You can only read so many books in a lifetime. How tragic it would be if among these that the subject of liberty itself would be neglected.
Thus am I currently at work on a fascinating project: the 100 most important books on liberty. It will not only be a list but eventually a book that will include summaries, discussions, and study questions. You will hear more about that in the future.
For now, however, I have compiled a different list: 125 books in print, useful for understanding liberty and the system of individual enterprise. Thus does it emphasize, with a few exceptions, modern rather than historical works.
It makes no claim to be comprehensive and is nothing more than introduction to a vast literature. Many are available online, many of them on this site. The links below, however, point to editions available in the Mises store. Others are available through other sellers.
Acton, Lord. Selected Writings of Lord Acton. Three volumes. Edited by J. Rufus Fears. A comprehensive collection of essays by a great nineteenth-century classical liberal. Acton distrusted political power, especially when used for allegedly moral aims. Volumes include: Essays in the History of Liberty, Essays in the Study and Writing of History, and Essays in Religion, Politics, and Morality.
Adams, Charles. For Good and Evil. Adams, in a tour de force, interprets world history as the story of taxation and resistance to it.
———. When in the Course of Human Events. An excellent defense of the Southern view of the Civil War. Lincoln does not fare well. The comparison of Charles Dickens and John Stuart Mill on the Civil War is especially well done.
Anderson, Benjamin. Economics and the Public Welfare. Anderson, a free-market economist who worked for the Chase Manhattan Bank, gives a detailed criticism of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Far from getting the economy out of the Great Depression, the New Deal made matters worse.
Aristotle. Ethics and Politics. These basic works set the foundation for all later Western moral and political thought. Rothbard’s natural rights libertarianism draws heavily on certain Aristotelian themes, while rejecting others.
Barnett, Randy. The Structure of Liberty. An important defense of libertarian legal theory. Barnett argues for libertarian rights on grounds of knowledge, interest, and power.
Bastiat, Frédéric. Economic Sophisms. This includes some of Bastiat’s classic satirical essays attacking protective tariffs and other interventionist measures. He stresses the unseen results of laws designed to “help” various groups.
———. The Law. Criticizes planners who regard people as material to be molded into a pattern; Hayek took up this line of thought in The Road to Serfdom.
Bauer, Peter T. From Subsistence to Exchange. Bauer, the foremost free-market expert on development economics, shows that state planning hurts economic growth. Planners characteristically ignore small traders, whose activities are vital.
Belloc, Hillaire. The Servile State. A prescient warning against welfare-state measures that erode individual responsibility.
Benson, Bruce. The Enterprise of Law. Almost everyone argues that protection must be provided by a state that holds a monopoly of force. Benson subjects this belief to withering assault. Law and protection have often in history been secured by private means.
Berger, Raoul. Government By Judiciary. Strong indictment of the U.S. Supreme Court for usurpation of power, especially through misreading of the Fourteenth Amendment. Berger defends original intent in interpretation.
Bethell, Tom. The Noblest Triumph. Bethell indicts economics for giving no adequate account of the nature and significance of property rights.
Böhm-Bawerk, Eugen von. The Exploitation Theory of Socialism- Communism. This is an excerpt from the author’s massive three volume Capital and Interest, which the dedicated may wish to attempt. Böhm-Bawerk destroys Marx’s labor theory of value.
Bradford, M.E. A Better Guide Than Reason. Bradford, an outstanding Southern literary scholar, denies that equality is a basic value in American history. Offers strong criticism of Lincoln as a leveling dictator.
———. The Reactionary Imperative. A collection of essays that stresses the influence of rhetoric on politics.
Buchanan, James M. Cost and Choice. Buchanan offers a strong argument for the Austrian subjective view of costs. Buchanan saw in the 1960s, much against the mainstream, that Mises was correct about socialist calculation.
Burckhardt, Jacob. Reflections on History. The great Swiss historian indicts power as evil. For this he was bitterly criticized by Carl Schmitt and the Nazi intellectual historian Christoph Steding.
Chesterton, G.K. What’s Wrong With the World? Chesterton uses his immense gift for paradox to show the fallacies of those in revolt against the natural order. He refuted contemporary feminism in advance of its birth.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. The gruesome harvest of Stalinism. Communist mass murders did not deter many Western intellectuals from championing the “Soviet Experiment.”
