Capitalism without Consumerism by William Irwin
Category: Adult Non-Fiction, 203 pages
Genre: Philosophy / Politics
Publisher: Wiley Blackwell
Release date: October 2015
I am a fan of philosophy, particularly the wisdom of Sartre and Nietzsche, and enjoy Economics 101 (huge fan of Freakonomics). In The Free Market Existentialist, I was very curious to see how the author would intertwine the two. As it turns out, he not only combined the concepts, he created a fast-paced and intellectually stimulating read. The book is, in short, fascinating. While it may not be an end-of-a-long-workday read, it is perfect for the college student, lover of philosophy, or anyone willing to delve into the complex world of existentialism, libertarianism, and capitalism that the author has so eloquently laid out.
Irwin begins by proposing free market existentialism as a new competitor in the marketplace of ideas. He then links existentialism and libertarianism with individualism and then very orderly defines each and follows with how existentialism helps capitalism. You may need to reread one or two chapters, but there are plenty of opportunities to take notes. The extensive bibliography is worthy of a few sticky tabs, and you may need to have an extra highlighter on hand.
This book, while largely cerebral, is not the dry intellectual rhetoric found in the pages of many books on the same subject. In fact, it just the opposite. The author clearly is in the habit of questioning the world around him, and wants you to do the same. His blend of wry observations and knowledge (he’s a long-time professor and Chair of Philosophy) adds depth to and enriches each passage. And he does present a wide variety of topics: individualism, free will, moral anti-realism, capitalism, and a minimal state.
Early in the book, the author created a Venn diagram with one circle of existentialism and one circle of capitalism, drew a circle in the middle, and invited the reader to step inside. This is essentially a microcosm of his ideas; that he is not advocating for a black and white, one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, he is combining seemingly incompatible ideas and perspectives to create a world view that is unique, thought provoking, and may even inspire you to put forth ideas of your own. After reading this book, draw your own Venn diagram and see where you land. You may be surprised.
The Free Market Existentialist is unique because it is the first existentialist defense of libertarianism, bringing together two approaches that traditionally have been viewed as incompatible. Existentialists emphasize the importance of subjectively choosing one’s values and determining the meaning of one’s life. Libertarians champion strong property rights and the individual’s prerogative to live in any way that does not cause harm to others. Ultimately, individualism is the link between existentialism and libertarianism, producing a philosophy that values freedom and a corresponding responsibility.
William Irwin is Herve A. LeBlanc Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of Philosophy at King’s College in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Intentionalist Interpretation and scholarly articles on Sartre, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. Irwin originated the philosophy and popular culture genre of books with Seinfeld and Philosophy in 1999 and is currently the General Editor of The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series.