- Hardcover: 496 pages
- Publisher: Cato Institute; 1 edition (July 16, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1935308114
- ISBN-13: 978-1935308119
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
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Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice 1st Edition
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From the Publisher
"Tom Palmer has the ability to make the complex understandable and to go to the heart of the most difficult problems. He is a valuable resource for journalists and others in search of historical and economic scholarship and philosophical insight, especially about the impact of government intervention and the reasons for respecting the freedom and responsibility of individuals."
"Much of this book is devoted to lively defenses of classical liberal and libertarian rights theory against critics and false friends of many sorts. Even more interesting than these sharp rejoinders, though, is Palmer's reframing and recharacterization of that rights theory. Drawing on his extraordinary interdisciplinary learning, Palmer offers a sociologically, institutionally, and historically informed libertarianism--one that is true to the rich legacy and tradition of classical liberalism."
—JACOB T. LEVY
Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory, McGill University; author, The Multiculturalism of Fear
"Tom Palmer has been one of liberty's most eloquent and learned spokespersons for many years. It is a joy to have so many of his lucid, readable, and trenchant essays, written over most of those years, between one set of covers. The essays are independent of each other, enough so that you can sit down and read one here, one there, without needing to know also the hundred or two hundred pages in between. Whatever sort of essay you pick, I guarantee you a good read."
University of Waterloo; author, You and the State: A Short Introduction to Political Philosophy and The Libertarian Idea
"Tom Palmer has been long involved in fighting the battle of ideas; in confronting collectivism, extensive government intervention, and the suppression of human freedom and economic prosperity. This book should be read by all who care about freedom. It is important to remind each generation that freedom can never be taken for granted. Collectivist, anti-libertarian ideologies did not cease to exist at the moment the Iron Curtain fell."
President of the Czech Republic
From the Back Cover
"The libertarian conception of individual autonomy is often attacked as fostering narrow and selfish individuals who take scant notice of the larger world around them. Tom Palmer's great contribution in this collection of essays is to lay those misconceptions to rest. He shows how autonomous individuals use their powers to promote exchange and cooperation, which enrich all facets of social life. He exposes the cultural imperialists whose high-falutin' rhetoric is all too often the prescription for economic protectionism and social stagnation. He reminds us yet again that individual liberty is our most precious social good."
--Richard A. Epstein
James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago; author of Simple Rules for a Complex World.
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Liberty is a difficult subject these days because a majority of Americans seem to confuse it with either personal license or laissez faire economics. The Libertarian political party is certainly related to liberty, but is not the same thing. Finally, the term liberal, which originally denoted a resistance to special legal privilege, has come to be associated with an element of the Democratic Party that called itself Progressive when it originated in the Republican Party with Teddy Roosevelt, and which might now more accurately be described as communitarian. (We are all in this together. We must decide by majority vote how to live, with government as the coercive mechanism) Those of us who consider ourselves friends of liberty are reduced to calling ourselves Classical Liberals if we don’t wish to identify with all the aspects of the Libertarian, or any other, Party.
The first point to make is that liberty is not based on imagined isolated individuals. Its modern version began in the nascent free cities of Medieval Europe where the merchants and artisans created well documented (not merely hypothetical) social contracts regulating their relationships with each other and with their rulers, usually kings. Their, and our, liberty is an intensely social relationship of mutual tolerance and respect. It is the “mutual enjoyment of equal freedom” dependent on a respect for strong law to prevent violence of one upon another. It is just as social as any communitarian scheme, but without the coercion. It may be even more social because it depends on peaceful trading.
Much of the theory of liberty deals with trade in its most general sense. For example, some modern economic theories, from Marxism to labor unions, posit that any good, be it a manufactured product or labor, has an intrinsic value. Libertarian theory, however, recognizes that trading goods of fixed value makes no sense because if two people trade items of truly equal value, nothing has been gained. In reality, value is situationally dependent. I give you something that you value more than I do, and you give me something that I value more than you do. There is a net gain in value – both goods at the end are worth more than before. This, of course, requires that both parties know what the goods are, and leads to a justification for common standards and rules, which may or may not be most effectively managed by a government, but which in any case imply strong social cohesion or at least trust and some form of enforcement. In short, the object of rules is peaceful cooperation.