Constant, Benjamin. Benjamin Constant: Political Writings. Ed. by Biancamaria Fontana. Constant’s distinction between ancient and modern liberty is an essential insight.
Courtoise, Stephane et al. The Black Book of Communism. Mass murder is a constant characteristic of Communist regimes. The comparison of Soviet and Nazi atrocities was too much for some French bien pensants.
Creveld, Martin van. The Rise and Decline of the State. An erudite work by a leading military historian, who argues that the state is a historically limited phenomenon that is due to be supplanted.
Danford, John W. The Roots of Freedom. An excellent short survey of ideas from political philosophy that have influenced American constitutional government.
Denson, John V., ed., The Costs of War.
An important anthology that shows the disastrous consequences of America’s wars. Ralph Raico’s essays on Churchill and on World War I are especially significant.
Ely, John Hart. War and Responsibility. Shows that the war power under the U. S. Constitution rests exclusively with Congress. Ely, a noted legal theorist, refutes the argument that Presidential military initiative is needed to deal with emergencies.
Epstein, Richard. Forbidden Grounds. Epstein shows that anti-discrimination laws do not achieve their aims.
_______. Takings. Epstein uses the law of takings to develop an important legal argument that sharply limits government action.
Fisher, Louis. Presidential War Power. Like Ely, Fisher demonstrates who holds the war power in the U.S. Constitution. Both books supplement each other; Fisher deals simply and fully with the historical record, while Ely concentrates on legal arguments.
Flew, Antony. Equality in Liberty and Justice. An outstanding British philosopher associated with the ordinary language school assails egalitarianism as a perversion of justice.
Flynn, John T. Forgotten Lessons. Flynn shows how statist regimes, including Roosevelt’s New Deal, promote militarism and war to distract attention from economic failure.
———. The Roosevelt Myth.
Franklin Roosevelt’s vanity and lack of principle led him to dictatorial measures and a world war that advanced the interests of Soviet Russia.
Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom.
———, and Rose D. Friedman, Free to Choose. These two books present a Chicago School defense of a relatively free market. Although Austrians will disagree with a number of points, the books offer valuable criticisms of licensing and other interventionist policies.
Funkenstein, Amos. Theology and the Scientific Imagination. Vital for the relation of theology to secular thought in European history. Funkenstein shows how many political concepts follow a similar logic to key terms in theology. A work of profound erudition.
Gallaway, Lowell and Richard Vedder. Out of Work. The authors offer substantial evidence that wage rates that are rigid downward lead to unemployment. A valuable application of economic principles to historical examples.
Garrett, Garret. The People’s Pottage. America has become an empire, preserving only the form of a republic. Garrett draws suggestive parallels between America and Rome in the period when Caesarism replaced the republic.
Garrison, Roger. Time and Money. An excellent presentation of Austrian macroeconomics. The Mises-Hayek account of the business cycle is contrasted with Keynesian and monetarist theories.
Gordon, David, Ed. Secession, State, and Liberty.
An anthology of essays in defense of the right to secession; the essays by Donald Livingston and Murray Rothbard, among others, are of major importance.
Gottfried, Paul. After Liberalism. Gottfried shows that modern liberals act as virtual thought police to suppress ideas of which they disapprove. A perfect illustration of Bastiat’s key point in The Law.
Hayek, Friedrich von, ed. Capitalism and the Historians. One of the most frequent arguments of opponents of capitalism is that the Industrial Revolution worsened the condition of the British working class. Hayek, W.H. Hutt, and others refute this convincingly.
———. The Constitution of Liberty. A comprehensive analysis of the rule of law. Hayek makes some surprising statements, e.g., he disapproves of some of the Supreme Court’s anti-New Deal decisions (p. 190), but his immensely erudite book deserves careful study.
———. The Counter-Revolution of Science. Perhaps Hayek’s most important book. Attacks social engineering and defends individualist methodology in the social sciences.
———. Law, Legislation, and Liberty. Three volumes. Particularly important is the second volume, The Mirage of Social Justice, which argues that the concept of social justice is incoherent. Other volumes are Rules and Order and The Political Order of a Free People.
———. The Road to Serfdom. One of the most famous of all defenses of classical liberalism. Hayek shows that socialist thinkers wish to impose their values on others. “Advanced” thinkers led the way to totalitarianism.
