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BOOK REVIEW

Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues that Affect Our Freedom

APRIL 26, 2012 by BECKY AKERS

If the author of Liberty Defined were one of the usual suspects—a professor of economics, say—we might shrug and move on: The book presents an airtight argument for freedom, but libertarianism is awash in airtight arguments for freedom. What the movement needs more than yet another tome are readers for those already written who would thereby learn implacable enmity toward the cruel, corrupt, and interventionist State.

And that is precisely what Liberty Defined may give us, considering who wrote it. This national politician dares to say that “[w]hen liberty is under attack, everything we hold dear is under attack” and “maintaining order and safety is the goal at all costs in a totalitarian system. Under those conditions, liberty becomes the enemy.”

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul issues a clarion call to freedom with all the moral suasion of a butcher urging us to vegetarianism. He’s seen the political slaughter up close; he recognizes, analyzes, and condemns the evil motivating it; and he blows the whistle on government to warn us of its dangers. “I have been told, in serious discussions, with other members of Congress,” he writes, “that the people are too ‘stupid’ to care for themselves and need smart, generous, and caring public servants to take care of them.” Yes, we all know this is Our Rulers’ attitude, and perhaps we even suspected them of such incriminating conversations. Still, I was stunned.

The book is worth buying and reading just for this confirmation of our fears. Paul is our mole in a government that demands to know everything about us but refuses to return the favor.

But back to the author’s legions of fans. These newly awakened Americans eagerly buy his books and defend the liberty he loves. Better yet, unlike many longtime libertarians, they understand that freedom is more than mere philosophy, more than just fodder for discussion among friends. They grab the ideas Paul publicizes and run with them.

Unfortunately they often drop the ball. Like a boy who’s seen only a couple of football games but longs to scrimmage with the NFL, they compensate with enthusiasm for what they lack in knowledge—but enthusiasm alone seldom wins the game.

It’s those folks who will benefit most from Liberty Defined. “What I offer in these pages,” Paul explains, “are thoughts on a series of controversial topics”—50, to be exact—“that tend to confuse people, and these are interpreted in light of my own experience and my thinking.” That yields 50 chapters averaging about seven pages each, arranged alphabetically à la the dictionary implied in the title, from Abortion and Assassination (the good doctor opposes both—though he objects to federal laws against the former) through Democracy, Empire, Lobbying, and Patriotism, to Unions and Zionism. Perhaps surprisingly, the Federal Reserve System doesn’t get an essay of its own, probably because Paul has already written an entire book on his signature issue.

Principles of liberty illuminate each chapter. For example, the one devoted to the CIA urges its abolition after describing its violent and illiberal skullduggery. “The first major use of the CIA to interfere with the election process in another country was in 1953 with the overthrow of the duly elected leader of Iran. . . . Overthrowing foreign governments is illegal under international law and common law. It’s illegal under U.S. law and the Constitution,” Paul writes.

Wouldn’t we be more vulnerable if we rid ourselves of corrupt “superspy” agencies? No—just the opposite: “Countries such as Sweden and Switzerland spend miniscule amounts on military preparation. Costa Rica has no military at all. These countries are not threatened because they are regarded as nonaggressive.”

Paul’s tone is gentle throughout, but he strongly condemns the State and its lackeys: “The existence of the wealth-extracting leviathan state in Washington, DC . . . a monster that is a constant presence in every aspect of our lives[,] is proof enough that our leaders do not believe [in liberty].”

I like indices, but unfortunately this book lacks one, as do most encyclopedically arranged books. And readers may disagree with Paul on some issues, as I did on immigration. The author advocates “enforc[ing] the [immigration] laws now on the books with more border guards. . . .” But how do we reconcile an enormous border-bureaucracy with the minimal government the rest of the book urges? How can we square the authoritarian abuse of “undocumented” immigrants with liberty?

“We all need to become agitators for liberty,” Paul admonishes, “else we end up in a permanent state of slavery.” Liberty Defined will recruit and educate multitudes of new agitators.

 

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May 2012

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Around the world, people are struggling to throw off authoritarianism, with deeply mixed results. From Egypt to Venezuela, determined people build networks to overthrow their regimes, but as yet we have not learned to live without Leviathan. In this issue, Michael Malice and Gary Dudney discuss their glimpses inside totalitarian regimes, while Sarah Skwire and Michael Nolan look at how totalitarian regimes grind down the individual--and how individuals fight back. Plus, Jeffrey Tucker identifies a strain in libertarianism that, left unchecked, could reduce even our vibrant movement to something that is analogous to the grim aesthetic of architectural brutalism. The struggle for our lives and freedom is a struggle for beauty; it begins inside each of us.
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