June 27, 2014

Essential Libertarian (Fiction) Reading List

By In Blogs, R Campbell Sproul

Libertarian literature is known for being profoundly dry, and typically non-fiction for the most part. This is an understandable and fair characterization, given that most libertarian literature is focused on economics (the dismal science) and moral argumentation regarding the use of force. That said, here are ten great fictional works that while maybe not distinctly libertarian, still provide insight into libertarianism and its various facets.

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1. 1984, by George Orwell. Orwell’s greatest accomplishment, 1984 is a piece of dystopian literature still unmatched by any other. Orwell deals with the common issues of statism, surveillance states, censorship, state education, kangaroo court systems, and more, while presenting a compelling and enjoyable story.

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2. Anthem, by Ayn Rand. Gives a simple insight into the ethics and political ideology of Ayn Rand, without requiring the 1,000 page slogfest that Atlas Shrugged does. This piece does an excellent job of exposing the dangers of collectivism, and the importance of allowing every man to (non-aggressively) pursue is own happiness and betterment.

[Editor’s Note: I am particularly sensitive about Ayn Rand given her rampant anti-Christianity and her common use as a slander against both libertarianism and Christians who are libertarians.  It seems obligatory that I here express my deep opposition to the worldview of Ayn Rand.  Moreover, it should not be said that the libertarian necessarily depends on her philosophy and in fact, the libertarian school to which I subscribe (the Austro-libertarian or Rothbardian school), has quite a number of problems with her philosophy as a whole.  However, this cannot take away from her clear and helpful obliteration of collectivism in all its despicable forms.  Thus, I support Sproul’s recommendation. I personally recommend John W. Robbins’ book on her worldview. –CJE]

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3. Robinson Crusoe, by Alexandar Dumas. While not distinctly anti-state, this work focuses on a man who has a profound sense of self-ownership and his quest for survival following his unfortunate shipwreck. Crusoe’s initiative and dedication to improve himself as well as his environment through hard work are admirable, and a great example for libertarians everywhere.

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4. The Lord of the Flies, by Peter Golding. Gives a prime example of the arbitrary nature of the state and its rule, while providing a helpful analysis of the darkness of the heart of man. Golding shows from the very beginning what power hungry men will do in the name of “maintaining order” in times of crisis, an important issue to take notice of in a time where our state consistently adds to their reach in response to crises and emergencies.

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5. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s portrayal of puritan society (skewed as it may be)still serves as a powerful argument against the state sanctioning and legislating morality beyond acts of aggression.

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6. Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Orwell’s second entry on the list, this book is not on the same level literarily as 1984, but it provides an excellent example of the problems of violent revolution, particularly violent revolutions which place another government in power in place of the former state.

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7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Probably the greatest anti-censorship work of fiction, Bradbury presents the darkness inherent in a society without a free press or a right to free speech. This same theme is paramount in Orwell’s 1984, but Fahrenheit 451 gives a darker, more violent view of the censorship going on throughout than Orwell. Although 1984 contains some violent instances of censorship, most of the censorship presented is through controlling education and re-writing history, rather than the violent book burnings in Bradbury’s work.

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8. Horton Hears A Who, by Dr. Seuss. While this may be a far easier read than the rest of the books on the list, Dr. Seuss packs a number of punches into this classic children’s story. From the principles of non-agression, to a strong anti-collectivism and anti-xenophobia slant, and even to a strong example of what can be accomplished through voluntary cooperation, Horton Hears A Who is a great piece for any libertarian to read.

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9. The Vile Village, by Lemony Snicket. What happens when you put the care of children in the hands of an entire village? Bad things. This book also deals with the issues of slave labor and kangaroo courts, and is an easy, entertaining read, despite dealing with major issues with the state.

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10. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Another work that’s not explicitly libertarian or anti-state, but if one looks at Dr. Jekyll and his will to power and violence, all while under the cloak of decency, it’s very easy to see how he relates to the state. Every state starts by offering itself to the people as Dr. Jekyll, but is eventually exposed as Mr. Hyde.

Written by R. Campbell Sproul

R Campbell Sproul is a graduate of Reformation Bible College, with a B.A. in Theological Studies. He lives in Orlando, FL with his wife, Hannah. You can read his blog at http://owedtoporches.wordpress.com and you should follow him on Twitter @RCampbellSproul
  • Think I’ve read all those except Scarlet Letter & Anthem… but great list. I was surprised to see the children’s books but makes sense after you explained it. And a special high-five for bringing up Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events… I loved that series of books! (Pretending the movie never existed.) 😛

    • Campbell Sproul

      Thanks, Jason! I wanted to think outside the box a little bit, hence the two children’s books. Scarlet Letter and Anthem are both incredible, although Anthem is a much shorter, easier read. Lemony Snicket holds a special place in my library as well, easily one of my top two or three favorite children’s authors.