May 25, 2010 5:13PM

Libertarianism: A Primer Goes Global

I'm delighted to report that just this week I have received copies of Libertarianism: A Primer published in Italian and Korean, the latter delivered to me personally by the president of the Korea Economic Research Institute. I now count the following translations:

  • Japanese
  • Russian
  • Czech
  • Polish
  • Serbian
  • Bulgarian
  • Cambodian
  • Mongolian
  • Kurdish
  • Persian
  • Spanish
  • Korean
  • Italian
  • Chinese

and of course

You might notice a couple of things about that list. First, it includes a lot of communist or ex-communist countries, where perhaps they are especially attuned to the conflict between freedom and statism. And second, it has not yet been translated into of the languages of Northwest Europe -- German, French, Dutch, Scandinavian languages. Perhaps those countries have achieved the end of history and have no need of further ideological debates. Perhaps. I wrote the following in the preface to the Italian edition:

The publication of a primer on libertarianism in Italy is another sign of two heartening developments: the continuing process of the world's people being drawn closer together, and the worldwide spread of the ideas of peace and freedom after a century of war and statism.

This book may seem to be reaching Italy at an inopportune moment, a time when people from the president of France to Nobel Prize-winning economists are proclaiming that “laissez-faire is finished.” One American pundit of the center-left even exulted in “the end of libertarianism.” These critics are short-sighted. The idea of libertarianism, of liberty under law, is needed now more than ever....

Libertarianism is sometimes perceived as a radical philosophy. And in some ways it is: It rejects and has fought in turn absolutism, communism, fascism, national socialism, corporate statism, theocracy, and every form of tyranny over the mind of man. Libertarians advance a radical and consistent vision of individual rights and strictly limited government that would eliminate the great bulk of the modern state, even in mixed-economy democracies. But in a broader sense libertarianism is the fundamental philosophy of the modern world: liberty, equality, enterprise, the rule of law, constitutional government. These ideas have become so commonplace that we forget how radical they were at one time. Libertarians want to apply those principles more consistently than do the adherents of other ideologies. But few people in the modern world would want to reject libertarian ideas wholesale.

The largest trends in the world reflect libertarian values. Communism is virtually gone, and few people still defend state socialism. Eastern Europe is struggling to achieve societies based on property rights, markets, and the rule of law. Honest observers throughout the developed world understand that the middle-class welfare states are unsustainable and will have to be radically reformed. The information revolution is empowering individuals and small groups and undermining the authority of centralized power.

Perhaps most importantly, the increasing globalization of the world economy means that countries that want to prosper will have to adopt a decentralized, deregulated, market-oriented economic model. You can't avoid world markets in the 21st century; or if you do, you will be left out of the phenomenal economic growth that global markets and technological development will deliver.

So one reason that Italian readers should be interested in libertarianism is very simple and practical: these are the ideas that drive the modern world, and you need to know about them. The other reason is that libertarianism offers to every country the promise of peace, economic growth, and social harmony. I hope Italian readers will join libertarians around the world in working to restrain state power and liberate individuals, families, associations, and enterprises.