Hazlitt, Henry. Economics in One Lesson.
The lesson, not at all easy for policy makers to learn, is that interference with the free market has indirect consequences, usually of a disastrous sort.
———. The Failure of the “New Economics.” A chapter-by-chapter analysis of Keynes’s General Theory.
———. The Foundations of Morality. A brilliantly clear presentation of moral theory. Hazlitt defends the free market on utilitarian grounds, in the style of Mises.
Herbert, Auberon. The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State and Other Essays. Herbert, a follower of Herbert Spencer, extends the law of equal freedom more consistently and radically than his mentor.
Higgs, Robert. Crisis and Leviathan.
Higgs shows how wars lead to increased state control. Statism remains in place in peacetime through the ratchet effect.
Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. Economics and Ethics of Private Property. Presents Hoppe’s important attempt to show that rejection of libertarian rights is self-defeating.
Hummel, Jeffrey R. Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War. Hummel argues that war was not needed to end slavery and defends the right of secession.
Hutt, W.H. The Keynesian Episode. A devastating criticism of the Keynesian system, based on wide knowledge of the literature. Though Hutt’s style is difficult, he makes acute points not found elsewhere.
Jasay, Anthony de. The State. De Jasay demonstrates, using public choice arguments, that the state must move in the direction of Leviathan.
Johnson, Paul. A History of the American People.
———. Modern Times. These two books provide a good guide to, respectively, American history and the history of the twentieth century. In both, Johnson uses Rothbard’s analysis to account for the onset of the Great Depression.
Jones, Eric. The European Miracle. Why did Europe develop economically, in a way unlike any other region before the eighteenth century? Jones shows that free institutions are a large part of the answer.
Jouvenel, Bertrand de. On Power. De Jouvenel traces the growth of the state, showing that democracy often leads to increased control over the individual. The treatment of Rousseau is especially good.
———. The Driving Force of the Market. Kirzner attempts to justify his coordination of plans standard for welfare economics and gives a sensitive exposition of Mises and other Austrians.
Knight, Frank H. Selected Essays. Two volumes. Although Knight was by no means a supporter of laissez-faire capitalism, his depth and ability to find problems with standard arguments for socialism and interventionism make him must reading. Volumes include Laissez-Faire: Pro and Con and ‘What is Truth’ in Economics.
La Boétie, Etienne de. The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. A sixteenth-century essay by a young friend of Montaigne that has had great impact on libertarian thought. Government requires a level of popular support to maintain itself. The edition with Murray Rothbard’s excellent preface is recommended.
Leoni, Bruno. Freedom and the Law. Leoni extends Hayek on spontaneous order to show that judge-made law is often superior to the enactments of legislatures.
Livingston, Donald. Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium. In the course of a comprehensive study of Hume, Livingston provides the best discussion of the right to secession that I have read.
Locke, John. Second Treatise on Government. The theory of property set forward here is basic to subsequent classical liberalism.
Lomasky, Loren. Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community. An excellent philosophical argument for classical liberalism, based on the need for persons to pursue their own projects in life.
Machan, Tibor. Individuals and Their Rights. An important effort to ground Lockean natural rights on an ethical egoist foundation, with detailed attention to challenges and competing approaches from contemporary philosophers.
———. Human Rights and Human Liberties. An earlier work that gives a good discussion of the virtues and libertarian approaches to censorship, ecology, emergency cases, and other issues.
Mallock, W.H. A Critical Examination of Socialism. Mallock, an outstanding nineteenth-century British thinker, argues that progress and wealth depend on allowing scope for the creative individual. Socialism defies this fact and cannot work.
Martin, James J. Men Against the State. The best account of the nineteenth-century American tradition of individualist anarchism. Tucker, Spooner, and others are neglected thinkers of major importance.
Masters, Edgar Lee. Lincoln the Man. Masters, fed up with Lincoln hagiography, paints the Great Emancipator as psychologically abnormal.
McDonald, Forrest. States’ Rights and the Union. McDonald shows that the United States was established as an association of states. With some dissent, it was so regarded until Lincoln and the Civil War changed things.
Mencken, H.L. A Mencken Chrestomathy. A collection of Mencken’s mordantly funny articles. Thorstein Veblen and other targets were never the same when Mencken had finished with them.
