Principles of Liberty

A Reading List on the Principles of Liberty

Prepared by Tom Palmer

Read This First

  • Libertarianism: A Primer by David Boaz (The Free Press, 1997)
    Explains and defends libertarian ideas, and describes the philosophical and historical context of the ideas of liberty. (Don’t be fooled by the word “primer” in the title; although this is a good introduction, it offers a depth of historical insight not available elsewhere.)

On Libertarianism

On the Connections between Rights, Justice, and Law

  • Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick (Basic Books, 1974)
    A serious and at times rather challenging argument for the compatibility of limited government with individual rights, best known among academics for Nozick’s critique of the redistributive state in Part II.
  • The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law by Randy Barnett (Oxford University Press, 2000)
    A guided tour through the central principles of liberty, showing how each is a response to a problem of social life.
  • Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty by Randy Barnett (Princeton University Press, 2004)
    An in-depth treatise on constitutional law that builds in the foundation of The Structure of Liberty and makes a compelling case for interpreting the U.S. Constitution as establishing a government of delegated, enumerated, and therefore limited powers.
  • Simple Rules for a Complex World by Richard Epstein (Harvard University Press, 1997)
    Shows how a simple and easily grasped set of rules provides the foundation for a world of enormous complexity.
  • “Saving Rights Theory from Its Friends” by Tom G. Palmer in Individual Rights Reconsidered edited by Tibor Machan (Hoover Institution Press, 2001)
    Critiques various theories of “welfare rights” and defends traditional classical liberal approaches to rights.

On Property

On Political Economy and Free Markets

  • Selected Essays on Political Economy by Frederic Bastiat (1850; Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Foundation for Economic Education, 1968)
    Includes one of the most important essays in political economy ever written, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen,” which demystifies the activities of the state.
  • Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (Harper and Brothers, 1946)
    Updates and expands on the central insight of Bastiat’s work—that state interventions typically focus on their obvious impact while ignoring their less obvious—and often harmful—side effects.
  • Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics by P. J. O’Rourke (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999)
    Humorously asks and answers the central questions of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, but in rather more contemporary language.
  • “The Use of Knowledge in Society” in Individualism and Economic Order by F. A. Hayek (University of Chicago Press, 1948)
    Explains how the price system solves the problem of how to make use of dispersed and tacit knowledge.
  • Free to Choose A Personal Statement by Milton and Rose Friedman (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980)
    A very readable critique of the interventionist state, with many concrete examples and explanations.
  • The Firm, the Market, and the Law by Ronald Coase (University of Chicago Press, 1988)
    Includes Coase’s seminal work showing why the institution of law is important to the development of property, without which social harmony and economic prosperity are impossible, and how property rights make people take into account the effects of their actions on others.

On 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.
  • 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.