We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Spreading ideas effectively

Suppose a well-off libertarian compiles a list of a hundred books that do a good job of promoting libertarian ideas and are not currently available online, goes to the publishers and offers to buy the online rights. Most books, including most books about ideas, do not make all that much money, so my guess is that a publisher should be willing to sell the online rights for ten thousand dollars, perhaps less. A few will be books that were or are best sellers, and their rights might be expensive—but those are books that most curious readers can probably find in the local library, so although webbing them would be useful, it would not be as useful as webbing less successful books. Cross them off the list and replace them with a few less expensive ones. Total cost a million dollars.

The project also requires a libertarian lawyer willing to volunteer his time to negotiate the purchases and a libertarian web designer willing to web the books, perhaps with the assistance of a few more libertarians willing to scan them. Libertarian lawyers and libertarian web designers exist—I’ve even gotten offers from some of the latter to redesign my somewhat out of date web site for free. And putting a hundred such books on the web should significantly increase both the number of people who become convinced by libertarian arguments and the quality of the arguments of those already convinced.

David Friedman.

Well, I have a pretty big book collections these days, although not as colossal as that of Brian Micklethwait of this blog, or the late Chris Tame (he had the sort of private library that was mind-blowing, and that was just the science fiction bit).

I’d be interested to know if such an idea could be made to work. If one of the main ideas is reaching out to students – who are short of money and for whom book purchases are a big cost – anything that can help things along is a good idea.  (The comment thread on Friedman’s post is worth reading also.)

29 comments to Spreading ideas effectively

  • If you know where to look, there is hardly a book which isn’t already available on the net.

    The catch is – if you know where to look, and you don’t have a problem with copyright infringement, or theft as some people call it.

  • Paul Marks

    It is the selection process that matters – the time of people is limited.

    And a lot of stuff that is called “libertarian” actually is not.

  • RRS

    There presently exists at libertyfund.org the Online Library of Liberty which I have recommended to many people. From the same source there is a DVD available entitled The Portable Library of Liberty. My recollection is that the current edition of that DVD contains about 1500 volumes. It is distributed absolutely free, with no shipping charges whatsoever. I have given these DVDs to others and encouraged others to request them. That is probably one of the best ways to begin this kind of venture – expand on what is already available.

    This is endowed by the Pierre F Goodrich Foundation. It is being continuously expanded and its content is moving more and more into the era of modern experience. Since they are also publishers of print content and negotiate republications, this would be an excellent facility on which to build extending propaganda that conforms to the objectives (individual liberty) of the Pierre F Goodrich Foundation.

    That said, gathering up the audiences (pl.) is really the big issue for such a venture. Some (emphasis on some) students, might come with an empty bucket to be filled with libertarian ideas and outlooks. The broader audiences are more likely to come with buckets filled with the sand of current ideologies, aspirations from the past for utopias, “social justice,” equality, fairness – and even some sands slightly wetted by economic realities and the nature of human relations. The tasks of emptying those sands are formidable and the competition with those using the mass media and academia has been overwhelming for most of the past century with some brief bright spots during which those who think began to take a look at the contents of the buckets.

  • Sigivald

    On the other hand, as stated we’re talking about the 100 not-online books with the greatest marginal utility for that purpose.

    Because there are plenty of books that serve that goal online, for free, already.

    As much as I’m somewhat dubious of them as an organization in some respects, the Mises Institute (mises.org) has an extensive free library.

  • A gentleman's rapier

    Try the Laissez Faire Book Club?

    10 USD a month gets 2 e-books with intros and executive summaries. Linked to Agora Financial, I believe. I have a growing backlog of must read books.

  • David C

    Wow. This is the sort of idea that socialists have all the time, though they usually want taxpayers to stump up the money not rich donors.
    There are plenty of free access libertarian blogs spreading the word – that’s the way to get people interested in the first place. And there are many great libertarian texts available for free on the net already, as has been pointed out. And those that aren’t free are generally pretty cheap to buy in hardcopy, and cheaper as e-books.
    So totally unnecessary in my view – the market is already supplying demand adequately. We need to think instead about how to increase demand.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Hey, a better way to reach people is through movies! Which book could be made into a movie, so long as it stayed true to the ideals of the book? (I liked ‘Starship Troopers’, though they made it more right-wing than was expressed in the book.)
    I think you could do a lot with ‘The Probability Broach’, so long as you were allowed to change its’ name- ‘The World that killed Washington’ is a catchier title.

