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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5420/top-ten-books-of-liberty/

Top Ten Books of Liberty

August 3, 2006 by

Update: My article, The Greatest Libertarian Books, appeared on LewRockwell.com on Monday, August 7, 2006. See discussion here.

***

In my article, I mentioned:

Something about Friedman’s Machinery always bugged me – maybe it was the way he noted that Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson is “reputed” to be a good introductory book on economics, but “I have not read it” – as if he does not need to. From someone with degrees only in physics and chemistry, I suppose I would have expected a bit more humility; and his over-reliance on “law and economics” has always made Friedman seem just a tad too much the dilettante and Austro-cynic for my taste.

I remember one other thing I had seen that bolstered this impression: his Blogger profile states: “I am an academic economist who teaches at a law school and has never taken a course for credit in either field.”

***

The September 2006 issue of Liberty has the feature “The Ten Best Libertarian Books”: “Milton Friedman, Lew Rockwell, David Boaz and Liberty’s editors and contributors celebrate ten intellectual achievements that helped to produce the modern libertarian movement.” Yes, Lew Rockwell is in there (with an essay on Mises’s Human Action). Here are the ten:

  • Hayek, The Road to Serfdom
  • Rand, Atlas Shrugged
  • Mises, Human Action
  • Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
  • Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty
  • Rand, The Fountainhead
  • Nozick, Anarchy State and Utopia
  • Mises, Socialism
  • David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom
  • Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine

Not a bad list, if a bit predictable. There are some I’d take off, or move to a much lower place, and others I’d include. I would remove both by Hayek: I could not finish either. I found Serfdom obvious and boring, and Constitution just boring. But I’m probably in the minority on this assessment; and Serfdom did have a big influence. I would also take out The Fountainhead; Atlas is enough. And I’d remove Paterson too; again, another one I could not get through. Too many metaphors; too nonrigorous. This is the worst choice for the list, in my view.

A glaring omission from the list is Rothbard. For A New Liberty should be there, if not Ethics of Liberty and Man Economy and State. Also, Hoppe’s A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism should definitely be there.

Other possible candidates for the list? How about The Law by Bastiat? The Tannehills’ The Market for Liberty? Even Bruce Benson’s The Enterprise of Law. And perhaps a couple that are not explicitly libertarian but are very good on the issues of federalism and constitutionalism, such as Kilpatrick’s The Sovereign States or Felix Morley’s Freedom and Federalism.

And there are many more, such as some listed in the bibliographies at LRC–see especially the bibliographies by Hoppe, Gordon, and Rockwell.

So, Misesians–what are your top 10? The Comments Field awaits you!

{ 35 comments }

Curt Howland August 3, 2006 at 1:50 pm

The Probability Broach, L. Neil Smith

The Ballad of Carl Drega, Vin Sprynowicz

More Guns, Less Crime, John R. Lott

Unintended Consequences, John Ross

Frank N Stein August 3, 2006 at 1:55 pm

I know that Nozick’s work gets trashed for not being rigorous, or defending libertarian ideals for the right reasons, etc etc…but for me, Anarchy State and Utopia was an epiphany. Before I read it I was a politically apathetic (although leaning towards bleeding-heart idealist) college student. After reading it I knew I was a libertarian. Of course the particulars needed to be fleshed out, the foundation strengthened to my satisfaction – and fairly recently a realization that one cannot really understand politics until and unless one understands economics (hence bringing me to this site and some of the other books listed above).
Dry rigorism is necessary to solidify one’s position, but to lure them in some well-written rhetoric goes a long way. And I have to say I’m glad I was exposed to Rand *after* Nozick, and really glad I didn’t read her in high school. I might have been insufferable.

Stephan Kinsella August 3, 2006 at 1:55 pm

Curt: No, seriously.

Paul Edwards August 3, 2006 at 2:37 pm

Stephan,

I agree with you on the God of the Machine. I borrowed it from the library expecting to really enjoy it and couldn’t. It’s the barrage of metaphors that get to me.

Here’s what I’d suggest as the top 7 anyways,

Human Action
Man Economy and State, with Power and Market
For a New Liberty
A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism
America’s Great Depression
Making Economic Sense
Democracy the God that Failed

Also, I’d throw in a collection of Spooner essays regarding law and fraudulent constitutions.

