[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Thanks to the Mises Institute, Isabel Paterson’s 1943 classic The God of the Machine is now online (as a honking big PDF file). The book’s central thesis is that there are systematic analogies between political structure and engineering structure, and that the freest and most prosperous societies historically have been those which adopted the appropriate structure. But such a bald description of its thesis falls short of conveying the brilliant, fascinating, witty, eloquent, insightful and sometimes frustrating character of this libertarian masterpiece.
When I first read this book, probably around 1982, I thought it was one of the most exciting books I’d ever read, and it had an enormous influence on me – for better or worse! Paterson’s arguments were in fact one of the reasons it took me so long to convert to anarchism (not till 1991, from having first become a libertarian in 1979); she’d convinced me that a free society requires the right political structure. She was perfectly right, of course; her mistake, and mine, was thinking of political structure solely in terms of state structure, and so failing to see that an anarchy has political structure too. I have plenty of other beefs with the book (her analysis of the role of big business in American history, for instance, is sometimes too right-libertarian, albeit not consistently so), and I still don’t know quite what to make of her engineering analogies (which she denied were analogies!). For some of my skirmishes with Paterson’s ideas see here, here, and here. But the book still rocks.