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For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto Paperback – Large Print, January 1, 2006
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From Scientific American
And always, reading Rothbard is a mindstretching intellectual adventure. For not only is he a brilliant scholar; he never flinches at taking the libertarian creed to it logical conclusions, no matter how controversial those conclusions may sometimes be.
Rothbard also maps out a strategy for achieving liberty, delving into ethics, tactics, education, abolitionism vs. gradualism, historical antecedents, and other crucial but generally neglected points. For A New Liberty ends on an upbeat, inspiring note, as Rothbard explains why he believes liberty will ultimately triumph over the forces of statism and collectivism.
For A New Liberty gives the reader the invigorating feeling of contact with a truly original, razor-sharp mind. It's a seminal work, rich in insights and novel arguments. And it's written in a lively, vigorous style that makes most other political writing seem dreadfully dull and stodgy by comparison.
How important is For A New Liberty? Let's put it this way: every serious libertarian--indeed, anyone who is at all interested in libertarianism--must be familiar with this book. It is that essential. If a copy of For A New Liberty--preferably worn with wear from repeated readings--is not on your bookshelf, or your friends' bookshelves, remedy that grave omission now. --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.
Murray Rothbard is an economist, historian, political philosopher, iconoclast, and raconteur. He is also a masterful writer--passionate, rigorously logical, and always lively, with a special gift for making even the most complex issues understandable and interesting.
For A New Liberty is Rothbard's introduction to libertarianism, his Libertarian Manifesto. It is Rothbard in top form--a libertarian classic that for more than two decades has been hailed as the best general work on libertarianism available.
For a start, For A New Liberty is an exciting, exhilarating read. It begins with a fast overview of the historical roots of libertarianism: the Levelers, John Locke, classical liberalism, the American Revolution, and so on. Rothbard packs an extraordinary amount of history in a few pages, and establishes libertarianism as the current, and most rigorous and consistent, manifestation of a centuries-long drive for personal and economic liberty.
Rothbard then defines libertarianism. It rest, he tell us, "upon one single axiom: that no man or group of men shall aggress upon the person or property of anyone else." Having made the philosophical case for liberty, Rothbard--in one of the book's most powerful chapters--turns to a withering critique of the chief violator of liberty: the State. It is a breath-taking, impassioned demolition job. We see that not only is the emperor naked--he is a murder, tyrant, brigand, liar, and bungler.
Rothbard devotes the lengthiest section of For A New Liberty to showing how the free market and voluntary human action can do a far more efficient and fair job of supplying all the worthwhile services we have been told only government can provide. He provides penetrating libertarian solutions for many of today's most pressing problems, including pollution, poverty, war, threats to civil liberties, the education crisis, and others.
Libertarians are forever faced with a barrage of questions for the unconverted: What about roads? What about the poor? What about--ad infinitum. Here are tough, succinct, innovative, and convincing answers. -- James W. Harris --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Rothbard, the greatest champion of the Austrian school of economics in the latter 20th century, begins his book by explaining how similar the American Revolution and founding was to his idea of libertarianism and places the American experiment as the culmination of a longer progression toward more liberty and freedom. He then proceeds to explain the very simple and compelling moral idea that drives the entire philosophy: the non-aggression principle.
The non-aggression principle states that it is wrong to aggress, or initiate violence, toward someone's person or property. In natural rights philosophy, John Locke's thinking that a person's right to certain tangible objects or spaces of land (property) follow from that person's right to their own body. Every person owns their body as well as what they produce with their body. Rothbard takes Locke's logic one step further: if we all own our bodies and what we produce with our bodies, and we all have the right to associate and exchange our property as we see fit, then the state (the government) has no special excuse to violate these rights. The state no more has the right to tax and control its citizens lives than the mafia does to those who live in its claimed neighborhoods.
Agree or disagree with that logic, its simplicity is coherent and compelling.
After explaining that core ethic of non-aggression, Rothbard applies it abstractly to property and exchange rights and the state in general. From there, he applies his line of thinking to individual issues that are often perceived as the "weak spots" of libertarianism: welfare and poverty, education, corporate monopolies, streets and roads, environmental issues, and, of course, how to deal with crime. In closing the book, Rothbard discusses his purist view of how libertarians should seek to advance their agenda in the real world.
