Fortune Smiles on Radicals for Capitalism

One of my very favorite reviews of the book, from Daniel Okrent in the March 19 issue of Fortune, now online. An excerpt:

I CAN’T SAY I EVER expected to declare a 700-page history of libertarian economics delightful–especially one that makes a hero of a man who “thought universal literacy a useless goal, as most people can’t do anything valuable with it.” Or that semi-approvingly quotes someone lamenting the struggle between principles and votes with this: “There is no mass constituency for 7-year-old heroin dealers to buy tanks with their profits from prostitution.”

But Brian Doherty knows the value of his material. It’s easy enough to lampoon a movement that harbors among its troops some who believe that if a man falls from a skyscraper and attempts to save himself by grabbing a flagpole, he’s violating the property rights of the pole’s owner. But it’s equally easy to appreciate the purity of the libertarian vision. Its noblest advocates genuinely believe that a libertarian-inspired government built around the rights of the individual will serve the interests of all. Doherty, an editor at the movement magazine Reason, knows this world so well he is able both to lampoon it (gently) and appreciate it (temperately).

There are five central figures in Doherty’s epically populated and intellectually rigorous narrative (which also contains cameos from such surprising ringers as Warren Buffett’s father and Howard Stern): the Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich A. Hayek, who developed libertarianism’s central ideas; their profoundly influential American heir, Milton Friedman; the freethinking, free-swinging anarcho-gadfly Murray Rothbard, who somehow reconciled working for Adlai Stevenson with the belief that all taxation was theft; and of course that cranky old loon Ayn Rand.

Who among us wasn’t Rand-whammied at 16 or 17, when we were infected by the sort of intellectual Scientology that a reading of The Fountainhead can induce? (My consequent denunciations of charity, generosity, and shared responsibility ran their course in about a month; 35 years later my son broke his own Randian fever in just two weeks.) Doherty explains the seductive appeal of Rand’s thinking exceptionally well, but he does not neglect the monstrous personality that by her death in 1982 had chased away almost all her old friends and allies. (An exception: this economist guy named Greenspan.)

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One response to “Fortune Smiles on Radicals for Capitalism

  1. “But it’s equally easy to appreciate the purity of the libertarian vision. Its noblest advocates genuinely believe that a libertarian-inspired government built around the rights of the individual will serve the interests of all.”

    It’s “noblest advocates” are more anarchists than libertarians, and they DONT WANT ANY GOVERNMENT.While anarchists may be ‘libertarian’, the country has paid a heavy price for having a libertarian “party” that did not exist to do retail politics, one that David Nolan exclaimed as an afterthought “Maybe we will even get some of them elected!”

    Dont give a crap about Rand or Rothbard. It’s because of them that a very much needed political party has been a colossal failure to this point. We have only in the last year begun to point the LP in the right direction to actually doing politics that can be understood in the real world – and there are many who want the LP of old back, becuase it was a refuge of sorts from politics, which they hate.

    There will be yet another split in the LP in 08 unless a new compromise is reached between the anarchists and minarchists/constitutionalists, and the latter will bury the NLP in short order.

    There are hundred of times more of the latter than the former. The sheer weight of numbers alone will pull the donation pool dry. All that needs to happen to prevent this divorce is to put non anarchists on a equal footing within the party by getting rid of or modifying the pledge.

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