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Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement Hardcover – February 12, 2007

4.6 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Modern libertarians see themselves as the loyal opposition to the totalitarian tendencies of centralized power, in an American tradition reaching back to the anti-Federalists. Doherty's astute history shows where that consensus comes from and where it fractures along personal, political and practical lines. As a procapitalist and antistatist philosophy, libertarianism has had its greatest impact in economics. But Doherty shows that modern libertarianism since the 1940s, and increasingly since the 1980s, has been politically and ideologically influential, too. Whether believers in a small state regulating only contracts and national defense, or no state at all (like self-described “anarcho-capitalist” Murray Rothbard), libertarians have rooted themselves in a number of institutions—from schools, publications and think tanks to the Libertarian Party, the country's third-largest ticket. Reason magazine senior editor Doherty conveys an insider's understanding in clear, confident prose. However, his sympathies resist questioning the fundamental assumption uniting diverse ideas, personalities and institutions: the belief in the power of completely unfettered markets to bring about the best possible society. Though partisan and sometimes hagiographic, Doherty's well-researched history avoids polemics in outlining a vital political orientation that cuts across the political spectrum.
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"Doherty helps explain why libertarianism is the biggest political movement nobody ever heard of." -- Chicago Sun-Times, July 5, 2007

"Doherty's fascinating and, indeed, freewheeling history reminds us that curmudgeonly people can shape the world too" -- The American, February 5, 2007

"Mr. Doherty has rescued libertarianism from its own obscurity, eloquently capturing the appeal of the 'pure idea.'" -- The Wall Street Journal online, February 15, 2007

"[Doherty's] fierce intelligence growls at your from the page." -- BBC Focus, June 1, 2007

"[Doherty] has done an impressive job of pulling together an interesting, enlightening, and entertaining history of the American libertarian movement." -- (Laissez Faire Books)

"[Doherty] has written what should be the standard intellectual history of libertarianism.... comprehensive and insightful... clear, wry prose." -- City Journal, April 20, 2007

"quite simply, the best book of its kind ever written...an extraordinary accomplishment...an extremely entertaining and informative ride..." -- National Review, May 14, 2007

"remarkably engaging and encyclopedic history" -- New York Sun, January 24, 2007

"serious, comprehensive history of libertarianism... this scholarly and far-reaching account is necessary for collections of modern American history and politics." -- Library Journal, March 1, 2007

"Brian Doherty's sympathetic, well-informed and endlessly entertaining tour traces the ways in which American libertarianism punches above its weight." -- The Financial Times

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 741 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1st edition (February 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586483501
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586483500
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What a great read! Doherty researched his subject (and subjects) almost exhaustively and gave a sometimes breezy, sometimes dense, all the time entertaining portrait of Libertarianism and its founders. Libertarians (and I count myself as one) who boast that their "time has come" are as deluded as the conspiracy nuts who KNOW that Bush is in cohoots with Osama, Saddam, Jews, Saudis, Nazis, aliens - take your pick. I've always contended that Libertarianism will never be a political force because of the very nature of the philosophy - an anti-collectivist attitude that rejecting the sublimation of the individual to the group that is the hallmark of modern politics. In this Brave New World, everything from bathroom flushes to the size of holes in Swiss cheese is politicized. Incredibly, there are those who argue these issues with the passion of the newly converted - I mark it down to the substitution of ideology for religion.

Libertarians are critical thinkers, intelligent and questioning. Even a casual perusal of this work makes that evident. They somehow found the intellectual fortitude to reject the overwhelming majority belief in a nanny State. The movement has the highest percentage of atheists of any political group and yet, for all their smarts, they are constantly battling one another. They can only agree on the broadest and vaguest concepts - non-coercion, limited government, individual and property rights. Maybe it's the absence of the ubiquitious "Vote for me and I'll start a program" politics that voters need. The personalities in the book are heavy hitters - Von Mises, Rand, Rothbard, Hayek, Freidman and then there are all the others - Ron Paul, Popper, Brown, etc. Rand is mainly discussed through her fiction although her non-fiction is almost highlighted.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
RADICALS FOR CAPITALISM is a remarkably thorough history of American libertarianism, beginning with the founding of the nation and progressing through modern times. Author Brian Doherty is a libertarian himself, but he is fair and balanced in evaluating the victories, failures, eccentricities, and evolution of the libertarian movement.

Although the book begins with "individual anarchists" who considered themselves part of the worldwide socialist movement of the nineteenth century, Doherty mostly focuses on the post-WWII libertarian movement, which he examines through the lives and thoughts of five eminent figures: Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and Murray Rothbard. This is not to say that these are the only figures dealt with in depth - Rose Wilder Lane, Leonard Read, the Koches, etc. are also surveyed at length - but through the proxy of these five libertarian giants, Doherty does a remarkable job at encapsulating the movement's history.

The dominant themes of this 619-page tome (740 pages in all - but over a hundred pages are in footnotes, the index, etc.) are the external clash between libertarianism and conservatism, and the internal clash between anarchism and minarchism. Conservatives were natural allies of the libertarian movement during the New Deal, but time and time again, they proved to be duplicitous partners. I was surprised to learn that both the National Review and the even more right-wing Human Events were both originally (at least partially) libertarian organs, but were soon purged of independent thought by cold-warrior traditionalists.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Libertarians maintain that every person has sovereign ownership of his or her body and is free in his or her pursuit of life, liberty, and property, as long as they do not interfere with the pursuit of life, liberty, and property of others. This sounds like commonsense to the American ear. In fact our republic, born of the Enlightenment, was based on these principles. The problem, however, comes in when theory is translated into practice. In order to secure those rights and freedoms government intervention is required. Libertarians believe government intervention should be minimal (minarchists), others believe there should be none at all (anarchists).

Brian Doherty, editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, has written a very long and informative history of the libertarian movement. He focuses, in the first part of his book, on five key thinkers who kept the movement alive during the era of big government - an era which we are still in. Those five were Ludwig von Mises and Freidrich Hayek of the Austrian school of economics, novelist and philospher Ayn Rand, philosopher Murry Rothbard, and economist Milton Friedman.

Libertarianism was actually synonymous with classical liberalism of the 19th century, both advocating minimal government and free market capitalism. In the 20th century, liberalism became identified with the Progressive movement in the US and socialism in Europe. As people began to agitate for "more rights," more government meddling was welcomed. In Europe, coming out of a depression, this led to Nazism in Germany and Communism in the Soviet Union.

The Austrian school was a backlash against these two collectivist movements, which von Mises and Hayek saw as the greatest threat to human liberty.
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