Essential Libertarian (Fiction) Reading List

Libertarian literature is known for being profoundly dry, and typically non-fiction for the most part. This is an understandable and fair characterization, given that most libertarian literature is focused on economics (the dismal science) and moral argumentation regarding the use of force. That said, here are ten great fictional works that while maybe not distinctly libertarian, still provide insight into libertarianism and its various facets.

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1. 1984, by George Orwell. Orwell’s greatest accomplishment, 1984 is a piece of dystopian literature still unmatched by any other. Orwell deals with the common issues of statism, surveillance states, censorship, state education, kangaroo court systems, and more, while presenting a compelling and enjoyable story.

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2. Anthem, by Ayn Rand. Gives a simple insight into the ethics and political ideology of Ayn Rand, without requiring the 1,000 page slogfest that Atlas Shrugged does. This piece does an excellent job of exposing the dangers of collectivism, and the importance of allowing every man to (non-aggressively) pursue is own happiness and betterment.

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3. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. While not distinctly anti-state, this work focuses on a man who has a profound sense of self-ownership and his quest for survival following his unfortunate shipwreck. Crusoe’s initiative and dedication to improve himself as well as his environment through hard work are admirable, and a great example for libertarians everywhere.

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4. The Lord of the Flies, by Peter Golding. Gives a prime example of the arbitrary nature of the state and its rule, while providing a helpful analysis of the darkness of the heart of man. Golding shows from the very beginning what power hungry men will do in the name of “maintaining order” in times of crisis, an important issue to take notice of in a time where our state consistently adds to their reach in response to crises and emergencies.

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5. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s portrayal of puritan society (skewed as it may be)still serves as a powerful argument against the state sanctioning and legislating morality beyond acts of aggression.

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6. Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Orwell’s second entry on the list, this book is not on the same level literarily as 1984, but it provides an excellent example of the problems of violent revolution, particularly violent revolutions which place another government in power in place of the former state.

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7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Probably the greatest anti-censorship work of fiction, Bradbury presents the darkness inherent in a society without a free press or a right to free speech. This same theme is paramount in Orwell’s 1984, but Fahrenheit 451 gives a darker, more violent view of the censorship going on throughout than Orwell. Although 1984 contains some violent instances of censorship, most of the censorship presented is through controlling education and re-writing history, rather than the violent book burnings in Bradbury’s work.

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8. Horton Hears A Who, by Dr. Seuss. While this may be a far easier read than the rest of the books on the list, Dr. Seuss packs a number of punches into this classic children’s story. From the principles of non-agression, to a strong anti-collectivism and anti-xenophobia slant, and even to a strong example of what can be accomplished through voluntary cooperation, Horton Hears A Who is a great piece for any libertarian to read.

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9. The Vile Village, by Lemony Snicket. What happens when you put the care of children in the hands of an entire village? Bad things. This book also deals with the issues of slave labor and kangaroo courts, and is an easy, entertaining read, despite dealing with major issues with the state.

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10. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Another work that’s not explicitly libertarian or anti-state, but if one looks at Dr. Jekyll and his will to power and violence, all while under the cloak of decency, it’s very easy to see how he relates to the state. Every state starts by offering itself to the people as Dr. Jekyll, but is eventually exposed as Mr. Hyde.

 

11 Questions To see If Libertarians Are Hypocrites: A Response

This piece on Salon is an elongated diatribe, meant to skewer libertarianism. It skewers something, but all it really gets at is a strawman and/or the GOP, not libertarian political or economic philosophy. Nonetheless, I’m going to offer answers to the questions asked by the author, in the hopes that Salon and others will stop with these silly strawmen and actually engage in a real discussion of these issues.

Are unions, political parties, elections, and social movements like Occupy examples of “spontaneous order”—and if not, why not? Yes, they are. They are forms of voluntary association, which no consistent libertarian would oppose. When libertarians start to oppose unions, political parties, elections, and social movements is only the point at which they attempt to use force to further their cause, such as when a violent union determines to use force to keep workers from crossing the picket lines.

Is a libertarian willing to admit that production is the result of many forces, each of which should be recognized and rewarded? Yes. Libertarian philosophy recognizes that all members of a free trade both benefit and offer benefit to the other parties. Any and all parties involved in a voluntary exchange have the right to negotiate and do as they please in that process.

Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that workers who bargain for their services, individually and collectively, are also employing market forces? Yes, yes they are. Libertarians are in favor of any and all voluntary association, any and all negotiation to get to that agreement, and any and all free market forces. The author offers this example to show how her strawman libertarian ruins everything: “But victims of illegal foreclosure are neither ‘freer’ nor ‘more prosperous’ after the government deregulation which led to their exploitation. What’s more, deregulation has led to a series of documented banker crimes that include stockholder fraud and investor fraud.” This example is in no way related to libertarian political or economic theory, as it deals with government subsidized central banking. As it turns out, when the government deregulates, it tends to abuse people. Who would have thought?

