Despite the rapidly increasing influence of libertarian ideas it is difficult to find a representative collection of contemporary libertarian writings. I believe, therefore, that the present collection of essays will be of great interest to the private reader as well as to university students and teachers.
Libertarian ideas have been detected in the works of ancient thinkers such as Alcibiades, Lykophron, Hippodamus, and Democritus and in medieval writers such as Ockham, Aquinas, and Lessius. However, none of these writers is libertarian in the contemporary sense. The mater modern sources of libertarian ideas are, undoubtedly, Locke and Adam Smith and some of the utilitarians and Social Darwinists. But even these writers do not insist on the importance of unrestricted personal freedom, and on the absolute character of the individual's right to life, liberty, and property in the emphatic manner that is characteristic of contemporary libertarianism.
The main characteristics of contemporary libertarianism began to emerge in the writings of the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand and in the writings of distinguished economists such as Hayek. von Mises, and Milton Friedman. Even so, it is only with the publication of Robert Nozick Anarchy State, and Utopia that libertarian ideas achieved some kind of respectability in academic philosophical circles. It is one of the main purposes of this volume to make available some of the writings that this newly awakened philosophical interest has produced.
Libertarians agree that liberty should be prized above all other political values. However, they have not reached a consensus on what the best philosophical defense of this conviction is. This anthology attempts, therefore, to provide the reader with representative examples of the main philosophical approaches to the defense of a fully free society. In addition to the argument made familiar by many economists that only a free-market society (as opposed to one that engages in coercive planning) can make a rational allocation of goods and resources, the reader will find (mainly in Part I) defenses of libertarianism founded on traditional, though often on sharply contrasting, moral conceptions. These include natural law and natural right (as well as "entitlement") theories; theories based on ethical egoism as well as those whose ultimate standard is aggregate utility: Hobbesian theories and conventionalist theories; and theories that take the value of liberty to be entailed by the very nature of intentional or purposive actions. But libertarianism can also be defended by moral sceptics as the political doctrine that consorts best with the absence of objective moral values.
In addition to displaying the mare theoretical defenses of the libertarian philosophy, the anthology attempts (in Part II) to explore the legal and social, and (in Part . . .