The Five Best Books on Libertarianism

This page contains a list of the five best books on liberatarianism. If you’re new to libertarianism, you might want to start with a short introductory book, while others may prefer a more comprehensive treatment of the subject. This list contains books of both types to help make it easy to choose the kind of book that suits you best. In my experience the most reliable way of finding book recommendations on a new topic is to browse through a selection of university course syllabi on that topic. This list was created by crowdsourcing required readings from the following syllabi:

Here are the five best books on libertarianism in no particular order:

Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know – Jason Brennan

Category: Short Introduction | Length: 232 pages | Published: 2012

Historically, Americans have seen libertarians as far outside the mainstream, but with the rise of the Tea Party movement, libertarian principles have risen to the forefront of Republican politics. But libertarianism is more than the philosophy of individual freedom and unfettered markets that Republicans have embraced. Indeed, as Jason Brennan points out, libertarianism is a quite different–and far richer–system of thought than most of us suspect.

In this timely new entry in Oxford’s acclaimed series What Everyone Needs to Know®, Brennan offers a nuanced portrait of libertarianism, proceeding through a series of questions to illuminate the essential elements of libertarianism and the problems the philosophy addresses, including such topics as the Value of Liberty, Human Nature and Ethics, Economic Liberty, Civil Rights, Social Justice and the Poor, Government and Democracy, and Contemporary Politics. Brennan asks the most fundamental and challenging questions: What do Libertarians think liberty is? Do libertarians think everyone should be selfish? Are libertarians just out to protect the interests of big business? What do libertarians think we should do about racial injustice? What would libertarians do about pollution? Are Tea Party activists true libertarians? As he sheds light on libertarian beliefs, Brennan overturns numerous misconceptions. Libertarianism is not about simple-minded paranoia about government, he writes. Rather, it celebrates the ideal of peaceful cooperation among free and equal people. Libertarians believe that the rich always capture political power; they want to minimize the power available to them in order to protect the weak. Brennan argues that libertarians are, in fact, animated by benevolence and a deep concern for the poor.

Clear, concise, and incisively written, this volume explains a vitally important philosophy in American history–and a potent force in contemporary politics.

The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom – David Boaz

Category: Comprehensive Introduction | Length: 432 pages | Published: 2015

Libertarianism—the philosophy of personal and economic freedom—has deep roots in Western civilization and in American history, and it’s growing stronger. Two long wars, chronic deficits, the financial crisis, the costly drug war, the campaigns of Ron Paul and Rand Paul, the growth of executive power under Presidents Bush and Obama, and the revelations about NSA abuses have pushed millions more Americans in a libertarian direction. Libertarianism: A Primer, by David Boaz, the longtime executive vice president of the Cato Institute, continues to be the best available guide to the history, ideas, and growth of this increasingly important political movement—and now it has been updated throughout and with a new title: The Libertarian Mind.

Boaz has updated the book with new information on the threat of government surveillance; the policies that led up to and stemmed from the 2008 financial crisis; corruption in Washington; and the unsustainable welfare state. The Libertarian Mind is the ultimate resource for the current, burgeoning libertarian movement.

The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Readings from Lao-Tzu to Milton Friedman – David Boaz

Category: Anthology | Length: 624 pages | Published: 2015

An important collection of seminal writings on a movement that is rapidly changing the face of American politics, The Libertarian Reader links some of the most fertile minds of our time to a centuries-old commitment to freedom, self-determination, and opposition to intrusive government. This is the first comprehensive anthology of libertarian thought—from the Bible and Lao-Tzu to Hayek and Milton Friedman—to be published in one volume. The 68 selections from great libertarian writers are an intellectual feast, covering such key libertarian themes as skepticism about power, individual rights, spontaneous order, free markets, and peace.

For all independent thinkers, this unique sourcebook will stand as a classic reference for years to come, and a reminder that libertarianism is one of our oldest and most venerable American traditions.

Anarchy, State, and Utopia – Robert Nozick

Category: Classic | Length: 400 pages | Originally Published: 1971

Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia is a powerful, philosophical challenge to the most widely held political and social positions of our age — liberal, socialist and conservative.

“Individuals have rights,” Nozick writes in his opening sentence, “and there are things no person or group may do to them without violating their rights.” The work that follows is a sophisticated and passionate defence of the rights of the individual as opposed to the state.

The author argues that the state is justified only when it is severely limited to the narrow function of protection against force, theft and fraud and to the enforcement of contracts. Any more extensive activities by the state, he demonstrates, will inevitably violate individual rights.

Among the many achievements of the work are an important new theory of distributive justice, a model of utopia, and an integration of ethics, legal philosophy and economic theory into a profound position in political philosophy which will be discussed for years to come.

Libertarianism without Inequality – Michael Otsuka

Category: Contemporary | Length: 166 pages | Published: 2005

Michael Otsuka’s ingenious and exciting book vindicates left-libertarianism, a political philosophy which combines stringent rights of control over one’s own mind, body, and life with egalitarian rights of ownership of the world. He reclaims the ideas of John Locke from the libertarian right, and defends a view which is both more libertarian and more egalitarian than the Kantian liberalism of John Rawls. Otsuka endorses a fully egalitarian principle of equal opportunity for welfare and defends a pluralistic, decentralized ideal of political society. Libertarianism without Inequality is a book which everyone interested in political theory should read.

Related Topics

If you’re interested in libertarianism, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

Authority | Capitalism | DemocracyEconomics | Equality | Free Speech | Freedom | Justice | Political Philosophy | Power | Privacy

Not sure if you want to commit to reading a full book on libertarianism? You can find a few introductory resources on libertarianism here.


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