For a single book it is hard to beat Ludwig von Mises Liberalism that you can download as a PDF or read in various other formats including a book made out of paper!
This is Mises’s classic statement in defense of a free society, one of the last statements of the old liberal school and a text from which we can continue to learn. It has been the conscience of a global movement for liberty for 80 years. This new edition, a gorgeous hardback from the Mises Institute, features a new foreword by Thomas Woods.
It first appeared in 1927, as a followup to both his devastating 1922 book showing that socialism would fail, and his 1926 book on interventionism.
It was written to address the burning question: if not socialism, and if not fascism or interventionism, what form of social arrangements are most conducive to human flourishing? Mises’s answer is summed up in the title, by which he meant classical liberalism.
Mises did more than restate classical doctrine. He gave a thoroughly modern defense of freedom, one that corrected the errors of the old liberal school by rooting the idea of liberty in the institution of private property (a subject on which the classical school was sometimes unclear). Here is the grand contribution of this volume.
Two of my favourites are Peter Bauer and Bill Hutt, profiled here.
Some of my other go-to people for western civilisation at large include Yvor Winters, Jacques Barzun and the Australian James McAuley profiled here. Also Barry Humphries and Liam Hudson here and Rene Wellek and the husband and wife team of Karl and Charlotte Buhler.
Finally, an early contribution to the cultural agenda published by the Centre For Independent Studies.
The publication of this occasional paper signals an ambition on the part of the Centre for Independent Studies to pay more attention to broad cultural issues. This is not to say that such issues have been entirely overlooked in the past. But because of the need to maintain priorities for the allocation of limited resources, there has been an emphasis on economic and social issues. Of course liberalism is not just an economic doctrine, and its intellectual leadership from Adam Smith to Hayek has spoken to the human condition in the round. The cultural initiative extends the exploration of the liberal principles of freedom and individual responsibility into areas such as education arid the arts, which are afflicted by excessive state interference and debilitating fashions.
Those who are concerned with public policy might question a turn to cultural issues on the ground that these do not really call for any government initiatives at all. But governments at all levels are becoming increasingly involved in cultural matters. This needs to be challenged, or, at the very least, monitored and subjected to appraisal. A ‘cultural agenda’ might include issues like the threat to free speech posed by ‘political correctness’, government subsidies for the arts, intellectual property rights, and obscurantist fashions in the humanities.