Rand Paul

"If You Read One Book on Libertarianism…" for God's Sake, Make it This One! Or Two.


Rand Paul is running for the Republican presidential nomination and his politics are somewhat bewildering to many. How can someone be a Republican but question the sagacity of military intervention, care about criminal justice reform, and push hemp legalization legislation? The Daily Beast asked me to recommend to its readers a book that would help clarify where Rand Paul is coming from. Here's a snippet:

If you want to better understand Paul's "libertarian-ish" ideology, there is one book worth reading with special care. My Reason colleague Brian Doherty's magisterial Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement gives unparalleled insight into the socio-political milieu that helped to spawn Rand Paul. Published in 2007, Radicals for Capitalism does a great job of explaining the ideas and groups that animated Paul's father Ron, the former congressman and Libertarian Party presidential candidate whose influence on his son is plain to see (if not absolute)….

Tying together such disparate and often-cranky characters as novelist Ayn Rand, economist Ludwig von Mises, Nobel Prize winners F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, and the firebrand polemicist Murray Rothbard, Doherty chronicles how a diffuse movement formed from post-war fears over the centralization of political, business, and social power. Such centralization, libertarians worried, led inevitably to unwarranted trust in the ability of a few smart boys—"the best and the brightest" as they were known in the Kennedy years—to call the shots in more and more aspects of our lives.

While hardly scanting intellectual debates about post-war economics and foreign policy, Radicals for Capitalism is at its best recounting the ins and outs of fights among feuding libertarians and recounting fleeting moments of triumph, such as when future Wired magazine co-founder Louis Rossetto co-authored a 1971 New York Times Magazine cover story titled "The New Right Credo: Libertarianism," LSD guru Timothy Leary held a 1988 Beverly Hills fundraiser for Ron Paul, and Milton Friedman zinged Gen. William Westmoreland during hearings of the Gates Commission, convened by Richard Nixon to study the feasibility of all-volunteer army. After Westmoreland harrumphed that he wasn't interested in leading a force of "mercenaries," Friedman asked "Would you rather command an army of slaves?" Radicals for Capitalism comprehensively explains the sociology of the libertarian movement and its curious-seeming emphasis on laissez-faire in personal matters as well as economic ones.

Doherty has also written an account of Ron Paul's political career that's worth reading.

In the Beast piece, I offer up a recommendation of Arthur A. Ekirch's The Decline of American Liberalism, originally published in the mid-1950s and reissued a few years back the The Independent Institute with a great intro by Robert Higgs.

A historian of militarism, Ekirch feared that in our quest to defeat the Soviet Union, we had ironically ended up valorizing the collective at the expense of the individual, ushering in an age of conformity in politics, culture, and commerce. "Liberal values associated with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment—and especially that of individual freedom," wrote Ekirch in the year when The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit was published, "have slowly lost their primary importance in American life and thought." Big government, big business, big labor—all these things were more closely interrelated than anyone wanted to acknowledge, argued Ekirch.

Whole piece here.

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  1. No offense to Doherty (I will offend him in other ways), but “The Constitution of Liberty” by FA Hayek has to be the go-to libertarian book.

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  2. I’m really surprised it isn’t The Declaration of Independents

    1. Need to hear what millenials think about that one.

      1. “Isn’t that something that a bunch of racist, slave-owning rich white men did?”

    2. Who wrote it? Why would The Jacket know anything about it?

    3. lol, The Constitution of No Authority would have been better … Lysander Spooner

  3. More importantly, let’s discuss what is the best libertarian movie of all time. It came up in a thread the other night but it was way too late and a weekday.

    I nominate Night Of The Comet.

    1. The Road Warrior

      1. I move that the Libertarian President include ‘the Ayatollah of Rock-n-Rolla’ as one of his titles.

        1. The Duke of Cool? The Earl of Funk?

          Best role Mario Van Peebles ever had…

    2. Cloak and Dagger

    3. Conan the Barbarian

      1. No no no, all that talk about the lamentations of their women violates the Bo Rules.

    4. Paul Krugman nominates Independence Day

    5. I suppose an argument could be made for It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

    6. Sometimes A Great Notion.

    7. The Outlaw Josey Wales.

      I wore this frock coat to Washington before The War. We wore them because we belonged to the five civilized tribes. We dressed ourselves up like Abraham Lincoln.

