What It Means to Be a Libertarian

What It Means To Be A Libertarian
Charles Murray
Broadway Books, $20, 178 pp.

In this breezy, engaging manifesto, Charles Murray reveals himself to be a regular boy scout, brimming over with can-do optimism. He wants "greater individual fulfillment, more vital communities, a richer culture." He celebrates the very "stuff of life" defined as "being engaged with those around you in the core social roles of spouse-parent, son or daughter, friend and neighbor"—life stuff we have disastrously assigned to "the bureaucracies" that now do too much and do it badly by way of "feeding the hungry, succoring the sick, comforting the sad, nurturing the children, tending the elderly, chastising the sinners." These tasks must be done by individuals in bracingly voluntaristic but overflowingly decent communities. If communities are to engage us, they must have vital tasks to do. If we take away these vital tasks, communities become mere husks, hollowed-out debris. For life "acquires texture not just from the hours one devotes to an activity but through an ongoing consciousness of engagement and responsibility."

Sure, some people will retreat and remain aloof. But that is their choice. Most will not. Most will put their shoulders to the wheel and do the right thing nearly all of the time. And they will do so through engagements in social life "grounded in the neighborhood churches, lodges, service organizations, charities, and schools." Sounds good. So what’s wrong with this picture?

Well, for one...

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About the Author

Jean Bethke Elshtain, a political theorist, authored more than a dozen books, including Women and War (1987), Democracy on Trial (1993), Augustine and the Limits of Politics (1996), and Sovereignty: God, State, Self (2008). She was a frequent contributor to Commonweal and covered many subjects in our pages, including feminism, family, just war, criminal justice, and capitalism.