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Book Review: The Free Mans Library by Henry Hazlitt

OCTOBER 01, 1956 by WILLIAM HENRY CHAMBERLAIN

Princeton, N. J.: D. Van Nostrand Co. 176 pp. $3.50.

This anthology of some 550 books dealing with politics and economics from the libertarian standpoint is a most valuable and able contribution. Each work is briefly summarized and characterized by Mr. Hazlitt himself or by some competent critic. Further guidance is supplied by the introduction, distinguished by Mr. Hazlitt’s familiar qualities of penetration, lucidity, and humor.

Of the desirability of such a work, serving as a broad introduction to individualist thought, there can be no question. For there is grave danger that the case for integral liberty may be lost by default. The advocates of collectivism in varying degrees dominate college faculties, lecture platforms, and mediums of communication to such an extent that many do not realize that there is an alternative philosophy. As Mr. Hazlitt himself puts it:

Many people today who complacently think of themselves as “middle of the roaders” have no conception of the extent to which they have already taken over statist, socialist and collectivist assumptions—assumptions which, if logically carried out, must inevitably carry us further and further down the totalitarian road.

As indicated by the large number of books discussed, this anthology is extensive rather than intensive. Great classics of historic libertarian thought like de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Herbert Spencer’s The Man Versus the State, and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations are characterized, along with a multitude of lesser and more ephemeral works.

Mr. Hazlitt offers, however, excellent selective lists of “ten best” classics and “ten best” contemporary works and his judicious appraisals of these works in his Introduction help to establish a priority which is overlooked in an alphabetical compilation. Among other excellent points in his Introduction is his analysis of the backsliding of what passes for liberalism in present-day America from the historic foundations of liberalism. Now the old liberal values, distrust of the State, opposition to a vast proliferating bureaucracy and to government intervention in industry, agriculture, and trade, opposition to concentration of government power, have passed into the keeping of people who usually regard themselves as conservatives. As Mr. Hazlitt writes:

There is no necessary conflict between intelligent conservatism and real liberalism. On the contrary, at least in the peculiar climate and conditions of the present age, they have come to mean nearly the same thing.

Mr. Hazlitt rightly regards communism as the Number One enemy of human liberty, and he finds space in his anthology for those books which he considers most effective in exposing the theoretical fallacies and the practical horrors of communism, even when, in some cases, he does not entirely agree with the viewpoint of the authors.

Both the anthology and a high proportion of the books which it mentions should have a place in the intelligent free man’s library.

William Henry Chamberlin

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October 1956

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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