Book Short: Libertarianism: A Primer

I was in Washington, D.C. last week and met tons of interesting people. One of them was David Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute. David is author of probably the best introduction to libertarianism. The book is called Libertarianism: A Primer.

It is an excellent survey of the intellectual roots of libertarianism as well as commentary on current issues. In the introduction David defines libertarianism thusly:

Libertarianism is the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others. Libertarians defend each person’s right to life, liberty, and property — rights that people possess naturally, before governments are created. In the libertarian view, all human relationships should be voluntary; the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have not themselves used force — actions like murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and fraud.Most people habitually believe in and live by this code of ethics. Libertarians believe this code should be applied consistently — and specifically, that it should be applied to actions by governments as well as by individuals. Governments should exist to protect rights, to protect us from others who might use force against us. When governments use force against people who have not violated the rights of others, then governments themselves become rights violators. Thus libertarians condemn such government action as censorship, the draft, price controls, confiscation of property, and regulation of our personal and economic lives.

I highly recommend this book.


For a simpler definition of libertarianism, enter Auren Hoffman:

Democrats say — “Give a man a fish.”
Republicans say — “Teach a man to fish.”
Libertarians say — “Go fish!”

3 comments on “Book Short: Libertarianism: A Primer
  • That is indeed a good primer — but like many introductory materials, it has a tendency to oversimplify, and represent libertarianism (whether the ‘l’ is capitalized or otherwise) as a monolithic movement/set of ideas.

    For example, far from all libertarians subscribe to the view that the libertarian code of ethics “should be applied to actions by governments as well as by individuals.” Admittedly, this isn’t the most intellectual example, but think of Ron Paul’s views on abortion — he’s against federal regulation but in favor of state regulation, and has admitted he doesn’t personally approve of abortion.

  • Kathleen,

    Trying to write abortion into libertarianism is tricky. Because libertarianism does not recognize the use of force against others, you could argue that terminating a pregnancy constitutes an act of violence against the fetus.

    Take it from me, a pro-life libertarian type, that there are indeed, many of us.

  • As someone with a bit of a left orientation, I am not a big fan of the Democrats definition, it seems more set up so that people automatically skip past it.

    I would say it’s definition more correlated to Communism, and that the Republican definition is better suited to the Democrats.

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