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The Ethics of Liberty

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,246 ratings  ·  58 reviews
The authoritative text on the libertarian political position

In recent years, libertarian impulses have increasingly influenced national and economic debates, from welfare reform to efforts to curtail affirmative action. Murray N. Rothbard's classic The Ethics of Liberty stands as one of the most rigorous and philosophically sophisticated expositions of the libertarian poli
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published May 1st 1998 by New York University Press (first published 1981)
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Otto Lehto
This was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps it's too seminal for its own good. Reminds me of the old joke about students criticizing Shakespeare plays for being chock-full of clichés. The joke obviously being that the causality is reversed: Shakespeare INVENTED a lot of the phraseology of contemporary English. And the same goes for Rothbard: he invented, or at least popularized, a lot of the terminology of contemporary libertarian philosophy, so he might seem clichéd and simple in retrospective, ...more
David Robins
May 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece; a rational basis for libertarian political philosophy, beginning with self-ownership, the non-aggression principle, and explaining how a free society would function in various situations, answering objections, and proposing a way forward.
Karpur Shukla
Apr 14, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The absurd silliness of libertarianism is well-known, so I don't need to reproduce it here. Instead, I'm going to focus on the incredibly awful writing style. For example, here are the very first two sentences of this awful, long-winded mess:

"Among intellectuals who consider themselves "scientific," the phrase "the nature of man" is apt to have the effect of a red flag on a bull. "Man has no nature!" is the modern rallying cry; and typical of the sentiment of political philosophers today was
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
This book will really make you think long after you put the book down. It will cut to the core of your personal views of right and wrong, the use of agency, and what is liberty. I agreed with most of what he wrote, and the rest I don't necessarily disagree with, but still need to study it out more. Of course I totally disagree with his views on abortion and child abandonment. This book will make you rethink and look deeper into the "Golden Rule" and how one would follow it. ...more
Daniel Moss
Particularly useful in this book was the chapters the went into commonly held contradictions by the left and right. As well as the chapters where Rothbard gives a straight up philosophical smackdown of guys like Nozick, Hayek, and Mises on questions regarding ethics, specifically ethics regarding the state.
Akash Salve
Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This Book puts Legal aspect of Libertarian state. On some issues like Child Care, Contracts Rothbard pushes you to rethink. He does not ignore the reality of developing nations while considering libertarian outlook. This book will Make you think. The Ethics he talks about are not personal but “Political-Social”.
Brett Williams
Murray Rothbard’s not-so-excellent Libertarian adventure

Rothbard provides a few interesting crumbs to nibble on and understandably opposes excess State control, but he’ll serve no meals for the philosophically hungry. Instead, the reader ingests a pungent mix of purist fanaticism and immoral lunacy. Such as, “The parent may not murder or mutilate the child,” writes Rothbard, “But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e. to let the child die.” And this applies to any chi
C.H.E. Sadaphal
Feb 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: free-your-mind
This is an excellent "next step" book on Libertarianism, perfect for anyone who has a basic understanding of the philosophy but would like more information and practical application of its principles to life's more complicated and touchy issues. The book takes the concepts of personal property and individual freedom and uses them as an ethical foundation for a myriad of common topics (i.e. the "right" to privacy, animal rights, taxation, voluntary contracts). Rothbard, as always, presents clear ...more
Lea Fegley
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ethics of Liberty is my second read by Rothbard. Although it didn't have the convincing persuasion of For A New Liberty, which is my favorite of his, it applies a sound ethical theory based soley on human rights and the nonagression principal to a diverse number of topics such as animal rights, bribery and theft. The strict rational and application of theory without any moral guidance knocked me off my feet on the topic of abortion and childerns' rights. Like any good economist, Rothbard extract ...more
Jul 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-on-liberty
In this classic libertarian text, Rothbard dedicates most thorough and critical analysis to the theory of property rights, which is at the core of individual liberty. Protecting property rights turns out much more complicated than at first glance. Rothbard sheds light on many of these complications, and at the same time raises controversial and new questions. Nevertheless, after reading this book, I'm motivated to study more. Again, a must-read for not only aspiring libertarians but also those r ...more
Alexander Craig
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ignore Hoppe, ignore the bits about children and the hand-waving "grounding" of natural rights. Very good application of libertarian rights theory. ...more
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ch 15 "Human Rights as Property Rights" was my favorite part of this book. ...more
So good that I couldn't put it down, haven't felt this way since "The Virtue of Selfishness" by Ayn Rand. The ethics of Liberty is often regarded as the second Magnus opus by Rothbard and I would have to agree with them. Rothbard's ethics based on property was very well summarised in the first two thirds of the book. Personally I saw many similarities between Rothbard and Rand, the crucial point is their different approaches in terms of values, which ended up with different results. The last thi ...more
Jacob Aitken
I couldn't go all the way with his thesis. Murray defined it as not violating the person of the other. This allows for a very anti-Christian ethic in its consistency, even if all are not consistent. But that being said, Murray scored a lot of points on the idiocy of "The Welfare State," "War," and others. It is probably the clearest and cogent explanation of Libertarianism. Unfortunately, in the long run it does not mesh with Christianity. ...more
Johhny Appleseed
Rothbard sets up a case for why absolute freedom is ultimately the only universally and temporally consistent ethic that can exist. Simply put, as long as one person can even have one iota of treatment different from another, it cannot be ethical for all times and places. Read this, and don't listen to the other reviews, this book is wonderful to read as Rothbard builds a logical case. ...more
Dec 17, 2008 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Jan 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lvmi, non-fiction
Although I disagree with some of Rothbard's conclusions, I did enjoy this book. Rothbard has a way of laying out philosophical arguments in a logical way that resonate with me. ...more
Apr 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a longtime libertarian / Rothbardian, I approached this book with a strong familiarity with most of the concepts presented here. However, for me, the technical review of the natural rights / natural law theory as basis for an objective system of ethics was refreshing, and I was especially moved by the final chapter about strategy, appropriately grounded in the libertarian concept of justice (yes..., I would "push the button").

