From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on libertarianism, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best philosophy book on libertarianism. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best philosophy books on libertarianism in no particular order.
Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know – Jason Brennan
Publisher description: 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. …
Publisher description: The essence of libertarianism is the view that coercive political institutions, such as the state, are justified only insofar as they function to protect each person’s liberty to pursue their own goals and well-being in their own way. Libertarians accordingly argue that any attempt to enforce top-down concepts of social justice or economic equality are fundamentally misconceived.
In this book, leading expert Eric Mack provides a rigorous and clear account of the philosophical principles of libertarianism. He offers accounts of three distinctive schools of libertarian thought, which he labels the natural rights approach, the cooperation to mutual advantage approach, and the indirect consequentialist approach. After examining the historical roots of these approaches in the thought of figures such as John Locke and David Hume, he provides illuminating accounts of the foundational arguments and the theories of economic justice offered by Robert Nozick and F.A. Hayek. He then examines a range of other debates, such as those surrounding the nature of the minimal state and those between critics and defenders of libertarianism.
Publisher description: 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.
The Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism – Brennan, van der Vossen, & Schmidtz
Publisher description: Libertarians often bill their theory as an alternative to both the traditional Left and Right. The Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism helps readers fully examine this alternative without preaching it to them, exploring the contours of libertarian (sometimes also called classical liberal) thinking on justice, institutions, interpersonal ethics, government, and political economy. The 31 chapters–all written specifically for this volume–are organized into five parts. Part I asks, what should libertarianism learn from other theories of justice, and what should defenders of other theories of justice learn from libertarianism? Part II asks, what are some of the deepest problems facing libertarian theories? Part III asks, what is the right way to think about property rights and the market? Part IV asks, how should we think about the state? Finally, part V asks, how well (or badly) can libertarianism deal with some of the major policy challenges of our day, such as immigration, trade, religion in politics, and paternalism in a free market. Among the Handbook‘s chapters are those from critics who write about what they believe libertarians get right as well as others from leading libertarian theorists who identify what they think libertarians get wrong. As a whole, the Handbook provides a comprehensive, clear-eyed look at what libertarianism has been and could be, and why it matters.
Anarchy, State, and Utopia – Robert Nozick
Publisher description: In this brilliant and widely acclaimed book, winner of the 1975 National Book Award, Robert Nozick challenges the most commonly held political and social positions of our age — liberal, socialist, and conservative.
Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Volume 1: Rules and Order – Friedrich Hayek
Publisher description: Law, Legislation and Liberty is Hayek’s major statement of political philosophy and one of the most ambitious yet subtle defences of a free market society ever written. A robust defence of individual liberty, it is also crucial for understanding Hayek’s influential views concerning the role of the state: far from being an innocent bystander, he argues that the state has an important role to play in defending the norms and practices of an ordered and free society. His arguments had a profound influence on the policies of Thatcher in the 1980s and resonate today in visions of the ‘Big Society’.
Left Libertarianism and its Critics: The Contemporary Debate – Vallentyne & Steiner
Publisher description: This book contains a collection of important recent writing on left-liberalism, a political philosophy that recognizes both strong liberty rights and strong demands for material equality. Essays from leading comtemporary political philosophers such as Nozick, Van Parijs and Kymlica are included in this volume.
Libertarianism without Inequality – Michael Otsuka
Publisher description: 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.
The Problem of Political Authority – Michael Huemer
Publisher description: The state is often ascribed a special sort of authority, one that obliges citizens to obey its commands and entitles the state to enforce those commands through threats of violence. This book argues that this notion is a moral illusion: no one has ever possessed that sort of authority.
The following sources were used to build this list:
- Libertarianism – University of San Diego
- Libertarianism – Suffolk University
- Political Libertarianism and its Critics – Fordham University
- Bibliography to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Libertarianism
- Bibliography to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Libertarianism
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Introductory Political Philosophy Books
- The Best Philosophy Books on Liberalism
- The Best Philosophy Books on Anarchism
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
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