Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice

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Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice by Tom Palmer Cato Institute * 2009 * 496 pages * $29.95

Every generation faces the struggle for freedom anew, but not alone. To be successful it must draw on its inherited ideas of freedom, then reformulate them into a message that is relevant and inspiring to the people of a particular time and place.

Success in this task requires both a message and a messenger: something worth saying and someone who can say it well. Realizing Freedom, a collection of 20 years of his published writing, shows that Tom Palmer has been among the most successful messengers of liberty. At the risk of crossing the fine line between praise and hyperbole, Palmer is a tireless apostle of international liberty.

Realizing Freedom demonstrates Palmer's versatility as a writer as well as his avoidance of narrow7 political pigeonholing. The collection includes scholarly analyses of intellectuals like John Rawls and G. A. Cohen and guest editorials in publications as diverse as the conservative Washington Times and the no t-so -conservative Washington Blade, a gay newspaper.

Palmer's writing is a call to social action in the name of human freedom. Liberty, he argues, is for everyone, not just those who manage to control political power. He feels that liberalism lost the battle of ideas (and humanity consequently suffered) because libertarians shrank from the debate and left the field to the enemies of freedom. His message is uncompromising: Do not concede; do not flee. Take the enemies of freedom seriously - as seriously as they take their fight against it.

Palmer warns us that defending liberty is not easy. It is not a parlor game played by polite intellectuals. Enunciating ideas is not enough. They must be acted on, at home, at work, and in public policy. And there is no one-size-fits-all formula for liberty. What works in one cultural context may not work in another. Every attempt to foster a free society must find roots in the way people live.

Realizing Freedom is divided into four sections: libertarian theory, history, practice, and books and ideas. In his section on theory, he addresses the connections between liberty, rights, and the rule of law. Hardly a surprising theme, he admits, but "the rule of law is the key to freedom." When theorists pursue "social justice," they weaken or even eliminate the rule of law.

One such theorist is John Rawls. Rawls's theory of justice is one of the most influential products of the twentieth century, but Palmer eviscerates it. …