Overview of a Special Issue


In this fifth annual book review issue of REASON, we have brought together a variety of books and reviewers. Again, not all the books reviewed are "libertarian," nor even of direct interest to libertarians. For one thing, the sad fact is that the zeitgeist is not liberty-loving, so not many liberty-oriented books are published. For another, part of REASON's purpose is to train a certain point of view on events and ideas as they are in the world.

One aspect of our world is the enormous influence of intellectual trends on political developments. Who is it, for example, that testifies before congressional committees? Not your average citizen—not usually. University departments and think tanks across the country are tapped for expert testimony. Business leaders and experts from industry are called in too; but, things being as they are, they are usually placed on the defensive. Even more importantly, it is not one of their tools of trade to be intellectual about things, to articulate the political principles of the system in which they are functioning or to debate the wisdom of modifying that system. So the intellectuals, rather than businessmen, come off sharp and pretty when political decisionmakers cast about for ideas to support the programs they plan. Those who wish to counter prevailing political winds therefore need to at least be aware of what's going on in intellectual forums—of which book publishing is one.

So we bring to your attention such books as Barry Commoner's The Poverty of Power, Naderite Phillip Boffey's The Brain Bank of America, Ivan Illich's Medical Nemesis, and Michael Harrington's The Twilight of Capitalism. For each of these books—some to a greater extent than others—the popular media bordered on servility in its adulation. Yet if there is one recurrent, although not surprising, theme of the books, it is that a system of individual liberty does not, in crucial respects, work—that, for some good or another, citizens must give up yet another area of liberty in decision making. And it's not as though the writers of these books muster up challenging defenses for this liberty-grabbing. Our reviewers of these books can show you where the arguments in them are just not up to snuff. Having made ourselves aware of both the powerlessness of the arguments and the powerful appeal of these books, we know what we are up against in our multifaceted attempts to defend liberty.

We also, of course, review books of more direct interest to libertarians. Some readers, because of their fascination with the shape of the future, will want to turn first to Jerry Tuccille's review of Herman Kahn's future figurings and of a related book of essays. Others, long-time or new-found followers of Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek's thought, will be pleased to work through some of the insights and shortcomings of volume two of his Law, Legislation, and Liberty series. Fans of Thomas Szasz or those seeking an introduction to the prolific work of this anti-mental illness, anti-suicide laws, anti-drug laws crusader, will find food for thought in Antony Flew's discussion of four new books by Szasz. And anyone with a bone of curiosity will want to check out the review of David Norton's Personal Destinies. Whether or not this turns out to be an important book in terms of intellectual influence—as it may—it is a very important book for all those concerned with defending individual liberty as right and good for people. Although Norton doesn't discuss many explicitly political issues, he sets out to build anew, from firm foundations, the case for ethical individualism. The importance of this ethical groundwork cannot be overemphasized. For if there is no virtue in individuals' pursuing their own lives, how can it be politically right to let them do so? Incidentally, an ethical grounding is precisely what Robert Nozick, in his Anarchy, State, and Utopia, says he does not provide therein but admits to be absolutely necessary to his libertarian thesis.

Finally, in this issue's Book Hints, we survey the publishing efforts of some institutions that are not in the intellectual mainstream and, more than less, are a potential force for freedom. And, following up last July's fascinating (if I must say so myself!) "interview" with Adam Smith, we pay tribute to this great 18th-century figure with a review of recent republishings of his works and works about him.

Appropriate to REASON's thrust and to a book issue, we celebrate, with a short piece by senior editor Tibor Machan, the publication 20 years ago of Ayn Rand's famous, often-maligned but widely read, monumental work, Atlas Shrugged.