Five Books for Freedom

A transcript of the Lew Rockwell Show episode 007 with David Gordon

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ANNOUNCER:  This is the Lew Rockwell Show.

ROCKWELL:  Our guest this morning is Dr. David Gordon.  David is editor of the Mises Review.  He’s a senior fellow at the Mises Institute, author of a number of books, many, many articles.  His most recent book, The Essential Rothbard.  And his archive repays looking at.  Just look at David Gordon.  And at the bottom of his articles, you can click and find his books.  I just want to recommend his bibliography on liberty.  Just put “bibliography” into Google at LRC, you’ll come up with the bibliography page, and take a look at David’s.  It’s very, very interesting.  He really is the book master.  We, often times, joke that he’s the UCLA library walking around in a single person.

But this morning, I want to talk to him about what — say, a person coming into Libertarianism as a result of the Ron Paul movement or attracted by an interest in Austrian economics during this part of the business cycle, David, let’s say, what are the five books that you would recommend for the intelligent layperson to introduce them to the basics of Libertarianism?

GORDON:  Well, thank you, Lew.  It’s very nice to be here.

The first book I might recommend if someone’s been interested in Ron Paul is — I think Ron Paul has a very fine book that came out called The Revolution: A Manifesto that really gives an excellent explanation of the basics of his political views and political philosophy.  So I think people who have been involved in the Ron Paul campaign should read that to get a deeper background. 

Then, you know, because the financial crisis is so much on our minds today, I think one book people should definitely read — it’s a very short one but it really gets to the essence of the Austrian account of money and the basis of the business cycle and it explains why we’re in the conditions we are today — is by Murray Rothbard, called What Has Government Done to Our Money?  Murray Rothbard was probably the main intellectual influence on Ron Paul’s own development in politics.

Now the third book is a great classic of the 19th century by a great French classical Liberal, Frederic Bastiat, called The Law.  It’s, again, a very short book.  And what Bastiat asks is, he said, if we’re considering what the government does, the government has no more rights that the individuals have who make it up, so government can’t really do anything that individuals can’t do either.  So just as individuals can’t steal from one another, the government has no right to steal from us in taxes.  I think this is one of the really outstanding great classics of Libertarianism, and it’s essential readying.

Another one that is sort of Bastiat for the 20th century was Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.  This asks us to consider not only immediate consequences of government actions but all the consequences.  And it’s one that has relied very much on Bastiat and brought him up to date.

And the last one I’d mention is another book, a little longer, by Rothbard called For a New Liberty, in which Rothbard gives Libertarian analysis of all the major problems, political problems we have today, whether the environment or education, foreign policy.  He gives a Libertarian account based on his incomparable knowledge of the subject.  Murray had an incredible bibliographic knowledge and he was able to bring an enormous amount of information to bear on any problem that he was talking about.

ROCKWELL:  You know, David, sometimes when people will write me about — with questions or wondering what they should read, a typical response of mine is, “Read Rothbard.”  And I direct them to the Rothbard collection that’s on the button on the left-hand side of the opening page of Lewrockwell.com.

You mentioned two of Murray’s books but I wonder if you’d talk a little bit more about Murray as the key Libertarian intellectual, and books he wrote, and what we can learn from them.

GORDON:  Yes.  Murray Rothbard was certainly the greatest intellectual influence on my own political thinking in economics and political philosophy.  As I mentioned, he had a tremendous ability to absorb information on any subject and then not only to absorb the information but to think about the topic in an original way.  In my own life, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many great scholars and people who are very well regarded in the academic world.  But I’ve never meet anyone who was Murray’s equal in his ability to synthesize information.  I remember, once, he was — one of the first lectures I heard by him, which was at a conference in 1979, someone asked him a question, and he said, oh, yes, by the way, there’s an unpublished dissertation on that in New York University, it came out in 1976, which he proceeded to quote.

But his main contributions were really in economic theory.  He wrote a definitive treatise, Man, Economy, and State, which carried further the great work of Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action.  Murray developed this science of economics, which — it’s called praxeology — developed it further than Mises had done, and numbered original contributions, and actually elaborated the concrete details of the economic period in more detail than Mises had done, and that he applied his results in the book America’s Great Depression, explaining — applying the Austrian business cycle theory to the origins of the 1929 depression.

And he was not only an economist but he was also a political philosopher.  His Power and Market, which was part of Man, Economy, and State, and Ethics of Liberty apply his ideas to develop a political philosophy of a very original and remarkable kind.  In contemporary political philosophy, Robert Nozick gets a great deal of credit for Libertarian views in his 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  But really, the source of most of his ideas in that book were from Rothbard.  So it’s really Murray Rothbard who was the true originator of the modern Libertarians.  He was a very principled and comprehensible Libertarian.  He wasn’t the pragmatic-style Libertarian in just saying certain Libertarian measures are good because they’re more efficient than others, or whatever works best, we should adopt.  Murray certainly didn’t disdain efficiency like this but he was more a principled thinker.

And then, as if that weren’t enough, he was also a great historian.  He had a four-volume book called Conceived in Liberty, on the American Revolution.  And then he kept up with all the latest political events.  Any story or news event you gave him, he would have an analysis based on knowledge of all the various events.  I’m sure if he were alive today and we asked him about the situation in Iraq, he would know every small group, every tribal group and what each was doing, and he would really — I’ve really never met anyone like him.

ROCKWELL:  David, we both had the great blessing of knowing and working with Murray.  Certainly, the greatest man I ever knew.

And thanks so much for talking to us about him and thanks for coming on the podcast.

GORDON:  Thank you, Lew.

ANNOUNCER:  You’ve been listening to the Lew Rockwell Show, produced by LewRockwell.com, the best-read Libertarian website in the world.  Thanks for listening.

ROCKWELL:  Well, thanks so much for listening to the Lew Rockwell Show today. Take a look at all the podcasts. There have been hundreds of them. There’s a link on the upper right-hand corner of the LRC front page. Thank you.

Podcast date, July, 28, 2008

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