I’m an advocate of 100% political and economic freedom, i.e., of laissez-faire capitalism.
The biggest influences on my political views (apart from current and historical observation) are the political philosophy of John Locke and the philosophic system of Ayn Rand. Locke argued that each individual possesses the rights to life, liberty and property, that these rights exist in nature prior to the formation of government, and that the only legitimate government is one whose function is limited to protecting these rights. Rand argued that man’s essential nature is to use his reason to produce the values on which his life depends, which in turn requires a government whose function is strictly limited to protecting him from the initiation of physical force by other men. Locke’s ideas were the basis for The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Rand’s essential contribution was to give Locke’s best theory of rights a consistent philosophic foundation that eliminates any possibility of misunderstanding or misapplication.
Of course, these principles are highly abstract, and for someone unfamiliar with the writings of Locke and Rand, probably raise as many questions and objections as they answer. Complicating matters immeasurably for most people is the prevalence in the culture of the antithetical moral, political, and economic ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, and Karl Marx. (Just as Locke’s ideas provided the intellectual foundation for the relatively free governments of the 19th century, such as England and the United States, the ideas of Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Marx provided the intellectual foundation for the totalitarian governments of the 20th century, such as Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.) Unfortunately, these antithetical ideas have come to completely dominate higher education during the last century, with the amazing result that most Americans are now, quite unwittingly, better versed in the ethical and political premises of Vladimir Lenin and Adolph Hitler than in those of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Therefore, as a corrective, and to become an intellectually balanced and well-educated person, I believe that everyone owes it to himself to become acquainted with the intellectual case for political freedom.
To do this requires a dual educational course in politics and economics. A proper political philosophy demonstrates that the free market is moral. A proper economic philosophy demonstrates that the free market is practical. One field deals with the moral principles guiding government, the other with the practical results flowing from the implementation of those principles.
Since politics is a branch of philosophy that depends on the premises of its more fundamental branches (such as metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics), an in-depth understanding of politics requires an in-depth understanding of philosophy. For my thoughts and recommendations regarding general philosophy, see my essay “My Views on Philosophy.” Recommendations for basic reading in political philosophy follow below.
For a brief introduction to the political ideas of John Locke and their influence, I recommend reading my essay, The Political Philosophy of John Locke and Its Influence on the Founding Fathers and the Political Documents They Created. For an excellent 4 1/2 hour lecture on Locke’s political philosophy, I recommend John Locke’s Political Philosophy by Harry Binswanger. After becoming familiar with these, you may want to consider going straight to the source: The Second Treatise of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration are available together for under three dollars from Amazon.
The clearest overview of Ayn Rand’s political philosophy and its derivation from her ethics is contained in a 64-page essay titled, “The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged,” which is the opening chapter in a book called “Who Is Ayn Rand.” (Although this book has long been out of print, it’s usually possible to find a used copy by searching eBay using the keywords “Who is Ayn Rand.”) Ayn Rand’s own essential political writings are contained in two anthologies, The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal.
The most profound analyses of contemporary political issues informed by Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy can be found in Peter Schwartz’s In Defense of Selfishness: Why the Code of Self-Sacrifice is Unjust and Destructive, and George Reisman’s The Benevolent Nature of Capitalism and Other Essays.
Apart from Locke and Rand, I recommend reading a classic essay by the great 19th-century French economist Frederick Bastiat called The Law, which is an excellent introduction to, and summation of, classical liberal thought.
Finally, to fully understand political theories, one needs a knowledge of the historical results that such theories produced. For a demonstration of Locke’s ideas in practice, I recommend reading the textbook A History of the United States and Its People by Edward Eggleston. For a demonstration of Rousseau’s, Kant’s, Hegel’s, and Marx’s ideas in practice, I recommend reading Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties by Paul Johnson and The Black Book of Communism by Stéphane Courtouis. A brilliant analysis of the influence of philosophy on the history of Germany vs. the history of the United States is provided in Leonard Peikoff’s book, The Ominous Parallels. A philosophic and historical analysis of Marxism is provided by my essay on The Communist Manifesto.