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David Gordon



Articles by David Gordon

Guido Hülsmann’s Gratuitous Intellectual Donation

15 days ago

Abundance, Generosity, and the State: An Inquiry into Economic Principlesby Jörg Guido HülsmannLudwig von Mises Institute, 2024; 452 pp.It is rare to encounter a book that has the potential to reshape the way we look at economics, but Guido Hülsmann has done exactly that in Abundance, Generosity, and the State. Hülsmann is one of the leading theorists of the Austrian School, but he has always looked at issues in an original way, and that quality is manifested “abundantly” in this outstanding book.In what way is this so? The free market is often portrayed as the realm in which people make exchanges to their mutual benefit. Ludwig von Mises constantly emphasized this theme, viewing social cooperation in the free market as a major advance from the struggles pervasive

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From Athens to Vienna: Understanding a System of Ethics

29 days ago

The Political Thought of David Hume: The Origins of Liberalism and the Modern Political Imaginationby Aaron Alexander ZubiaNotre Dame 2024; 366 pp.The central thesis of Aaron Zubia’s very scholarly book will be of interest to students of Ludwig von Mises. Zubia argues that the thought of David Hume underlies contemporary liberalism. He intends “liberalism” broadly, so that it encompasses not only twentieth-century liberalism, but classical liberalism as well. According to liberalism, the state should not be guided in its policies by theories about what is objectively good or bad. These are inevitably controversial, and attempts to impose one of these theories on those who dissent from it will lead to unrest and, quite possibly. open war. In particular, the state

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Not Altogether Honest Abe

March 8, 2024

Lincoln’s God: How Faith Transformed a President and a Nationby Joshua ZeitzViking, 2023; 313 pp.Joshua Zeitz, a contributing writer to Politico, has written a very useful book. It belongs to an increasingly common genre: books that are very favorable to Abraham Lincoln, in some cases approaching a deification of him, which nevertheless present material that show Lincoln in a less-than-flattering light.Lincoln’s God is just such a book. Zeitz has done substantial research on Christianity in America during the nineteenth century and offers valuable insights about Lincoln’s religious beliefs. Lincoln grew up in a Calvinist home, but in his teenage years, he rejected Christianity and indeed scoffed at it. This did not prevent him from lying about his religious doubts

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Misunderstanding Both Lincoln and Basic Economics

March 8, 2024

Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito

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Dissecting Lincoln

March 6, 2024

Thomas DiLorenzo, the president of the Mises Institute, has already reviewed Paul C. Graham’s Nonsense on Stilts: The Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Imaginary Nation (Shotwell Publishing, 2024) in characteristically excellent fashion, but the book is so insightful that some further comments are warranted. It is clear that Graham has a philosophical turn of mind and is a master of linguistic analysis.His skill is amply on display in his dissection of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, delivered in March 1861. In that address, Lincoln endeavored to respond to the main arguments that secession was constitutional. Graham calls attention to a crucial point in the beginning of the passage in which Lincoln does this. He said: “I hold that in contemplation of

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Playing for Kekes

March 1, 2024

Moderate Conservatism: Reclaiming the Centerby John KekesOxford University Press, 2022; 256 pp.John Kekes, who taught for many years at the State University of New York at Albany, does not agree with the protagonist of Henrik Ibsen’s Brand that “the devil is compromise,” at least where politics is concerned. The thesis of Moderate Conservatism can be seen as an extended commentary on that disagreement. Kekes is a value pluralist who values many different things, including the rule of law, liberty, justice, and property, but these goods are not fully compatible, and none has overriding importance. “Moderate conservatives [like Kekes] deny that there is or can be a political GOOD that reason requires all societies to accept and follow” (emphasis in original). That

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Misunderstanding Both Lincoln and Basic Economics

