Book Review: Delusions of Power

Power beer

Delusions of Power: New Explorations of the State, War, and Economy by Robert Higgs (The Independent Institute, 2012).

Robert Higgs, a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, is among the most frequently cited scholars in limited government circles. With a background in economics and history, Higgs’ reputation proceeds him among most who likely will read this book. Thus, he wastes no time in making radical proclamations:

Several of [my essays] question the very existence of the state as we know it. I am accustomed to having my arguments in this regard dismissed as utopian. My reply is that true utopians are those who continue to look to government as we know it for the protection of people’s just rights to life, liberty, and property. The experiment in avowedly “limited” government…was destined to fail and has indubitably done so. (Higgs, p. 3-4)

In other words, government has failed to fulfill its ostensible purpose, and should thus be done away with. Got it?

The above passage will likely shock any reader not already familiar with Higgs’ worldview, as it did me. For those of us born after World War I, we take the presence of a strong central government for granted. Hours and hours of class time was spent in high school and college discussing the merits of this or that politician’s actions. We learned about the prominent presidents, generals, and cabinet members who affected the lives of millions of people through their decisions, and debated whether or not certain actions should have been taken. We likely did not, however, debate the merits of the very existence of the institutions that empowered these men.

Higgs thus makes a risky move in penning such a blunt introduction, one which likely may turn off the reader not sympathetic to limited government principles. And that’s a shame, because what follows the intro is an incredibly well thought out, coherent set of essays that provide a strong rationale for his unconventional opinions.

The essays, broadly interpreted, can be categorized into philosophical, historical, and economic. The second of these is by far where the book thrives the most. Higgs’ understanding of history, from the dawn of civilization to the modern day, is staggering. He recalls with ease the lead up to both World Wars, the Great Depression, Vietnam, and more.

The reader will almost certainly not agree with everything Higgs claims in this book. However, his mastery of economics and history coupled with strong logic and clear prose will at least convince even the skeptic that he’s onto something.

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