Bryan Caplan  

Name Michael Huemer's New Book

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Philosopher Michael Huemer has almost finished a book-length defense of radical libertarianism.  I've read virtually every book ever written on this topic.  Huemer's is the best.  It's so good, in fact, that I've promoted him from my "favorite living philosopher" to "favorite philosopher ever." 

What's so great about Huemer's new book?  It's clear and compelling, free of obscurantism and question-begging.  Huemer strives to actually convince the vast population of reasonable people who aren't libertarians.  His argumentative strategy:

1. Start with broadly acceptable moral premises.
2. Show that these premises have radical libertarian implications.
3. Explain why these implications are a lot less counter-intuitive than they initially seem.

As Huemer explains:
I aim to start from moral claims that are, initially, relatively uncontroversial. This seems an obvious plan. Political philosophy is a difficult field. If we hope to make progress, we cannot start reasoning from a contentious moral theory; still less can we begin by assuming a contentious political ideology. Our premises should be things that, for example, both liberals and conservatives would typically find obvious at first glance. We must then attempt to reason from these premises to conclusions about the contested questions that interest us.
When I described Huemer's plan to Tyler, he immediately objected that common sense morality also tells us to accept a double standard in favor of government.  Huemer foresees Tyler's objection:
My attitudes toward pre-philosophical common sense might seem inconsistent. On the one hand, I consider the most widely-shared ethical intuitions as reasonable premises on which to rely. On the other hand, I claim that some very widely-shared political beliefs are fundamentally mistaken. The claim that there are at least some legitimate governments is not very controversial; nearly everyone, whether on the left or the right of the political spectrum, takes that for granted. So it is very natural to wonder, why do I not accept the existence of legitimate states as a starting premise, just as I accept common sense beliefs about personal ethics?
(Part of) Huemer's response:
Those who begin with an intuition that some states possess authority may be brought to give up that intuition if it turns out, as I aim to show in the succeeding chapters, that the belief in political authority is incompatible with common sense moral beliefs. There are three reasons why one should prefer to adhere to common sense morality rather than common sense political philosophy: first, as I have suggested, common sense political philosophy is more controversial than common sense morality. Second, even those who accept orthodox political views are usually more strongly convinced of common sense morality than they are of common sense political philosophy. Third, even those who intuitively accept political authority may at the same time have the sense that political authority is initially puzzling-that some explanation is required for why some people should have this special moral status-in a way that it is not initially puzzling that, for example, it should be wrong to attack others without provocation. The failure to find any satisfactory account of political authority may therefore rationally lead one to give up the belief in authority, rather than to give up common sense moral beliefs.
The main problem with Huemer's book: He still lacks a good title.  I think I've talked him out of Freedom and Authority (his initial choice), but he's still looking for a compelling alternative.  A good title will be both descriptive and memorable.  Imagine blog readers as the marginal buyers.  Got a suggestion?  Please share in the comments.

To get your creative juices flowing, here's the table of contents and first chapter.  You'll never have a better chance to forever change the history of philosophy.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (59 to date)
David writes:

Why Anarchy Compels

MikeP writes:

Truth and Consequences

Javier writes:

Why Not Anarchy?

byafi writes:

A Question of Authority: How Much Freedom Can We Have?

Jane writes:

My title:
A High School Student's Critique of the Rule of Law

Ben H. writes:

Given your description of the virtues of the book, how about Reasoning Towards Freedom or some variant thereof (Reasoning Our Way Towards Freedom, The Rationality of Freedom?) I'm looking forward to reading it, whatever it's called.

João Neto writes:

The Politics of Liberty

Michael B writes:

Having been a long time reader of your blog and your two books, waiting for your third, I will answer your request.

  • Common Sense Morality and Consequences for Political Ideology
  • You already want Anarchy
  • Let us all agree: Politics is wrong

  • I hope the proposed titles will be useful to you.

    [bullets fixed--Econlib Ed.]

    Brian Moore writes:

    "How Should Smart Monkeys Organize?"

    ThomasL writes:

    I rather like Freedom and Authority. What was your objection to it?

    Sean writes:

    Professor Huemer, be a champ and put the whole thing up for us to read!

