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What It Means to Be a Libertarian Paperback – December 29, 1997

4.4 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Murray (coauthor of The Bell Curve) is a skilled polemicist, and his manifesto for a radically downsized government should both gather adherents and challenge opponents. He argues from two basic points: freedom (associated with responsibility) is our birthright; and in most cases, government intervention has been ineffectual. While Murray allows for some level of state and local government, he recommends scrapping most federal agencies that deal with domestic policies. Arguing that civil rights laws have actually retarded progress against racism, he cites evidence that discrimination against Jews and the Irish declined without legislation; but this ignores the special stigma of race. Murray advocates a $3000 education voucher for each child and suggests optimistically that medical patients paying full fees will subsidize the costs of the indigent; but this says nothing about those in between?the majority of the population. Welfare and Social Security payments should end, to be replaced by individual saving and community support from voluntary associations. Murray's proposals posit a more responsible populace?a worthy goal?yet they also assume a neighborly concern that may be lacking in our increasingly fragmented society. Moreover, his schema fails to address international comparisons (Canadian health care) and does not acknowledge how government has shaped an unequal status quo (e.g., mortgage interest deductions but little money for public housing).
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Murray, the controversial coauthor of The Bell Curve (Free Pr., 1994), is back with an essay on the political views of the modern libertarian. At a time when the Libertarian Party seems to be gaining in popularity, Murray's book could have served as a treatise for the cause. However, the text is fraught with contradictions and unsubstantiated claims. For example, while Murray concedes that seat belts have reduced the number of automobile injuries, he argues against government regulations and state laws requiring them because the number of injuries to passengers and pedestrians are up, without citing a single study or paper correlating these two issues. Murray also includes no footnotes in his book and has only two brief two-page bibliographic essays. Ironically, in The Bell Curve, Murray and coauthor Richard J. Herrnstein argued that race and class affects the results of IQ tests and defines an individual's role in life, without taking into consideration the environment in which the person was raised. Yet here, in calling for the dismantling of federal regulations, Murray argues that it is the very environment of big government that is the problem. Go figure. Marginally recommended, at best, for general collections. [See also David Boaz's Libertarianism: A Primer, reviewed above.?Ed.]?Patricia Hatch, Insurance Institute for Property Loss Reduction, Boston, Mass.
--Patricia Hatch, Insurance Institute for Property Loss Reduction, Boston, Mass.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (December 29, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767900391
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767900393
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #540,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on October 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
What is this strange thing called Libertarianism? I thought I had a pretty good idea, but I decided to investigate further after reading Candace Jackson's "Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine," a book in which the author defined our former president's predilection for women against the larger themes of liberalism, conservatism, and libertarianism. I dithered about for a few months deciding which course I wanted to take before settling on Charles Murray's "What It Means to Be a Libertarian." I was familiar with the author from the brouhaha his book "The Bell Curve" kicked off roughly a decade ago, but knew little else about him. The name recognition, however, coupled with the knowledge that "What It Takes to Be a Libertarian" runs a scant 178 pages (at least in my hardback copy) convinced me that this was the place to start. The author will have to make his points quickly if he can fit everything into a book less than 200 pages in length, I thought to myself, and I was right. Murray's book is a model of to the point writing. What is this strange thing called Libertarianism? It's what I thought it was all along.

Libertarians, as Murray points out very quickly, differ in their opinions on specific issues as much as members of other political persuasions. But it's possible to distill one core belief that all libertarians share: the individual's freedom is central to human existence. Society works best when the individual retains the right to make as many choices in their life as possible. The archenemy of individual freedom is local, state, and national governments and their handmaidens bureaucracy, regulation, and spurious laws. Government, according to Murray, does have some important functions.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As an introduction to libertarianism, Charles Murray's "What It Means to Be a Libertarian" is often compared to David Boaz's "Libertarianism: A Primer" which also came out in 1997. They are both excellent, but completely different in style and approach. Murray's book is shorter (roughly half the length), more theoretical and philosophical, and calm in tone. He conveys an elegant vision for how society ought to function, and argues convincingly why this is realistic rather than utopian. Liberals and conservatives should both agree with his vision of how things _ought_ to be, though they may remain unconvinced of the feasibility: sometimes relying on the invisible hand that guides the economy is as difficult as trusting the invisible hand that holds up an airplane. This is an elegantly written and extremely readable book, and an excellent introduction to what libertarians are _for_ as well as what they are against.
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Format: Paperback
When I was a libertarian who didn't realize I was a libertarian (I figured I was just a conservative who was smart), this was the book that gave me my diagnosis - "You might be a libertarian if...". This book does and does not serve that purpose.
Charles Murray, infamous co-author of The Bell Curve, writes with clarity, simplicity and understanding about libertarianism. He gives us a cost/benefit understanding of libertarianism, i.e., how much does the program cost vs. how much benefit (in relation to the program's non-existence) do we derive. The more centralization, the less benefit is generally derived and the more the cost is increased. As I said, clear, simple and insightful.
There's one problem - this is not always known as libertarianism. Murray tells us the libertarian rule of thumb is "The more local control, the bettter." No, that's anti-federalism, which tells us that government that is local is best. Libertarianism, by contrast, tells us that government that is minimal is best. A socialist town could please and anti-federalist but not a libertarian. By contrast, a large country with a small centralized government might do the opposite. I am both an anti-federalist AND a libertarian. Still, when reading Murray's book, beware of the difference as he doesn't explain it.
Despite that flaw, I highly reccomend this book to those who are not sure what libertarianism is, are curious whether they are libertarians themselves, or are new libertarians and want a good read with good clarification. A better read (in addition to or in place of) is "The Libertarian Reader" edited by David Boaz. A collection of essays, the reader accurately conveys the diversity of libertarian thinkers better than this book does.
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Format: Hardcover
Charles Murray has accomplished something with his little 170 page book that other authors have failed to do with more massive tomes -- explain the simple concept of liberty.

It should be noted that I am not another libertarian shilling for a book that parrots my position. I am a conservative (there IS a difference between conservatism and libertarianism, though modern liberals can't see it) who read the book to better understand the uneasy alliance that we often have with our libertarian brethren.

Mr. Murray's book is not written from a purist's point of view. He does classify his philosophy as being a bit toward the classical liberal side, but his "thought experiments" show that true classical liberalism is is inseperably intertwined with modern libertarianism.

Contrary to the Amazon reviewer's comment that Murray has "lost his common sense," this book is oozing common sense. Murray, in part due to his succint explanations, shows that it is the statist approach that often lacks common sense.

Murray's arguments grow and branch out from one root assertion: people must be free to make their own decisions, even if those decisions bring harm upon themselves.

If you automatically reject that premise, then you will most likely find his arguments unpersuasive. If you automatically accept that premise, then you likely already agree with everything that follows.

If you aren't certain, then read the book, and give Murray the chance to make his case. He does so convincingly.
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