February 23, 2024

Our Ancient Faith: Lincoln, Democracy, and the American Experimentby Allen C. GuelzoAlfred A. Knopf, 2024; 247 pp.
Allen Guelzo has been carried away by Abraham Lincoln’s magniloquent rhetoric. Guelzo, a historian who has written a number of books about Lincoln, would like very much to believe that his hero was a champion of individual rights and economic freedom. Lincoln’s ideal for America was of a nation with a large number of small businesses, allowing people to work independently of domination by others. Slavery was the supreme denial of this ideal and, as such, abhorrent to him. In a phrase Guelzo often repeats, Lincoln wanted an America with “neither slaves, nor masters.” In this America, blacks would have the same citizenship rights as whites.
Further,

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Lincoln Dissected

February 13, 2024

Thomas DiLorenzo, the President of the Mises Institute, has already reviewed Paul C. Graham’s Nonsense on Stilts: The Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Imaginary Nation (Shotwell Publishing 2024) in characteristically excellent fashion, but the book is so insightful that some further comments are warranted. It is clear that Graham has a philosophical turn of mind and is a master of linguistic analysis.
His skill is amply on display in his dissection of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural, delivered in March 1861. In that address, Lincoln endeavored to respond to the main arguments that secession was constitutional. Graham calls attention to a crucial point in the beginning of the passage in which Lincoln does this. He said: “I hold that in contemplation of universal

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Why Society Doesn’t Need the State

January 12, 2024

The nineteenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hill Green was one of the key figures in the transition from classical liberalism to “modern” liberalism, in which the state, no longer a mere “night watchman,” if it ever was that, takes on a much more active role. The state in Green’s view ought to aid people in realizing their “real selves,” and doing this often involves supplying them with various goods and services. For this reason, Green is regarded as one of the intellectual founders of the “welfare” state. But for Green the state was much more than a provider of welfare. Its function was to train people to regard themselves as free and equal citizens. Just as parents educate their children in virtuous behavior, so should the state promote a virtuous

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FDR against the Bill of Rights

January 5, 2024

In this week’s column, I’d like to raise two questions suggested by David Beito’s excellent book The New Deal’s War on the Bill of Rights, which I reviewed last week. First, how can it be that Franklin Roosevelt has acquired a reputation among leftist historians as a champion of liberty, with his internment of Japanese Americans during World War II regarded as an aberration, in the face of the manifold violations of civil liberties that occurred during his administration? Second, given Roosevelt’s authoritarian proclivities, why wasn’t he successful in imposing the complete regime of censorship he wanted?
The answer to the first question is that Roosevelt preferred in most cases to work behind the scenes, aiding and abetting others to do his work. We see this in

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The Bad Deal That Was the New Deal: FDR’s Assault on Individual Rights

December 29, 2023

The New Deal’s War on the Bill of Rights: The Untold Story of FDR’s Concentration Camps, Censorship, and Mass Surveillanceby David T. BeitoIndependent Institute, 2023; x + 379 pp.
Few if any readers of this column admire Franklin Roosevelt, but as the historian David Beito reminds us in this outstanding book, most of his professional colleagues rank Roosevelt among our greatest presidents, second only to Abraham Lincoln. Those who accord him this rank usually stress his commitment to freedom and the “common man,” but they cannot escape one difficulty in so viewing him. Roosevelt authorized the imprisonment of 112,000 people of Japanese descent in concentration camps during World War II. Concerning these camps, Beito writes:
While conditions for Japanese-Americans

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Our Friend the State

December 20, 2023

Economics in America: An Immigrant Economist Explores the Land of Inequalityby Angus DeatonPrinceton University Press, 2023; xiii + 273 pp.
Economics in America disappointed me, but I have only myself to blame. As you would expect from a Nobel laureate, Angus Deaton is very smart and erudite, but what you might not expect is that he is funny as well. The book contains much good sense, but it is quite unsympathetic to the free market. And this is what disappointed me. In his >e,>The Great Escape (Princeton, 2013), Deaton pointed out that the escape from poverty of millions of people in the last 250 years depended on accepting substantial inequality; and he is well-known as a critic of foreign-aid programs, arguing that they usually cause more harm than good.

