Book Reviews

Libertarianism for Beginners: Can Understanding Libertarianism Be Easy and/or Fun?


Occasional Reason contributer Todd Seavey tries to make understanding both libertarianism and, even more trickily, libertarians, easy or fun or both in his new book Libertarianism for Beginners, issued this month.

Libertarianism for Beginners

Attempts to sum up the basics of the richness of a philosophy of peace, property, and liberty in one easily digestible blockbuster book have obsessed libertarian movement types since the mid-'40s dawn of the first modern libertarian educational institution, the Foundation for Economic Education. Seavey's contribution to the tradition feels fresh, modern, and necessary.

I provided a pre-release blurb which appears inside the book (not on the back, but you can't win 'em all) which (not true of all blurbs, I hear) accurately describes my assessment of the book:

"Seavey provides a sober and sane introduction to, and defense of, a wild and radical philosophy whose relevance to the world, and popularity, gets more and more apparent by the year. Reducing a complicated body of thought in ways that are clearly understandable but never misleadingly simple, assessing both a body of thought and the often flawed humans who kept it alive, up to date on the tangled internal politics of the movement and timeless in showing how keeping your eye on the libertarian conception of property rights should guide your understanding of what libertarians think and why."

Seavey roots his libertarianism in private property, and gives a fair and ecumenical look at a wide range of distinctions and arguments within the existing movement in addition to explaining why libertarians think what they think and how it would be a good thing if we all were more free.

He doesn't write from an ivory tower perspective, literally or figuratively. Every page is marinated in the wisdom and understanding of someone who had had to argue about libertarianism both with non-libertarians and fellow libertarians for a long time.

Seavey is aware that ideas get nowhere without people pushing and refining them. He provides a helpful guide to the specific thinkers who have built the tradition, both now and in the past, without getting bogged down in academic apparati.

Libertarianism for Beginners would make a good gift to any intelligent person of goodwill who wonders what the hell you mean when you call yourself a "libertarian."

NEXT: Misleading Viral Ad Campaign Tells College Students: Prepare to Be Raped

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  1. Attempts to sum up the basics of the richness of a philosophy of peace, property, and liberty

    Is this how you get Mexican Ass Sex into a national publication?

    1. It better have a chapter on maintaining an orphan army.

      1. Not to mention monocle and top hat etiquette

    2. Debate rages on for libertarians: Is deep dish pizza or not? Our panelists including Matt Welch search for the answer.

      1. I don't know if it's pizza, but I know it's delicious.

  2. I'm sure I speak for all libertarians everywhere when I say, "Fuck this guy, he don't know shit about libertarianism!"

    1. I'm sure I speak for all libertarians everywhere

      What the fuck did you just say?!!?!!!!

      1. It's contagious!

  3. I look forward to bitterly complaining about mild rhetorical disagreements I have with the author.

  4. Don't you think the rattlesnake's fangs are a bit too close to Atlas's junk?

    1. "Hurry kids, to save Atlas you have to suck out the poison!"

      Gotta admit, it makes for one helluva pop-up libertarian book.

  5. Show me on the doll where libertarianism touched you!

    1. I've never seen a doll with a prostate gland.

      1. You haven't looked hard enough. Or at all.

  6. I thought Matt Kibbe summarized it best in title form: Don't Hurt People and Don't Take Their Stuff

    Doesn't get simpler than that.

  7. Paging Michael Hihn...


    2. Funny, but the first thing that came to my mind with Libertarianism for the Simple-minded was Hihn.

  8. Also, what's with the Axis imagery on the cover? It looks like an Aryan superman is delivering the world to Imperial Japan at behest of Cobra Commander.

    1. Dude, I was already going to buy it, no need to keep selling!

    2. You haven't read that classic essay on the libertarian qualities of Imperial Japan?

  9. Does the book come with a "Prepare to be Raped" pamphlet? I only say this because I would have appreciated some warning.

