18 April 2013

Standing on Shoulders

There are now many more libertarians in the world than there were fifty years ago. Libertarian writing has increased greatly, and the readership of libertarian literature has increased substantially, especially since the development and widespread adoption of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Yet, it seems to me, we no longer have libertarians of the same stature as the giants of the past two or three generations. Where today are the libertarians comparable to Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, James Buchanan, and Thomas Szasz?

To make use of a metaphor, once a foundation is laid, you start building a house.  Mises, Hayek and the rest have all laid important groundwork in the realm of libertarian economic analysis.  Now that the groundwork is laid, though, it’s time to move on.  Most people who build on this foundation, then, are going to focus on the details of niche subjects, as seen through this particular lens, few are going to add popular, foundational work.  And that’s okay.

Ultimately, once a broad paradigm is established, you can only add depth to it.  This happens in every branch of science, both physical and social, and ultimately ends when a paradigm exhausts itself.  It has happened before, and will happen again.  Therefore, there is little need to bemoan the absence of intellectual giants in the realm of libertarian economic analysis.  The foundation is laid, and all that’s left is the detail work.