Burning Down the House

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Title: Burning Down the House: How Libertarian Philosophy Was Corrupted by Delusion and Greed
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: October 4, 2022
ISBN13: 9781250280138


A lively history of American libertarianism and its decay into dangerous fantasy.

In 2010 in South Fulton, Tennessee, each household paid the local fire department a yearly fee of $75.00. That year, Gene Cranick's house accidentally caught fire. But the fire department refused to come because Cranick had forgotten to pay his yearly fee, leaving his home in ashes. Observers across the political spectrum agreed—some with horror and some with enthusiasm—that this revealed the true face of libertarianism. But libertarianism did not always require callous indifference to the misfortunes of others.

Modern libertarianism began with Friedrich Hayek’s admirable corrective to the Depression-era vogue for central economic planning. It resisted oppressive state power. It showed how capitalism could improve life for everyone. Yet today, it's a toxic blend of anarchism, disdain for the weak, and rationalization for environmental catastrophe. Libertarians today accept new, radical arguments—which crumble under scrutiny—that justify dishonest business practices and Covid deniers who refuse to wear masks in the name of “freedom.”

Andrew Koppelman’s book traces libertarianism's evolution from Hayek’s moderate pro-market ideas to the romantic fabulism of Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick, and Ayn Rand, and Charles Koch’s promotion of climate change denial. Burning Down the House is the definitive history of an ideological movement that has reshaped American politics.


“An absolutely indispensable guide to understanding the nature of the modern Libertarian movement. Koppelman writes in the best tradition of fair-minded and deeply insightful historians, making his findings all the more unsettling. He shows how a near-Utopian vision of government-free humanity has evolved into a corrosive and ultrapowerful force in American politics today. This book is a wake-up call to anyone who cares about American democracy.”
Christopher Leonard, author of the NYT bestseller Kochland

“Andrew Koppelman mounts an elegant and thorough criticism of the classical-liberalism-off-the-rails of people like Ayn Rand or Senator Rand Paul. Even we real classical liberals need to face up to his criticisms. Maybe, as he argues, the world needs more regulation and redistribution. Quantitatively speaking, I think not, but read the book, and get a lot smarter about the case pro and con.”
Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Economics and of History, and Professor Emerita of English and of Communication, at the University of Illinois at Chicago

“It is an important contribution to the philosophical debates about the nature and extent of the divide between classical liberalism and libertarianism. More important, it brings much needed clarification to public debates over the proper role of capitalism in a democratic society."
Samuel Freeman, Emeritus Avalon Professor in the Humanities, University of Pennsylvania

“Unlike other critics of libertarianism, Andrew Koppelman took the effort to understand it. The payoff is not just an erudite critique of certain strands of libertarianism, but an appreciation for what moderate Hayekian libertarianism has to teach both the left and the right.”
David Bernstein, University Professor, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University

“This treatise has the power to reach readers on both the right and the left.”
Publishers Weekly

Andrew Koppelman’s Burning Down the House is, in a word, superb. The book's careful account of the various different strands of libertarian political thought is wonderfully clarifying, and its powerful critique of libertarian political thought is, in my judgement, conclusive. Highly recommend.
Michael J. Perry, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, Emory Law School

Andrew Koppelman has given us a polemical, lively, and smart take on the various political traditions, ideologies, ideas, and irritable impulses captured by the general category of 'libertarianism' in the contemporary United States.
Jennifer Burns, Associate Professor of History, Stanford University, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (2009)

Andrew Koppelman has done an invaluable service by tracing the development of libertarianism, capturing its appeal, diagnosing where it went wrong, and underscoring the terrible price to be paid for adopting its more extreme versions. Burning Down the House is packed with information, insight, and wisdom. It is a brilliant and necessary book that everyone should read.
Jamie Mayerfeld, Professor of Political Science, University of Washington

Burning Down the House serves the noble purpose of putting the analysis of political theory to work in helping us better think through our contemporary political morass. It also invites us to think afresh about the implications of political theory.
James Hackney, Dean and Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law

Koppelman is to be commended for his outreach to advocates of an ideology he is deeply opposed to...especially at a time when ideological polarization leads many to stick to their ideological safe spaces.
Ilya Somin, Professor of Law, George Mason University

“Part of what is so refreshing about Koppelman's book is that his appreciation of Hayekian insights is so rare in center-left discourse...His engagement with the classical-liberal tradition, and Hayek in particular, is welcome from a left-leaning intellectual of his caliber. Burning Down the House may not have all the answers, but it is asking some of the right questions, and it usefully poses challenges to which those who purport to love liberty should respond.”
Jonathan H. Adler, John Verheij Memorial Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Strengths of Burning Down the House include accessible writing, helpful definitions of terms, and charitable philosophizing. Koppelman is forthcoming about his own 'pro-capitalist leftist' bias. Burning Down the House paradoxically exposes the corruption and greed of 21st century libertarianism while assuming its best intentions, aiming to purify libertarians' understanding of Hayek.
Rebecca Brenner Graham, Slate

Author Q&A

What is libertarianism, and why does it matter? Why is this book important to our current climate? Why did you write this book?

Read the Burning Down the House author Q&A here