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Principles For A Free Society: Reconciling Individual Liberty With The Common Good

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ISBN-13: 978-0738208299
ISBN-10: 0738208299
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The term common good makes libertarians cringe, because they view it as a catch-all excuse for governments to increase the power of the state. America's foremost libertarian legal mind, Richard Epstein, addresses these worries, acknowledging a tension between personal freedom and social goals, while suggesting that they can be mutually reinforcing: "Laissez-faire is best understood not as an effort to glorify the individual at the expense of society, but as the embodiment of principles that, when consistently applied, will work to the advantage of all (or almost all) members of society simultaneously."

Epstein is a powerful reasoner, and even skeptical readers will find themselves slowly drawn down a libertarian path. Principles for a Free Society contains a storehouse of detailed information about human nature and the motives of state authority. Epstein deserves a place on the bookshelf beside Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A truism of academe is when faced with a dilemma, make a distinction. Epstein, professor of law at the University of Chicago and author of Mortal Peril: Our Inalienable Right to Health Care?, follows this advice in trying to reconcile individual liberty and the common good. In lucid, readable prose he argues that the two are compatible, provided that certain distinctions and qualifications are made. Epstein spends considerable time explicating the laissez-faire doctrine, insisting that it need not glorify the individual at the expense of society: when applied pragmatically rather than dogmatically, it maximizes the welfare of all. Epstein realizes, of course, that the Achilles heel of the free-market system is the inequitable distribution of wealth, but he believes that a "voluntary redistribution" will solve the problem, although "it will always leave some individuals short." Similarly, he says, it's "always painful to deny recovery for an individual in need" but we don't want a system that encourages self-destructive behavior. At this point one suspects that Epstein's book does not reconcile freedom and equality so much as champion laissez-faire capitalism with some limitations. One also wonders whether he shouldn't care more that Adam Smith's unseen hand can become the unseen foot, kicking those who are down.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Reconciling Individual Liberty with the Common Good
  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (September 13, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738208299
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738208299
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,113,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By jmk444 on August 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Richard Epstein (author of "Takings" & "Forbidden Grounds") offers up this collection of essays on why economic liberty works for the benefit of virtually everyone, while planned economies don't.
Epstein is a brilliant logician and wordsmith who can draw even the most skeptical into his web of reason. He doesn't argue that free market liberalism is best because it is the most moral, but because it simply works the best.
Here he delves into human nature, the motivation for increasing government authority (power & control) and the impetus for altruism. "Principles for a Free Society" is a powerfully persuasive argument in defense of economic liberty and against the expansion of the government.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Richard Epstein, a law professor at The University of Chicago, is more than a legal expert. He is a scholar and theorist presenting his distinctive libertarian interpretation of the appropriate role of government in a free society.
In each chapter, Epstein discusses a principle of interest to him and to society. He reviews the balance between the need for personal liberty and common good. Overwhelmingly, he documents the history of our society as one where changing legal/societal standards have reduced personal liberties. To illustrate, he uses real examples such as Social Security, zoning, and organ transplants that show how the changes negatively affects peoples' lives.
I was most intrigued by Epstein's reasoning in his writings about altruism. I must admit that I would fall into the pessimistic camp that believes that altruism is usually egoism/self-interest in disguise)
As he notes in the introduction, the book is a collection of his thoughts and essays over his career. As a result, he does not really tie the thoughts together except for an introduction and epilogue, which emphasize the desire to return to a more laissez-faire society.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book could be better organized than it is -- sometimes it seems Epstein wants to give us a complete, systematic statement of his life's work as a legal theorist, whereas at other times he seeems content to think of this book as a series of loosely related explorations or essays.
The organizational problem explains why I can't give this five stars. But I can enthusiastically give it four. The critique of the positivistic jurisprudence of H.L.A. Hart (pp. 50-54) puts more of value in five pages than many authors can put in a whole book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert Hess on March 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book provides the only cogent analysis that I have seen of where to draw the line between government and individual liberty. It is a heavy read packed with though provoking ideas at every turn.
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