Curt Howland August 3, 2006 at 2:51 pm

Mr. Kinsella, why waste your opportunity? You could have taken the particular items for task as off-topic (they’re not), suggested the fiction is out of place (while the first list contains two by Rand that are fiction), or stated that because of personal tastes my list doesn’t match your own (which is inevitable).

What a waste.

Stephan Kinsella August 3, 2006 at 2:55 pm

Curt,

Ha ha. Hey, to each his own. The Smith book is nice, but I just don’t think of it as being up there in the top ten great libertarian books of all time. But if it is, I guess we also need Schulman’s Alongside Night. As for the Drega book… I have it, but thought it was just a series of columns by Suprynowicz, again, not on the level o the top books of all time. But then, I’m not a gun nut. Proably also why I would not pu the Lott book there; plus the Lott book is probably too American-centric.

Finally, I never heard of the Ross book, which may be an indication that it is probably not that significant.

Carry on.

quasibill August 3, 2006 at 3:00 pm

Gotta agree with the Hayek and Paterson comments. I’d take both Rand books off, as reading her was actually an obstacle to my eventual conversion.

As for what I’d replace them with, it would have to be all Rothbard. It’s shocking to me that he could go unrepresented on such a list.

Curt Howland August 3, 2006 at 3:05 pm

Mr. Kinsella, “but I just don’t think”

Indeed.

“I never heard of the Ross book, which may be an indication that it is probably not that significant.”

And I’ve never read any of yours, which means you are wasting your time writing irrelevancies.

Why not admit that people’s tastes are different, instead wasting your time on insults? I’m actually surprised you would bother to insult a book you have never heard of, much less read.

Dennis Sperduto August 3, 2006 at 3:14 pm

One does not have to agree with all of his positions, but given Murray Rothbard’s immense contributions to Libertarianism and to several fields of knowledge, it is disgraceful that at least one of his major works is not listed. The pettiness of many academics and others never ceases to amaze me.

Also, given the importance of Classical Liberalism in the history of ideas and the unprecedented increase in the material standard of living of a major portion of the world’s population when its principles were to a significant degree implemented in the 19th century, I would include Mises’s “Liberalism” on the list instead of Hayek’s “Constitution of Liberty”. Yes, Mises was a utilitarian, but his exposition of the principles of Classical Liberalism, especially the all-important economic aspects, I believe are unsurpassed.

M E Hoffer August 3, 2006 at 3:23 pm

CH,

“Why not admit that people’s tastes are different, instead wasting your time on insults? I’m actually surprised you would bother to insult a book you have never heard of, much less read.”

Curt,

Remember, “With the beast, you get the tusk.”

Also, why doesn’t vMI offer these books “in a package”? Bulk buying would obviously lower their piece price, and duplicates make for fine lending/gifts.

Personally, I think Hayek’s “Constitution of Liberty” is the one that would the most good for the greatest number.

anarkhos August 3, 2006 at 3:24 pm

What the heck? How did Power and Market not end up on this list?!

Boo!

Manuel Lora August 3, 2006 at 3:30 pm

Probability Broach was pretty fun.

I’m a bit concerned, however, about the choice of John Lott’s books. His studies seem good and could be correct. Yet it’s not timeless and quite utilitarian, and not once does he address issues from a libertarian point of view. He says “guns do not cause crime” and this is in my opinion correct yet not libertarian (“guns for self defense and defense of others is legitimate”).

That said, to each his own.

Wirkman August 3, 2006 at 3:41 pm

As much as I enjoyed Rand’s goofy novel “The Fountainhead,” I wouldn’t put it on my list of great books on liberty. “Atlas Shrugged” I’ve never read, and have no intention to read more thoroughly than skimming. Rand was a fourth-rate philosopher and a third-rate tyrant who produced second-rate novels of a character I don’t find particularly life-enhancing. She had a chip on her shoulder and her nose out of joint, and it shows. I’ll read every Dickens and Trollope novel first before slogging through “Atlas Shrugged.” As for novels suggesting a libertarian point, I prefer “The Once and Future King.”

“Human Action” gets on the list because it’s Mises’ best book, not because it’s particularly about liberty. It’s about economics, and a certain take on society. But the libertarian theses are not as important to the book itself as they are to “Socialism” and “Liberalism” (the latter which gets my vote).