This book is written for a general audience—no background in political philosophy or history needed to understand anything he's talking about. The writing is clear and concise. Never wordy or longwinded. I am a libertarian myself largely because of my exposure to Rothbard's logic, but I think for non-libertarians looking for one book that will explain this whole "libertarianism" thing, this book would be it. My one warning for those thinking of purchasing it from Amazon: make sure you're buying the right version. I bought the paperback without knowing it was the large print edition. A little annoying, but it was my own mistake for not double checking.
I highly recommend this book for all libertarians and anyone with an interest in politics, political philosophy, or ethics.
Today's pundits continually inundate us with the charges that the United States has become so viciously politically divided. The media perpetually question "Why are we so politically divisive?" as if the problem were somehow with the citizens themselves. They then purport to provide a plethora of explanations for this divisiveness, to which they accuse prevent us from moving forward and getting things done (by which they really mean prevent us from moving in their preferred direction of more and more government control). "For a New Liberty" may have been written in the 1970's, but Rothbard was way ahead of the current media's "divisiveness" accusation, as he explores this concept and clearly details the reasons for it (and why it can only get worse on our current path). As Rothbard details, once government (the state) takes over a sector of society, then it becomes a zero sum game in which free choice has been removed and citizens are forced to fight in the political arena for their rights and views. For the pundits continually cry for compromise, but there is no true compromise because government's monopoly ensures that one group or the other must compromise their own rights (and usually not to the supposed benefit of another group of individuals, but always in effect to the benefit of government itself). He provides a great example of this phenomenon in the education system. For when education is non-compulsory and provided by free individuals, then citizens may freely choose to send their children to learn and study as they see fit. Even when education is provided by the state, but is done so in a non-compulsory, decentralized manner strictly at the local level, citizens retain some remnants of choice to affect the conduct of the administrators and their curriculum. But Rothbard shows that once government controls the education system and furthermore makes education compulsory, then the resulting battles over curriculum and administrators are inevitable. For even in today's private schools, ultimately the state must certify and dictate their curriculum effectively negating a private system as a true viable alternative of choice to government education. Hence, the battle for the hearts and minds of a nation's youth is literally transformed beyond metaphor to an all-out struggle by parents to retain traditions and culture dear to them.
Government education is by no means the only example of this zero sum political game that government intervention creates. As government takes over healthcare and finance, continues to provide ever more barriers to economic freedom, and tramples individual property rights; it is obvious why the political debate must be increasingly divisive with the outcomes being so absolute and personal to those concerned. Further tearing down the insidious nature of supposedly moderate alternative of compromise is the example of war. It is hard to see how one could demonstrate an acceptable "compromise" to the question of whether or not to forcibly send our sons and daughters to another land to either kill the inhabitants of that land or be killed in the process. Either warfare is done in defense of ourselves, or it cannot be reasonably justified. In the end, Rothbard's perspective clearly indicates that contrary to popular assertions, the "divisiveness" is not an indication of some perceived denigration of civil discourse, but is instead an expected consequence that is an indictment of government's monopolistic, coercive nature.
For those unfamiliar with libertarianism in general, this book provides an eye opening perspective that shatters the mainstream's version of the political debate. Rothbard provides a scathing indictment of the state that can neither be viewed as left or right wing in the current use of the terms. I would recommend this book to individuals of all political stripes - for even the most committed Marxist needs to hear Rothbard's perspective of the individual. For if one is to defend their advocacy of statist political stances, then they need to be able to answer Rothbard's indictment of the horrendous record of government compared to the lofty social goals the promoters of these politics espouse.
Rothbard's demonstration of human rights stemming from the right to self-ownership (and by extension property rights to the fruits of one's labor) debunks the "exceptions to the rule" qualifiers that often must accompany discussions of civil rights. For example, often even the most dependable defenders of liberty will caveat the right to free speech with the qualifier that free speech does not guarantee the right to falsely yell fire in a crowded theatre. The qualifier that there are exceptions to a right undermines the concept of a right, and provides the opening for those that would continually encroach on that right by chipping away it - utilizing the ambiguity of the concept of exceptions as their tool. Rothbard postulates that these exceptions are not exceptions at all. Instead, he shows that by viewing rights through the prism of Natural Rights that instead of being an exception, quite the contrary, falsely yelling fire in a crowded theatre is an encroachment on the property rights of other individuals (namely the owner of theatre and the patrons who paid for admission to the theatre). Rothbard's explanation of Natural Rights effectively debunks any supposed inconsistencies to the theory of individual rights, and instead shows Natural Rights to be entirely consistent with the nature of man.