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What, Me Normative?

December 20, 2023

Visions of Inequality: From the French Revolution to the End of the Cold Warby Branko MilanovicHarvard Univerity Press, 2023; 359 pp.
Branko Milanovic’s Visions of Inequality contains one of the most misleading statements I have ever encountered by an author about the contents of his own book. Milanovic, an eminent economist who teaches at the City University of New York and was formerly the lead economist at the World Bank, addresses in this book what a number of economists from the eighteenth century to the end of the twentieth have said about measuring inequality of income and wealth. He is concerned, he tells us, with inequality as a fact, not with its normative implications. Nothing could be further from the truth. The book is a thinly veiled polemic against

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Friedman versus Rothbard

December 20, 2023

Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman didn’t only disagree on the subject of economics. They also sharply disagreed on the direction American conservatism needed to go.
Original Article: Friedman versus Rothbard

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Political Authorities and Covid: Creating Crises in the Name of Public Health

December 15, 2023

Diary of a Psychosis: How Public Health Disgraced Itself During Covid Mania. By Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Libertarian Institute, 2023.
In the Foreword to this outstanding book, the eminent Stanford University physician Dr. Jay Bhattacharya makes an arresting claim. He says that people often make mistakes in recollecting the past because they confuse having intended to do something with actually having done it. That confusion is more likely to occur under emotional stress, and what could be more stressful than the Covid nightmare that lasted the better part of four years? In these circumstances, it is especially valuable to have a contemporaneous record of what has happened, so that past events can be accurately reconstructed.
There is no one better able to provide such

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Bourne Again

December 12, 2023

David Gordon reviews Only a Voice, by George Scialabba, dealing with the author’s comments on antiwar progressives Randolph Bourne and Dwight Macdonald.
Original Article: Bourne Again

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The Taxman Cometh

December 4, 2023

Philip Goff wants to solve the why of the universe, but his answers are not always logically coherent, as David Gordon explains.
Original Article: The Taxman Cometh

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The Unknown Reasoner

December 1, 2023

How States Think: The Rationality of Foreign Policyby John J. Mearsheimer and Sebastian RosatoYale University Press, 2023; 304 pp.
How States Think surprised me. John Mearsheimer is a well-known critic of American foreign policy, and his analysis of the Ukraine war has been deservedly influential. As result, I anticipated that this book would expand his critique. The book does contain some critical discussion of American foreign policy, but, for the most part, the aims of Mearsheimer and his coauthor, Sebastian Rosato, lie elsewhere.
They endeavor to show that most of the time states are rational actors in their relations with one another, and their arguments for this thesis take them into areas that students of Austrian economics will find of great value. Their

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Bourne Again

November 24, 2023

In his new book Only a Voice: Essays (Verso, 2023), the critic and essayist George Scialabba brings to our attention the wisdom of two authors who analyzed the dangers of war: Randolph Bourne and Dwight Macdonald. In this week’s column, I’d like to discuss what Scialabba says about them.
Bourne will be a familiar name to many readers owing to Murray Rothbard’s praise of him, but he was not a libertarian. Like John Dewey, he was a Progressive and a pragmatist who looked forward to “scientific management” as the way to solve America’s social problems. Scialabba describes Bourne’s view in this way:
In the experimental, antidogmatic, and—not least important—communal character of scientific practice, pragmatists beheld the image of a possible future. Dewey had shown,

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Exposing Our Fed-Driven Bubble Economy

November 10, 2023

The Great Money Bubble: Protect Yourself from the Coming Inflation Stormby David A. StockmanHumanix Books, 2022; 229 pp.
David Stockman served for a short while as budget director during Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, but he soon resigned owing to Reagan’s refusal to cut government spending. He has since that time worked as a private investment adviser, at which difficult profession he has been highly successful, and he has written a number of books, among which the monumental Great Deformation (Public Affairs Press, 2013), is the most notable. The Great Money Bubble contains many vital lessons about money and macroeconomics, and in what follows I’ll discuss a few of these. But I’m not able to assess one part of the book.
Stockman identifies a common

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Is a Welfare State Consistent with Libertarianism?

