David M. Hart, “The Classical Liberal Tradition: Theory and History (A Two-Part Lecture)”

[Created: 21 June, 2015]
[Updated: January 18, 2017 ]

IHS Advanced Studies Summer Seminar
“Liberty & Scholarship: Challenges and Critiques”
Bryn Mawr College, PA
Sat. 13 - Fri. 19 June 2015

Lectures and Discussion:

  1. Opening Lecture (Sat. 4:15–6:00 pm): “Twelve Keys Concepts of the Classical Liberal Tradition” (alternate title: “The Classical Liberal Tradition: Theory and History Part I”)
  2. Second Lecture (Sun. 9:00–10:45 am): “A Survey of the History of the Classical Liberal Movement” (alternate title: “The Classical Liberal Tradition: Theory and History Part II”)
  3. Discussion Group (Sun. 4:15–6:00 pm): “On the Spread of Classical Liberal Ideas: History, Theory, and Strategy”
  4. Third Lecture (Tues. (11:00–12:45 am): “Images of Liberty and Power: the Subversion of State Propaganda”
  5. Concluding Lecture (Thurs. 11:00–12:45 am): “Competing Visions of the Future: Socialist and Classical Liberal”

Draft:4 April, 2015
Revised: 9 June 2015

Author: Dr. David M. Hart.

  • Director of the Online Library of Liberty Project at Liberty Fund <oll.libertyfund.org> and
  • Academic Editor of the Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat.

Email:

Websites:

  • Liberty Fund: <oll.libertyfund.org>
  • Personal: <davidmhart.com/liberty>

Table of Contents

The Classical Liberal Tradition - An Uneasy Relationship between Liberty and Power

  • Introduction
  • On Ideas, Interests, and Ideological Change
  • Recommended Reading
  • Some Definitions

What the Classical Liberals were Against

  • Part I - The Early Modern Period (17th and 18th Centuries) (Throne, Altar, Barracks, Mercantilism/Cronyism, Serfdom)
  • Part II - The 19th Century (Conservatism, Militarism, Protectionism, Imperialism, Socialism)
  • Part III - The 20th Century to the Present (Socialism, Bolshevism/Communism, Fascism, Keynesianism, Welfare/Warfare/Surveillance State)
  • A Summary of What CLs were AGAINST

Sidebar: The Classical Liberal Theory of the State

What Classical Liberals were FOR (the sum of freedoms that make up Liberty)

  • Pro-Liberty Intellectual and Political Movements were a Reaction to and Opposition against the Abuse of Power
  • The Two Different Faces of CL - Conservative and Revolutionary
  • The Key Ideas of Classical Liberalism: Foundations, Process, Liberties
    • The Foundations of CL Ideas
    • The Processes for Achieving and Sustaining a Free Society
    • Liberty as “the sum of all freedoms”
  • A Summary of what CLs were FOR: Twelve Key Concepts of Liberty

Sidebar question: When did Liberals become aware that they had a unique, different, and coherent view of the world?

Twelve Key Concepts of Liberty

  • (1.) Natural Law and Natural Rights
  • (2.) Private Property
  • (3.) Individual Liberty
  • (4.) Idea of Spontaneous Order
  • (5.) Free Markets
  • (6.) Limited Government
  • (7.) Rule of Law
  • (8.) Freedom of Speech & Religion
  • (9.) Free Trade
  • (10.) Peace
  • (11.) Progress
  • (12.) Right of Free Movement (Exit/Entry)

Recommended Reading

  • General
  • Anthologies of Primary Sources:
  • Histories of the Classical Liberal/Libertarian Movement:
  • History and Theory of Free Market Economics:
  • One Volume Treatments of CL/L Theory and Policy
  • What CLs were against
  • Articles on Key Concepts from the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism
  • Readings on Key Movements and Events in the History of the CLT
  • Readings on Key Individuals in the History of the CLT
  • Key Movements and Events which have hampered the Emergence of Free Societies

 


 

The Classical Liberal Tradition - An Uneasy Relationship between Liberty and Power

