Another review!

David Gordon has a review of my book in the current issue of The American Conservative. The review is generally very favorable: he says it’s an “outstanding contribution to political philosophy” that is “essential reading” for “those in search of a revitalized American conservatism.” That’s certainly as much as any sane author could wish for.

As a libertarian, though, he’s not convinced in all regards. He thinks I pooh-pooh classical liberalism too much, underplaying the natural law tendencies of classical libs like John Locke and Murray Rothbard. And even classical liberals who adhere to an instrumentalist view of reason, like James Buchanan and Ludwig von Mises, insist (Gordon says) on a limited role for the state that obviates the problem of tyranny.

I don’t read Locke as Gordon does. On the other hand, he’s probably read him more than I have and I haven’t read that much of Rothbard. My basic point in the book about all forms of liberalism was that making freedom the highest standard is inherently destabilizing. If there were something that told us what freedom should be used for there would be some good that trumped it and we’d no longer be liberals. If freedom is supreme, though, then it seems to become self-defining. Natural law doesn’t tell us much in that event and it’s unclear how property gets such a privileged status.

There is always more to be said on these issues, though, so who knows. In general, he tries very hard to be fair and accurate and he obviously read the book closely. How often do reviewers quote from the footnotes more than the text? In particular, he notes my emphasis on faith, but also that I’m no fideist. My view is that for us reason and faith are intertwined. Each is almost an aspect of the other. And he also notes that I recognize the need to limit the state, although he wishes I’d develop that line of thought more. I should say that to my mind our dependence on things we don’t altogether understand—which underlies the necessity of faith—provides a better foundation for limiting the scope of means-ends reasoning, which is the basis of the modern state, than classical liberalism can give.

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