As many are now aware, Robert Wenzel recently published a “30 Day Reading List that will Lead You to Becoming a Knowledgeable Libertarian.” I’m several essays in and it is indeed a great collection.
Tom Woods posted a video of Steve Cronin explaining his plan to read each essay and provide an accompanying YouTube commentary. He explains that it’s meant to both help others understand the content, as well as improve his own communication skills, after having recently heard Woods explain the benefits of starting a blog or YouTube channel.
Interestingly enough, I started writing after first reading this Gary North column on LRC, and then hearing Woods at this event encourage people to do the same. And after watching Cronin’s first video, I’ve decided to offer a similar collection in written form, rather than a series of YouTubes.
The first piece is Henry Hazlitt’s “The Task Confronting Libertarians.” It’s a great introduction to the liberty movement, not so much the ideas or an exposition of the philosophy, but what we face in our effort to advance the cause of personal freedom.
He describes a “growing bureaucracy,” which consists of “some 2,500 different functioning agencies, bureaus, departments or divisions.” He notes that within just a few months of his writing, the number of federal civilian employees will be nearly 2,700,000. Who even knows how many agencies and bureaus are now entrenched within the federal government, considering several new cabinet departments have been created and myriad agencies have been added since 1969? As for the number of civilian government employees, that number has only risen to around 2.8 million, but as James Miller notes, the number of contractors has grown to nearly twice that figure.
Hazlitt touches briefly on the idea of engaging in politics (in addition to education, journalism, business, and others). Many in the libertarian movement reject political activism as either ineffective or morally corrupting. While this can be true, there is at least some value in political activism, as Tom Woods has noted.
His argument is basically that not everyone spends their free time contemplating how a free society might operate in the absence of the state. For the vast majority of people, the only time they give any thought to politics or public policy is during the election cycle. So if advocates of liberty don’t participate in the process, they miss a valuable opportunity to share the ideas of liberty.
In Hazlitt’s piece he advises libertarians to find an area of economics or political theory that appeals to them, and focus on it, in a loose division of labor, rather than everyone getting bogged down with everything the state regulates, controls, or prohibits. We can see this now, with various figures specializing in one area or another. For example, Laurence Vance tends to focus on war, William N. Grigg devotes a great deal of time to police abuses, and Floy Lilley has written a great deal on conservation and environmentalism, to name only three.
In an effort to motivate his readers, and inspire them to take on the task he explains above, Hazlitt quotes Ludwig von Mises’ admonition in Socialism:
Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping toward destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interests of everyone hang on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us.