Hospers on Libertarianism

Roger Bissell

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Libertarianism by John Hospers

Reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

Those who have been looking for a comprehensive yet not-too-technical work to use in introducing people to the libertarian political philosophy need look no longer. Libertarianism, by the distinguished director of the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, integrates and presents much of the best of what libertarians of all breeds have produced so far. This work has now become the work to give to people who want to understand what libertarian political philosophy is all about.

Not that I think the work is flawless. For one thing, though the work is aimed at converting intelligent liberals to libertarianism, it is too conservative in tone. Hospers’ book is really better suited, in many ways, to converting the thinking conservative to purist libertarianism. One reason is that most of the illustrations and examples which Hospers draws on are not as effective as they could have been. Hospers draws on largely libertarian and conservative sources, rather than boldly confronting liberal sources, issues, and arguments.

The area where he is weakest, for instance, is history. The biggest conflict in the ranks of liberalism today is over the thesis of revisionist historians—which fit very well in with the libertarian ideology. But Hospers does not draw on these sources, resulting in a weaker argument for the free market than he could have otherwise produced. Weaker—as far as converting liberals is concerned.

Enough for the flaws. The virtues of the book far outweigh them in any case. Drawing largely on such writers as Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises and Henry Hazlitt, Hospers integrates the most forceful of libertarian arguments into a coherent case ranging in issues covered from individual rights to international relations, from welfare to ecology. There is a particularly interesting chapter which deals with the anarchist/limited government controversy—in which Hospers takes what I think is the wrong side.

The book is a virtual encyclopedia. Yet its style is very conversational, which makes for easy and enjoyable reading. All of his arguments are extremely powerful, and by the end of the book one finds that the totality of their effect has just snowballed. He covers key problems issue by issue, so that no one argument seems critical. But by the end of the book, one realizes that almost no problem or objection to the free market and a free society has not been dealt with. It is this which is the single most important aspect of the book, and this which makes it an important addition to the literature of liberty.

[This review was first published in SIL Book Review, May 1972 and was posted to Objectivist Living with permission on Friday, October 13, 2006. Questions and comments are welcome.]

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The Politics of Liberty (2-record LP album) by John Hospers

reviewed by Barbara Branden

Professor John Hospers, Director of the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, and author of such books as Libertarianism, Introduction to Philosophical Analysis and Human Conduct, was the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party in the last election. He has now recorded, exclusively for Academic Associates, his talk entitled The Politics of Liberty.

The Politics of Liberty is a fascinating, lucid and persuasive presentation of the essentials of the libertarian political position. Dr. Hospers begins with the first principle of libertarianism: “that no one owns anyone’s life but his own, and that no one’s life belongs to other people to dispose of as they wish.” Arguing convincingly from this principle, and from the practical consequences of the idea he opposes, he makes clear what libertarians stand for and why, for instance, they oppose the draft and favor a volunteer army, why they refuse to sanction social security, why they oppose the public school system, why they reject anti-pornography legislation.

The libertarian society, Dr. Hospers explains, is one in which each man is free to believe, to think, and to act as he chooses, so long as he does not force his views or actions on others. “The libertarian ideal is the only utopia in which no one is a pawn on someone else’s chessboard.” And liberty includes economic liberty—it includes the freedom to produce and trade products and services on a free market, without interference by the government.

In the concluding section of his talk, Dr. Hospers outlines eleven factors which he calls the warning signs of totalitarianism, and discusses the status of each in our society today. These should be noted and heeded by anyone concerned with the future of freedom. Among them are: the government’s negative attitude toward private property—the presence of compulsory psychological treatment for those considered mentally disturbed—government imposed controls on wages and prices—the executive branch of government more powerful than the legislative.

The Politics of Liberty—like the politics of liberty—is imbued with an enormous respect for individual rights, and for the value and power of individual intelligence and judgment. But Dr. Hospers makes very clear the desperate danger which liberty faces today, and the need for understanding and action if the trend toward total government is to be reversed.

I recommend this talk highly. Libertarians will find it of great interest. Non-libertarians will find it a valuable introduction to the nature, the reasons and the implications of libertarianism.

[This review was first published in Academic Associates Book News, February 1973 (#10) and was posted with the author's permission to Objectivist Living on Sunday, October 15, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome.]

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