What It Means to Be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretationby Charles Murray
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/i>… See 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.
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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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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