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Libertarianism: A Primer Paperback – February 4, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Libertarianism used to be just a topic at your high school Government Club. But since all those Ayn Rand-niks are now in Congress, it's become a bigger deal. This book is an admirably clear exposition of the position--defined by David Boaz as "the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others"--which is useful to both adherents and those who merely want to "know the enemy." Of course, a lot of questions are left unanswered: Do I have to obey speed limits? Is it OK for me to drive on the left as long as I promise to swerve when I see you coming? Aren't there a lot of valuable enterprises that couldn't be achieved by individual effort alone, but only with a degree of government compulsion, including the federal highway system, public parks, and public libraries? --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This book is more substantial if less elegantly written than Charles Murray's What It Means to Be a Libertarian (Forecasts, Nov. 18). Boaz, executive v-p of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, reaches back to religion and theorists like David Hume and Adam Smith to explore the roots of libertarianism. Boaz, like Murray, may be too optimistic in his assumption that private charity will supplant government assistance; however, he argues cogently against government excess. Government intervention (taxation, bank insurance, Medicare, etc.), he maintains, can diminish virtues like thrift and self-reliance. Libertarianism, he stresses, enhances individual dignity and pluralism; though he opposes laws based on race, he suggests, intriguingly, that Social Security discriminates against blacks because they have lower life expectancies. Predictably, Boaz argues that free markets enhance economic productivity and employment, and that government programs perpetuate bureaucratic and special interests. Among his proposals: end corporate and farm welfare; chop defense spending in half; abolish numerous federal agencies; privatize government programs. He proposes privatizing the Social Security system and offering tax-free Medical Savings Accounts in which unused money allocated for health insurance could be redirected to savings accounts.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (February 4, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068484768X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684847689
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Boaz, the executive vice president of the Cato Institute, has played a key role in the growth of the libertarian movement. He is the author of "The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom" and editor of "The Libertarian Reader."

The earlier edition of "The Libertarian Mind," titled "Libertarianism: A Primer," was described by the Los Angeles Times as "a well-researched manifesto of libertarian ideas" and by Richard Epstein as "unit[ing] history, philosophy, economics and law--spiced with just the right anecdotes--to bring alive a vital tradition of American political thought." His other books include "The Politics of Freedom," the "Cato Handbook For Policymakers," "Liberating Schools," and "The Crisis in Drug Prohibition." His articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, National Review, Slate, and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

He is a frequent guest on national television and radio shows and a popular speaker on college campuses and at corporate and community events.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Stephen B. Cobb on March 5, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As an introduction to libertarianism, David Boaz's "Libertarianism: A Primer" is often compared with Charles Murray's "What It Means to Be a Libertarian" which also came out in 1997. They are both excellent, but completely different in style and approach. Where Murray's book is "a personal interpretation," David Boaz ranges widely, with lots of references to the many contributors to libertarian thought. Murray's book is more concise and a quicker read, but Boaz packs in a lot more material, making a more overwhelming argument. Both are modern explanations of libertarianism, with refined arguments benefiting from the experience and academic developments of recent years.
For someone completely new to libertarianism looking to get started, I would recommend Murray's book first, then David Boaz's Primer, and finally Boaz's Libertarian Reader.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
Boaz's introduction to libertarianism, while not a hefty work of scholarship on the position, certainly qualifies as a stimulating encapsulation. To be fair to critics of libertarianism, Boaz's book passes over some of the darker implications of an unyielding libertarian perspective. This book is also a foil to the shorter but more challenging What It Means to Be a Libertarian by Charles Murray in that it only lays out the starting points of certain political positions, neglecting more idiosyncratic variants. To its credit, the book addresses the confused and out-dated concept of the political spectrum and outlines why libertarians are beyond left and right. More discussion in this area could possibly move us beyond quibbles over where to spend all of our tax dollars and instead question the proper relationship between government and the individual. In sum, a good introduction for those unfamiliar with libertarianism and concerned about the current structure of our political dialogue.
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76 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Stamper VINE VOICE on May 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Growing up, I never questioned whether the government should provide education or old age pensions. When America rebelled against Hillary Clinton's health care initiative, I slowly realized that other government services that I took for granted also began as a political proposal. I asked myself why it may be good for government to control education, but not health care. It was that kind of question that led me to read a whole host of books that ask the same question. The latest being, Libertarianism: A Primer.
In this book, author David Boaz tackles many modern day issues from a Libertarian viewpoint. The main theme of the book is the importance of property rights. Boaz explains that the first property right is the ownership of self. Without ownership of self, the ownership of anything else is meaningless. If you are willing to accept his thesis and read further, you will find that private property is the basis of the free market, and the free market is what makes human freedom possible.
Markets just naturally churn out what we want, because they are rewarded for doing so. An entrepreneur that provides a needed good or service can then provide his family a better life. Whereas the bureaucrat's motivation is to make his position and staff more powerful. His salary won't be tied into the success or failure of any given project. But the entrepreneur must live and die according to our fancy. The entrepreneur may be inept and fail to achieve what we want, but other venture capitalists will take his place until the thing is done right. When the government fouls up some needed service or good, they scream for a budget increase, as if our stinginess is the real culprit for their ineptitude.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Although not a hard-hitting manifesto like Charles Murray's What It Means To Be A Libertarian (one of my favorite books), Libertarianism: A Primer provides an excellent overview of the intellectual development of libertarianism. It's a much more historically oriented book than Murray's, a study of people as much as a study of ideas, from Adam Smith to Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand.
But the ideas are still here, and they are well presented with strong arguments for all of the typical libertarian core issues- downsizing of government, privitization of services, legalization of drugs, open borders, free-market protection of the environment, etc, etc.
I consider myself a libertarian, although I'm still not sure whether I agree with all the mainstays of hardcore libertarianism. This book provides a balanced, moderate approach without coming across as either too conservative or too wild-eyed-and-fringe. Charles Murray's book has more intellectual weight, but I also recommend this book for a deeper understanding of the historical background of truly freedom-oriented politics. 
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. Strong on November 14, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
How refreshing! A political philosophy that puts its faith in the ability of people to accomplish things without the oversight of some gargantuan government. Boaz does a wonderful job of laying out the basic ideas of Libertarianism without getting at all technical.

Libertarianism espouses the freedom of the individual, harkening back to the bedrock philosophy of this country's founders. Boaz describes Republicans as your father - always telling you what to do because he knows best; and Democrats as your mother - wiping your nose and trying to do everything for you because you can't handle it. Libertarians, says Boaz, want to treat you as an adult.

Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it gives you a different perspective from which to look at today's most contentious issues. What you discover is that we assume a whole lot that we shouldn't - frequently what we assume in an argument about how the Government should handle something is that they should be handling it in the first place! Boaz and Libertarians argue that in all but a tiny handful of instances the answer is absolutely not.

Highly recommended for anyone who is frustrated with the current system and is looking for a more satisfying alternative, or for anyone who just wants another perspective on our system.
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