The word liberty connotes various meanings. Many consider it an exciting idea that represents a force for good in the world, while others fear the ramifications of a proposed “free society.” Even libertarians debate the meaning and the source of freedom. But perhaps the most frustrating element in advocating freedom is the plethora of myths about the free market thanks to state indoctrination in
public government schools. While some individuals are innocently ignorant, others simply haven’t spent the time thinking through the issues.
Like many libertarians I, too, was a Glenn Beck-listening pseudo-libertarian conservative. During the presidential primaries in 2007 every Republican candidate was boasting about the robust “Bush economy” (which was somehow supposed to boost their own eligibility!). Ron Paul was the lone dissenter and explained how the economy was falsely indicating prosperity while precipitating a massive failure. Sadly, most people wrote him off as a pessimistic crank or a wacko politician. Yet because Glenn Beck trusted Ron Paul on the issue of economic matters (despite his disagreements with Ron Paul on foreign policy, Beck also predicted the economic collapse years ahead of time), I decided to give Ron Paul a fair hearing. I bought Revolution: A Manifesto on audiobook.
That was a turning point in my quest for truth. Ron Paul was my gateway drug to Austrian economics. He has the ability to richly inform the average reader about topics that aren’t mainstream, and often sends them on a journey to understanding a whole new way of thinking. He is the perfect introduction to liberty for those intimidated by the works of Hayek or Menger, yet he is thorough enough to be convincing.
Because there are very few people who are able to clearly articulate a vision for a consistent political ethic, Ron Paul carries an unrivaled appeal wherever he goes. As an elder gentleman this is a notable feature. He has the experience, wisdom, and intellect to explain what liberty looks like in all areas of life. In Liberty Defined he shares his perspective on 50 issues ranging from Abortion to Zionism. Some chapters (such as Campaign Finance Reform and Marriage) are a few pages long, while others are lengthier essays on Paul’s favorite issues (like Empire and Medical Care). Each is a home run defining liberty in its respective area.
It’s doubtful that left-leaning liberals and progressives are pining to read this book. But it will likely attract the semi-libertarian reader (tea party, anyone?) who wants to learn more about political issues. Some will be easily persuaded on some issues (like gun control) while being challenged or frustrated on others (such as marriage or foreign policy). While not every argument is thoroughly convincing, Paul succeeds in demonstrating a consistent libertarian outlook on life. For those looking for more, Paul suggests reading materials at the end of many chapters.
A possible deterrent for those like me who have become Austrian Addicts is the simplicity of the book. Many (if not all) of the issues are more thoroughly discussed on websites and other books that Paul himself endorses. It is easy to read because sites like mises.org, fee.org, and lewrockwell.com contain more thorough essays on the same topics (some by Ron Paul himself). If you’re looking for thorough material to boost your understanding of the Austrian tradition, Liberty Defined will disappoint. But lest you remove this one from your Amazon.com cart, consider the value in reading over 300 pages of lucid writing that describe liberty in 50 areas of politics. His beautifully worded prose is language every defender of liberty must learn. His arguments are fresh and ought to be repeated.
Liberty Defined is a great asset for both the learner and the teacher. The learner will find a broad array of starting points from which he can delve into more thorough material suggested in the book (and from the sites mentioned above). The teacher will find it a useful resource from which to advocate liberty ever more boldly and clearly. Both will enjoy reading the fruits of one’s lifelong passion for liberty and its implications for everyday life.
(Cross-posted at libertarianchristians.com)