  • RRS

    I did not mention that all of the OLL at Libertyfund.org can be downloaded in various formats, usually in html and PDF, but lots in Mobi (kindle) and eBook.

    The PLL (DVD) is in PDF with some in other formats.

    Take a look, tell your friends. More important tell the “infidels.”

  • dhlii

    In addition to the sources above
    Anything before 1927 has expired copyright.
    bastiat’s “The Law”, Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” as well as many others. John Stuart Mills, Lysander Spooner, most anything by the US founders.

    There is plenty of excellent material already available online, legally free.

    If you are going to pick up 100 additional books for $10,000, you are unlikely to be buying the rights to any of the really significant libertarian works of the past century that are not already free. If you are going to buy up 100 somewhat obscure libertarian texts, there are already atleast 100 significant texts that are free because their copyrights are expired or free becuase they have been made available.

  • I tend to agree with David, but OTOH: if someone feels such a project is worthwhile, I see no harm in pursuing it, provided of course it is privately financed. Just because some of us do not share in a demand for something, does not mean that such demand does not exist out there. Plus, sometimes supply can create demand – you never know.

  • Paul Marks

    “The Probability Broach” is a good book, and changing the title is fine for a film of it.

  • Pat

    Rather than communicating detailed arguments to those with the time and inclination to read libertarian books, which boils down to preaching to the converted, we need to communicate very simple arguments for the rationally disinterested. Unless we can counter the endless stream of simplistic arguments propounding the alleged benefits of state intervention everywhere we are whistling in the wind.
    Whilst a better educated elite would be of benefit to libertarianism, it will be useless until it translates into popular opinion.

  • …which is why both strategies are needed, Pat.

  • RRS

    Alisa et al.,

    Supply certainly can create demand. Liberty Fund Books which is a catalog of the print editions available from Liberty Fund has expanded enormously since I began years ago acquiring books from them which in many cases are not available elsewhere and have been allowed to go out of print.

    The Liberty Fund print publications are in addition to and distinct from the materials available online or on DVD. The catalog can be viewed online, but is also available in hard copy – free. It is worth taking a peek at just for a view of the broad sweep of recorded human thought on individual liberty and its relation to social organization.

  • Paul Marks

    Like Rothbard (who I oppose on many noneconomic matters) I prefer Turgot to Adam Smith. And on into the 19th century the French still – the Say family and Bastiat and…. the rest of the (long defeated) “Liberal School”.

    In an American context……

    A.L. Perry was the giant of the 19th century – now forgotten.

    And Frank Fetter (the refutor of both Henry George and Irving Fisher) was the giant of the early 20th centuries – now also forgotten.

    I doubt that Frank Fetter is remembered even in his tiny home town of Peru Indiana.

    But then two great economists have recently died (James Buchanan and A.A.).

    Hardly a word in the mainstream media.

    If scum such as Krugman or Stiglitz finally died it would be treated as a terrible event.

  • RRS

    P M

    We still have Gordon Tullock, at least for now!

  • RRS

    OK here we go;

    You can read Turgot’s principal work at the OLL over at libertyfund.org.

    It is the 1898 translation rather than the earlier translation by Thomas jefferson.

    Simply go to the site, find the “Online Library of Liberty” in the left margin, click on that then find “By Authors” in the left margin, click. On the authors page (begins with “A”) click on T at the top tabs. Next scroll down to Turgot. You too can join Paul Marks (and his team) and TJ in the appreciation of Turgot – several formats available.

  • RRS

    There are 4 vols. of Frank Fetter’s works at OLL (Libertyfund is based in Indianapolis)but none in print.

    Athur Latham Perry’s work is not available there. He was pre Hayekian on the “exchange economy.” I’ll check some other sources, mebbe some at Princeton.

    Liberty Fund has published the 20 Vol set of the works of Buchanan in print;9 of which are available at OLL.

  • David C

    Paul Marks above mentioned film: the left uses all sorts of art forms to spread their ideas. Libertarians not so much. Some would describe Ayn Rand’s fiction as libertarian. In my view it’s pretty poor as art – but immensely popular and famous because there’s not much else. And it’s indeed refreshing to read the anti-socialist diatribes in her novels. What about the ‘Samizdata’ annual prize for a work of fiction promoting classical liberal ideas?