I would be tempted to put Narveson’s “The Libertarian Idea” and Lomasky’s “Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community” on the list. And, of course, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” But then, I like philosophy.

Top on my list I’d place three by Herbert Spencer: “Social Statics,” “The Principles of Ethics: Part IV: Justice,” and that great collection of essays, “The Man vs. the State.” If “The Road to Serfdom” belongs on the list, the latter certainly does. The original version of “Social Statics” was very influential; the later, abridged version is more concise and not littered with irrelevent deism (or near-anarchism, too bad).

Something by Bastiat deserves placing on the list, I guess. Too bad Molinari’s work is only spottily translated into English.

Looking over the lists offered by Liberty, I see one reason for the feckless character of libertarianism: Even its great books aren’t that great.

Stephan Kinsella August 3, 2006 at 3:47 pm

Wirkman–great comments.

I think you are largely right about Rand; but despite all this, she was largely correct re politics (that is, libertarian), and was a fierce and influential advocate of liberty. She was a good *packager* too, and largely picked the *right* things.

“As for novels suggesting a libertarian point, I prefer “The Once and Future King.”"

Interesting. Could you elaborate?

“I would be tempted to put Narveson’s “The Libertarian Idea” and Lomasky’s “Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community” on the list. And, of course, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” But then, I like philosophy.”

Yes, I would almost put them on there too; they are near the top for me. But I think they are not quite in the top 10.

Sam Bostaph August 3, 2006 at 4:41 pm

I nominate George Reisman’s CAPITALISM for inclusion in any list of great libertarian books. His expansion of the division of labor to the division of knowledge under a regime of economic liberty is especially noteworthy in its implications for the advancement of both the material and intellectual sides of a society of civilized human beings.

Roger M August 3, 2006 at 5:10 pm

Edmund A. Opitz, author and staff memmber at the Foundation for Economic Education, would have nominated the Bible.

Alexanka August 3, 2006 at 5:22 pm

A weird list…
I’d leave only

Atlas Shrugged
The Road To Serfdom
Human Actions

And would add

For A New Liberty by M.Rothbard
The State by A.de Jasay
A Theory Of Socialism And Capitalism by H.H.Hoppe
The Machinery Of Freedom by D. Friedman
No Treason by Lysander Spooner
The Superstriction Of The State by Leo Tolstoy

hl August 3, 2006 at 5:33 pm

“Best books” is a insufficiently defined term that is shrouded in vagueness, subjective preferences and personal opinions. The list could just as easily be as few as one book or as many as a thousand. Perhaps categories, such as “best libertarian book for recruiting” or “best libertarian book for conveying the emotional depths and heights of liberty” or “the best libertarian books examining the foundations of liberty” or the “best books for building upon and expanding the foundations of liberty,” etc, would be best. For my little soul Rand and Paterson were the clarion call for Liberty; for my tender mind Rothbard, Mises, Hoppe and Reisman provided foundations; and for just plain fun I happily turn to witty and insightful folks such as Mencken, Nock and Rockwell, et al. (And gun “nuts” like Suprynovitz and Lott, etc.)
That said, the three authors who are indispensable to an understanding of liberty, justice and the world we live in are:
Mises,
Rothbard and
Hoppe

Franklin Harris August 3, 2006 at 9:49 pm

My own “Holy Trinity” of libertarian books is:

Anarchy, State & Utopia by Nozick
The Machinery of Freedom by D. Friedman
The Libertarian Idea by Jan Narveson

But to those, I’d add:

Atlas Shrugged
Human Action
The Fatal Conceit (Hayek’s most readable book, I think)
The Ethics of Liberty
The State by de Jasay
The Law by Bastiat
and because I’m stuck for a 10th book, Liberty and Nature by Rasmussen and Den Uyl, just for their notion of rights as “meta-normative” principles.

quincunx August 4, 2006 at 12:23 am

Anyone enjoyed ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Heinlein?

Ryan Bond August 4, 2006 at 7:42 am

As an avid reader, I was intrigued by the list provided. I maintain an active “to be acquired” list, which will no doubt be influenced by the recommendations in this blog.