Introduction

There are some inter-related threads I wish to explore on the Classical Liberal Tradition (CLT):

  • an examination of the tradition of political and economic thought which came to be known as “classical liberalism” (in the 19th and early 20th centuries) or “libertarianism” (in the second half of the 20th century);
    • what these Classical Liberals believed in (my Concept Map of CL and “12 Key Concepts”) and
    • what they opposed
  • a brief survey of the history of the Classical Liberal Tradition (CLT) over the past 400 years (1640–2015), with an emphasis on 4 particular historical periods:
    • 1640s: the English Civil War/Revolution
    • 1750–1790: the American and French Revolutions
    • the long liberal 19th century 1815–1914
    • the post-WW2 liberal renaissance
  • why was there a greater flourishing of CL then?
    • emergence of new ideas about liberty?
    • greater willingness to act on these ideas in order to change society
    • reaction to increases in State Power or crises in the State (war and debt)?
  • these reactions were of two different kind:
    • “conservative” CL: resisting state imposed changes on traditional religious, social, political, economic practices
    • “revolutionary” CL: seeing the possibilities of bringing freedom to those who have never enjoyed it before, women, slaves, serfs, women; or moving society into new, radical pro-freedom direction which has never existed before (free trade, laissez-faire, privatising public goods)
  • a discussion of the theory and history of the spread of Classical Liberal ideas and what this means for developing a better strategy for the future (Discussion Group)
    • ideas and interests (Mises)
    • the production, dissemination and consumption of ideas: the role of producers, investors, entrepreneurs, salespeople, and consumers of ideas
    • the nature and speed of ideological change

On Ideas, Interests, and Ideological Change

Some things of general concern regarding “ideas” (to be discussed in more detail in the Discussion Group):

  • what role do ideas and interests play in human behaviour/action (Mises’ theory)?
  • how do people come to hold the ideas they hold?
  • the links between works of high theory (Theorie), the propagation of those ideas, the implementation of those ideas (Praxis)
  • how and why do the ideas people hold change over time?
  • how can reformers (like CLs) best go about changing the ideas people hold?

For each of the 4 main periods of CL intellectual development and political/economic influence, we need to thinks about:

  • the key theoretical text/s
  • the methods used to spread those ideas to others (tracts, pamphlets, newspapers, public discussion
  • the legislation or institutions used to implement these ideas (constitutions, bills of rights, repeal of legislation, courts and legal practice)
  • the key individuals who acted as intellectual or political entrepreneurs to make this happen

Recommended Reading

See my website the Handouts for more details:

  • David M. Hart, “Study Guides on the Classical Liberal Tradition”
  • David Hart’s “concept map” of the “Key Ideas of Classical Liberalism”
  • The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, (2008)
  • The OLL Reader: An Anthology of the Best of the Online Library of Liberty
  • 501 Quotations about Liberty and Power
  • The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Readings from Lao-Tzu to Milton Friedman, ed. David Boaz (1997)

Some Definitions

Need to define our terms

  • definition offered in EoL
  • Dan Klein’s work on when “liberal” came to have its modern political meaning
  • “classical” vs. other types of liberalism: New Liberalism; American liberalism
  • hyphenated-liberalism: “bleeding-heart liberalism”
  • modern “libertarianism vs ”Conservatism" (US)
  • other names: voluntaryism, individualism, anarcho-capitalism
  • is Classical Liberalism the same as Libertarianism?
  • when did people with CL ideas first become self-conscious about having a different and coherent way of viewing the world?

Definitions:

David Conway, “Classical Liberalism” in The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, ed. Ronald Hamowy (Los Angeles: Sage, 2008. A Project of the Cato Institute), pp. 295–98. Quote, pp. 295–96. Originally in David Conway, In Defence of the Realm: The Place of Nations in Classical Liberalism (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2004).

Liberalism is a political ideology distinguishable from other ideologies by its assignment of a much greater political importance and value to human liberty, understood as a condition of being subject to as few constraints and restraints imposed by others as possible. All liberals agree that human beings will suffer deliberate constraint and restraint as each others’ hands if there is no system of law limiting their powers over each other. Accordingly , liberals regard laws that prohibit these constraints as being conducive to, rather than destructive of, liberty.

