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A Great Condensed, Straightforward Intro. to Libertarianism
on April 16, 2014
In Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, Jason Brennan offers a clear, straightforward, and readable introduction to the libertarian political perspective, carefully acknowledging along the way the range of differing opinions held by libertarians on key issues (with an exception, see below). The book is written in an easily referenceable question-and-answer format, and is divided by topic. The chapters and even individual questions can be consulted in any order, independently of the rest of the book. To this end, in the course of answering a particular question, Brennan helpfully cites other places in the book that give a more in-depth look at something perhaps only briefly mentioned. The author can be commended as well for often introducing anti-libertarian perspectives or objections without providing any direct libertarian rebuttal. In this way, the book serves to familiarize the reader with both the libertarian viewpoint on various political, social, and economic topics as well as common rejoinders or alternative takes from non- or anti-libertarians. Brennan deftly wields thought experiments and examples to illustrate how otherwise abstract ideas can be practically applied. On the negative side, I would like to have seen footnotes with explicit references included throughout the book. For example, Brennan cites many studies, statistics, and ideas directly, and although he sometimes gives the reader enough information to go off of in their own search, the sheer number of such instances leaves this reader desiring the inclusion of footnotes to assist in locating these. However, Brennan provides an excellent selection of texts and articles for further reading at the end of the book, divided into specific subcategories. Additionally, a helpful glossary of terms often employed in political philosophy can be found at the back of the book. The only critique I might give content-wise has to do with the matter-of-fact way that Brennan writes of libertarians as advocates for women's abortion rights. As I understand it, libertarians are nearly as divided as the country as a whole on the issue of abortion choice. In any case, at least a passing mention of a broadly "pro-life" libertarian perspective (cf. the website "Libertarians for Life" at l4l.org) could have been included. Despite this little nitpick of mine, the book is a solid presentation of libertarianism, and one that is much needed given the typical straw-manning that occurs in both ordinary and even professional political discourse. Thus, Brennan's distinction between classical liberal, hard libertarian, and neoclassical liberal perspectives is useful in addition to his general way of dispensing with caricatures along the way. I would highly recommend this book to any non-libertarians who are interested in truly understanding the position as well as anyone who has newly identified themselves with libertarianism.