Libertarians and Liberalism: Essays in Honour of Gerard Radnitzky edited by Hardy Bouillon

Chock Full of Brilliant Insights and Devastating Arguments

Avebury; Aldershot, England • 1996 • 359 pages • $76.50

Gerard Radnitzky is a name little known in America, but he is a prominent figure in European liberal (using the word, of course, in its original meaning) circles. A native of Germany, he defected from the German military in April 1945, flying his airplane to Sweden. After acquiring Swedish citizenship, he became interested in politics and philosophy, thanks largely to socialists like Gunnar Myrdal, whose views Radnitzky found abhorrent. He met and befriended F. A. Hayek, absorbing much from him. As the editor writes of him, [T]here is a leitmotif that runs through the history of his intellectual life, namely, the love of freedom and the quest for a state—if we must have one—that leaves it to individuals to shape their own lives and lets them take the responsibility for it. This collection of essays has been compiled in honor of Radnitzky, a redoubtable advocate of liberty.

The writers include many of the sharpest critics of statism today: Walter Block, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Arthur Seldon, Hans Sennholz, Anthony de Jasay, Gordon Tullock, and Antony Flew. The editor has grouped the essays into three sections. First, Libertarianism and Liberalism: of Laps, Links and Lapses; second, The Fatal Franchise of Freedom: of Social Choice Democracy; and third, The Future of Freedom: of Facts and Fiction. Most of the work is excellent and I will briefly mention several pieces that stand out in my mind.

In Libertarians and the Rule of Law, Arthur Seldon explores the reasons for and implications of the decline of the rule of law. He writes, ‘Democracy’ is propounded as an unquestioned political ideal—by politicians. The good word ‘public’ has been debased into a cynical question-begging misdescription for the power-seeking by individuals who would fail in the competitive test of the market-place. Too much law, he argues, undermines respect for and the enforceability of true law that protects human society.

In The Bitter Medicine of Freedom, Anthony de Jasay argues that freedom is menaced in our time not so much by despots, dictators, or totalitarian creeds, as by the all-too-human tendency to want to abdicate our responsibility for our mistakes and failings. People want freedom to do the things they like, but want the state to succor them when things go awry. As he says, The rough underside of freedom is responsibility for oneself. The fewer the institutional obstacles an individual faces in choosing acts to fit his preferences, the more his life is what he makes of it, and the less excuse he has for what he has made of it. . . . The corollary of an individual’s discretion to contribute to or coldly ignore the purposes of the community is that he has no good claims upon it to advance his purposes. The statists succeed mainly by promising people relief from that bitter medicine. If we are to preserve freedom, however, we have to convince people that some doses of that bitter medicine are inevitable.

Antony Flew’s Social Democracy and the Myth of Social Justice needs to be in the arsenal of anyone who wants to combat the constant cry of the statists that various coercive measures must be implemented in order to advance social justice. Hayek attacked the notion of social justice in the second volume of Law, Legislation and Liberty, but Flew improves upon Hayek’s criticism, taking pains to argue that social justice as customarily conceived is precisely not a kind of justice. He leaves in tatters the theories of Rawls and other contemporary advocates of the idea that state-sanctioned coercion can make for a more just world.

Vaclav Klaus, finance minister of the Czech Republic, offers up a great tribute to the Austrian School in The Austrian School—Its Significance for the Transformation Process. How wonderful to read that Austrian ideas have played a major role in the Czech Republic’s journey from tyranny to freedom.

Other notable contributions to this volume include Angelo Petroni’s Is There a Morality in Redistribution?, Manfred Streit’s Competition Among Systems as a Defence of Liberty, Antonio Martino’s Ideas and the Future of Liberty, and Hans Sennholz’s solid The Bohm-Bawerkian Foundation of the Interest Theory.

The one essay that is rather weak is Liberalism and Libertarians by Gerd Haberman, a critique of libertarian thinking that rehashes a lot of arguments that have been refuted often—for example, the canard that libertarians regard people as isolated atoms, ignorant of their most basic social bonds. To consistently reject the use of coercion in human relationships is not at all the same as denying or ignoring the fact that human beings need to have social bonds.

This book needed a more careful proofreading and the typeface is not the easiest to read. Nevertheless, this collection is chock full of brilliant insights and devastating arguments.