefine it and misrepresent it for you – just as they redefined the word “liberal,” and the likes of Mr Trotter will always misrepresent capitalism – and you leave your would-be friends to sell out the very things they, and you, purport to uphold.

    "Oh, Liberty!" Madame Roland is said to have exclaimed as she passed a statue to that goddess on her way to the guillotine, "what crimes are committed in thy name!" Looking at the world today, we are tempted to stress the intellectual crimes committed in the name of liberty as much as the moral crimes. Never were men more ardent in defense of "liberty" than they are today; but never were there more diverse concepts of what constitutes true liberty. Many of today's writers who are most eloquent in their arguments for liberty in fact preach philosophies that would destroy it.

SS468Very true. The greatest tragedy can be to attempt the right things for the wrong reasons. If  take up intellectual arms you’re going to need intellectual ammunition – which means knowing and taking advantage of the intellectual tradition that came before you.

    Now this tradition, rich and deep and noble as it is, is being treated by most present-day intellectuals almost as if it had never existed. . .
    This bibliography, [Hazlitt hopes], will help to clarify as well as to mobilize the case for individualism and true liberalism. It is designed to strengthen individualists in their knowledge and convictions, to place in their hands the intellectual weapons that will help them to combat the totalitarian trend. It is designed, also, to call attention to the richness of the truly liberal tradition, to the excellent books and the many noble minds that have helped to shape it.

Read Hazlitt’s introduction to get yourself started – and to find out his “top ten classics,” his top ten from a half-century ago, and the books he suggests you might want to start with.  And feel free to compare it to my own.


  1. Quoth the Raven24 Jul 2009, 15:10:00

    I would reccomend as an internet resource the Molinari Institute
    The form of social organization known as the State, an increasingly virulent parasite on civil society, is entering the final stages of an unsustainable growth that threatens the existence of civilisation itself. The mission of the Molinari Institute is to promote understanding of the philosophy of Market Anarchism as a sane, consensual alternative to the hypertrophic violence of the State.
    The Institute takes its name from Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912), originator of the theory of Market Anarchism.

    It has a large amount of free market resources. Here's the wiki on Molinari.
    Of course the Molinari Institute is maintained by a bunch of lefties like myself and Bastiat was a lefty as well. Herbert Spencer seemed to be quite a lefty himself.

  2. "Market Anarchy." Talk about an oxymoron.

    You're talking about a market in force, which you're supposing will underpin (somehow) markets in goods and services. There's no evidence that it would.

    In fact the very concept of markets presupposes protection of contracts and property rights, not the other way around.

    But perhaps, since we're doing reading lists, I'll simply recommend readers two more posts to read instead:
    * Cue Card Libertarianism: Anarchy
    * The Contradiction of Anarchism

  3. Quoth the Raven24 Jul 2009, 16:59:00

    I think we've both heard all the arguments for and against the state. For others though: Libertarian Anarchism:Responses to Ten Objections.

    You are basically a minarchist as in having a minimal state. I think with decentralisation and competition similar to Douglas's proposal for Auckland, but on a much greater scale the distinction between anarchism and minarchism begins to break down. So I don't think we're as diametrically opposed as you may believe. A quote from Thoreau: I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — "That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

  4. Quoth the Raven24 Jul 2009, 17:19:00

    Here's another link for those interested: Anarchist Theory FAQ. See the What criticisms have been made of Anarchism? section.

  5. QR: You don't think that Jefferson knew the difference between "governs least" and "governs not at all" when he said that?

    I would say that there was a very good reason as to why he said what he said, as opposed to the latter.

  6. Quoth the Raven24 Jul 2009, 18:02:00

    Jefferson wasn't an anarchist, but it was once said that anarchists are unterrified Jeffersonian democrats. You'd have to look through Jefferson's writing to find out how much he believed in the neccessity of government. Someone may try to decode what Jefferson is aaying here for me: "It is a problem, not clear in my mind, that [a society without government, as among our Indians] is not the best. But I believe it to be inconsistent with any great degree of population."
    Anyway here's a video.

  7. "Of course the Molinari Institute is maintained by a bunch of lefties like myself and Bastiat was a lefty as well. Herbert Spencer seemed to be quite a lefty himself."

    Bastiat was no political"Lefty"...he was a classic liberal.Raven seems ignorant of the fact that the terms "Left and Right" came from the old French assembly when it just so happened that the Socialists were seated on the right of the hall and the Liberals et el were seated on the was an accident of the seating arrangments...nothing more.

  8. Quoth the Raven25 Jul 2009, 10:52:00

    James - It is the french legislative assembly from which we draw the terms left and right. socialists, classical liberals and I know of one anarchist, Proudhon also a free market advocate sat on the left. They sat there because they were against the ancien regime. Read this:
    From early on libertarians were seen, and saw themselves, as on the Left. Obviously, “the Left” could comprise people who agreed on very little — as long as they opposed the established regime (or restoration of the old regime). The French Left in the first half of the 19th century included individualists and collectivists, laissez-faire free-marketeers and those who wanted state control of the means of production, state socialism. One could say that the Left itself had left and right wings, with the laissez-fairists on the left-left and the state socialists on the right-left.

    Yes today things have chagned conservatives couch there rhetoric in free market terms, but support no such thing those on the centre left are called "liberals" and are no such thing. Left and right are fairly meaningless in contemporary discourse, but I'm still proud to call myself a lefty being inspired by the libertarian socialists, the classical liberals and anarchists who were all left wing.


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