Most Convincing Book on Liberty

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    [Note: I kind of got carried away in talking about a personal odyssey towards liberty. The real point of this post can be found in the very last paragraph, should you choose to skip over the rest.]

    Personally, I went on quite a journey from mainstream neoconservative as a freshman in college to market anarchist shortly after attending Mises University the summer before my senior year. I would say it started with a lecture given at my school by Judge Napolitano about the Patriot Act. His second book was his most recently released and I bought a copy after hearing him speak (though I read his first, Constitutional Chaos, before delving into The Constitution in Exile). I was a criminal justice student at the time and the former book made me realize the importance of constitutional protections related to law enforcement, while the latter really enlightened me to an understanding of the Constitution that I never received from public schooling. Shortly after this, I was inspired to learn more about economics, though for a rather dumb reason. It was early 2008 and I remember hearing John McCain say something about how he should know more about economics. “What an idiot!” I thought, but then realized I knew nothing about the subject either. I started with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Economics. I would not recommend it. It has little in the way of economic reasoning, seeming more like an abridged economic dictionary, as it does inform you about price elasticity and those textbook type of things. What sparked a love for the study of economics for me was Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics. I continued to read more of Sowell’s books. It was somewhere during this time that I read the Judge’s third book, A Nation of Sheep. I’m now embarrassed to say that I ever defended some of the foreign policies of George W. Bush. I carried no torch for him at all after reading that book.

    It wasn’t until “Freedom Watch” began as an Internet show that I really got into the Austrian school. I was introduced to it when the Judge interviewed individuals such as Lew Rockwell, Peter Schiff, and Tom Woods. The first book I read regarding it specifically was Meltdown, which I enjoyed so much I had to read all of the other books by Dr. Woods that my library had. I continued to read more in the Austrian tradition, including Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. Up to this point, in retrospect, I feel like I was being progressively spoon-fed more libertarian and free market literature, now being somewhere along the lines of a constitutionalist but not necessarily a minarchist (I’m not sure what the extent of my free market thinking was at the time. I was convinced by Tom Woods of the efficacy of having a free market in money, but I don’t think I considered it in terms of things like roads, let alone police, courts, and military). When I searched my local library for “Lew Rockwell” what came up was a book in which he wrote the “Foreword”, written by an individual I hadn’t yet heard of: Murray Rothbard. For A New Liberty radically changed the way I viewed the world. It was like a “Road to Damascus” moment. What now seems so obvious was shocking, and it took me a few months (and a trip to Auburn) to accept it fully and identify as “anarchist.”

    I have since read a variety of literature on the subject of a stateless society, such as David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom,, Bruce Benson’s The Enterprise of Law, Robert Murphy’s Chaos Theory (as well as taking his Mises Academy course on “Anarcho-Capitalism”), and most of the Tannehill’s The Market for Liberty, among others. I wish I could judge them independently, testing their effects on my thinking before I became a Rothbardian, but I still find For A New Liberty to be the single most comprehensive and convincing book on the subject.

    The question I would like to open up for discussion is: What book do you think is the most effective in convincing readers to embrace libertarianism or libertarian ideals? Does it depend on their current ideological foundations? I wonder if I would have been as receptive to Rothbard had I read him before reading all of these other things (in a way, being somewhat conditioned to the basic ideas). Include your own intellectual journey if you so desire.