  • Laird

    David C, there is a lot of science fiction which is essentially (if not overtly) libertarian. In fact, there’s an annual award (the Prometheus Award) for the best liberty-oriented SF. Pretty much anything by Heinlein has a libertarian orientation. That could be publicized more.

    Many of those works could be made into movies. Even the rather poor screen adaption of Starship Troopers (which morphed into something of a statist apology) still contains its libertarian roots if you look carefully. A better choice would be Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, in which the libertarian message is so strong it would be difficult to completely corrupt. So perhaps what we should be doing is trying to find someone to make more libertarian-themed science fiction movies. The books are already there.

    And don’t forget the TV series “Fireflly”. It doesn’t get much more libertarian than that (although, to my knowledge, Joss Whedon isn’t a libertarian).

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    ‘Firefly’ started AFTER a major war. It should have been the lead-up to a war for liberty in the Vegan System. Come to that, it should have stayed in the Solar system, and had people looking for a Hyperdrive out! with the government trying to keep people in! Drama from the word ‘Go’!

  • bloke in spain

    February 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Rather than communicating detailed arguments to those with the time and inclination to read libertarian books, which boils down to preaching to the converted, we need to communicate very simple arguments for the rationally disinterested. Unless we can counter the endless stream of simplistic arguments propounding the alleged benefits of state intervention everywhere we are whistling in the wind.
    Whilst a better educated elite would be of benefit to libertarianism, it will be useless until it translates into popular opinion.

    Well said Pat. Except for: Whilst a better educated elite would be of benefit to libertarianism

    In what way? The one thing libertarianism should be is pragmatic. The last thing it needs is a bunch of theoretical libertarians sitting round assessing the number of angels can waltz on pinheads. There’s a lot can be learned from socialists, communists, fascists. Big State champions of all denominations. The propagation of simple messages to inspire ordinary folk to rally to the cause. Why adopt their prime failing. The endless navel gazing. The theoretical claptrap that never survives contact with reality.. Why do you need a libertarian intelligentsia? What’s it’s purpose? What’s wrong with just giving people the opportunity to work out their own destinies & let them get on with it? That’s the point, isn’t it?

  • Laird

    Yes, that’s the point, BIS, but if there isn’t an intellectual underpinning to that “point” we risk subversion of the message and, ultimately, the very results we’re now witnessing (rampant statism with no functioning opposing political philosophy). Which is not to say that there aren’t already too many “theoretical libertarians” and not enough practical ones; that’s certainly true. But we still need some theoreticians.

  • bloke in spain

    Laird, I’d tend to regard subversion of any ‘message’ as being very close to my heart.

  • RRS

    To return to the original thread, rather than discuss the kind of content to be “spread,” there seemed to be two facets:

    is it the “spreading” that is to be effective; or,

    is it to conduct the spreading in such a fashion that the ideas will be effective?

    To both facets, a prospective answer might lie in the techniques used to establish AOL in its initial days. That is, widescale distribution of a free DVD, in targeted areas initially.

  • Pat

    @ “bloke in spain”
    I did not mean a credentialed elite, merely that when expounding ideas it is useful to know more about them than either the listeners or those likely to oppose.
    Apart from individual discussions- say with people at work, people met socially, etc. I think that fiction is the way to go- people will watch, read, listen to it for fun and then absorb the ideas without strain. Or music- any good songwriters out there, a good tune will get people listening to virtually any message (why should the devil have all the good tunes?)

  • Julie near Chicago

    An article by Daniel Rego on the Sith’s campaign strategy makes several points applicable to our issue here. See


  • Paul Marks

    Scary stuff Julie.

    And I am not sure how much of this can really be countered.

    We can get get a computer system that works (what Mr Romney failed to do – and the buck does stop with the man who did nothing but campaign from 2006 onwards), but the rest of this stuff?

    Slipping in political messages into, harmless seeming, cultural stuff?

    It is just not our way – it is the way of the so called “noble” lie (of Plato and other collectivist deceivers).

    “It will have to become our way Paul”.

    Perhaps – but times are changing.

    Things are going to get big and obvious – and that is going to happen real soon.