    Luke Carlson writes:

    Common Sense Freedom

    Common Sense Liberty

    andrew wilkinson writes:

    The Immoral Foundation of Authority

    Pandaemoni writes:

    It sounds like a good title might be:

    "Where There Is Freedom"

    From the quote "When there is freedom, there will be no State," by Lenin. Or he gould go with:

    "Unyielding Liberty"

    as an allusion to Jefferson's statement that it's natural for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.

    E. Barandiaran writes:

    Bryan, I suggest EFFECTIVE FREEDOM. Since you are an economist you may remember the distinction between notional and effective demand (strictly notional demand = desire, and effective demand = neoclassical demand). It's the same idea --living in society, freedom can never be notional (that is, have full lexical meaning), it must be constrained somehow. I have to read Ch 1 yet, but apparently Huemer's concept of authority refers to how freedom is constrained.

    KenF writes:

    The Common Sense of Freedom
    The Common Sense of Liberty

    Mark V Anderson writes:

    Bryan --

    Unlike everyone else, I am not suggesting a title.

    I would like to know why you think this book is so extra-special. I read the first chapter for which you provided the link. It was well written, but I saw nothing there that I haven't read a hundred times.

    I am a consequentialist libertarian myself, and I find the radical approach very unconvincing, especially when one considers some of the potential consequences when one takes such an absolutist view against government. And if I am not convinced, someone who is very skeptical of 90% of the acts of government, all the more reason that your average statist (a majority of the citizenry) will reject these ideas out of hand.

    I presume you have read the whole book. Can you give us some more clues as to what Huemer says that is different from previous writers? I have no interest in reading it if he doesn't have fresh ideas, even if it is very well written. And I don't see how it could have any affect on the population at large in that case.

    jc writes:

    Title (big print): A Moral and Logical Defense of Collective Tolerance

    Subtitle (small print, and admittedly long): How the Application of Reason to Broadly Accepted Moral Premises Leads to a Rejection of Aggression-Based Authoritarianism

    What's the purpose of a title? To accurately convey what the book is about to likely readers? What if this amounts to a book that simply preaches to the choir and converts no one?

    For me, beloved words like "freedom" and "liberty" have unfortunately become signals for many would-be converts to stop listening to what one has to say, as thoughts of "radial, right-wing, hateful tea-partiers" (their thoughts, not mine) spring to mind.

    I find that by appealing to concepts like "tolerance" and "nonaggression", I can often lead leftist friends and acquaintances down a logical road whose conclusion is far closer to libertarianism than they ever initially imagined. By simply not alienating them right off the bat, via the use of accurate and wonderful words that for them trigger contempt-based defenses, they can come to see why they ought to perhaps give libertarian views more of a chance than they once did.

    Another idea. No title at all. No written title, anyway. Simply a symbol. The cuneiform at the bottom of this page. This one.

    faze writes:

    The History of Unnatural Privilege

    Joshua writes:

    The words posted after the table of contents sound sufficient to me:

    The Illusion of Authority

    Sean writes:

    Covenants without the Sword

    Kevin writes:

    The Premise of Freedom

    steve writes:

    The Morality of Governing.

    J Storrs Hall writes:

    Guide for the Perplexed

    Fred writes:

    Liberty or Leviathan

    Evan writes:

    I was going to say something like "The Common Sense of Liberty," but it looks like some other people beat me to it.

    Another possibility might be some variant of intuition, since Huemer is an intuitionist, such as "Intuitions of Liberty."

    Jason Brennan writes:

    Order without Orders

    Greg G writes:

    Huemer's title should be:

    Why Every Public Policy I Disagree With Violates My Rights

    Chris writes:

    Equal Authority

    happyjuggler0 writes:


    A Defense of Genuine Freedom


    (Not What We Have Now) [Yes, the parentheses are in the subtitle]

    Below the title, a t-shirt or placard with the following two lines:

    You are free* [in large letters]

    *Terms and conditions apply [in smallish print]

    Jl writes:

    The Intuitive Libertarian

    John writes:

    "Liberty and Political Authority"

    - Michael Huemer


    "Political Autonomy: The Logic of Common-sense Individualism"

    - Michael Huemer

    John writes:

    "Political Autonomy: Individualism and Moral Intuition"

    - Michael Huemer

    vt writes:

    If it's supposed to be widely read by non-libertarians it should avoid the putting the words "liberty", "freedom" or "individualism" in the title or subtitle, except if it's question form, like Is this freedom?.