However, I have read a few of the books listed here and would highly recommend them all, as follows:
- The Road to Serfdom: This is a good book that makes some great points.
- Atlas Shrugged: This is without exception one of the best books I have ever read, which is not to say that it is perfect, but on the whole it is a timeless argument for laissez-faire capitalism and against governmental, socialistic, or communistic intervention. This is a must read for anyone interested in liberty, commerce or society.
- Human Action: I am working my way through the Scholar’s Edition, published by the Mises Institute and I must say that this book is well undervalued both in price and its popularity. Indeed, as I read through the book, it appears as though Mises has not wasted a word…the placement and use of the language is exception, which helps drive home his unique perspective. The book is long – long – but I am finding it to be worth every page.
- Capitalism & Freedom: I happen to really enjoy Friedman’s writings, so I heartily endorse this book as well. I know that Friedman is not always recognized on par with Mises, Hayek and others in the Austrian School, if for no other reason than he is not an Austrian. Regardless, Friedman has made some strong arguments for free-markets, capitalism and liberty, many of which he has seen implemented in his lifetime for the betterment of the world around us. I once saw an interview where he stated: “I am a libertarian with a lower case ‘l’, and a Republican with an upper case ‘R’”. I think Friedman, although not an Austrian, was/is certainly a libertarian at heart.
- The Fountainhead – I have read this one as well, actually prior to reading Atlas Shrugged. The two novels do not really compare and it would be unfair to each work to do so. Where Atlas Shrugged addresses primary issues of capitalism and the forces against it, The Fountainhead is painted on a smaller canvas – think of the difference between Macro- and Micro-economics for a comparison in scale. I happen to enjoy architecture, a major theme of the book, and I thought the novel was very well written. I can associate with Howard Roarke’s stubborn streak and his principles upon which he lives his life – often in stark contrast to the world and people around him. I think the book in some ways does relate to individual liberties, so it is not completely off base having been included on the list.

Those are the only books on the list that I have read, so I’ll have to investigate some of these other titles.

I did notice one other poster who suggested George Reisman’s Capitalism. I could not agree more! Capitalism, by Reisman, is a sweeping, pro-capitalist treatise that highlights the rational for capitalism, while often pointing out the fallacy of the counter-arguments on a case-by-case basis. This too, should be a book in the library of everyone interested in understanding (from a rational basis) the world we live in.

RDM

Roderick T. Long August 4, 2006 at 10:06 am

I too was surprised at the absence of any Rothbard. Surely at least Man, Economy, and State belongs on the list.

A better (and much more libertarian) Hayek book than either of those on the list is Hayek’s Law, Legislation, and Liberty.

But I wouldn’t want to take God of the Machine off the list; that book really electrified me when I read it in college, and it remains (despite my many disagreements with Paterson) one of my favourite libertarian books to this day.

Wirkman August 4, 2006 at 12:10 pm

I brought up T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” because one of the main themes of the book is education, and Merlin is the educator. In particular, he’s in charge of the education of “the Wart” (Arthur), the youngster destined to kingship, and in service to the cause transforms the young lad into various animals, trying to teach him lessons about what it is to be human, and what good politics could be. The lesson of the ants is one of the best depictions of totalitarianism ever. The swans define anarchy. And the tale of God and the Embryos is a touching, indeed, quite moving fable of what it means to be human. Later, at the end of the long book (or tetralogy), Arthur, on the battlefield, dying of a wound by his own son, figures out all the lessons: the problem is borderlines, the arbitrary ones drawn by generals and politicians. Nice, touching, even sensible anarchism. A good balance of fantasy, philosophy, romance and fun.

Billy Beck August 4, 2006 at 12:34 pm

“Rand was a fourth-rate philosopher…”

So… is it that you read all her non-fiction and didn’t let that slip, or that you didn’t, and don’t know what you’re talking about?

Stephan Kinsella August 4, 2006 at 12:48 pm

Beck, are you implying one has to read a book, or see a movie, or read the works of a philosopher, before having a view that it is bunk?

Laurence Vance August 4, 2006 at 12:50 pm

Mr. Lora, your description of Rand is right on. Thanks for telling it like it is. Even though his greatest book (Democracy) is fairly recent, Hoppe certainly belongs on the list.

Wirkman August 4, 2006 at 5:21 pm

Billy Beck, uh, what do you think? In a blog comment on the best books on liberty, I didn’t bring up Rand’s non-fiction not because I hadn’t read it, but because I think her non-fiction is for the most part quite bad. She’s sometimes an effective rhetorician, but her approach to philosophy is not well reasoned, and I can’t admire her books. At one point or other I read all those white paperbacks of her nonfiction. Egads, what dreck.

