What It Means to Be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation

What It Means to Be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation

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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 and…  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.

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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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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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What It Means to Be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jazzlover More than 1 year ago
Charles Murray is the greatest social scientist since Alex de Tocqueville and his rock solid research has documented the failure of Liberal/Progressive policies over four generations in America.   far from a polemicist, as stated by the buffoons at "PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, Murray's explanation of libertarianism's core positions and beliefs is written in an elegant and easy-to-follow prose style that belies his standing as  as an accomplished academic.  Dr. Murray's publications avoid the often poorly written and edited qualities that characterize most books and articles from academic authors.  The fact that in this book Murray explains the principles that have made America the last, best hope of humankind makes it all the more valuable.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Murray's book would have been much more accurate if it had been titled 'What It Means To Be A Conservative Libertarian.' This book accurately describes the mindset of many conservatives coming into libertarianism and is also typical about what turns off liberals to libertarianism. Mr. Murray's scholarship starts shakey when he starts with remarking how 19th Century 'Socialism' started the 'mocking of freedom.' His omitting the whole cadres of anti-state socialists prior to Marx' pro-state socialism is just a bit too much. Indeed, the first usages of 'libertarian' were used to name early French anti-state socialists like Proudhon and Bakunin. Even today 'libertarianism' in Europe often means a form of anarchistic, anti-establishment socialism. 'Socialism's' original meaning was voluntary social power as opposed to hierarchic, status quo, state establishment power and state imposed privilege. Mr. Murray misses entirely the origins for popular sceptism of late 19th Century Classic Liberalism. The hypocrisy became more and more apparent as the poverty increased amidst the progress of technological capacity and the fortunes of the economic elite. Mr. Murray totally ignores the effect of America's closing Frontier, Spencer's betrayal between his 1851 and 1890 editions of his Social Statics, of Henry George's Progress & Poverty. Murray's book perpetuates the mystery of the cleavage of Classical Liberalism by not even mentioning the conflict between absolute rights to fruits of labor and absolute state titles to monopolize landed natural resources. This book will not satisfy libertarians who are concerned with monopoly state-capitalism. The core value of civil society, of full libertarianism, is 'equal liberty.' Personal freedom must be balanced against not infringing your neighbor's 'equal right to liberty.' The right to life and liberty doesn't mean a whole lot without an equal right to live *somewhere.* Nor does it mean much without the unconditional right to keep the full fruits of one's labors. Economic monopoly rent-seekers and rent-takers 'tax' productivity as much as politicians' taxes. Thus, the justified scepticism of liberals and progressive libertarians. Saying 'freedom is a birthright' is a simplistic omission of all the contractualists since Locke right up to Narveson. It ignores the unavoidable metaphysical choice for every human; when one approaches social contact, one makes a choice to treat the other humans as prey/predators or as equally free traders/neighbors. This inescapable choice, conscious or subconscious, is the key to humanity's dual nature. 'Natural rights' are somewhat of a contradiction because man has two exclusively different natures. The choice to treat others as civil equals is the de facto covenant to join civil society. Of course, this would require a deeper understanding of libertarianism as 'Equal Liberty' instead of 'don't intitiate force.' The libertarian ethic is not 'thou will not initiate force.' This is only a secondary derivation on which conservative libertarians prefer to dwell. Ask yourself just exactly what such force 'infringes.' It would infringe 'equal liberty.' Equal Liberty is the core ethic. Formal political government's only just basis is to protect Equal Liberty. Public supply of goods and services such as roads are in order to protect the equal freedom of people to travel to markets, employment, natural resources. The alternative of anarchist zero government vs small government is a bogus choice. The true alternative is between citizen self government and politician delegated government. The Public Good is Equal Liberty. As long as no one is hurt on a net economic basis, the government may supply goods and services. The government should only levy user fees on the Common