Publication Date: 26 April 2012
The most relevant and plausible conceptions of economic rationality, interpersonal liberty, human welfare, and private-property anarchy do not conflict in theory or practice. Using philosophy and social science, Escape from Leviathan defends this bold, non-normative, thesis from contrary positions in the scholarly literature. Writers considered include David Friedman, John Gray, R. M. Hare, Robert Nozick, Karl Popper, John Rawls, Murray Rothbard, Alan Ryan, Amartya Sen, and Bernard Williams. The rationality assumptions of neoclassical and Austrian School economics are reconciled and related to liberty and welfare. A new pre-propertarian theory of interpersonal liberty as the absence of (initiated or proactively) imposed cost is argued to be libertarian. Human welfare is defended as the satisfaction of unimposed wants. Practical anarchy is simply unconstrained private property. Related topics include free will, weakness of will, the nature of moralizing, intellectual property, and restitution and retribution. Critical-rationalist epistemology (theories can only be criticized and tested, not justified or supported) is applied throughout. This is a ground-breaking work that is also an excellent introduction to libertarianism and social thought.
Lester … tackles the subject with the consummate skill of an expert in the field. He is up to date with all the relevant literature. … He is familiar with all of the philosophical issues and manages to breathe some new life into matters that have been discussed ad nauseam by libertarians over the years. … his critique of democracy was a heady, almost intoxicating, refutation. … Lester shows considerable originality, either when he is discussing some of the deepest problems in political theory or when he is making a contribution to some of the more casual issues of contemporary politics. … he is not frightened to consider the major, and the deepest, intellectual conundrums in the doctrine. … What is also surprising and refreshing is that Lester can produce arguments against interference and coercion that … are inferences from the liberty principle itself. … None of this is suggestive of a lack of intellectual ambition in Lester. … such philosophical expertise. … In a short review article it is impossible to do justice to Lester’s remarkable book. He manages to say new and exciting things …. Lester’s arguments are presented with sophistication and are informed by an impressive mastery of the secondary literature. –Professor Norman Barry
Lester argues that utility is compatible with liberty, understood in its classically negative sense. In the process, he has written a remarkable book, informed by a masterly knowledge of economics and filled with careful analytical detail. He deals with a vast range of criticisms, and in the process undoes a great deal of theoretical mischief on the relations between these important concepts, including much by philosophers of major reputation. His accounts of instrumental rationality, of property rights, of public goods problems, and of restitution for criminal cases, are important contributions and will be discussed with interest for long. Few among us will fail to benefit from reading it. –Professor Jan Narveson
Lester’s book develops a sustained and at times fresh and surprising argument for its compatibilist conclusions. It constitutes a formidable intellectual challenge to the social democratic establishment in political theory. –Professor Antony Flew
This is a notably ambitious reconstruction of radical libertarian thinking from the ground up. Even those, like myself, who are unpersuaded by its reformulation of classical liberalism will benefit from reading Lester’s book. –Professor John Gray
About the Author
J C Lester is a philosopher and a libertarian who has been writing on the superiority of liberty over politics for thirty years.