    1. I watched about 5 mins of that. I like todd. I met him 2 or 3 times in NY. always have short, interesting banter.

      The comments to that video are like a microcosm of every youtube commment thread ever. pure brilliance.

  10. I eagerly await similar books on both the Democrats and Republicans because I sure as HELL don't know what they stand for or believe in.

    1. Democracy!


      Vague undefined terms that can be bent and formed into all sorts of justifications!

      1. Living wage!! Fair share!!!

    2. don't know what they stand for or believe in.


      That is all.

    3. Ask not what your country can take from you but what you can give to your country.

    4. Abortions for some. Tiny American flags for everyone.

    1. According to Worthington, Shy rarely wrote checks and paid him $5,000 a month in cash, which he would deliver to him in wads of hundreds, bound together with a rubber band.

      "Seemed legit to me."

      1. There is no situation in which placing a rubber band around an object makes things less shady.

  11. My go-to book for handing out to someone I think is intelligent is still Charles Murray's "What It Means To Be A Libertarian."

    1. You chose literally one of the worst people to associate with libertarianism. Murray is a proponent of pseudoscience linking human intelligence with race.

      1. Cytotoxic that may be the point.

      2. "Pseudoscience"...? I'm not sure that I agree with his conclusions, but if you read his books he's not exactly running up the Aryan banner nor is he particularly out there as far as the theories on heritability he's related are concerned.

        (Personally, I am more convinced by T Sowell's account of culture as a primary influence on how intelligence is expressed -- it strikes me as explaining intelligence and its worldwide development more completely than anything else out there. However, genetics is not exactly a settled science and it is certainly dubious to pretend that it's utter nonsense and pointless to posit natural selection as a reason for the unequal distribution of the expression of intelligence across ethnicity and race.)

        1. T Sowell's account of culture as a primary influence on how intelligence is expressed

          Murray has written a lot on culture and social class as well. For example, he managed to take the opening to All in the Family and expand it to 432 pages of text

          1. Charles Murray is pretty great -- I love his book on human achievement, and he's been positively prescient about the trends which have led us to Trump (unfortunately). He should definitely be part of the conversation, whatever the various people who crow on about racism want to say about things he doesn't actually believe.

            1. I have to say that I like his early work much more than his later work, though I have yet to read his latest book. His later work is too "grumpy old man" for my tastes, but, as always, YMMV

              1. I enjoy the conservative/libertarian "grumpy old man" niche genre as a fine wine -- gotta let it breathe first, but I just can't resist those hints of stentorian moralism or the subtle notes of misanthropy.

                Sowell too has gotten impressively Catonian in his denunciation of the morals of the republic. I'm not sure Dalrymple has ever been anything but old and grumpy.

                Have to admit that I haven't read through all of Losing Ground. I like what I read but I lost interest; didn't have that issue with Coming Apart or the human accomplishment book.

      3. Murray is a proponent of pseudoscience linking human intelligence with race.

        Anyone who has actually read the book rather than the critiques by the Outraged knows that this is a steaming pile of bullshit.

  12. So who exactly is this book for? Who is it we're explaining libertarianism to? Because I have to tell you, if the person you are trying to splain it to is not already a libertarian or predisposed to being one, you are wasting your time. No, sorry, really they won't understand no matter how you try to explain it. What? You can't just let people do whatever they want to! What about roads and bridges! That's as far as you'll ever get.

    We tried here for a decade to explain libertarianism to Tony, and he never even came close to comprehending any of it.

    So I guess this book is just a fun read for libertarians, maybe.

    1. Tony and his ilk get it, but it leaves them without the power to compel people. That's why they oppose it. All arguments for efficacy, efficiency, the environment, or 'fairness' are all just lies to hide their lust for power.

      Humans will naturally look out into their environs and use what is found their to improve their lot. Tony and ilk, as slavers do, will forcibly include humans in that.

