Three Non-Libertarian Books You Should Be Reading
Whatever our faults, it can never be said that libertarians need to read more. I've never known a group of people to consume such large doses of dense and dismally boring literature than the liberty community. However, I sometimes get the impression that our literary excursions rarely deviate from our own literature. This is understandable, of course. With tireless scholars like Murray Rothbard among the ranks of liberty writers, our reading list never ends.
But even for the reader who never wants to stray from the liberty book list, I have three suggested readings by non-libertarian writers that are worth the time of every autodidactic liberty lover. I've chosen these books because they, more than nearly any libertarian work, have shaped my views in a libertarian direction or helped buttress my arguments for a smaller government, and they continue to illuminate a variety of other readings I continuously consume. I suspect many of you will have the same experience.
This is probably the most libertarian of the non-libertarian books on my list, and I know many libertarians have already read this book , but I would be remiss to omit it. I've read dozens of books on the drug war, and Chasing the Scream is far and away the best.
As radical as my views were on the Drug War before reading this book, they still managed to change in an even more libertarian direction. "Drugs should be legal because the government does not have a right to tell people what to put in their bodies." This was (and still is) my simple ethic on the matter. For those who accept the Non-Aggression Principle or any similar philosophical view, there is little need in carrying the discussion forward.
But as most of us already know, this logic is insufficient in making any anti-Drug War case to the average person. So how do we take the daunting subject of the War on Drugs and illustrate to others how the Drug War facilitates destruction from every imaginable angle?
Johann Hari found the magic formula. He covers nearly every element of the drug war through a gripping narrative. In his book, he offers a brief history of the War on Drugs. He tells the stories of various illustrative players in the Drug War from dealers to cops to the tragic "collateral" victims. He relates inspiring anecdotes of drug addict community service networks (see VANDU). He ends the books with the case-studies in legalization of Switzerland, Portugal, the Netherlands, and the oft-overlooked Uruguay, and explains in digestible terms the "Iron Law of Prohibition," first observed by the Austrian Economist Mark Thornton in the 1980s .
The most compelling portion of the book — and the primary reason why it is on this list — are the later chapters in which Hari brilliantly dismantles the government-cultivated lies about addiction by profiling two Vancouver doctors, Gabor Maté and Bruce Alexander, who have pioneered new theories of addiction from their work with addicts and methodical scientific experiments (the most well-known being Alexander's Rat Park experiment ). Once these new views of addiction are accepted — and after Johann Hari makes his case , they inevitably will be — it will be clear to all except the most faithful government lapdogs that the War on Drug is not only the wrong treatment for the drug epidemic, but it serves as the greatest force behind the perplexing increase in drug-related tragedies, and libertarians will find an array of new ammunition for making the case for drug legalization.
I read On Killing when I first started to entertain the idea of non-interventionism as a young libertarian-leaning Republican. This book sealed my fate as an unapologetic anti-war libertarian, though I'm pretty sure this was not the goal of Lt. Col. of the Army Dave Grossman (not to be confused with the peace-activist David Grossman) when writing it.
Col. Grossman, who taught psychology at West Point, wrote this book as an analysis of the psychology of killing, which he calls " killology." Much to the delight of non-aggressionists, he opens the book with chapters demonstrating that the unhampered human psyche makes us naturally averse to killing. He does this by analyzing the rates of deliberate misfires during various wars and the behavioral response of soldiers who kill at various distances, from knife- to drone-range.
Grossman illustrates that human beings, even after being trained for war, were often unwilling to kill their enemy opponents and often intentionally fired above the heads of their enemies. This frustrated the United States military, so they adapted military boot camp strategies to overcome human nature through what can only be described as brainwashing. His chapter detailing the training methods of Vietnam conscripts — who statistically had incredibly low rates of misfire — was among the most eye-opening reads of my life. The United States government effectively learned how to rewire the natural human condition to dependably mass-produce soldiers willing to not just serve, but to kill for country.
He also covers the psychology behind some of the most abhorrent wartime behaviors that have emerged from every side of every war throughout documented history, such as the mass raping, torture, and sport-killing of enemy soldiers and civilians. It is not always an easy read, to be sure, but these chapters have had conversations with so many other books that I've read over the years that they are worth the discomfort. Pair On Killing with books like The Rape of Nanking or Kill Anything That Moves — or any other book on wartime atrocity or genocide — and you will find that you come away with a deeper understanding of all of these histories. Libertarians who have read the monumentally important Rise of the Warrior Cop will no doubt have a deeper understanding of the police mindset detailed by Radley Balko having also read On Killing.
This book is on my list for very different reasons than the previous two. Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People is a classic that is a worth everybody's time for any number of reasons. There is simply no book that better teaches you how to interact positively with other people. Its goal is to help get other people to agree with you, and for this reason, it is an obvious read for libertarian proselytizers.
I often worry that we as libertarians have trouble marketing ourselves. We have the benefit of being on the right side of history, economics, and morality, yet I see many arguments (and am often guilty of this myself) that devolve into hostile interactions that serve to do little more than put potential converts on the defensive and close their minds to what should be very amicable ideas (what's more agreeable than liberty?). But just because we are right about our political ideas does not mean that we immediately have the right strategy for selling them.
Carnegie's book has stood the test of time for business leaders, salesmen, and generally anybody who can benefit from social diplomacy, and I believe that the lessons found between its pages can serve libertarians just as well. Part four, for example, has the subtitle "How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment" and contains incredibly applicable chapters such as "How to Criticize - and Not Be Hated for It." What libertarian hasn't gained resentment for levying a very valid critique of somebody's socio-economic position on one issue or another?
For those of us who truly enjoy engaging with our friends (and strangers) on the issues of liberty, Carnegie offers lessons on "How to Interest People" (Part Two, Chapter 5) and how to get people to agree with you (Part Three, Chapter 5: "The Secret of Socrates"), among many other valuable lessons for successful interactions.
How to Win Friends and Influence People also contains illuminating anecdotes that will make the capitalist heart of any libertarian pitter-patter. Among my favorites is the amusing and inspiring story of how Charles Schwab — the protégé of Andrew Carnegie — turned the lowest performing steel mill in Carnegie Steel into the most productive with a simple motivational trick. Many such lessons will only have value outside libertarian apologetics, but they are delightful and educational stories in their own right.
The capitalist in us will certainly appreciate Dale Carnegie's great work for its application in business, and that alone is reason enough to read it. But for the libertarian activist who dreams of the day when our ranks are swollen with new adherents, there are lessons in this book that will undoubtedly help see that goal come to fruition, and it's high time we start taking advantage of them.