Is our libertarian willing to admit that a “free market” needs regulation? Absolutely not. The market itself needs no regulation, the only thing that needs regulation are those who steal through breaking the terms of the agreements they come to on the market.

Does our libertarian believe in democracy? If yes, explain what’s wrong with governments that regulate. No, libertarians do not believe in democracy. In the same way it’s not right for one man to assert his will over another man, it’s immoral for a majority of people to assert their collective will over another (or others) who do not agree with them.

Does our libertarian use wealth that wouldn’t exist without government in order to preach against the role of government? I answer this with a question of my own: What does the government produce? What does it have that it did not first take? The state makes nothing, all it does it take, and then redistribute in such a way as to appear that it has “produced” something that could have just as easily been made on the free market.

Does our libertarian reject any and all government protection for his intellectual property? There’s an ongoing debate in libertarian circles regarding intellectual property, but I would answer that intellectual property is a legitimate thing that ought to be defended, but not necessarily by a central government.

Does our libertarian recognize that democracy is a form of marketplace? No. Democracy is not a marketplace, or anything like it. Democracy is a group of people imposing their will on individuals who disagree with them by using the arm of the state. It is not a market in which agreements are voluntarily reached, it is two wolves and one sheep choosing what’s for dinner.

Does our libertarian recognize that large corporations are a threat to our freedoms? Of course, if by large corporations the author is referring to those corporations that are propped up by the state in a crony capitalist system, yes, they are a threat to freedoms. The beauty of a truly free market is that no monopolies would exist, in that every time a large company began to raise their prices too high, a new startup will come in and undercut them on price while providing a comparable service.

“The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.” -Ayn Rand Does he think that Rand was off the mark on this one, or does he agree that historical figures like King and Gandhi were “parasites”? The equation of Ayn Rand and libertarianism has to stop. Ayn Rand had an incredible understanding of economics and politics, but her moral objectivism was woefully off the mark, and should not be used to bash libertarianism as a whole.

If you believe in the free market, why weren’t you willing to accept as final the judgment against libertarianism rendered decades ago in the free and unfettered marketplace of ideas? Because the “free and unfettered marketplace of ideas” has been under state control for centuries. When the state has the power of education and propaganda in their hands, they’re able to do a very good job of making anything not the state look evil, demeaning, and unuseful, but libertarianism is anything but these things. If the state relinquished their (by force) monopoly on education, we would see a very different landscape in the arena of political thought.

There it is. Eleven questions, eleven answers. Clearly those asking the questions either misunderstand libertarian political, economic, and moral theory, or have determined to dishonestly skewer strawmen of their own making while labeling them as libertarian.

The Constitution Doesn’t Protect Your Rights

The constitution of the United States of America is a good document. It was truly one of the first of its kind, a document created not to enumerate the limitations of the behavior of persons, but rather to enumerate the limits and bounds in which the state may operate. Unfortunately, like all cases when a monopoly of force is granted to any one group, a piece of paper telling them what they may and may not do has very little impact. The constitution doesn’t protect your rights.

Just in the same way a law against guns will not prohibit immoral men from using guns to exercise force on other men, a law that says the state may not exercise force without just cause elicits the same response from the state as it does from the common criminal, perhaps a quick laugh, followed by the continuation of his immoral action. The solution of adding gun control laws to stop an armed robber does the same thing as a constitution does to a government, nothing. Lew Rockwell explains just how little the constitution actually does: “This solution can’t work. It suffers from a fatal flaw. The Constitution creates a government that is the judge of its own powers. The branches of the government, legislative, executive, and judicial, are in theory supposed to check and balance each other. The problem with this is that the Supreme Court, which as the Constitution has developed has become the highest arbiter of constitutional issues, is itself part of the federal government. In a dispute between the federal government and the people, it is unlikely to side against the government.”

Every time someone in submission to the state tries to flex their constitutional rights with a simple “I can do what I want” (ala Ron Swanson)

the state responds by saying “so can we” and flexing their superior firepower. If the constitution protected your rights, the Patriot Act wouldn’t exist, nor would the NSA. If the constitution protected your rights, the drug war would end. If the constitution protected your rights, the government wouldn’t be involved in massive redistributions of wealth, but it doesn’t, so the state continues on doing whatever they may please.

Libertarians may be idealistic, but there’s nothing more idealistic (or foolish) than ceding all the justifiable use of force to one group and then expecting them to limit the use of that power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that doesn’t change when you put a piece of paper with rules in front of the state and offer them the power to interpret it. The constitution doesn’t protect your rights, it never has, and it never will.

 

Common Core Isn’t The Problem

kids-saying-pledgeComplaining about common core, school choice, standardized testing, or any other common government education concern misses the main problem which we ought to be focused on, that is that the government is providing education in the first place. The problem with a program like common core education is not that it’s an overly centralized/standardized government education program, it’s that it’s a government education program. The surest way for an authoritarian state to maintain its grip on its power is for it to control the education of the people. Remove common core, and you have only removed one of the 10,000 government flies in the soup of education. School choice? Same problem.

Choosing which state run Prussian factory model school your child goes to doesn’t substantially improve their education in any way, and it does even less to loosen the grip of the state. The problem is not what is being taught, or in which district it’s being taught. The problem is that the state is the one doing the teaching, and this must not be. It is not a legitimate function of any state to educate, no matter what they teach, how they teach, or how they acquire the funds to do the teaching. In America it just so happens that they choose the most asinine things to teach, in the most asinine ways, and acquire the necessary funds to do so in the most immoral way possible. It’s certainly fair to complain about that, but not at the expense of the larger problem.

The issue with universal compulsory education is not, and never has been the content. The first universal compulsory education program ever implemented in America was run by Calvinist puritans. It doesn’t matter what content you’re teaching, when you use force to ensure that it is taught, it is immoral. Jackbooted thuggery doesn’t cease to be Jackbooted thuggery when you use that thuggery to teach Christianity any more than it does when you use it to teach the tenets of Islam. If government schools taught eight hours per day of bible lessons, it would still be wrong.

Great ideas do not need the arm of the state to ensure that they are heard and implemented. There is no greater communal good that trumps the right of any individual man, and that remains true in the realm of education. Common Core as a curriculum is intellectually bankrupt, but Common Core isn’t the problem, state run education is the problem. Cut the state off from the education game, remove their monopoly on teaching, and you will have a better education market, making for a better overall education for anyone looking for it.

 

Are Libertarians Wrong About Drugs?

Libertarians are wrong about drugs. According to the author of the article linked here, there is ample evidence that drug use not only leads to the harm of the user, but can also to the harm of others. In case you haven’t picked up on it already, this is known as the slippery slope fallacy. Aside from that, it seems that Mr. Walters is gravely concerned that the legalization (or, as libertarians actually want, decriminalization) of drug use will lend more power to the cartels, which is the complete opposite of what has happened with the recent legalizations in Colorado and Washington, as well as medicinal legalizations elsewhere. Mr. Walters goes on to explain the regulated, licensed dispensary models in other places with legalized drug use, and the horrors found therein. Coincidentally, Walters completely fails to engage with the fact that these situations are ones in which the state continues to regulate which substances people consume, and even distributes the substances itself. He is right in asserting that this makes the addicts which come to these clinics wards of the state, kept on a tight leash; However, what Mr. Walters provides as a description of the horrors of drug legalization is about as far from the libertarian argument for the decriminalization of drugs (or the use of any other substance) as possible.

The question is not which drugs should be legal or illegal, which drugs are harmful or helpful, or the political ramifications of putting to rest a war on drugs that leads to the imprisonment of millions of people for non-violent drug related crimes year after year. The question is what the legitimate functions of the state are. The answer to that question is that the only legitimate function of the state is to “use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.” (Ayn Rand, Man’s Rights). For an individual to consume any substance, regardless of the harm it may cause him, and regardless of the statistical correlations between ingesting that substance (be it alcohol, marijuana, meth, etc.) and certain immoral or aggressive behaviors (correlation is not causation) is not an act of aggression against another, and thus the state has no right to punish him for it, nor otherwise interfere with his efforts to do so.

Mr. Walters presents an excellent case for why state controlled legalization of certain substances is a bad idea, but he flops in his attempts to tie that failure with the libertarian moral arguments regarding what the state may and may not legislate. The answer to the drug war (ethically and pragmatically) is decriminalization, not legalization. It’s time for Mr. Walters and other statists to stop beating up on strawmen and engage with the actual content of the libertarian argument.

Debt To Society?

There is no such thing as a debt to society. If there were such a thing as a “debt to society” it wouldn’t be payable by sending time in prison. Society cannot be wronged, it cannot be taken from or be owed, it cannot give or owe anything to anyone,  because society is not a being in and of itself. Society is simply a term used to describe the mutual cooperation of individual men, in interpersonal relationships, not some special being floating independently off in the noumenal realm which we can’t properly define or understand. Crimes are committed by persons against other persons and their property. As such, restitution for crimes should be paid by the criminal to the same person(s) they harm, and their property rightfully restored. To understand what a crime is, please consult the following chart: CrimeCommittedFlowChart

If we actually understood and followed this formula, imagine all the resources we would save instead of dumping them into a useless prison system. Imagine how many people who have committed victimless “crimes” would have their freedom restored, and how many others would have their loved ones brought back to them. There is no need to prosecute “crimes against society” and no need for people who have not harmed another person or their property to ever “pay their debt to society”. Stop prosecuting those who have not committed crimes against another person, and you will have a more free, happy, and just system. For those who have actually committed a crime against a person or their property, they should repay the loss to those who they wronged, and they cannot do that by being locked in a cage, or having the additional weight of a “debt to society” added to their load.