Libertarianism Today

by Jacob H. Huebert
(2010 Praeger)
255 page paperback; $25.00
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LibertarianismIt is not easy to strike a balance between being informative and entertaining, covering all the relevant facts while remaining lucid and interesting.  It is perhaps even more difficult to write a concise introduction on a very broad topic while delivering enough substance and detail to keep the intelligent reader engaged.  And maybe it is especially difficult to do all this when the topic is a fringe political philosophy called Libertarianism.  But Jacob Huebert manages this tricky task with a refreshing degree of clarity in his book Libertarianism Today, which promises to be widely read.

Libertarianism is sadly a very misunderstood philosophy, and has always struggled to grow meaningfully in popularity, convert disciples, and operate with credibility in the mainstream.  Libertarianism’s perennial struggle is how much to engage with the mainstream political process.  Anarchist Libertarians who remain opposed to the very idea of government in any way shape or form have always found it hard to advance their agenda in the traditional political realm, both morally and practically, while Libertarians of the minarchist bent (minimal state advocates) have been plagued by getting easily seduced into the broader realms of traditional conservative movements with the promise of having realistic chances of meaningful political influence.

The result has been a movement that has struggled to create its own credible identity, either being dismissed as a bunch of anarchist utopian loons, and therefore having limited impact on public policy and governance, or being subsumed into the subgroups of the mainstream political machines, and usually giving up more than is gained.  In short, the Libertarian movement has been rather fragmented over the past 40-50 years of its existence, and, given the state we find our world in today, has been mostly ineffective.

The other major problem for Libertarians is the misclassification of other failed political systems or policies as Libertarian or having been influenced by Libertarians.  The classic example of this is the mainstream historical narrative about the years preceding the 1929 Wall Street crash and subsequent great depression of the 1930’s.  The history books tell us that ‘unfettered’ ‘laissez-fare’ led to the unbridled capitalism of the roaring 20’s, which in turn created the stock market crash.  Our custodians of history then tell us that laissez-fare policies led to mass unemployment and huge reductions in wealth, and that only when FDR’s New Deal rolled around and the government stepped in to save the day did the US and the globe start recovering from the Great Depression.  The truth is that Libertarians back then disagreed wholeheartedly with the system of monetary debasement that led to the artificial boom in the 20’s, and railed against the restrictive policies such as the minimum wage that prohibited millions from working during the depression.

Even in today’s financial crisis it is astounding how many attribute the problems we face to free market, laissez-fare, Libertarian economic policies.  A less ignorant reading of the facts would show that over the past decade US federal deficits increased (anti-Libertarian), the federal government expanded (anti-Libertarian), laws on the US statute books increased (anti-Libertarian), the monopolistic influence of the Federal Reserve increased (anti-Libertarian), vast quantities of money were printed out of thin air (anti-Libertarian), laws for artificially boosting homeownership were passed (anti-Libertarian), we saw the advent of wire-tapping laws (anti-libertarianism), bank bailouts (anti-Libertarian), the US went to war and remains at war (anti-Libertarian), and many other examples in which the system became less free rather than more.  In short, placing the blame on Libertarian ideas and political/economic philosophies is to misunderstand that the US and indeed many parts of the Western World have in the past decade moved inexorably further away from resembling anything remotely close to a free, laissez-fare, Libertarian system.

In this sense Huebert’s book is an attempt to clean up this mess and bring some sanity and clarity to the debate.  It is particularly pertinent and well-timed in coinciding with the rise of the Tea Party movement and ahead of the US mid-term elections in November.  Huebert’s aim is to state clearly the Libertarian position, explain why modern mainstream liberalism and conservatism have almost nothing to do with Libertarianism, and then go into some detail on what Libertarianism means in the areas of economics, personal freedom, law, property rights, and the political process.

This is a highly valuable book at this time.  It will serve to once more debunk the myth that Libertarians are responsible for our current economic mess, and will also help in setting a true Libertarian agenda as the Tea Party threatens to splinter off into a dozen directions, many of them potentially un-Libertarian, and/or be subsumed once again into the broader mainstream political parties.  The book is also simply a great education tool for the person wanting to find out more about the ideas and usefulness of this philosophy.

People tend to be scared of liberty because it necessarily entails that we all take on a little more risk and more responsibility.  In the modern world, with a tendency for a lemming citizenry to remain cozied up in their state-induced numbness, Libertarian ideas can come across as radical at best and most often just plain strange.  But Huebert shows that the Libertarian position on most issues is often not only widely accepted in society, but also just plain sensible.

Lovers of freedom and sceptics of freedom alike will be challenged, informed, enlightened, and inspired by this book.  Huebert is under no illusion that these ideas remain popular only among a minority at present and that a move toward a more mainstream adoption of Libertarian ideas is probably still a way off, but he argues nonetheless that all ideas have a time and that perhaps Libertarianism’s time is not as far off as some might think.

Every great wave of ideas started off small.

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