book review

The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom

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The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom

The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom
by David Boaz
Simon & Schuster, 2015, 417 pages
Reviewed by T.J. Nelson

L ibertarianism, perhaps because of its increasing influence, seems to get criticized almost every day. News reporters think it threatens the bailouts and spending programs they advocate; liberals think it dilutes their commitment to providing government services to everyone whether they want them or not; and conservatives think it turns people into fornicating, porn-watching, drug-smoking hippies.

All true. But these are just libertarianism's good points.

Our forefathers fought and died not so you could have sex and smoke drugs, but to build a government that cannot stop you from having sex and smoking drugs and downloading porn off the Internet if that's what you really want to do. This is called liberty, and in this book David Boaz of the Cato Institute shows us how libertarianism is our best hope for preserving it.

There are many different kinds of libertarians. Some want to get government out of their pocketbook and out of their bedroom. Others want it to stick to the constitution and obey its own laws. Some just want government to f*** off and die. And then there are a few in the back who keep asking, “Is it time to shoot the bastards yet?” We are indeed diverse in our opinions.

The Libertarian Mind, with its Gadsden yellow cover, is a rewritten, updated, and retitled version of Libertarianism: A Primer. It is vastly better. The new title is a reference to Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind, which W.F. Buckley credited with almost single-handedly reviving the conservative movement.

As Murray Rothbard wrote: libertarianism does not offer a way of life—it offers liberty. To many, that sounds like anarchy. But as Boaz shows over and over, our country is founded on liberty, and liberty is the foundation of our economic and intellectual wealth.

Boaz explains why property law is important, why “sharing everything” would never work, why capitalism increases trust, why passing laws to effect specific outcomes makes things worse, and why common criticisms of libertarianism miss the mark. He contrasts it with socialism, which seems to promise a sense of community that people lack, but which in practice always produces an atomized society where individuals distrust each other and hate anyone who has wealth.

We are further along that path than most people realize. I found that out last week when I learned if I carried a few grams of solvent from one building to another at work it could be a federal crime. Boaz describes an orchid importer who was imprisoned for two years for the crime of putting the wrong label on a legally imported flower. One could reasonably ask how these examples differ from the horror stories we heard about the Soviet Union, where people could be imprisoned for dropping a piece of soap on a picture of Stalin. According to Boaz, more than 25% of American jobs now require licensing, which is to say permission from the government.

Both liberals and conservatives are caught up in the struggle for rights and special privileges. The conflicts come not from their different ideas, but from the fact that we no longer have a government of laws, but a government of men, who dole out privileges, rights and benefits like candy, forcing people to fight each other to prevent the loss of the things they value.

This is no accident, of course; expanding government is the path for survival of both the Left and the Right (although many are having second thoughts). Congress doesn't even consider whether a new law is within the enumerated powers of the Constitution before passing it—it uses the ‘general welfare’ clause as a blank check to do anything it wants. Public debates are often framed in terms of which policy brings in more revenue for the government, as if their only purpose is to make government bigger. As a result, we get 80,000 pages of new regulations every year.

If everything is against the law—and it might as well be, since few know what these rules say—then nothing is, and the law becomes whatever those in power wish it to be.

The need for a return to libertarian principles has never been so great. Yet conservatives and liberals alike call libertarians and their candidates “selfish individualists” and “wacko birds” for trying to reduce the power of the State, thereby threatening their goal of running your life. Boaz says our court intellectuals, like Keynes, Rawls, and Krugman, have turned from the vision of Locke and Smith to a “crabbed and reactionary statism,” not just from ambition, but from knowledge that the government will amply repay them with taxpayer money.

I highly recommend this book to any college student, any porn star, any reporter, or indeed anyone who's wondering whether they should call themselves libertarian or something else. The writing is clear and logical; no background in political philosophy is needed. Boaz calmly explains what libertarianism is and what it isn't, saying that government should be run according to general, sensible principles, not by a maze of complex and sometimes contradictory laws, each of which is designed to solve a problem created by the previous one.

After I achieve world domination, I will order that this book be beamed into everyone's brain electronically. Until then, everyone should get and read a copy of this outstanding book.

Reviewed on this page

The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom
by David Boaz

See also

Eight myths about libertarianism
If people are going to bash libertarianism, they need to get their ideas about it straight. Otherwise they might inadvertently bash each other.

Government Is Too Big
The government is increasingly cut off from reality.

America must evolve
Change is coming, one way or the other. America must evolve to meet the challenge.

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feb 15, 2015