Television is depressing. You can’t turn on the TV without hearing about some crazed students calling for justice; or about a mentally ill man trying to assassinate members of congress. Thankfully, there are dozens of incredible books and essays out there that can keep liberty-lovers sane, here’s a few of them.
“The Law” by Frederic Bastiat
First published in 1850, Frederic Bastiat’s classic essay on our natural rights, and the role of the state has influenced generations of libertarians worldwide. Bastiat reiterates that all individuals are born with “Natural Rights” based on “Natural Law.” Bastiat; like Thomas Paine, John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes; proclaims that every individual is born with a set of inalienable rights that supersede the laws of the state. Life, Liberty, and Private Property, no state can take that away.
Although it’s only 75 pages long, “The Law” has stood the test of time because it identifies not only our natural rights, but what the state can, and more importantly cannot, do.
“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”
The entire book can be found online for free, here.
“Economics in One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt
A journalist by trade, Henry Hazlitt spent decades covering economics, finance, and business for a variety of publications in the United States throughout the 20th century.
First published in 1946, “Economics in One Lesson” has influenced brilliant economists like Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell.
The relatively short essay uses a plethora of examples to explain the mistakes most people make when approaching economics; primarily, thinking about the immediate effects of an economic policy, rather than seeing how that policy could affect all groups in the long-term.
“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”
All 24 chapters can be found for free here.
“1984” by George Orwell
Published in 1949, George Orwell’s classic is set in a dystopian future in what was Great Britain, but has since been named “Airstrip One,” a province of “Oceania,” one of three superstates in a state of perpetual war.
Oceania is run by “Big Brother,” a tyrannical government figure who oversees mass surveillance programs, and is controlled by elites who seek to squash individualism, and punish the population for “Thought Crime,” which is the terrible crime of questioning the government through unspoken thought.
The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, works at the “Ministry of Truth” as an editor. As an editor for the Ministry, Smith is in charge of revising history to fit the narrative that “Big Brother” is trying to portray. Although good at his job, he secretly hates the government, he doesn’t dare try and change anything, that is, until he begins seeing Julia, who shares his loathing of the controlling party.
“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
Recently Orwell’s classic has been more prophetic than fiction. The book can be purchased for about $10 here.
“The Federalist Papers” and “The Anti-Federalist Papers” by Various Authors
Perhaps the most important collection of essays in American history, “The Federalist Papers” and “The Anti-Federalist Papers” first appeared in 1787, and were penned by various authors, including James Madison, George Mason, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and various others.
As Americans we tend to see the solidarity of the Founding Fathers; the “Declaration of Independence” and our Constitution are generally seen as an act of unity between men who wanted true independence from Great Britain. These essays squash that notion. While the “Federalist Papers” argued on behalf of the Constitution, the “Anti-Federalist Papers” believed that the Constitution lacked written protections for the individual. The incredible arguments presented by both sides have influenced thinkers worldwide for over 200 years, and culminated in the “Bill of Rights.”
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury’s American Classic, first appeared in 1953 and is set in an America where books are being rounded up and burned as a way to squash public dissent.
The book focuses on fireman Guy Montag, whose job is to round up, and burn the possessions of those who read outlawed books. Montag comes to question the validity of his job when he meets Clarisse McClellan, a free-thinking teenage girl who just moved to his neighborhood.
Bradbury stated that he released the book as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature, and can have a brainwashing effect on people. Bradbury, like Orwell, appears to be more of a prophet than an author, his masterpiece will only set you back $10.
“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.”
“The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom” by David Boaz
David Boaz, an Executive Vice President at the “Cato Institute,” gives us what is perhaps the most comprehensive book about Libertarianism ever penned.
In his book, Boaz discusses everything from private property rights, to drug legalization in a manner that is incredibly easy to read. This book, more than any on the list, will give the you an incredible introduction to libertarian thought. I highly recommend spending the $16 dollars and adding it to your personal library.
“As a moral matter, individuals must be free to make their own decisions and to succeed or fail according to their own choices. As a practical matter, as Frum points out, when we shield people from the consequences of their actions, we get a society characterized not by thrift, sobriety, diligence, self-reliance, and prudence but by profligacy, intemperance, indolence, dependency, and indifference to consequences.”