Harry Browne's Great Libertarian Offer
Reviewed by Ari Armstrong, July 19, 2000
The Great Libertarian Offer by Presidential Candidate Harry Browne is available for the sale price of $11.96 (normally $14.95) from LiamWorks Publishing. For more information about the book, see http://liamworks.com/tglo/tgloindex.html. To order, see http://harrybrownestore.com/books.html.
Twice I've heard Harry Browne conclude a speech by quoting the poetry of Emma Lazarus inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Twice my eyes welled with tears thinking of our heritage of liberty, of how much we have lost, of how much we may yet gain. And when I read those words at the conclusion of Harry Browne's latest book, The Great Libertarian Offer, I cried again.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Browne continues the thought:
That is the America we once had. That is the America we should have -- the beacon of liberty, providing light and hope and inspiration for the entire world. And I am determined that this is the America we will have again. I am determined that we shall have liberty in your lifetime. I am determined that we shall re-light the lamp beside the Golden Door.
Many libertarians have sunk to jaded cynicism, tired of defending the principles of freedom against the onslaught of force and political corruption. Harry Browne is himself a beacon of hope for the dispossessed, the disenfranchised, the tired warriors of freedom, and the cynics. All is not lost -- victory remains possible.
Browne takes his libertarian principles on the offensive. Why is health care so expensive and dysfunctional? The federal government drove out cost-effective care and medical freedom with mandates, welfare, and regulations. The solution: get the federal government out of health care. Why does crime remain at such a high rate? The federal government imposed drug prohibition, disarmed the citizens, federalized legal enforcement, and spurred corruption with asset forfeiture laws. The solution: get the federal government out of the criminal justice system. Why do segments of our environment continue to suffer degradation? The federal government fails to care for its lands, permits pollution, and puts special-interests above sound environmental policy. The solution: sell the federally owned lands to private organizations.
Browne's book is a lay person's guide, not a technical manual. Yet Browne provides compelling evidence to back up his points. He continually points to the fundamental flaws of state intervention: government is force, special-interests capture government power, and once established power is constantly abused and expanded by politicians.
For both small "l" libertarians and Party members, The Great Libertarian Offer should provide ample suggestions for improving the effectiveness of one's rhetoric, as well as for supporting the substantive points in favor of freedom.
No, Browne's book isn't going to convince any died-in-the-wool socialists. But I believe it will appeal to those with a fundamentally libertarian outlook. Even those who have bought into a basically modern view of the state but who retain a healthy streak of independence, will be challenged to rethink their many assumptions which might favor an intrusive state. Giving or lending out copies of Browne's book to those friends who tend to read may have lasting value in terms of promoting libertarian ideas.
The main criticism I have of the book is that it has too much prologue. Any campaign book should focus on the political issues of the day. True, a Libertarian campaign book must invoke fundamental principles to retain coherency. But Browne's book doesn't really get going until page 59, the beginning of Chapter 7. Chapters 2-6 cover "the principles." Unfortunately, these principles are laid out in a deductive fashion, without referencing a body of evidence which would make them believable to the uninitiated. Those initial chapters may scare off some non-libertarian readers.
The first six chapters could have easily been condensed into a single introductory chapter. Then, as Browne detailed the specific issues, such as the income tax, foreign policy, drug prohibition, and medicine, the basic principles could have been explained with greater context. And it's not as if the book couldn't have been cut -- 254 pages of the main text (287 pages total) may be a bit much for the casual reader.
Browne's writing shines when he gets into the substance of his platform. He gives enough case studies to make his views plausible, without bogging down in the details. While many of his chapters are very good, perhaps my favorite is Chapter 14, "Freedom to Learn." Browne begins by pointing to the grand schemes politicians have laid out for schools -- and how those schemes have failed to accomplish good results. He points out that vouchers are really a way to let government get control over schools which are currently private. He also brings home the point that repealing the income tax would provide most families with additional thousands of dollars to spend on education.
Browne also makes an exceptional appeal for reasonable gun laws, which means enforcement of the Bill of Rights:
Gun-control laws don't stop criminals from acquiring guns. And it weakens the case for gun ownership if we call for existing gun laws to be better enforced before passing new laws. This implies that the existing laws have merit. They don't. Such laws have caused people to die when a waiting period has kept someone from acquiring a gun... If we want Americans to be safer, we need to take the offensive and repeal all the gun-control legislation on the books... [and] allow Americans to defend themselves. (183)
One of the themes Browne carries through with great success is that traditional politicians live off making empty promises. They promise to make health care more affordable, but they make it more expensive. They promise to lower taxes, but they increase taxes. They promise to increase literacy, but they decrease literacy. They promise to protect civil liberties, even as they gut the Bill of Rights.
Harry Browne is a confident man with much success. But he doesn't make promises he knows he can't keep. When it comes to being a politician, Browne is appropriately humble. Perhaps that is the point that will most resonate with members of the public. Most people think that politicians are lying SOBs, and who can blame them? "I am not a crook." "Read my lips." "I did not have sexual relations..." Finally, Americans have the chance to vote for a genuinely decent human being for President, an honest man who shoots straight and speaks the truth. Ultimately, that is the issue which may best resonate with voters. In his chapter "Freedom from Moral Posturing," Browne writes,
The arrogance of politicians is amazing. Each one believes himself able to make decisions about the minutest detail of your life -- from how to handle every dollar you have to what you should be allowed to see at the movies or on the Internet. I'm afraid I'm not that wise. I don't know what's right for you. I don't know how you should raise your children or how to run your child's school or how your family should approach any of the many complicated challenges you face... Even if I don't know you, I respect your ability to handle these tasks because the only alternative is to let politicians handle them for you, and they will never care as much about your future as you do yourself. I don't want to run your life, and there's no reason to think I would be any better at it than the politicians who preen and posture with answers to every one of life's questions. America once embodied the idea that you are a sovereign individual able to make your own decisions...
The good news is that heroes like Harry Browne are helping to restore America to her birthright, where sovereign individuals can again live in liberty.