Those that criticize that he does not explain the origination of property rights, and that he has a logical gap that must be taken on faith, simply did not read the book. Although, MNR does not go into the depth of the concept that he does in other works, he absolutely lays the foundation of a consistent definition and origin of property rights. His logic regarding property rights is as sound as it simple, but in no way does its simplicity detract from its thoroughness. And, yes, he does explain the absolute origin of property rights in his treatment of the homesteading concept, and of a man's labor as an extension of his right to self-ownership.
On the other hand, criticisms of Rothbard's treatment of the Soviets regarding foreign policy may have some validity. In my view, although the criticisms regarding his interpretation of certain events may be questionable, these misinterpretations do not detract from his ultimate viewpoint and conclusion. In trying to make a point regarding the true danger posed by the Soviets with regard to their military capability and intention (which was that they did not pose a tremendous threat to the U.S. mainland and were instead focused inward on struggling to maintain the empire they had), he does come off as almost treating the Soviet Union as benign. Although, not his intention as obviously a lover of liberty would be no friend of the Bolsheviks, he does at times seem to try to push the edge too far in proving a point. In my view he was simply approaching the concept from the standpoint that most readers would view democratically elected governments in a benign sense (regarding their aggressiveness), and most already intuitively fear the intentions of totalitarian regimes. Therefore, in his attempts to show that democratically elected nations can be viciously aggressive, it almost makes him appear sympathetic to the totalitarians. He is also attempting to demonstrate that totalitarianism by its own nature must eventually turn its aggression inward to maintain the power it has gained. This being said, I do think he overstated the case regarding a few particular situations, and was probably incorrect in his assesment of the Soviet's intent toward Finland during the Second World War. That does not take away from the fact that Murray Rothbard had a tremendous knowledge of world history, and his insights into the lessons of history are nothing short of brilliant. Most readers will come away with a very different view of at least one formerly accepted tenant of twentieth century events.
Beyond his thorough indictment of government's historical record, he touches on plethora of subjects in which he extolls the potential benefit to humanity that freedom would produce. He touches on poverty, education, and the environment among many others. Rothbard, though, is not content to stay within the easy land where he could find much support on issues of economic freedom. He instead goes much further and tackles the areas in which very few question government's role. That is, he questions the government's necessity in the court system and in matters of defense. Rothbard's attack on the nature of the modern American justice system is eye opening. He correctly demonstrates that instead of the system retaining any shred of the common law's original intent of compensating victims, that the court system now ignores victims, does nothing to attempt compensation, and even many times denigrates victims. He also shreds the myth of the justice system's effectiveness in protecting society, and shows that true justice would instead have the victim at the center of outcomes. His historical examples of the practice of compensating victims through methods such as forcing convicts to work off their debt through servitude to the victim, will leave practical minds scratching their heads as to why this practice was ever abandoned. He even questions why adequately compensating jurors is supposedly so unacceptable, and demonstrates that one could expect much better outcomes from competition to serve on juries. For libertarians, MNR's discussion of victimless "crimes" will be intuitive, but for those more accustomed to mainstream thoughts on crime his indictment will at least provoke some reevaluation. MNR paints a vivid picture of the scope of issues which arise from the persecution of individuals who have neither injured nor defrauded others, and completely destroys the moralistic argument of protecting people from themselves. He also points out the destruction caused to individuals, families, and communities when all of the sudden formerly law abiding people are transformed in to criminals simply because government changed the rules. Readers should remember that MNR was pointing out these evils in the 1970's, which was before the U.S. had the prize of attaining the highest per capita prison population in the world - a statistic which is fatally incompatible with the notion of a free country.
