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May 15, 2013

“The System of Liberty” by our own George H. Smith

George H. Smith has written a new book. For readers of Libertarianism.org, this is welcome news indeed. With his weekly “Excursions in the History of Libertarian Thought,” George shows off his enormous knowledge of intellectual history, and teaches all of us a great deal.

The System of LibertyIf you enjoy “Excursions,” think of The System of Liberty as a marthon session. George has arranged the book around conflicts within classical liberalism. This allows him to do what we strive for here at Libertarianism.org: show the libertarian intellectual tradition not as a monolithic single “school,” but as a big tent of ideas with significant overlap, but not total agreement. But, George notes,

Although much of this book deals with the internal problems of classical liberalism, and although I believe that liberals failed to resolve some of these problems, my sympathies with this school of thought will quickly become apparent to readers. In their search for answers to difficult questions, the classical liberals may not have been successful in every respect. But they did have many successes, both theoretical and practical, in their effort to justify and explain individual freedom, and we owe them an incalculable debt for many of the freedoms we enjoy today.

The System of Liberty explores natural rights and utilitarianism, anarchism, state sovereignty and self-sovereignty, positive versus negative liberty, the role of the state in education, charges of “social atomism” and “social Darwinism,” and methodological individualism. And it does so with George’s typical clarity and voluminous knowledge of the literature.

If you’re a regular read of “Excursions,” you owe it to yourself to check out The System of Liberty, too. Nobody does the history of political thought quite like George H. Smith.