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Murray makes the case for a moral libertarianism

Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute has long been one of America's most perceptive and challenging social scientists. Great Britain's leading free-market think tank has issued a volume that matches two of Mr. Murray's essays on the developing underclass in Britain with commentaries by several British experts. It is difficult to escape the sad conclusion that the nation out of which America was born is coming to share many of our social pathologies. Mr. Murray, one of the volume's contributors admits, &quothas exposed a decay at the core of our society that most of us would prefer to ignore." Coincidentally, Mr. Murray has written a new book, What It Means to Be a Libertarian. Although some Christians are skeptical of libertarianism, it is not synonymous with libertinism. Mr. Murray, as the man who so devastatingly chronicled the implosion of the family and failure of the welfare state, recognizes the importance of moral values. But he also recognizes--and argues convincingly--that government does a poor job of promoting those values. In What It Means, he advances the importance of freedom as a political goal and presents a vision of what a libertarian society would look like. It's a good book for anyone who recognizes that the present system isn't working. Nor, some might say, is the political system working. This, after all, is the system that allowed labor unions in the 1996 elections to spend tens of millions of dollars in a failed attempt to buy back Congress for the Democrats--which says as much about American politics as it does about American organized labor. As former socialist and labor activist Max Green documents, unions have abandoned the people they claim to represent. Mr. Green explains: &quotOrganized labor came to mirror the Left in its criticism of capitalism; in its commitment to statist economic policies; in its abandonment of the traditional American value of individualism in favor of the race- and gender-based policies of the civil-rights, feminist, and gay-rights movements." If Mr. Murray and Mr. Green offer foundational truths about the welfare state, several new reference books offer foundational truths about more enduring subjects. If you have a question about the Greco-Roman world, the answer is probably in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, a wonderful 1,640-page work. If you want to write as well as read, check out The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. It's the latest version of what has long been considered the ultimate reference work on the English language. And if you find yourself struggling to remember that favorite expression, consider The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, which packs in more than 17,000 quotations from 2,500 different people.