Menger, Carl. Principles of Economics. The founding work of Austrian economics. Menger’s subjectivism revolutionized economic theory.
Milbank, John. Theology and Social Theory. Though Milbank is far from a classical liberal, his book demands attention. He argues that modern social science rests on dubious theological assumptions. Social science has as its basic purpose the justification of violence.
Miller, Fred. Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics. Argues, contrary to Alasdair MacIntyre and many others, that Aristotle had a notion of individual rights.
Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action.
The greatest twentieth-century work in the social sciences. Mises replies convincingly to critics of his socialist calculation argument, among thousands of other insights.
———. Liberalism. Mises argues that classical liberalism is the path to peace. Conflicts among nationalities can be resolved in lasting fashion only by rigid restriction of the scope of the state.
———. Omnipotent Government.
A penetrating account of how interventionism in the German economy led to totalitarianism. Together with Hayek’s Road to Serfdom,
it offers an interpretation of intellectual tends in pre-World War II Europe of unparalleled depth.
. Mises’s calculation argument poses a challenge that socialism cannot meet. Not content with this fatal blow, Mises raises all manner of other critical points. After he is through, nothing of socialism is left standing.
———. Theory and History
. Among other things, the best analysis of the Marxist theory of history. Hayek regarded this as an unduly neglected book.
———. The Theory of Money and Credit
. A thorough treatment of monetary theory. The money regression theorem shows that money must have begun as a commodity. Mises strongly defends the gold standard as a means of monetary reconstruction.
Morley, Felix. Freedom and Federalism. An outstanding defense of states’ rights and interposition by a veteran journalist.
Narveson, Jan. The Libertarian Idea. The most important contractarian defense of libertarianism.
———. Respecting Persons in Theory and Practice. Defends the contractarian approach against competing moral theories.
Nisbet, Robert. The Quest for Community. Nisbet argues that the modern state has worked to destroy all institutions that stand between it and the individual. Rousseau is a chief villain.
Nock, Albert Jay Our Enemy, The State. A brilliantly written demonstration that the state is an instrument of predation. Nock derived his account from Franz Oppenheimer, The State, but Nock’s presentation is much clearer.
Nordlinger, Eric. Isolation Reconfigured. Nordlinger maintains that the United States should avoid foreign entanglements. The noninterventionist argument for American entry into both world wars is strong.
Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Defends libertarianism with great philosophical acuity. Nozick’s analysis of Rawls’s theory of justice is the best ever written.
Olson, Mancur. The Logic of Collective Action. Essential for any study of the problem of public goods. Hayek preferred it to Buchanan and Tullock’s Calculus of Consent.
———. Power and Prosperity. Olson shows why limitations on government are necessary for economic growth.
Ortega y Gasset, José. The Revolt of the Masses. This criticism of mass man is an indictment of much of twentieth-century political thought.
Pipes, Richard. Property and Freedom. An outstanding historian of Russia argues that property rights are essential to freedom. Interesting comparison of Britain and Russia.
Popper, Karl. The Poverty of Historicism. Popper argues against the possibility of laws of historical change. His argument is fatal to Marxism.
Porter, Bruce. War and the Rise of the State. Like Higgs, but over a wider historical span, Porter shows how war leads to growth of state power.
Rahe, Paul. Republics, Ancient and Modern. Three volumes. A work of enormous scope and erudition. Rahe offers an excellent analysis of the influence of classical ideas on the American republican tradition. Although his Straussian assumptions are questionable, the book is essential. Volumes include: Inventions of Prudence: Constituting the American Regime, New Modes and Orders in Early Modern Political Thought, and The Ancient Regime in Classical Greece.
Raimondo, Justin. Reclaiming the American Right. Raimondo shows convincingly that William Buckley and other cold warriors derailed American conservatism, so far as foreign policy is concerned. The Old Right favored peace and nonintervention.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. These two novels strongly defend the view that ethics is based on rational self-interest. Even those who disagree will find that the “sense of life” in these books is valuable.
Rasmussen, Douglas, and Douglas Den Uyl. Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Order. A remarkable defense of classical liberalism, heavily influenced by Ayn Rand and Henry Veatch as well as Aristotle.