Palmer touches only briefly and indirectly on current politics. Rather, he provides a solid philosophical, moral, and practical foundation for judging current affairs with several essays on the philosophical basis for, and careful definition of, liberty, including its history. He points out that liberty is different from democracy. The former is based on clear philosophical principles, while the latter can degrade to a simple exercise of majoritarian power.
Liberty requires law, which is quite different from what is now called regulation, and which is really management or intervention. Law, or proper regulation, fosters regularity of trade and other relationships. Intervention is commonly for the purpose of achieving some unrelated object that may be transient in nature and subject to political whim. An example of the need for law is that in many poor countries land tenure is extremely complex and subject to arbitrary decisions by the powerful, thereby severely restricting economic development. As an aside, Palmer notes that all rich countries started out poor, and became rich by virtue of their more-or-less libertarian governance, not always by means of natural resources or conquest, especially recently.
One of the great values of Palmer’s book is that nothing is left to inference or unstated assumption. Every idea is meticulously developed from clear principles, sometimes to greater depth than the casual reader might wish, but always well referenced. For example, the common good or general welfare is often cited to justify various schemes of wealth redistribution. Palmer makes clear that these terms historically mean a good that is common to all, or welfare that is general, not particular to an individual. “The common good is a system of justice that allows all to live in together in harmony and peace”, not “a good for some of us at the expense of others of us.”
There are two whole chapters debunking a couple dozen myths about individualism and markets. One example will suffice. We often hear from Progressives that “markets worked fine when society was simpler, but the modern complex world needs government direction.” The opposite is actually true. In a simple agrarian or tribal society where nothing changed much, fixed prices and relationships might have worked, but the modern world is plainly too complex for any mind or group of minds to master the rapid changes in technology or human desires and forms of interaction nearly as well as the market, in which prices produce information about the value of goods that is otherwise unavailable. The lack of prices is the downfall of managed economies.
Readers predisposed to a libertarian bent will find a scholarly foundation for their perhaps intuitive preferences. Progressives and communitarians will be exposed to the real arguments for true libertarianism. If they still don’t like it, they will at least have real targets rather than straw men to attack, which is harder but more productive of truth. They may even develop new insights or understanding.
There is an excellent annotated bibliography, which could almost stand by itself as a history of political thought.
For an introductory and popular exposition to Libertarian philosophy, I recommend The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom by David Boaz.
Readers with a general interest in political theory, economics or history will enjoy essays like "Twenty Myths about Markets," in which the author considers and answers common ethical and economic critiques of market economies. Another piece, "Why Socialism Collapsed in Eastern Europe," reflects on socialism's failed promises and its profound effect on the political culture of that region. The serious student of political philosophy ought to read "No Exit: Framing the Problem of Justice," wherein Palmer conducts a serious and rigorous analysis of John Rawls' theory and draws attention to some of its potentially illiberal implications.
Those more steeped in libertarian or classical liberal thought may appreciate "What's Not Wrong with Libertarianism," in which Palmer discusses the relationship between a theory of rights and the importance of evaluating consequences. While some critics charge that it is contradictory to promote a theory of natural rights and then employ empirical evidence to support those rights claims, Palmer deftly makes the case for compatibility and highlights the poor assumptions of such criticism. In an included book review, Palmer assesses an attempt to hijack the term "libertarian" by a proponent of "radically egalitarian redistribution." This book review, titled "John Locke Lite," illustrates Palmer's ability to communicate complicated theory clearly and convincingly. I even found it humorous!
This volume is a delight. Palmer has a wonderful talent for making deep ideas accessible. His passion for freedom is exceptional and leaves the reader inspired. These essays belong in your collection.