Norms of Liberty

norms_of_libertyNorms of Liberty is a meandering defense of classical liberalism which gives it some relevance to libertarianism. David Gordon gives an excellent discussion of the book in the Mises Review. Writes Gordon:

This remarkable book is a sustained attempt to solve what its author term “liberalism’s problem.” In a liberal society, people are free to live as they wish, so long as they do not violate the rights of others. There is no “official truth”, whether religious or secular, that prescribes for people the content of a good life. (The authors are classical liberals rather than adherents of the modern leftist distortion of liberalism; but the problem that concerns them is not confined to classical liberalism.)

Liberalism’s problem might be summarized as: ‘what sort of ethical system is needed to produce the sort of society that liberalism would produce?’ A long and convoluted journey will bring a patient reader to the inevitable conclusion: liberalism!

Yet, it is possible to mine occasional gems from Rasmussen and DenUyl’s work. As Gordon writes:

I shall end by calling attention to an excellent point the authors make about property rights. They think that “Locke was mistaken in his contention that God or nature has given mankind a stock of objects (in common or otherwise) from which we must devise a set of rules for just distribution.”(p.98) Instead, they say, property is the material expression of action. The right to property then follows from the right to freedom of action. This is but one of many insights in this outstanding work. Also, it is a beautifully organized book: the structured presentation of the argument is carried through in the best Scholastic tradition. It is a work of classic stature that everyone interested in political philosophy needs to study.

It is unclear why Gordon thinks that the book is well organized. The authors frequently make reference to concepts that not only have not been explained, but are explicitly deferred to later chapters of the book. Fortunately, the circuitous route that the authors take does not lead them astray from topics that are relevant to those interested in libertarianism. Gordon is right to call attention to the importance of human action for ethics. Any contribution that leads to a greater understanding of libertarianism and praxeology, especially in relation to one another, is indeed worth studying.

Rating: Three Murrays

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