I've been reading drafts of Brian Doherty's history of modern libertarianism since 1994. Now this remarkable labor of love - winningly titled Radicals for Capitalism, is, at last, complete. And it rocks. Even though I've repeatedly read earlier versions of most of the chapters, I can't put the book down.
What's so great about it?
First, Doherty knows his subject forwards and backwards. He hasn't just fact-checked all the facts; he's theory-checked all the theories. He's a journalist by vocation, but even when he's explaining technical economics, each sentence is accurate.
Second, Doherty is a terrific stylist. We economists spend so much time trying to make our writing clear, we sometimes forget rarer literary virtues like eloquence, wit, and fun. One of the many times I've laughed out loud:
[The members of the anti-New Deal "old right"] were in some ways a new antifederalist movement, as are modern libertarians. These movements are as American as whatever pie Americans gave up in order to choose the apple pie.
Third, whatever your political views, the history of modern libertarianism is a great story. Its early figures were so contrarian and stubborn that it boggles the mind. In the middle of the New Deal, an underground of intellectuals was mad as hell about things like... the existence of public schooling. How did a handful of eccentrics from the '30's, thinkers who were often amazed to learn of any other human being on earth who agreed with them, blossom into the scourge of the blogosphere? (All of which makes me wonder: If the Internet had been around in the '30's, how much sooner would libertarianism have become an idea to be reckoned with?)
A final virtue of Doherty's work is that he fearlessly airs eighty years of dirty libertarian laundry. His affection for most of the figures and ideas he covers is plain. But he never worries about giving ammunition to "the other side." Time and again, Doherty explains a viewpoint of a prominent libertarian, and furrows his brow in puzzlement. Truth is, libertarians have thought, said, and done things we shouldn't be proud of. Though Doherty loves liberty, I'd say that he loves truth more.
P.S. Brian's going to be on C-SPAN2 discussing his book tonight and tomorrow. I'm going to set my DVR now.