The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism

Article excerpt

The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism Edited by Ronald Hamowy Cato Institute/Sage Publications * 2008 * 664 pages * $125.00

Reviewed by Martin Morse Wooster

Thhere have been all sorts of books about libertarianism, from introductory treatises to memoirs and biographies of important figures in the field to histories such as Brian Doherty's significant Radicals for Capitalism. But until now there has been no encyclopedia of libertarianism, no one-volume reference work that college students or intellectually adventurous adults could use as a handy guide to libertarian ideas and personali ties. The Cato Institute's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism fills that gap. It's a significant book that ought to be acquired by anyone with a serious commitment to fair and open debate.

Ronald Hamowy, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, has assembled articles from 163 scholars, ranging from New York Times economics columnist Tyler Cowen to decentralist historian Bill Kauffinan. The contributors also include one Nobel Laureate, Chapman University economist Vernon L. Smith, as well as some uncredentialed freelancers.

The encyclopedia has several quirks. There are no entries for libertarian thinkers younger than Charles Murray, who was born in 1943. Anyone interested in learning about libertarian scholars who are now in their 40s and 50s will have to look elsewhere.

Nor are there any entries on libertarian institutions. The older libertarian organizations are covered by biographical entries on their founders.

Entries are divided into three classes: short biographies of important libertarian figures, longer entries on public-policy topics such as eminent domain, globalization, and health care, and still-longer entries on ideas, including four on economics (Austrian, Chicago, experimental, and Keynesian), two on liberalism (classical and German), and two on individualism (methodological and political/ethical).

The authors of these idea-based entries are generally fair, but also occasionally make claims unsupported by evidence. It is not true, as Jackson Kühl argues, that "Hoover and the Republicans sealed their doom" in 1932 by supporting Prohibition; as historian Michael Lerner has shown, Prohibition was a minor rather than a major cause of Herbert Hoover's defeat, and Franklin Roosevelt's opposition to Prohibition was equivocal. Nor is it true, as Wesleyan University scholar Richard Adelstein contends in his entry on the early twentiethcentury Progressive movement, that "for many, progressivism also entailed a commitment to racial purity"; the leading thinkers among the Progressives - Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann, and Walter Weyl - were generally free of racial prejudice. …