In The Libertarian Reader, David Boaz has gathered the writers and works that represent the building blocks of libertarianism. These individuals have spoken out for the basic freedoms that have made possible the flowering of spiritual, moral, and economic life. For all independent thinkers, this unique sourcebook will stand as a classic reference for years to come, and a reminder that libertarianism is one of our oldest and most venerable American traditions.
"The first principle of libertarian social analysis is a concern about the concentration of power. One of the mantras of libertarianism is Lord Acton's dictum, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." As the first selection in this section demonstrates, that concern has a long history. God's warning to the people of Israel about "the ways of the king that will reign over you" reminded Jews and Christians for centuries that the state was at best a necessary evil.
The history of the West is characterized by competing centers of power. We may take that for granted, but it was not true everywhere. In most parts of the world, church and state were united, leaving little room for independent power centers to develop. Divided power in the West might be traced to the response of Jesus to the Pharisees: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." In so doing he made it clear that not all of life is under the control of the state. This radical notion took hold in Western Christianity.
…Twentieth-century libertarians have continued to examine the nature of power and to look for ways to limit it. H. L. Mencken excoriated government as a "hostile power" but did not hold out much hope for changing that. Isabel Paterson feared that humanitarian impulses exercised through inappropriate means could lead even good people to wield power in dangerous ways. Murray Rothbard took a radical view among libertarian scholars: that all coercive government is an illegitimate infringement on natural liberty and that all goods and services could be better supplied through voluntary processes than through government. Richard Epstein approached the issue of power differently: Given that we need some coercive government to protect us from each other and allow civil society to flourish, how do we limit it? He offers in his selection a threefold answer: federalism, separation of powers, and strict guarantees for individual rights."
David Boaz (1953) is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute, an American libertarian think tank. He played a key role in the Institute's development and the American libertarian movement. He is the author of Libertarianism: A Primer, published in 1997 by the Free Press and described by the Los Angeles Times as "a well-researched manifesto of libertarian ideas," the editor of The Libertarian Reader, and co-editor of the Cato Handbook for Congress (2003) and the Cato Handbook on Policy (2005). He frequently discusses such topics as education choice, the growth of government, the ownership society, his support of drug legalization, and the rise of libertarianism on national television and radio shows.