    2. Because I have to tell you, if the person you are trying to splain it to is not already a libertarian or predisposed to being one, you are wasting your time.

      Well that's the thing, you won't know if they're quietly predisposed to libertarianism unless you talk to them. Some people are absolutely ready to have the scales fall from their eyes because so often people never check their premises.

      So if you're a normal person with normal human relationships, civilly discuss a topic from a libertarian perspective and see if any of your friends are interested.

      1. I've been doing just that for a long time. I'm not so anxious to do it as I once was because it almost always results in the frustration of realizing just how hopelessly naive and ignorant people are about politics. And they want to stay that way, and the fact that you are trying to convince them that some wackos who have only ever got one percent of the vote are right about anything, just makes them smug and annoying. I'll talk about politics with people on this forum and occasionally on other political sites where no one much agrees with me. But in real life, it's not really worth it, better to just leave politics out of conversations unless it's with one of my very few friends and family who are actually knowledgeable enough about politics to have a real discussion.

        1. Perhaps it's you.

          1. Perhaps you can just piss off.

            1. I can. It still might just be you, and judging from converstations with you in the past, it probably is.

        2. Wife and I have been very successful at moving our friends and acquaintances to the light. Gotta say at least a dozen between the two of us.

          1. You guys are libertarian heroes. I've converted about 3 people. And I think 2 of them are damn backsliders and went back to voting for statists.

            1. I'm doing my part with the latina ass sex (I don't just limit myself to mexicans).

    3. Books can help. I was well on my way to being a good little statist, I knew drugs were bad m'kay and we had to help out the poor fucks, and by We I meant You and by poor fucks I meant "I have no idea", That all changed when I was given Peter Mcwilliams "Ain't nobody's Business If You Do" by a stoner, republican, capitalist-pig relative. Preaching to the choir may seem futile but every once in awhile you just might strike a chord with some soon to be like minded weirdo.

      1. And before all the inevitable "See, you're all team red!!!1!" crap since I mentioned a republican. We (me and the aforementioned republican) disagree on all kinds of shit, sometimes I think he's a little miffed that he ever gave me that book.

      2. What happened with me, true story, is that I found that I never fit in with either liberals or conservatives. I oddly agreed with both of them on some issues but not at all on others. I thought that something must be wrong with me and that there was no one else like me, at all, in the whole world.

        In 2007 while searching the web for clues to see if anyone else out there was like me politically, I found the official LP site and this site. I started lurking around here and one day worked up the courage to post something. I had no idea that libertarians even existed before that day in 2007. It was an amazing moment.

        I started talking to my family and friends about it and they all laughed at me, thought I was crazy. But I still had my internet friends who were just as crazy as me.

      3. I was going to suggest Ain't Nobody's Business because it's a big book chopped into tiny little pieces and there's sure to be something there that resonates with just about everybody. And then you show how freedom in one thing is linked to another and even if they disagree on one thing ("well, sure you can legalize marijuana but heroin is totally different") you can say, "well, maybe you're right, we can agree to disagree on that" and find points where you're in agreement and soft-sell the idea. Maybe someday it'll come to them that giving the state the authority to outlaw heroin gives them the authority to outlaw marijuana and tobacco and sugar and Doritos and Pop-Tarts bitten into vaguely gun-like shapes. Sure, legalizing heroin is going to create problems but it's going to take care of the one's outlawing heroin caused and it's not like outlawing heroin solved them all. Libertarians don't have all the answers to all life's problems but at least they don't pretend to like virtually every political party/philosophy/religion.

    4. Because I have to tell you, if the person you are trying to splain it to is not already a libertarian or predisposed to being one, you are wasting your time.

      Many people are predisposed to being libertarian. I mean, who is against liberty? They've simply never been presented with an option other than the lesser of two evils.

      1. Well, maybe it's just that I keep expecting this libertarian moment I keep hearing about around here and it never arrives.

