What It Means to Be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation

What It Means to Be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation

3.3 6
by Charles Murray

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Charles Murray believes that America's founders had it right--strict limits on the power of the central government and strict protection of the individual are the keys to a genuinely free society. In What It Means to Be a Libertarian, he proposes a government reduced to the barest essentials: an executive branch consisting only of the White House andSee more details below


Charles Murray believes that America's founders had it right--strict limits on the power of the central government and strict protection of the individual are the keys to a genuinely free society. In What It Means to Be a Libertarian, he proposes a government reduced to the barest essentials: an executive branch consisting only of the White House and trimmed-down departments of state, defense, justice, and environment protection; a Congress so limited in power that it meets only a few months each year; and a federal code stripped of all but a handful of regulations.

Combining the tenets of classical Libertarian philosophy with his own highly-original, always provocative thinking, Murray shows why less government advances individual happiness and promotes more vital communities and a richer culture. By applying the truths our founders held to be self-evident to today's most urgent social and political problems, he creates a clear, workable vision for the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Murray (co-author of The Bell Curve) is a skilled polemicist, and his manifesto for a radically downsized government should both gather adherents and challenge opponents. He argues from two basic points: freedom (associated with responsibility) is our birthright; and in most cases, government intervention has been ineffectual. While Murray allows for some level of state and local government, he recommends scrapping most federal agencies that deal with domestic policies. Arguing that civil rights laws have actually retarded progress against racism, he cites evidence that discrimination against Jews and the Irish declined without legislation; but this ignores the special stigma of race. Murray advocates a $3000 education voucher for each child and suggests optimistically that medical patients paying full fees will subsidize the costs of the indigent; but this says nothing about those in between-the majority of the population. Welfare and Social Security payments should end, to be replaced by individual saving and community support from voluntary associations. Murray's proposals posit a more responsible populace-a worthy goal-yet they also assume a neighborly concern that may be lacking in our increasingly fragmented society. Moreover, his schema fails to address international comparisons (Canadian health care) and does not acknowledge how government has shaped an unequal status quo (e.g., mortgage interest deductions but little money for public housing).
Library Journal
Murray, the controversial coauthor of The Bell Curve (Free Pr., 1994), is back with an essay on the political views of the modern libertarian. At a time when the Libertarian Party seems to be gaining in popularity, Murray's book could have served as a treatise for the cause. However, the text is fraught with contradictions and unsubstantiated claims. For example, while Murray concedes that seat belts have reduced the number of automobile injuries, he argues against government regulations and state laws requiring them because the number of injuries to passengers and pedestrians are up, without citing a single study or paper correlating these two issues. Murray also includes no footnotes in his book and has only two brief two-page bibliographic essays. Ironically, in The Bell Curve, Murray and coauthor Richard J. Herrnstein argued that race and class affects the results of IQ tests and defines an individual's role in life, without taking into consideration the environment in which the person was raised. Yet here, in calling for the dismantling of federal regulations, Murray argues that it is the very environment of big government that is the problem. Go figure. Marginally recommended, at best, for general collections. [See also David Boaz's Libertarianism: A Primer, reviewed above.-Ed.]-Patricia Hatch, Insurance Institute for Property Loss Reduction, Boston, Mass.
Kirkus Reviews
A book guarranteed to delight fans and infuriate foes of the coauthor of the controversial The Bell Curve.

Murray's version of libertarianism embraces familiar themes. The ideal (i.e., limited) government created by the Founders has become a bloated bureaucracy that threatens individual freedom. Leftists have foisted welfare programs, environmental regulations, and affirmative action on American society. Not only are these policies pernicious, according to Murray, but their goals would be achieved more efficiently by a free market unimpeded by government. To make these arguments Murray employs the tactics of a polemicist: Empirical propositions are wedded to normative principles and assumed rather than proved; straw men are used to represent opposing viewpoints; conclusions are supported through highly selective use of statistics, "thought experiments," and trendlines. The most intriguing example, given Murray's obsessive effort to correlate government growth with the worsening of virtually every conceivable national problem, is his failure to notice that government growth also correlates with what he acknowledges to be "the phenomenal growth in national wealth during this century." Engaging on this level and analyzing specific arguments would be to misunderstand Murray's purpose, however. He is writing as an entertainer, and the relevant basis for assessment is amusement value.

Those who share Murray's preconceptions will enjoy this book, for he trumpets the superiority of his position and the errors of opponents without doubt or any consideration of contrary complexities. Those who disagree may enjoy it even more, for opponents of the principles and assumptions Murray champions will find a clear target to attack. Evaluated on the proper grounds, this volume is a clear success.

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Crown Publishing Group
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5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century the American Founders created a society based on the belief that human happiness is intimately connected with personal freedom and responsibility. The twin pillars of the system they created were limits on the power of the central government and protection of individual rights.

A few people, of whom I am one, think that the Founders' insights are as true today as they were two centuries ago. We believe that human happiness requires freedom and that freedom requires limited government. Limited government means a very small one, shorn of almost all the apparatus we have come to take for granted during the last sixty years.

Most people are baffled by such a view. Don't we realize that this is postindustrial America, not Jefferson's agrarian society? Don't we realize that without big government millions of the elderly would be destitute, corporations would destroy the environment, and employers would be free once more to exploit their workers? Where do we suppose blacks would be if it weren't for the government? Women? Haven't we noticed that America has huge social problems that aren't going to be dealt with unless the government does something about them?

This book tries to explain how we can believe that the less government, the better. Why a society run on the principles of limited government would advance human happiness. How such a society would lead to greater individual fulfillment, more vital communities, a richer culture. Why such a society would contain fewer poor people, fewer neglected children, fewer criminals. How such a society would not abandon the less fortunate but would care for them better than does the society we have now.

Many books address the historical, economic, sociological, philosophical, and constitutional issues raised is pages. A bibliographic essay at the end of the book points you to some of the basic sources, but the book you are about to read contains no footnotes. It has no tables and but a single graph. My purpose is not to provide proofs but to explain a way of looking at the world.

From the Hardcover edition.

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