      You know, we got to see the Secretary of the Interior. And he said, “Boy, you boys sure look civilized.”

      He congratulated us and he gave us medals for looking so civilized.

      We told him about how our land had been stolen and how our people were dying. When we finished he shook our hands and said, “endeavor to persevere!”

      They stood us in a line: John Jumper, Chili McIntosh, Buffalo Hump, Jim Buckmark, and me ? I am Lone Watie. They took our pictures. And the newspapers said, “Indians vow to endeavor to persevere.”

      We thought about for a long time. “Endeavor to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.

      1. I didn’t surrender, but they took my horse and made him surrender. They have him pulling a wagon up in Kansas I bet.

    8. Land of the Blind

  4. I’m certain that ‘the one book’ would have to be selected for the audience.
    This one does a good job of humanizing the theories, making it hard to demonize the people involved, so it’s be good for people foaming about the Koch Bros(tm), but if someone were past that, Free to Choose might be better.

    1. I agree. Radicals may not be the “one book” for everyone but it’s excellent and well written.

      1. I’d recommend “The Road to Serfdom” because I know most people would never read “Human Action” or “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”. Sorry, I don’t know how to do italics.

        1. Boaz’ “Libertarian Reader” is pretty good.

  5. Considering Nick Gillespie’s position on the recent Memories Pizza business, maybe he needs some book suggestions himself. Maybe Libertarianism in One Lesson by David Bergland? Starting with the chapter on discrimination laws.

    1. lol, I’d love to see the synapsis of that.

      Did he recognize discrimination laws as state-mandated associations which inherently violated freedom of association ?

  6. Calvin and Hobbes.

    Assuming the anti-authoritarian and creative Calvin remained on that trajectory into adulthood.

    1. Calvin would have been expelled from school for playing with a toy gun. Then he likely would have been (literally) stoned for telling college group X that they are pussies for wanting trigger warnings. I see a 40-something Calvin as scruffy looking drifter, or the next LP presidential nominee…

    2. He was only anti-authoritarian when it came to people telling HIM what to do. He shed that attitude right quick when he got to make the rules (Calivinball is the essence of authoritarianism).

      1. No it isn’t, in calvinball you have to obey everyone else’s rules as equal in power to your own. It’s the essence of the free market: adapting to what happens and responding with your own ingenuity rather than an appeal to authority.

    1. Some have even questioned whether it violates principles of gender equality to only use a female doll to teach about reproduction.

      “If somebody intends to educate children on sex, then he or she should consider using a genderless playground, as the sex education is supposed to achieve mutual understanding and respect,” said one user on Weibo, a Chinese site similar to Twitter.

      Ugh, the PRC’s Twitter is full of SJWs too?

  7. the socio-political milieu that helped to spawn Rand Paul.

    The John Birch Society, the ’64 Goldwater campaign, Young Americans for Freedom, newsletter publishing and the militia movement?

    1. heh, the YAF.

      Pretty sure they are the ones who heckled libertarians as Laissez Fairies.

  8. As someone who was conservative at the time, the book that had the most affect on me was the orginal version of The Market for Liberty by the Tannhills.

    It might have even been a pamphlet at the time. 🙂

    1. Terry Goodkind has the “sword of truth”(not certain about that title but author is correct) fantasy books that sneek libertarianism into a gpod story. Or if you can’t read just watch Blazing Saddles, on WEED.

  9. I would say F. Paul Wilson’s An Enemy of the State

    Basically it’s about a guy who tries to overthrow a galactic empire in favor of a more libertarian one, essentially because he’s afraid that his world (which is completely libertarian) will be taken over. I liked it a lot when I first read it, because each chapter starts off with a basic premise of it.

    Poul Anderson’s New Amercia is also very good.

    And while it’s something of a farce, H. Beam Piper’s A Planet for Texans/The Lone Star Planet is also really good (and funny). And free


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