        I mean there have been times when I thought libertarianism was going to start getting a bigger following. Like when Ron Paul was doing so well with his campaign back in 2008. Now the Ron Paul kids are wanting to vote for a communist. Then there was the time that everyone was talking about us, even the NYTs were talking about the libertarians. And next thing I know, that just stopped. It's frustrating to be in such a small minority.

      2. "They've simply never been presented with an option other than the lesser of two evils."

        That's just not true. They've had real options and many chose the wrong one. Going back a long time they had Goldwater and chose wrong. The political parties are really innocent. They are just catering to what they think the voters want.

      3. I mean, who is against liberty?

        It would appear that, oh, well over 90% of the U.S. population is.

        1. Nearly everyone is in favor of liberty in some areas. Libertarians are oddballs because they are (or at least claim to be) in favor of liberty in all things. So you'll be hard pressed to find people who are against liberty per se, but most people could be described as anti-liberty if the focus is on the right subject.

          1. Gadfly is spot on. In my experience non-libertarians are all over only those rights that they care about. If it's a right that doesn't benefit them, and will likely never benefit them, they're not interested. Libertarians defend rights even when there's nothing in it for them personally.

    5. you'll do much better if you avoid using the libertarian label.

      With liberal acquaintances i tend to take some of their causes like civil liberties and foreign policy then use them to frame a discussion on libertarian-ism. I just avoid discussion on the role of government until I see how they respond to some of the things that are easier for them to accept.

      With conservative friends i generally focus on their will to be left alone and the role of government but avoid social issues.

      1. One of the most infuriating things about conservatives is they're like 'what, legalize dope! Are you crazy!', while they sit there guzzling their 10th beer. You cain't just smoke that dope for the taste like I drink my beer, just for the taste! People are just using that stuff to get high! And they go crazy! I got kids!

        1. Meh, conservatives are pretty much rolling over on MJ. The remaining resistance will literally die off over the next couple decades.

          1. Yep. Then the progressives will pick up the torch.

            1. "Yep. Then the progressives will pick up the torch."

              Yes, we will hear about all the human trafficking to bring in cheap third world labor to work the marijuana farms and the dangers of second hand marijuana smoke.

          2. Thanks to you I can't get the mental picture of conservatives rolling over on Michael Jackson out of my head. Curses!

    6. "What about roads and bridges!"

      In Libertopia there are flying robot cars that you order on you phone. BTW, the phone is implanted in your skull.

    7. It may work for people who are dissatisfied with the two major parties but aren't familiar with libertarianism (or have misconceptions about it).

      But yes, the trouble with "progressives" is that they tend to hold numerous views that are totally incompatible with libertarianism:

      - A "living wage" is a right

      - The government is same as The People

      - People can be collectively guilty (e.g. whites today are guilty for slavery 150 years ago, males born in 1990 are guilty for "oppression" of women in the '50s)

      - Businesses are coercive institutions that should be kept in line with government force

      Until you rid them of beliefs like these, libertarianism will be a very hard sell.

  13. I call myself a libertarian because I believe the sole responsibilities of government are the protection of life, liberty, and property, and anything else constitutes a usurpation thereof. Pretty simple. Nothing wrong with fleshing it out for newbies though. In my experience the best way to bring someone up to speed on libertarianism is to hand them any of the works of Frederik Bastiat. That said I have not read the work mentioned in the article. For all I know it's fantastic.

  14. Better yet, read most of F. Paul Wilson's works. In particular, An Enemy of the State and the other LaNague novels.

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  16. I can do it in three sentences.

    The only human right is to not have force initiated against you. This means that all actions should be allowed except those involving the initiatory use of force, threats of force or fraud. This means that the proper function of government is to defend individual negative liberty with the retaliatory use of force.


  17. Is there a chapter on "free association"? Maybe give a copy to Gary Johnson before he completely slides off the reservation.

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