Acton Institute Powerblog

Books for the Arsenal of Ordered Liberty

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As we begin the New Year, I find myself thinking about books that fill the conservative armamentarium for resisting the left-liberal onslaught on the past handful of years. I’ve omitted some categories, like military and foreign policy, because they are outside my areas of expertise and don’t apply as much to the Acton mission, anyway. Here are my recommendations:


Common Sense Economics by James Gwartney, Richard Stroup, and Dwight Lee — Dr. Gwartney taught the first economics class I ever took as a university student and made a permanent impression. Socialism has looked like wishing-makes-it-so madness ever since I sat under the powerfully logical lectures of this confident professor.

The Role of Government:

Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics by P.J. O’Rourke — Though this book is billed as an economics book, I think of it as having broader philosophical and practical lessons to teach about the way government works in healthy societies and how it creates pathology in unhealthy ones. It has the trademark O’Rourke humor, but the moral of the story is deadly serious.

Bi-Partisan Hope (if such a thing exists):

Re-Inventing Government by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler — One of the worst parts of the decline of the New Democrat movement in America is that it took the kind of thinking in Re-Inventing Government with it. The authors argue that government is not very good at actually, you know, doing stuff. It would be better for the government to privatize as much as possible and take advantage of market incentives where it can. The central insight, which I love, is that the age of monolithic government bureaucracies should quickly pass in favor of lean government which focuses on entrepreneurial policy where it makes sense for government to intervene. The logic of Re-Inventing Government could easily support new ideas about public schooling where government might fund education, but wouldn’t have to run schools.


The Party of Death by Ramesh Ponnuru — The author documents the slide of the American left into an almost soulless devotion to abortion laissez faire and an accompanying disinterest in maintaining the sanctity of life in other areas. This book did not get the attention it deserved in a year dominated by news about Iraq. Ponnuru is one of the most articulate and rhetorically powerful defenders of the sanctity of life writing during the last ten years.

Religion and Money:

Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem by Jay Richards — Evangelicals, especially younger evangelicals, have been increasingly squishy on free-market economics of late. This has been so much so that different organizations, like the Acton Institute, Heritage, and AEI have undertaken initiatives to reach out to them on matters of economic policy. Jay Richards (a think tank vet of Discovery, Acton, and Heritage) has written a book tailor-made for this audience. I’ve had the privilege of hearing him discuss these matters and he is highly persuasive.

Christianity and Whatever Historical Awfulness You Care to Name:

God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark — Stark is legendary in my old grad program for once telling a socialist student “Listen to me. Marx is doo-doo.” In this book, he takes on the old and busted claim that the Crusades were a purely evil enterprise. I recommend this one because it is his latest, but he has written several other fantastic volumes on the intersection of faith, history, and society. For the Glory of God is particularly notable.

*Hunter Baker is the author of The End of Secularism.

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Union University and an Affiliate Scholar in Religion & Politics at the Acton Institute. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.


  • John Couretas

    Thanks, Hunter. Also note that Dwight Lee, one of the co-authors of the recommended economics text, offered an Acton commentary in September. Read “Clergy and Economists: Allies not Adversaries” here:

  • Ken

    I will have to look at Common Sense Economics. If it were me, I would have gone with Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson: it rings as true today as it did when written.

  • I have asked this question to my friends on FreeRepublic twice, & no one is willing to give me an answer. Therefore, I will try to ask it here.

    I have heard the phrase “ordered liberty” for several years. I have a problem w/ that phrase, because it begs the question, ORDERED BY WHOM? The state, or the individual?

    Inquiring minds would like to know. Thank you.

  • ChrisInAR,

    Check out Sam Gregg’s On Ordered Liberty: A Treatise on the Free Society (reviewed here).

    Ultimately society is ordered providentially by God through secondary means.

  • Hunter Baker

    Ordered liberty, in my view, is liberty bounded by a transcendent moral order which describes its limits.

  • Neal Lang

    “I have heard the phrase ‘ordered liberty’ for several years. I have a problem w/ that phrase, because it begs the question, ORDERED BY WHOM? The state, or the individual?”

    According to our Founders, Liberty is an unalienable right, Endowed to man by God. This concept extends from idea of Natural Law. This Natural Law sets the limits of Liberty. Liberty, bound by Natural Law is “ordered Liberty.” Unbound liberty is libertineism. Our Founders believed that liberty was not possible for an “immoral people.”

    The State merely reflects the morals of the people (individuals) that compose it.

  • Stark’s book might seem to make a plausible case to the non-specialist, but critical analysis shows it is riddled with errors, full of convenient use of selective evidence and undermined by flawed arguments. He manages to debunk a few myths about the Crusades, but his apologetic argument simply does not work.

    For detailed critical analysis see: