Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know

Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know

Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know

Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know


Historically, Americans have seen libertarians as far outside the mainstream, but with the rise of the Tea Party movement, libertarian principles have risen to the forefront of Republican politics. But libertarianism is more than the philosophy of individual freedom and unfettered markets that Republicans have embraced. Indeed, as Jason Brennan points out, libertarianism is a quite different--and far richer--system of thought than most of us suspect.

In this timely new entry in Oxford's acclaimed series What Everyone Needs to Know®, Brennan offers a nuanced portrait of libertarianism, proceeding through a series of questions to illuminate the essential elements of libertarianism and the problems the philosophy addresses, including such topics as the Value of Liberty, Human Nature and Ethics, Economic Liberty, Civil Rights, Social Justice and the Poor, Government and Democracy, and Contemporary Politics. Brennan asks the most fundamental and challenging questions: What do Libertarians think liberty is? Do libertarians think everyone should be selfish? Are libertarians just out to protect the interests of big business? What do libertarians think we should do about racial injustice? What would libertarians do about pollution? Are Tea Party activists true libertarians? As he sheds light on libertarian beliefs, Brennan overturns numerous misconceptions. Libertarianism is not about simple-minded paranoia about government, he writes. Rather, it celebrates the ideal of peaceful cooperation among free and equal people. Libertarians believe that the rich always capture political power; they want to minimize the power available to them in order to protect the weak. Brennan argues that libertarians are, in fact, animated by benevolence and a deep concern for the poor.

Clear, concise, and incisively written, this volume explains a vitally important philosophy in American history--and a potent force in contemporary politics.

What Everyone Needs to Know® is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press.


Libertarians believe that so long as we do not violate others’ rights, we should each be free to live as we choose. To respect one another as equal human beings, we must not force people to serve society, each other, or even themselves.

Critics of libertarianism worry that allowing people so much freedom would produce bad consequences. Critics say, sure, some freedom is good, but we also need to guarantee good results. We need government to guarantee good culture, scientific progress, and economic prosperity.

Libertarians agree that freedom does not guarantee good results. If people are free to choose for themselves, many will make bad choices. Still, libertarians say, nothing guarantees good results, so guarantees are beside the point. Liberty may not guarantee good results, but as a matter of fact it delivers good results.

These are intriguing ideas, whether they are true or false.

I first encountered libertarian ideas in a high school economics class. My teacher, Mr. Lee, suggested I read Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. It transformed me.

Hazlitt taught me that when evaluating policies, you must see past people’s good intentions and look instead at results. He taught me to view politics without romance.

Hazlitt’s one lesson is simple. When assessing a proposed policy, he says, do not just examine its immediate effects on the . . .

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