As Rothbard explains, liberty is an ethical concept, way beyond th
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book provides a framework for a libertarian society. I think it would be interesting for anyone who more or less agrees with the basic tenets of the importance of private property and the NAP (Non-Agression Principle) (do not initiate force against another person or their property), but the aim doesn't really seem to be to convince the reader that states are illegitimate (although it is clear from the book what the author thinks, of course) but rather to give the foundations of an anarco-ca ...more
Richard  Strum
Rothbard's system doesn't overcome the is/ought problem. He only gives a completely inadequate, passing reference to it. To my knowledge, the only systems that attempt to transcend the problem are those that aim at establishing normative presuppositions of action. Authors include Habermas and Apel (and Hoppe), Gewirth and Pilon, and van Dun.

Although his criticisms of Mises's utilitarianism don't present any "problems" that Mises didn't already perfectly understand, it's necessary for all Misesi
Jul 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995) was a true polymath of libertarianism; he was the founder of modern libertarianism, the chief developer of anarcho-capitalism, a towering economist in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian School of Economics, and a great individual. His powerful attacks on the state and his defenses of liberty are still resonant with all libertarians, and his influence is lasting.

After I became an anarcho-capitalist via reading his For A New Liberty, I read his treati
Adrian Fanaca
Oct 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Without any doubt this is the best book on political philosophy I have ever read, much better than Rawls' A Theory of Justice, even if academically this book is not existent and Rawls' is top performer. I felt a deep connection with Rothbard on his distrust and even hate of the state, as a criminal agent who steal from its citzens by enacting taxation. Even if I did not agree with anything the author said, I have realized I have strong elements of libertarianism in my own social view of the worl ...more
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic read for any lover of liberty! I just finished this book during an overhyped COVID pandemic as these western governments impose more senseless and absurd draconian measures. This book is more important than ever as our liberty is on the brink of extinction. The book is divided into five parts: Natural Law, A theory of Liberty, The State versus Liberty, Modern Alternative Theories of Liberty, and Toward a Theory of Strategy For Liberty. What distinguishes this book is the manner in whic ...more
João P
Dec 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thought-provoking book, logically consistent and wide-ranging. You don't need to agree with a 100% of the ideas described in this book by Rothbard to enjoy the discussion. Particularly interesting was in my opinion the repositioning of "human rights" (such as Free Speech) as merely a consequence of property rights in the natural law framework. Also the discussion around contractual theory is enlightening and very different to the approach taken by other classical liberal political philosophers. ...more
Jeremy Palmer
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As someone with a more conservative and "pro limited state government" upbringing, this was definitely a challenging read.
It took 6 months to read as I had to wrestle with each section of the book.
While I'm still pondering a few points, Rothbard has won me over on much of his argument.
Great read.
Miles Foltermann
2.5 stars rounded up. This book is truly a mixed bag. Rothbard scores some powerful points against the warfare-welfare state. But he is hopelessly adrift when it comes to other issues—specifically “moral” issues and whether they should be legally enforced. His views on abortion as well as parental duties toward infants are repellant.
Kurt Huizenga
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow... just Wow!

I challenge you to read this book and NOT change your mind about your previously held beliefs and notions... Go on, I dare you. You can't do it.

This book is quite simply a masterpiece of human thought both in form and content.
Mad Hab
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good one, but not the best one from Rothbard
Eduardo Blasco
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancap
One of the best books I've ever read. ...more
Joe Bissol
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorate book I've read on ethics and political theory. ...more
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Murray Newton Rothbard was an influential American historian, natural law theorist and economist of the Austrian School who helped define modern libertarianism. Rothbard took the Austrian School's emphasis on spontaneous order and condemnation of central planning to an individualist anarchist conclusion, which he termed "anarcho-capitalism".


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“If the bulk of the public were really convinced of the illegitimacy of the State, if it were convinced that the State is nothing more nor less than a bandit gang writ large, then the State would soon collapse to take on no more status or breadth of existence than another Mafia gang.” 16 likes
“In particular, the State has arrogated to itself a compulsory monopoly over police and military services, the provision of law, judicial decision-making, the mint and the power to create money, unused land ("the public domain"), streets and highways, rivers and coastal waters, and the means of delivering mail...the State relies on control of the levers of propaganda to persuade its subjects to obey or even exalt their rulers.” 10 likes
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