Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement

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On Wall Street, in the culture of high tech, in American government: Libertarianism—the simple but radical idea that the only purpose of government is to protect its citizens and their property against direct violence and threat— has become an extremely influential strain of thought. But while many books talk about libertarian ideas, none until now has explored the history of this uniquely American movement—where and who it came from, how it evolved, and what impact it has had on our country.

In this revelatory book, based on original research and interviews with more than 100 key sources, Brian Doherty traces the evolution of the movement through the unconventional life stories of its most influential leaders— Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and Milton Friedman—and through the personal battles, character flaws, love affairs, and historical events that altered its course. And by doing so, he provides a fascinating new perspective on American history—from the New Deal through the culture wars of the 1960s to today's most divisive political issues. Neither an exposé nor a political polemic, this entertaining historical narrative will enlighten anyone interested in American politics.

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Editorial Reviews

The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Doherty has rescued libertarianism from its own obscurity, eloquently capturing the appeal of the 'pure idea.
Laissez Faire Books
"[Doherty] has done an impressive job of pulling together an interesting, enlightening, and entertaining history of the American libertarian movement."
New York Sun
... Remarkably engaging and encyclopedic history
The Financial Times
Brian Doherty's sympathetic, well-informed and endlessly entertaining tour traces the ways in which American libertarianism punches above its weight.
Publishers Weekly
Modern libertarians see themselves as the loyal opposition to the totalitarian tendencies of centralized power, in an American tradition reaching back to the anti-Federalists. Doherty's astute history shows where that consensus comes from and where it fractures along personal, political and practical lines. As a procapitalist and antistatist philosophy, libertarianism has had its greatest impact in economics. But Doherty shows that modern libertarianism since the 1940s, and increasingly since the 1980s, has been politically and ideologically influential, too. Whether believers in a small state regulating only contracts and national defense, or no state at all (like self-described "anarcho-capitalist" Murray Rothbard), libertarians have rooted themselves in a number of institutions-from schools, publications and think tanks to the Libertarian Party, the country's third-largest ticket. Reason magazine senior editor Doherty conveys an insider's understanding in clear, confident prose. However, his sympathies resist questioning the fundamental assumption uniting diverse ideas, personalities and institutions: the belief in the power of completely unfettered markets to bring about the best possible society. Though partisan and sometimes hagiographic, Doherty's well-researched history avoids polemics in outlining a vital political orientation that cuts across the political spectrum. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

"Freewheeling" suggests a more whimsical book than readers actually get with this serious, comprehensive history of libertarianism, a political philosophy of minimal government intrusion into private lives. With their opposition to government, regulations, and taxes, libertarians may sound like modern conservatives, but they are a different breed: conservatives often hope to legislate morality, an intervention that libertarians despise. Libertarian journalist Doherty (senior editor, Reason) is an advocate whose passion should have been tempered by a cold-hearted editor willing to blue-pencil endless details about magazine circulations and which hotel hosted which meetings. Such minutiae, which contribute to the book's great length, will try the unobsessed reader. The familiar names—Milton Friedman, F.A. von Hayek, Ayn Rand—are here, along with the less well known, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter Rose. Libertarians as an organized party have barely made a dent in U.S. elections, but their ideas have strongly influenced successful politicians. Thus, this scholarly and far-reaching account is necessary for collections of modern American history and politics.
—Michael O. Eshleman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586485726
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 5/26/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 752
  • Sales rank: 713,127
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 2.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Brian Doherty is a senior editor at Reason magazine. His articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in dozens of magazines, newspapers, and books, including the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, and The Weekly Standard. He is also the author of This is Burning Man: The Rise of a New American Underground. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Reviving an American Radical Tradition     1
Patriots, Unterrified Jeffersonians, and Superfluous Men     21
Austrian Roadblocks on the Road to Serfdom     67
The Three Furies of Libertarianism     113
Fighting for the Freedom Philosophy     149
Objectivism, Anarcho-Capitalism, and the Effects of Psychedelics on Faith and Freedom     225
The Goldwater Movement, the Objectivist Crackup, and the Hippies of the Right     291
Libertarian Zionism, the Koch Bubble, and America's Third Largest Political Party     389
A Mainstreamed Radicalism     445
The Twilight of the Libertarian Gods     537
Epilogue: An Eternal Revolution     573
Notes     621
Selected Bibliography     715
Acknowledgments     719
Index     723
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