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12 Books, 12 Articles

Over at L&P, Aeon Skoble, inspired by Don Boudreux (here and here), gives us a list of the 12 books and 12 articles that really influenced him. I suspect this list is not a list, necessarily, of 12 "favorite" books or articles from childhood through adulthood. If I had to assemble such a list, I'd have to start with Harold and The Purple Crayon.

So, here we go. In no order of influence, I give you The Twelve (x 2, + a few others) that were a significant part of my intellectual education (though I'm sure I could come up with twice that number, and I'm probably forgetting a few in this very list):

1. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal: This Ayn Rand collection was the first book I read that introduced me to the whole universe of Objectivist, Austrian, and libertarian literature.

2. Human Action: Ludwig von Mises's magnum opus captivated me for weeks on the NYC subway, going back and forth to NYU as an undergraduate.

3. Power and Market: Originally a part of Murray Rothbard's magnum opus, Man, Economy, and State (and now reunited with that work in a new Scholar's Edition), this book made a huge impact on my understanding of the ways in which government intervention warps the market economy.

4. For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto: A grand Rothbard polemic that shaped my early anarchist predilections. Even though I long ago backed away from anarchism, and some of Rothbard's positions therein, this book was still a very influential work.

5. The Road to Serfdom: F. A. Hayek's famous polemic that explored the connection between political and economic freedom was another important influence in my formative development.

6. National Economic Planning: What is Left?: An influential critique written by Don Lavoie who integrated Austrian and radical themes on the "calculation debate" in an exploration of the failure of socialism.

7. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society: Bertell Ollman, who was my doctoral thesis advisor, introduced me to Marxist dialectical method with this book... and in his book...

8. Dialectical Investigations, he sent my interest in the subject into hyper-drive.

9. The Disowned Self: Nathaniel Branden's first major post-Randian work gave me a deeper appreciation for the integration of reason and emotion.

10. The Libertarian Alternative: A collection edited by (and including important articles by) Tibor Machan, it assembled impressive essays that fueled my libertarian education.

11. A New History of Leviathan: A "revisionist history" collection edited by Ron Radosh (when he was a New Leftist) and Murray Rothbard, this book made a major impact on my understanding of the relationship between the welfare and the warfare state.

12. The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916, by Gabriel Kolko, overturned any vestige of conventional understanding concerning the growth of government regulation in the early 20th century.

Three honorable mentions (for a baker's dozen + 2): Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx by Scott Meikle, which turned my understanding of the history of philosophy upside down insofar as it explored the Aristotelian influence on Marx; Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order, by Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen, in the grand tradition of Aristotelian eudaimonia; Our Enemy, the State, an Albert Jay Nock polemic that crystallized central principles in my understanding of the nature of state intervention.

I'm going to make one alteration in this next list of 12 influential articles; I'm including an audio-taped "lecture series" as part of this list:

1. "A Groundwork for Rights: Man's Natural End," by Douglas B. Rasmussen, published in The Journal of Libertarian Studies, first exposed me to the literature on human flourishing.

2. "The Clash of Group Interests," by Ludwig von Mises, which helped me to discover a whole universe of libertarian class analysis.

3. "Toward a Theory of State Capitalism: Ultimate Decision-Making and Class Structure," by Walter Grinder and John Hagel III, put libertarian class analysis to work.

4. "The Objectivist Ethics," by Ayn Rand, pointed to a fundamentally different view of ethics at the foundation of politics.

5. "Kant versus Sullivan," by Ayn Rand, impressed me most for its appreciation of the epistemological principles on display in the classic play, "The Miracle Worker."

6. "Alienation," by Nathaniel Branden, provided me with more intellectual ammunition in my critique of Marxism than the one-sided (though important) economic criticisms developed by Austrian theorists.

7. "The Use of Knowledge in Society," by F. A. Hayek, was a key essay in my greater appreciation of the role of tacit knowledge.

8. "Nozick on the Randian Argument," in The Personalist by Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen, gave me the first indication that Nozick's critique of Rand's ethics was wanting.

9. "Toward a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics," by Murray Rothbard, overturned everything I was learning in my standard economics course of study as an undergraduate.

10. "Big Business and the Rise of American Statism," by Roy Childs, was one of those essays that brought together so much: an objective understanding of historical methodology, a revisionist reading of American history, and a bold alternative libertarian vision.

11. "Economic Depressions: Their Cause and Cure," by Murray Rothbard, as part of a Richard Ebeling edited collection on The Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle, was a fine primer on the Austrian business cycle literature.

12. "Understanding Objectivism," by Leonard Peikoff, is not an essay, but really a series of "essays" that should have been a book, but remains an audio-taped series of 12 lectures. Outstanding integration of many themes in Objectivism as a dichotomy-busting alternative to rationalism and empiricism, intrinsicism and subjectivism.

I could go on... but ... I think that's all for now.

Comments welcome. Noted at L&P as well, and the blog of Matthew Humphreys (who lists his 12 here, and I comment here).


What, no Danielle Steele? ;)

Actually, “Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal,” was the first book of Rand’s that I read and because of that fact it has had a major influence in my political disposition.

I have to admit that the power of the title surpasses any of the titles given to Rand’s collection of essays by her estate. Just look at how provocative that title is! She seizes upon the very word used in contempt by capitalism’s enemies. No “free market,” “free enterprise,” “liberal” (which is my favorite, by the way), “consumer democracy,” “conservatism” (yeh, right!), “market economy,” etc. She’s ready for battle!

Also, her very thesis, that capitalism is a moral ideal, is contrary to the usual defense – and it is in the title! This is not some grudging defense that concedes that moral high-ground to socialist “good intensions,” nor denigrating capitalism’s status to a practical requirement of man’s base materialistic needs, nor grudgingly accepting that it is the least of all evils.

But then again, I don’t have to sell the power of a provocative title to the guy who calls his book, “Ayn Rand, the Russian Radical!”

Well, uh, Danielle Steele might make my ~favorites~ list, rather than the most influential list. LOL (ONLY KIDDING! Sheesh...)

And, Jason, you are completely correct about Rand's capacity for provocation.

So... Give us a list on your site! :)

BTW, Jason Pappas has some very interesting comments on CAPITALISM: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL here:


Good stuff Chris, including quite a few I've never heard of! Here's my list, all of which you will have heard of ;-)