Reisman, George. Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics
. This massive tome attempts to combine Ricardian and Austrian economics to defend the free market. The view of capital theory presented is controversial but deserves study.
Röpke, Wilhelm. A Humane Economy. The author uses moral arguments against Keynesian and inflationist policies.
Rothbard, Murray. America’s Great Depression
. Contrary to popular belief, the Great Depression does not prove the failure of laissez-faire capitalism. Herbert Hoover was a strong interventionist.
———. An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought. Two volumes. Rothbard’s brilliant intellectual history is perhaps his greatest scholarly contribution. He stresses the Spanish scholastics and gives an outstanding analysis of the religious presuppositions of Marxism, among much else. Volumes include Classical Economics and Economic Thought Before Adam Smith.
———. Conceived in Liberty
. Four Volumes. Comprehensive account of the colonial period and the American Revolution, emphasizing libertarian movements.
———. Man, Economy, and State
. A major treatise that fills out and extends Misesian economics. Penetrating discussions of monopoly price, Keynesianism, and myriad other topics.
———. Power and Market
. A comprehensive classification and analysis of all types of interference with the free market. Rothbard originally intended it to form part of Man, Economy, and State.
Schumpeter, Joseph. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Schumpeter gives an unrivalled demolition of the perfect competition standard for monopoly. His elitist view of democracy merits attention; his views on socialist calculation do not.
Schoeck, Helmut. Envy. Much of socialism and interventionism is rooted in envy. Schoeck gives a detailed historical and sociological account of envy’s malign consequences.
Simmons, A. John. Justification and Legitimacy.
———. The Lockean Theory of Rights.
———. Moral Principles and Political Obligations.
———. On the Edge of Anarchy. These four books are a neglected resource for classical liberal thought. Simmons argues that Lockean moral theory is soundly based. Lockean arguments cannot be used to justify government; and anarchy, or something close to it, is the proper upshot of Locke’s thought. All major arguments designed to justify political obligation fail.
Sowell, Thomas. Knowledge and Decisions. Sowell’s magnum opus. It offers a detailed account of spontaneous orders; Hayek greatly admired it.
———. The Quest for Cosmic Justice. Contemporary leftist thought is engaged in a futile effort to remodel the world. Economics teaches us the need to limit our goals, by making us aware that all action involves choice and cost.
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. The Gulag Archipelago. A riveting discussion of the Soviet concentration camp system. Communist terror and repression began with Lenin, not Stalin.
Spencer, Herbert. The Man Versus the State. A sharp attack on the “New Toryism” of the late nineteenth century. Spencer’s arguments against the early manifestations of the welfare state are of far reaching importance.
———. The Principles of Ethics. Volume Two. The definitive statement of the great British philosopher’s political views, though some prefer his earlier Social Statics. Spencer’s argument for rights is outstanding.
Spooner, Lysander. The Lysander Spooner Reader. Spooner, a key nineteenth century individualist, razes to the ground social contract arguments for the state.
Steiner, Hillel. An Essay on Rights. Steiner argues powerfully for an unusual variant of libertarianism. A key issue for him is to establish which rights can consistently exist together.
Stove, David. Against the Idols of the Age. A major argument against modern varieties of relativism.
Trenchard, John, et al. Cato’s Letters. Ed. By Ronald Hamowy. Four Volumes in Two. An eighteenth-century defense of libertarian natural rights, which decisively influenced the American Revolution. Hamowy’s scholarly annotations are of great value in understanding the text.
Tullock, Gordon. The Economics of Income Redistribution. Tullock shows that the actions of supporters of massive redistribution to the poor belie their words. People are unwilling to redistribute large amounts of income to their own detriment, and plans to do so usually have some ulterior end.
Weaver, Richard. Ideas Have Consequences. The brilliant defense of property rights is more important than Weaver’s attempt to find the root of modern evil in medieval nominalism.
Wilson, Clyde. The Essential Calhoun. An excellent anthology. Calhoun gave a penetrating defense of the “concurrent majority” as a limit to political innovation.
Yeager, Leland. Ethics as Social Science. A major defense of rule utilitarian ethics, in the style of Mises and Hazlitt. Yeager’s knowledge of the literature of ethics is extensive and deep.
———. The Fluttering Veil
. An important collection of essays on monetary disequilibrium and related topics.
Originally published June 2005.