November 8, 2023

David Gordon reviews Dan Moller’s book Governing Least: A New England Libertarianism, in which the author examines the issue of a welfare state in a libertarian society.
Original Article: Is a Welfare State Consistent with Libertarianism?

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Blaming the Free Market (Even Where It Doesn’t Exist)

November 3, 2023

Critics of the free market often aim at the wrong target. They assail the market for “failures” that are actually the result of government intervention in the economy. In this week’s column, I’d like to discuss an example of this mistake in Angus Deaton’s Economics in America (Princeton, 2023).
Deaton was the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for economics, about which he says:
As many previous recipients have reported, the experience is both exhilarating and overwhelming. I often think of the story of the dog that liked to chase buses but had little idea of what it would be like to catch one. The Nobel is not just catching the bus but being run over by it. Over and over again.
As you will have gathered, Deaton is very funny. In a section of the book called “Trying

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Rothbard on Suits for Defamation

October 30, 2023

David Gordon explains Murray Rothbard’s famous assertion that laws against libel and slander should not be on the books.
Original Article: Rothbard on Suits for Defamation

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Rothbard on Suits for Defamation

October 13, 2023

Murray Rothbard often shows an unusual ability to counter an objection to something he says by showing that the objection actually supports his view. In this week’s column, I’d like to discuss one example of this. Rothbard believes that libel and slander should not be crimes or torts. If he is right, people shouldn’t be fined or imprisoned for defaming people or be subject to a civil suit for damages resulting from this.
A common objection is that this would allow people to spread lies about others that could severely damage their reputation with complete impunity. To be clear, Rothbard’s position isn’t just that you should be able to say or write what you want about people so long as you believe what you said, or at least think it might be true. He says that

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Can We Find a Basis for Private Property Rights?

October 10, 2023

While Murray Rothbard believed that self-ownership formed the basis for private property rights, other philosophers disagree.

Original Article: Can We Find a Basis for Private Property Rights?

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Living Libertarian: Brief Biographies

September 29, 2023

Libertarian Autobiographies: Moving toward Freedom in Today’s Worldedited by Jo Ann Cavallo and Walter E. BlockPalgrave Macmillan, 2023; xx + 533 pp.
Jo Ann Cavallo and Walter Block have done those interested in libertarianism a great service, but they have set the reviewer of their book an impossible task. They have gathered together eighty short accounts in which well-known libertarians describe their various paths toward their political and economic beliefs. In the space I have available, I cannot comment on all of these accounts. Instead, I’ll discuss a few topics that come up in them. But I must issue a warning. My selection is influenced by my own interest in philosophy.
Gerard Casey was attracted by the intellectual power of Ludwig von Mises’s a priori

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Understanding Hegel from a Straussian Viewpoint

September 26, 2023

While Leo Strauss did not share G.W.F. Hegel’s acceptance of historicism, nonetheless he gives Hegel a sympathetic review. David Gordon takes a closer look at both men.

Original Article: Understanding Hegel from a Straussian Viewpoint

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“Social Justice” Is Neither Social nor Just

September 22, 2023

Social Justice Fallaciesby Thomas SowellBasic Books, 2023; 224 pp.
Thomas Sowell has given us a penetrating criticism of the approach to justice taken by many political philosophers, especially John Rawls and his innumerable followers. He says that they construct an image of the way society ought to be but fail to ask whether their plans are feasible. His criticism is well-taken, although he does not offer an adequate account of the rights that people have.
He says about Rawls:
In much of the social justice literature, including Professor John Rawls’ classic A Theory of Justice, various policies have been recommended, on grounds of their desirability from a moral standpoint—but often with little or no attention to the practical question of whether those policies

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