I freely admit to having some trouble understanding her standing in libertarian circles. Many thinking libertarians with a lot going for them still admire her thought. Their expositions are often more reasonable than her own. But why saddle their thinking with hers? It reminds me of Baptist ministers’ wives who think they look better plastered with seven layers of make-up. Wash it off.

I attribute this unfortunate fixation to her place in their intellectual development. I didn’t need Rand to think my way out of anti-capitalism or theism or what-have-you, so I’ve never felt beholden to her. Others were not as lucky as I. They read Rand before they thought through the issues. Oops.

I recognize that I share politics with her. But I don’t share a moral philosophy with her. Her cheapjack egoism is a confused mess. Is it good packaging? Well, it got a lot of people to rethink liberty. But it prevents a whole lot of others from accepting liberty. Instead of seeing liberty as an ideal compromise, Rand concedes their point (sort of), seeing liberty as an expression of self-interest, however allegedly “rational.” People who understand something about the real workings of empathy know that “rational self-interest” is an inadequate ground to morality. They may not understand much else, but this intuition is indeed correct. Rand gets in the way.

OH: final addition — Garet Garrett’s “The People’s Pottage” would probably get a vote from me over many of the other popularizing books. Its prose sings, and his discussion of empire is practical and not just theoretical.

Dennis Sperduto August 4, 2006 at 8:17 pm

One issue that complicates the selection process is that several disciplines are involved–economics, political science, ethics, fiction, possibly even history–and different individuals may emphasize one or several of these areas over the others.

Beefcake the Mighty August 4, 2006 at 8:36 pm

The Collected Works of Beavis and Butthead,
Vols 1-6.

Mark Larson August 4, 2006 at 9:41 pm

I’d get rid of both Hayek’s and one of Rand’s. I think The Fountainhead is the more enjoyable story, but of course it isn’t as comprehensive. Glad someone else mentioned The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. That’s a good choice from the fiction side. Does anyone know other good recommendations libertarian-ish fiction aside from those two authors?

Rothbard needs to be on the list–MES or ToL or FaNL–pick two or three. I would also add some Hoppe–I liked Democracy: TGtF quite a bit.

I’d balance the list with some shorter works. Bastiat’s The Law and Spooner’s No Treason are good suggestions.

Dale August 4, 2006 at 11:48 pm

I find the very idea of trying to construct a top ten list of books of liberty rather amusing. If ever there was a concept whose defenders would be less likely to accept one authority’s rating of what is best, most important or even just the most useful, I can’t think of one. I’m inclined to look at all of the lists and consider them as items for my reading list. I really must reread Bastiat some time soon.

Jeremy Snyder August 5, 2006 at 2:38 pm

“Does anyone know other good recommendations libertarian-ish aside from those two authors?”

The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible by Ken Schoolland. It’s what first got me interested in both libertarianism and eventually Austrian Economics as well.

Billy Beck August 7, 2006 at 2:31 pm

“People who understand something about the real workings of empathy know that ‘rational self-interest’ is an inadequate ground to morality.”

(cackle) Sez you. And it didn’t even take you a whole book to make a “confused mess” of it, which only make it easier to laugh you off, sonny.

Wes June 1, 2008 at 4:50 pm

Libertarians don;t credit George Orwell’s “1984″ enough. That’s a good book to read… and no, Orwell WASN’T a socialist in his later life (when he wrote the book).

J. Neil Schulman March 5, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Here are the ten that most influenced me on my journey to libertarianism. It necessarily leaves out titles that came out afterwards.

Nineteen-eighty-four by George Orwell
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Human Action by Ludwig von Mises
Power and Market by Murray Rothbard
Rational Anarchy by Richard and Ernestine Perkins
The Philosophy of Ownership by Robert LeFevre
How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Brown

If I were adding in another ten (including some later published) titles:

No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority by Lysander Spooner
For A New Liberty by Murray Rothbard
The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand
The True Believer by Eric Hoffer
The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
The New Libertarian Manifesto by Samuel Edward Konkin III
The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
The Great Explosion by Eric Frank Russell

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