    Jason Brennan's proposal, Order without Orders, sounds like a winner to me.

    Andy Hallman writes:

    Since the notion that rights are not absolute but rather "presumptions" figures heavily in Huemer's philosophy I suggest the word should be in the title, such as "The presumption of liberty" or "The presumption against coercion."

    Along the same lines, Huemer could go with "The state's burden" because Huemer draws parallels between how intuitions create presumptions and how there is a presumption of innocence in a trial.

    AMW writes:

    The Morality of Freedom

    Sorry if that's been taken already; I didn't read through all 34 comments above.

    AMW writes:

    Another possibility: The Logic of Liberty.

    [I also think Order Without Orders is really good]

    John writes:


    I think "Order without Orders" implies that the book is about economics / spontaneous order. Also, I think titles that are questions are made of cheese. ; )

    Fabio Rojas writes:

    Moral Intuition and the Argument for Radical Freedom

    Moral Intuition and the Free Society

    From Common Sense to the Free Society

    The Common Sense Case Against State Authority

    Common Sense: the Bridge to Freedom

    The intuitive case for liberty/freedom/radical freedom

    The ethical foundations of liberty

    Intuitive ethics against state authority

    The intuitive argument for liberty

    No authority: the intuitive case for freedom

    Ted Levy writes:

    Neither of Huemer's earlier books is available in ebook format. I hope this one will be.

    Jayson Virissimo writes:

    The Politics of Common Sense Morality

    Politics as if Morality Mattered

    Less Antman writes:

    You May Already Be An Anarchist: The Common Sense of Huemer

    Ari T writes:

    Foundations of Liberty
    Foundations of a Free Society

    Phil writes:

    Batman Knows Better

    You're Practically an Anarchist

    Statism: Loosely Implied Consent. Sort of. Well, Not Literally.

    The Law: Meh

    Hume writes:

    On Political Authority and the Obligation to Obey the Law

    On Authority and Freedom

    Kevin L writes:

    If Huemer is a radical libertarian, I hope he doesn't claim any copyright on his work. After all, copyright and patents are two of the most blatantly obvious uses of government force for private gain.

    Eric writes:

    Freedom, Governance, Legitimacy

    Lucas Reis writes:

    A vote for A Question of Authority: How Much Freedom Can We Have?.

    It's a popular title, and this book need to be popular, doesn't it? ;)

    Ari Armstrong writes:

    Anarchy, More Anarchy, and Utopia. Seriously, something that subtly invoked Nozick might work.

    AMW writes:

    Moral Symmetry: The Case for Principled Anarchy

    The Blind Spot: Our Curious Deference to Authority

    Every Man a King: The Morality of Anarchy

    thuddmonkey writes:

    Question Authority

    Marc writes:

    Anything, as long as it doesn't have a subtitle. I hate the modern fad of subtitling everything.

    I'd rather not judge a book by its cover. That's what the inside flaps are for. :)

    GIVCO writes:

    It needs punch to sell beyond its predestined market.

    1. God-is-Me or Godlets, Each One of Us.
    2. Napalming Babies is Bad.
    3. It is Right to do X because P Believes So
    Subtitle: Where P = I, We, Some of Us, Most of Us, or Some Variation Thereof.
    4. One Hell Of A Problem: Who Ought To Give Way?

    With due credit to Arthur Leff...

    Nir Graham writes:

    Why You Are An Anarchist.
    The golden rule and political economy.
    Morality means Anarchy.
    Common Sense Politics for the modern age

    Ken B writes:

    The Road From Serfdom

    fender writes:

    Is State Legitimate?
    -Analytical examination of common sense knowledge

    Iskra writes:

    Freedom and Its Enemies

    Other possibilities which came to mind:

    The State and Its Discontents

    Authority and Obedience

    Liberty and the (Il)Legitimacy of Power

    Also, I like the Order without Orders suggestion.

    Saturos writes:

    Is it moral to govern?

    (Variants: Is government moral, Should people be governed, Should people be ruled, should we govern people, should we rule people, Is government justified, Is it alright to rule)

    Or you could go the ZoSo route, as jc suggests.

    Alan Geal writes:

    Suggested title: "Leviathan's Chimaera".

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