The Institute of Public
Affairs, Melbourne’s venerable pro-business think-tank, has been trying
to reclaim some relevance lately under its new director John Roskam.
Most recent project of note is its “20 books you must read before you
die (only the free market ones)”, listed in yesterday’s Australian. (The list isn’t on the IPA website, but you can read Roskam’s editorial about the books here.)

There
are certainly some good books among them, and anyone working their way
through the list will pick up a lot of interesting stuff. But only a
minority strike me as real classics, and some of the selections are
decidedly odd: the two Australian books on the list, for example, are
both economic histories published in the same year (1930).

It’s also, perhaps not surprisingly, a list dominated by dead white males. The only book on it by a woman, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, is a good read, but the absence of any of the pioneering works of feminism, from Mary Wollstonecraft onward, is noticeable.

Putting Mill’s great manifesto of individual freedom, On Liberty,
at number 19 strikes me as a calculated insult. It’s more offensive to
liberals than if it had been left off altogether, which could have been
explained away as an oversight. By contrast Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, one of the founding documents of modern conservatism, makes it at number four.

More
than anything, the list reflects Roskam’s view that liberalism and
conservatism come to pretty much the same thing, or at least are
natural allies. That was the belief that drove the founding of
Australia’s Liberal Party; in Cold War times it made a limited amount
of sense, but to hold to it today strikes me as manifestly absurd. To
admit that the two are enemies, however, would be to undermine the very
existence of organisations like the IPA.

Peter Fray

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