On the matter of defense, one could certainly question what MNR's world would look like (since none of us have experienced anything resembling a stateless society), but it is hard to contradict his assesment that even when armed conflicts inevitably occur, within this society there is no doubt they will pale in comparative scale to the murderous warfare of the nation state. It is within the context of foreign policy in which MNR argues his most serious charge to the state, showing that warfare is the health of the state and exposes its ultimate parasitic nature. MNR also points out the insidiousness of the guilt by association nature of modern warfare. To demonstrate his point, he discusses that in medieval times warfare was primarily a matter between the ruling elite and their mercenary forces of knights and soldiers. Often the peasantry would watch opposing armies face off, viewing the macabre reality theatre from a safe distance and relatively unaffected by the conduct of the battle. The 20th century has seen the disappearance of separating the actions of rulers from civilians themselves, which has also been accompanied by an exponential increase in the lethality of weaponry. The end result of this blurring of lines between the nation state's rulers and the people is of course the mass murder on a monumental scale that was witnessed throughout 20th Century warfare. Even for those who dismiss all of MNR's logic for how a free society would ultimately be a more peaceful society, it is almost impossible to debate his assertion that skirmishes between small private forces could never achieve the total destruction that has been witnessed on behalf of the nation state.
My original review of this work read very differently than the one I now compose. There is a quip among Rothbard's intellectual descendants that poses the question "What is the difference between a minarchist and an anarchist?". (Minarchist referring to Jeffersonian style classical liberalism). Punch line "Six months". Well, by the time of my second reading, my six months are up. That is not to say that this book really changed my conclusions regarding political philosophy, but it certainly changed my frame of reference from which I arrive at the conclusion of liberty. Quite possibly the greatest asset of this work is his argument for liberty from the moral perspective versus his reasoning against arguing for liberty on a strictly utilitarian perspective. Summed up in his basic assertion that although free markets happen to be superior to other systems as judged by the outcomes, if one only argued for liberty on this basis, then one would be implying a change in philosophy were they to suddenly judge the outcomes better from (for example) totalitarianism. By making the argument for liberty on a moral basis, then the philosophy of liberty is shown to be an entirely consistent one.
Originally, I had trouble overcoming Rothbard's attacks on Milton Friedman which obscured his point (from me) regarding utilitarianism, and therefore I did not fully grasp his contention regarding the implications of a strictly utilitarian philosophy. I must say that by the time of my second reading, though, that understanding Rothbard's argument provides for a new perspective that is reassuringly consistent throughout. I still, however, have a high regard for Milton Friedman and his contributions to liberty through his non-academic literature ("Capitalism and Freedom", "Free to Choose"); and would have personally preferred that Rothbard make his philosophical point without singling out Friedman. Furthermore, I do not feel the need to drive a wedge within libertarianism, effectively requiring those desiring liberty to choose sides. It does seem that in a book where Rothbard maintained a very positive tone, he seemed to most rigorously pursue those closest to his philosophy but not quite accepting of the full scope. I personally do not feel any contradiction in accepting Rothbard's core concepts, while continuing to push for a small decentralized government as Friedman advocated. For even if Rothbard is correct in his assertion that small government is not a feasibly stable outcome (because it will always grow at the expense of liberty), then achieving greater liberty for even a short time will still provide a far greater benefit to humanity than the status quo could ever hope to achieve. That being said, none of this takes away from the overall effect of this tremendous work of literature.
Those that find this book fascinating would be well served to continue their research at the website for the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, where they will find a wealth of information on economics, politics, and history. Admittedly, "For a New Liberty" covers an enormous spectrum, so for those interested in specific aspects they can find exhaustive scholarship in many of these areas provided by the Mises Institute.
Rothbard presents his insightful solutions--always anti-Statist, pro liberty ones--in historical contexts that graphically illustrate how the State created the problems and worsened them over time, as its disease of "Progressivism" (liberal-fascism) spread through America like a cancer in the twentieth century.
Rothbard takes on one problem after another--Involuntary Servitude; Personal Liberty; Education; Welfare and the Welfare State; Inflation and the Business Cycle: the Collapse of the Keynesian Paradigm; Government in Business; Streets and Roads; Police, Law and the Courts; Conservation; Ecology, and Growth; War and Foreign Policy--and expertly and eloquently explains how libertarianism can remedy them.
With "For a New Liberty," Murray Rothbard, "Mr. Libertarian," "The State's Greatest Enemy," has provided us with a comprehensive primer on the science of liberty. If there's a better educational text on libertarianism, I haven't encountered it.