    I’m 18 years old right now. At first (about 3 years ago) I was actually interested in Islam and terrorism and I read books of neocon authors like David Horowitz and Robert Spencer. This got me interested in politics in general and I read typical rightwing websites. Unfortunately I bought into the idea that the US Govenment was spreading freedom around the globe. Fortunately this led me also to free market economics and authors like Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell (of whom I read ‘Basic Economics’). For a while I called myself a neocon but I’ve already felt that an interventionist foreign policy would be in contradiction with libertarian principles…
    When the first debates started back in 2011I came across of Ron Paul and liked him despite his call for a non-interventionist foreign policy. However, conservatives, especially the neocons, hated him and I encountered Tom Woods through the Peter Schiff Show. He finally convinced me that war and big government cannot get along with liberty. I dumped all the conservative websites and became a limited government libertarian. I started to read the books of Steve Forbes, Tom Woods, Tom Dilorenzo etc. ‘The Law’ of Frédéric Bastiat was an importent book on my intellectual journey. The Mises Institute led me to Murray Rothbard who was of course an Anarcho-Capitalist. After having read lots of books on history, war, economics etc. I finally read ‘For A New Liberty’ and immediately therafter ‘Ethics of Liberty’. These books really got me thinking but did no convince me right away. Stefan Molyneux was important as well. ‘The Market for Liberty’ by Linda and Morris Tannehill pushed me finally over the edge and I considered myself an Anarchist after that read. While I did not have a job this summer I educated myself a lot and made perhaps the most important intellectual transformation of my lifetime…

    I do not think that there’s one single book that would convert someone to Anarcho-Capitalism but a collection of different books. I’m currently reading ‘The Conscience of an Anarchist’ by Gary Chartier who calls himself a leftwing or market Anarchist. He focuses a lot about how the government hurts the poor and supports big corporations etc. A liberal might favor Gary’s approach to some others which may appear elitist or pro business.


    I would also highly recommend Ron Paul’s excellent Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom.


    Sons of Liberty is right. I don’t think that reading one book will cause the proverbial light to switch on. It’s more like each book draws you closer to the light.

    I was always a political nomad. At various points in my life, I considered myself a liberal or a conservative, but I’ve always had reservations and concerns about the positions that both sides took on certain issues. I’ve always been a fiscal conservative, but didn’t believe that the State should be involved in our personal lives so long as our actions weren’t harming anyone else. Likewise, I’ve always considered the Bill of Rights absolutely sacrosanct and was a big civil libertarian, which I thought was a liberal position, but I believed that individuals should be able to keep the fruit of their labor and never bought into the whole “redistribution” of wealth thing.

    Then a friend told me that I sounded like a libertarian and encouraged me to check out the Libertarian Party, which I did. I discovered that I agreed with the libertarians on most of the issues and realized that I’d found a home. Although I now understood that there was more to the political spectrum than the Left/Right paradigm, I still wasn’t thinking in terms of philosophy, but rather “do I agree with them on this issue or that issue?”

    A few years later, 9/11 happened. That terrible event really motivated me to give politics some hard thought. How could something like this happen? Especially in America? Unfortunately, like Sons of Liberty, I began down the neocon path. However, I did so for what I thought were pragmatic reasons. I’ve always considered people as individuals with equal rights, not as members of some tribe or group who are, by definition, “THE ENEMY!” Hence, I thought that war was a terrible thing, but that it was necessary, although I knew that innocent people would die and I was uncomfortable with talk like “we should turn Afghanistan into a parking lot.” Meanwhile, another part of my mind was still traveling down the libertarian path.

    So I read all that I could, listened to podcasts, etc. I found myself more and more drawn towards libertarianism as not only philosophically attractive, but as the only system of politics that would really work. Then I discovered Rothbard and it was all over. I realized that private property anarchy, the stateless society, was not only possible, it is superior to any other political system. And it is the only truly moral arrangement for human society.

    In addition to the great books that have already been listed, I’d like to add Mary Ruwart’s Healing Our World: In an Age of Aggression, especially if you want to approach things from the Left. For those interested in hard numbers and empirical examples, there is Harry Browne’s Why Government Doesn’t Work which resonates with our friends on the Right. I’d also like to recommend Richard Maybury’s Uncle Eric series, especially for young people. The drawback with the Uncle Eric books is that each short book covers a single topic and they are a little expensive, so accumulating the entire series can be a somewhat pricey.

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