The Problem of Political Authority, by Michael Huemer, is the rare book that actually changed my mind… at least somewhat. It’s a book arguing for anarcho-capitalism: we shouldn’t have a government. Like most libertarians (people who believe in maximizing freedom and minimizing government force) I’ve never believed anarcho-capitalism, though ideal, was possible. Huemer convinced me that we’ll probably see it eventually, and maybe even during my lifetime.
Huemer starts off by arguing that government is unjust. He uses simple, intuitive examples to make his points. For example, if someone mugged you but said they’d give the money to charity, would you say that was ok? Most people would say no. If the government forcibly takes your money for charity, however, most people say that’s okay. What are the justifications for that belief in political authority? Huemer examines them one by one and convincingly debunks them.
The second section of the book explains how anarcho-capitalism would actually work: private security services and arbitration instead of courts, for example.
The final part of the book argues convincingly that anarcho-capitalism is actually much more likely to come about than we believe. There have been enormous historical revolutions and trends which all point in the direction of anarcho-capitalism. For example, changing beliefs about the justification/glorification of violence and the transition of most of the world from monarchy to democracy in just two centuries.
I have a couple of concerns about the book, however:
- I was least convinced by his argument that countries wouldn’t need a military so much if they just minded their own business (e.g. maybe 9/11 wouldn’t have happened if the US acted like Switzerland). There are plenty of examples of that not helping, however, e.g. Putin’s Russia invading Georgia and Ukraine; and the Jewish experience over the last few millennia.
- Why is the book so expensive? $73 for an ebook? This book should be priced much lower so the masses can read it.
I read this book because I’d seen multiple people recommend it as the best libertarian or anarcho-capitalist book they’d ever read, and now I can say that it’s one of the best books on governance I’ve read. Every libertarian and anarcho-capitalist should know these arguments.
Democide is killings by governments, not including war. Which killed more people in the 20th century, democide or war? Democide did.
R. J. Rummel’s book Death by Government catalogs democide in the 20th century through 1987. Everyone should know this information.
What has killed more, socialism or fascism? Socialism did: the Soviet Union and China alone killed 97 million according to Rummel, versus 21 million by Hitler’s Germany. Did you know that Hitler killed twice as many Slavs as Jews? Did you know that some of the biggest killers of the 20th century include Mexico, Poland, Pakistan, Japan, and Turkey? Did you know that millions died in Southeast Asia after the United States pulled out of Vietnam?
Post Rummel’s research I believe the biggest killer has been North Korea, where millions died of starvation in the late 90s. Saddam Hussein is also believed to have killed about two million people. I’d also add the DDT ban, which killed tens of millions of people via mosquito-borne illnesses.
I think everyone should know these things, and Rummel’s book is an interesting, easy read. I recommend everyone read it.
Updated February 22, 2022.
My recommendations, in approximate order of preference:
- Left Turn, by Tim Groseclose. This the first book anyone interested in media bias should read, and the most thorough, covering all the theories and evidence (especially Groseclose and Milyo’s 2005 study A Measure of Media Bias). It’s written by an academic, but in a fashion that’s completely understandable to the general public. Still, if you don’t think you can hack a book that uses the phrase “thought experiment” multiple times you may want to skip this book.
- Stonewalled, by Sharyl Attkisson. Attkisson was an investigative reporter at CBS. The core of the book is example after example of how the government and her employer impeded her reporting. I consider it essential reading on media bias. Attkisson’s The Smear is also a valuable read, for example on how politicians control the media.
- Give Me a Break, by John Stossel. This book isn’t only about media bias, but Stossel experienced it when he was at ABC and relates his story here (after a political conversion he stopped winning awards and couldn’t get his content aired). Even if you’re not interested in media bias this is just a good book that I recommend everyone read.
- The War on Guns: Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies, by John Lott. This book is about the public debate on gun control, mostly how people mislead with statistics. Beforehand, you may want to read Lott’s research, the most extensive study of crime ever conducted, in More Guns, Less Crime. That book has one chapter on the media bias and related issues he experienced after his research was published. Lott also published a book about media bias, The Bias Against Guns, but I haven’t read it.
- Bias, by Bernard Goldberg. The most well-known book about media bias is Goldberg’s story of his experience at CBS. Unfortunately, I think it’s only a fair book. Still, anyone seriously interested in the subject has to read this.
I also found this 12-minute video from John Stossel to be of high value:
I decided to read William L. Shirer’s Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 because I’d read that it gave insight into how Hitler fooled the world during the 1930s. Shirer was a CBS radio correspondent in Berlin from 1934 (the year after Hitler came to power). His most famous work, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, came later than the book I’m discussing here. Berlin Diary contains Shirer’s diary entries from the time, written with the intention of publishing them later. They do provide an inside chronicle of Hitler’s lies, but in my opinion the book is far too long (over 600 pages) for what I learned. In the latter parts of the book I was eager to be done with it. Admittedly, I already knew much of what happened from reading biographies of Winston Churchill and Hitler, among other things.
I’ve always been interested in the appeasement of Hitler that took place during the 1930s. Europe allowed Hitler to build up Germany’s military (in violation of the treaty that ended World War I) and take over various countries, initially with just the threat of violence. Meanwhile, the rest of Europe cut back their militaries, leaving them completely unprepared for World War II when it came. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is primarily remembered for that appeasement, particularly for saying he’d achieved “peace in our time” after the Munich Agreement in 1938. In that agreement the European powers agreed to let Hitler take over part of Czechoslovakia (he’d already taken over Austria without opposition). Shortly after that Hitler took the rest of Czechoslovakia. Within a year he’d invaded Poland and, it finally being obvious that the appeasers had been wrong, Britain declared war on Germany. Hitler invaded Western Europe shortly after that.
It’s one of the great lessons of history that people could be so oblivious to something that seems so obvious in retrospect. I believe Hitler was able to get away with his lies because people wanted to believe them. They wanted to see no evil and hear no evil because they were afraid of another World War. They were willing to do anything for peace, and it ended up costing tens of millions of lives. If they’d merely stood up to Hitler his own people probably would have killed him (and they came close a couple of times).
Winston Churchill was one of the few voices in the 30s that warned about Hitler. I remember an anecdote about it. When you say you “stand for” a particular issue, that term comes from the British Parliament. There, to vote on an issue, the members would leave the chamber and stand in different adjoining rooms to be counted, each room representing “yea” or “nay.” Winston Churchill put forth a motion to censure Hitler and was the only member standing in one room to pass it… until one young member said “I can’t bear to see the old man stand alone” and went and stood with him.
I read that anecdote in William Manchester’s biography The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940. That’s my recommendation if you want to learn about appeasement. I also recommend the first volume of that three-part series, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932. Unfortunately, the final volume, covering World War II and later, was finished by someone else after Manchester’s death and is inferior in my opinion.