Where should people start if they want to expand their base of knowledge on philosophical, intellectual, political, and economic matters? Many individuals live their lives truly believing that their reality is what the mainstream has defined, never considering that alternatives exist. The reason for this narrow perspective is very simple: passive acceptance is easier, simpler, and requires less effort. For those who are open to alternatives, many authors have written awe-inspiring books that have the potential to forever change the way they see the world and vastly expand their intellectual horizons. This list is in no particular order, and personal experience has proven these works to be highly valuable and treasured sources of illuminating wisdom to me.
So, the five books every free mind should read are as follows:
The Law by Frederic Bastiat. This is a classic, revolutionary, paradigm-shifting defense of personhood, property, and liberty.
Here, Bastiat makes a timeless and compelling argument in favor of the natural and innate privileges bestowed upon humankind by God through the three preserving elements of life. His central argument is summarized on page two: “It is not because men have made laws, that life, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because life, liberty, and property exist beforehand, that men make laws. What then, is the law? As I have said elsewhere, it is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.” Bastiat argues that the ultimate aim of the law is for justice “to reign over all,” and this feat is accomplished through the legislative substitution of communal power for that of the person. The law, in essence, is constructed as a means to serve the people and not as an end that trumps the individual.
One aspect of this book that distinguishes it from other libertarian declarations is that Bastiat takes a clear stance on the value of morality. That is, when the law and morality are opposed, two options are available: (1) Lose morality and obey the injustice, or (2) Lose respect for the law. This is a key differentiation that tends to diverge from the modern libertarian ideology.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Penguin Education) by Paulo Freire. Few books deliver a message so powerful that it forever becomes embedded in the reader’s mind. Even fewer books transform the way readers perceive, interact with, or respond to reality. Pedagogy of the Oppressed masterfully accomplishes both tasks and inspires readers to spread the word to others.
In short, the purpose of this book is summarized on the last page: “This work deals with a very obvious truth: just as the oppressor, in order to oppress, needs a theory of oppressive action, so the oppressed, in order to become free, also need a theory of action.” Freire then argues that the disposition of the oppressed is a direct function of a system that is designed and engineered on many different levels to keep the oppressed in their current predicament. Oppression, then, is a means to fuel a perverse scheme that is predicated on the majority remaining ignorant of its methodology. The prescription to change this system must come from the oppressed and not the oppressors, as the author posits, through a dialogical process of education. Freire strives for everyone to gain a new understanding of the world and reality so that all can take a step back to understand the dynamics at play. Only then can people develop a new awareness that will equip them to break the cycle and achieve true liberation.
For those who desire to be agents of empowerment and catalysts for change, or who hope to liberate people from the bondage of the modern world, this book is essential reading.
Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt. Why would anyone want to read an economics book, and why, in particular, would one want to read Economics in One Lesson? The answer is simple: Hazlitt not only breaks down economics into one five-page lesson, but for the indolent, he simplifies things even further by breaking his lesson down to a single sentence in the first chapter. Without giving away Hazlitt’s secret, economics, he says, has as much to do with them in the future as it does with you now. Further, the contemporary world is built upon an economic foundation, so to properly understand our time, one ought to have at least a cursory understanding of economics.
Hazlitt discusses the “standard” economic policies, only to reveal their inherent incompatibility with the lesson and the deleterious side effects these policies have, even against those who so proudly champion them. In fact, after reading this book, many of the policies considered orthodox in contemporary circles are exposed for the true fallacies that they are.
The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents–The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume 2) by F. A. Hayek. This classic work in political philosophy, history, and economics makes the case against collectivism and reveals that increasing governmental economic control would not lead to a utopia but to a world darkened by iniquity.
The book explains the rise of totalitarianism in Europe in the last century and uses that as a launching pad to denounce central planning. In Hayek’s mind, socialism invariably leads to totalitarianism, and democracy is incompatible with freedom. Hayek concludes by making the case for limited constitutional government.
The Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard. This is an excellent “next step” book on libertarianism, perfect for anyone who has a basic understanding of the philosophy but would like more information and practical application of its principles to life’s more complicated and touchy issues.
The Ethics of Liberty takes the concepts of personal property and individual freedom and uses them as an ethical foundation for a myriad of common topics (e.g., the “right” to privacy, animal rights, taxation, voluntary contracts). Rothbard presents clear and well-thought arguments to justify his positions, but the reader should keep in mind that although his descriptions are philosophically sound, one may morally object to many of his opinions; however, this is another tenet of the book—no justification for morality is implied, that is left up to the reader. Herein lies the central paradox of the book: that a fully developed secular ideology has to sacrifice interpersonal principles in order to achieve precision.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal