- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (March 30, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0198297297
- ISBN-13: 978-0198297291
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,722,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law New Ed Edition
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"...an ambitious book....it is written with an unusual clarity of expression...the argument is carefully articulated so as to lay bare the bones of the ideas and expose them to careful scrutiny. Barnett has written a readable book that nonetheless will repay careful study....a rich and provocative set of arguments."--Michigan Law Review
"The Structure of Liberty is a very well written book of political and legal philosophy, drawing on Barnett's considerable analytical and rhetorical skills. It is an instant classic."--James Lindgren, Northwestern University School of Law
"The Structure of Liberty is that rare creature, a book that delivers on most of the promises it makes. Already the book is on its way to becoming a contemporary classic, the successor in interest to Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia as a source of ideas and arguments for the revitalization of an important intellectual tradition that has long stood at the periphery of legal and political theory."--Michigan Law Review
"His interest in basic theory as it relates to the uses and abuses of political power makes his views on a wide range of state policy issues, from taxation to criminal law, worthy of careful attention."--Reason
"This is a serious, engaging, and important work of jurisprudence and political philosophy....Comprehensive in its treatment, fair-minded in the way it deals with evidence and unfailingly rigorous in its argument."--Choice
About the Author
Randy E. Barnett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor at the Boston University School of Law, and the author of numerous books on legal theory.
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The most powerful feature of the book to me is the way Barnett builds out the classical liberal conception of justice. He begins the book with a discussion of Natural Law and Natural Rights. Then he uses a "Given-If-Then" model of reasoning to set the context for what is to come:
Given: The nature of human being and the world in which they live
If: "we want a society in which persons can survive and pursue happiness, peace and prosperity"
Then: we should respect the liberal conception of justice and the rule of law
The development of this conception of justice is what is covered in the rest of the book. I found his method of developing and refining his formulation of the liberal conception of justice very powerful. He evolves the formulation as he works through the "serious and pervasive social problems of knowledge, interest and power" that justice and the rule of law must address.
There is a lot of great thinking as he works through these problems and evolves the conception of justice. There are 3 areas I want to call attention to since they are areas where I now see the need to think more about:
1.) The common law - he notes how the common law helps bridge the gap between theory and practice through an evolutionary process (this section also given me some thoughts for my job as a program manager which was a nice side benefit)
2.) The problem of enforcement abuse - I had given too little attention to this but with the recent (2013) attention on areas where government abuse has grown, I think this area has become even more problematic than when Barnett first wrote the book
3.) Retribution versus restitution - there is a lot of material that Barnett covers here which have led me to start reconsidering what role retribution has given the problems of knowledge, interest and power - especially where those problems falsely victimize the innocent
I highly recommend this book. It has made me think a lot deeper on some very important issues regarding a free society. It is a work I will be revisiting again and again. The methodology he uses allows someone to disagree with the author but they then need to make sure they can better address the problems of knowledge, interest and power. As the Author notes at the end of the book: "...social theories have to be assessed comparatively. ...Criticism simply is no substitute for the presentation of a potentially-superior alternative perspective."
In this brilliant work, which should be read as soon as possible by all parties to the anarchism/minarchism debate, Barnett tries to show what such a social order might look like. Here I shall briefly summarize the book's contents.
In an introductory chapter, "Liberty vs. license," he discusses just enough of the philosophy of "natural law" and "natural rights" to let his readers know he is _not_ writing a book about them and that his subsequent analysis does not stand or fall with any particular understanding of the origin of rights.
He then plunges, in Part 1, into the "Problem of Knowledge," which occupies the next five chapters. Here he deals in turn with what he calls the first-, second-, and third-order problems of knowledge: using resources, communicating justice, and specifying conventions. (Importantly, he acknowledges that "background rights" to life and property are not sufficient to determine the specific forms these rights should take in every case. What he has called the "third-order problem" -- specifying conventions that secure justice -- is thus not settled merely by an abstract account of "rights.") His argument here, of course, is that the classical-liberal conception of justice and the rule of law is what is needed in order to solve these knowledge problems.
Part 2 (chapters 7-9) deals with what Barnett identifies as the "Problems of Interest" (problems of partiality, incentive, and compliance) and Part 3 (chapters 10-14) with the "Problems of Power" (problems of enforcement error, fighting crime without punishment, and enforcement abuse). Here he argues that the liberal conception of justice and the rule of law solves these problems -- helpfully devoting chapters 13 and 14, respectively, to a more or less abstract discussion of a "polycentric" constitutional order and to a "short fable" envisioning concretely how such an order might work in practice.
Finally (Part 4, consisting of chapter 15), he devotes nearly thirty pages to consideration of possible criticisms. His trenchant closing remarks on "the limits of criticism" should be taken to heart by all parties to the debate.
I myself find his arguments cogent and compelling. Possibly some supporters of a minimal, limited State will find them less so. But be that as it may, Barnett has significantly advanced the debate with this fine volume, and no participants can claim to have dealt adequately with "anarcho-capitalism" until they have dealt also with Barnett.