A Representative Government Reading List
Prepared by John Samples
Read This First
- The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay (1788)
Essential reading on American liberty and constitutional design. Federalist no. 10 will repay a lifetime of re-reading and reflection.
On the American Experiment in Limited Government
- The Founders’ Constitution edited by Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (Liberty Fund, 2000)
Arranges the sources of the U.S. Constitution according to the article or clause of the original document.
- The Natural Rights Republic: Studies in the Foundation of the American Political Tradition by Michael P. Zuckert (University of Notre Dame Press, 1996)
Shows why the founders thought natural rights were essential to limiting government and protecting liberty.
On the Proper Role of Government
- The Law by Frederic Bastiat (1850; Irvington-on-Hudson , NY : Foundation for Economic Education, 1998)
Describes the foundations of government and of what goes wrong when government becomes an instrument of “redistribution” rather than justice.
- Two Treatises on Government by John Locke (1690)
A classic and timeless statement of the principles of individual liberty and limited government that had a major influence on the founding of the American republic.
- The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek (University of Chicago Press, 1960)
A modern defense of limited constitutional government. Hayek’s criticism of merit as distributional principle and his essay “Why I Am Not A Conservative” are especially vital.
On Government Failure
- The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy in The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan . Vol. 3 by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock (Liberty Fund, 1999)
The foundational work in public choice economics that won Buchanan a Nobel Prize in economics.
- Government’s End: Why Washington Stopped Working by Jonathan Rauch (New York: Public Affairs, 1999)
Applies the work of economist Mancur Olson to show why the federal government must fail.
- Bureaucracy and Public Economics by William Niskanen (Brookfield, VT: Elgar, 1994)
Examines why bureaucracies cannot be controlled by voters.
On the Growth of Government
- Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government by Robert Higgs (Oxford University Press, 1987)
Shows how government in America has grown through war and economic crisis.
- Dependent on D.C.: The Rise of Federal Control over the Lives of Ordinary Americans by Charlotte Twight (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002)
Draws on the economics of “transaction costs” to show how politicians have worked to increase their power at the expense of the liberty of ordinary Americans. Offers a detailed history of a number of government programs and shows how they were enacted.
- The Culture of Spending by James L. Payne (Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1991)
Makes the case for term limits based on a close look at how and why Congress grows government through incumbency.
On the Foundations of Liberty and Limited Government
- The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Skepticism by Michael Oakeshott (Yale University Press, 1996)
A quirky English libertarian/conservative with a devoted following. Those who practice the politics of faith are always a danger to liberty. Read this once and you’ll see what he’s talking about everywhere.
- Four Essays on Liberty by Isaiah Berlin (Oxford University Press, 1969)
In “Two Concepts of Liberty,” Berlin shows why the theory of positive liberty led to totalitarian nightmares in the twentieth century.
- In Pursuit – of Happiness and Good Government by Charles Murray (Simon & Schuster, 1988)
A leading libertarian policy analyst lays out the case for freedom. His analysis of the “little platoons” of society reconciles freedom and community.