“Though a man’s conviction that all he achieves is due solely to his exertions, skill, and intelligence may be largely false, it is apt to have the most beneficial effects on his energy and circumspection. And if the smug pride of the successful is often intolerable and offensive, the belief that success depends wholly on him is probably the pragmatictically most effective incentive to successful action; whereas the more a man indulges in the propensity to blame others or circumstances for his failures, the more disgruntled and ineffective he tends to become.” (Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty)
The maddening thing about reading Hayek is that I come away thinking, “If only leftists had a proper understanding of economics and society, they would stop their infernal meddling and let people be about the business of living productive lives.”
Then I think that perhaps I’m being just as muddle-headed as I think leftists are. Admittedly, I was a leftist before I read any economics, but maybe I read the wrong kind. Maybe there’s some whole other set of thinking and philosophy out there that will bring a right-thinking person to a leftist point of view.
This got me wondering what books thoughtful leftists and small-c conservatives/small-l libertarians might recommend to one another. So I thought I’d ask the question here, and ask you to ask any of your friends who fit one of those categories to come contribute an answer in the comments section.
I suppose some definitions are in order. By “leftist” I mean someone who believes government should play a considerable role in regulating economic behavior, ameliorating perceived imbalances in outcomes, and otherwise directing or controlling individual action based on some kind of majoritarian impulse. That business with the small c and small l, meanwhile, is just to separate the Burkeans and Hayekians and voluntarists and various assorted thoughtful people from the folks who think, on the one hand, that the best conservative tract around is something written by Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, or who on the other hand are fond of asserting at parties that taxation is theft and that the only solution is to start an anarcho-capitalist colony on the moon.
So, here’s what I’m asking. If you are a leftist, what three books do you believe would best persuade thoughtful people who disagree with you that they are in error? And if you are a conservative or libertarian, what three books do you recommend to thoughtful leftists? In each case, assume the reader is intelligent and educated. Assume as well that he has a life, which means you probably shouldn’t roll up in here with Mises’s Human Action. Unless you really want to.
So I’ll start. I recommend Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty, Bastiat’s The Law, and Sowell’s Conflict of Visions. Who’s next?