Liberalism only acquired its name in the early 19th century, well over a century after the ideology began to take shape. Classical liberalism is the original version of the ideology. It received its qualifying adjective only in relatively recent times from the felt need to distinguish the original version from later forms of liberalism that differ from it significantly.

Other definitions:

  • “The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the “nonaggression axiom.” “Aggression” is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion. If no man may aggress against another; if, in short, everyone has the absolute right to be “free” from aggression …” (Rothbard, For a New Liberty (1978), p.23.)
  • “We might define libertarianism as a species of (classical liberalism), an advocacy of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government rooted in a commitment to self-ownership, imprescriptible rights, and the moral autonomy of the individual.” (David Boaz, The Libertarian Reader (1997), p. xiv.)
  • “Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.” (Herbert Spencer, “the law of equal liberty” in Social Statics (1851).)

My description:

Classical Liberal is someone who advocates individual liberty, free markets, limited government, free trade, peace

“classical” period 1815–1914 (peak 1840s–1880s)

  • Liberal Party (Britain) formed 1859

two schools of CL thought

  • utilitarianism (English)
  • natural rights (French)

CL arose in opposition to royalism, mercantilism, conservatism, socialism

“New Liberalism” emerged late 19thC, advocated more extensive govt. intervention on utilitarian grounds (Hobhouse, Green)

(American) Liberalism like British/Australian labourism or European social democracy

Dan Klein on when “liberal” came to mean liberal:

“But now using Google’s Ngram Viewer we can see what the word “liberal”—as an adjective—was used to modify. Up to 1769 the word was used only in pre-political ways, but in and around 1769 such terms as “liberal policy,” “liberal plan,” “liberal system,” “liberal views,” “liberal ideas,” and “liberal principles” begin sprouting like flowers.”

The Origin of Liberalism
The Origin of ‘Liberalism’

Daniel B. Klein, “The Origin of ‘Liberalism’”, The Atlantic, 2 February 2014 http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/02/the-origin-of-liberalism/283780/.

What the Classical Liberals were Against

Part I - The Early Modern Period (17th and 18th Centuries) (Throne, Altar, Barracks, Mercantilism/Cronyism, Serfdom)

Hobbes, Leviathan, Throne and Altar and Barracks
Hobbes, Leviathan, Throne and Altar and Barracks

The CLT first emerged as a reaction to the excessive power of the absolutist state and church in early modern Europe (16th and 17th centuries). The first rumblings of dissent appeared in the mid–17th century when religious and dynastic wars wracked Europe and reached a climax in the Revolutions in America and France which overthrew the old order and introduced new regimes based upon liberal principles.

The issues which prompted many people to rethink their traditional relationship to the state and the church in the 17th and 18th centuries was a result of numerous factors including:

  • the growing power of the monarchy as the state grew and centralised its powers vis-à-vis other traditional power holders such as the landed aristocracy and the church (“Throne”)
  • the repression of religious and other forms of dissent following the Reformation and the scientific revolution (“Altar”)
  • increasing taxation and debt to fund wars leading to a clash between parliaments and the crown over the granting of new tax money, especially during the crisis of the 17thC (the Thirty Years War) (“Barracks”)
  • mercantilist regulation of trade and the economy in favour of powerful vested interests including members of the aristocracy and preferred commercial groups (“Cronyism”)
  • periodic crises of agricultural production caused by poor harvests and chronic poor productivity of agriculture (“Serfdom”)

Part II - The 19th Century (Conservatism, Militarism, Protectionism, Imperialism, Socialism)

Even after the American and French Revolutions changed the face of Europe and North America CLs had to face other challenges throughout the 19th century because of the incomplete nature of the revolutions in which they had participated:

  • the Napoleonic Wars had changed the nature of warfare: ideologically motivated, mass armies of citizens
  • the continued existence of slavery in the European colonies
    • the expansion and strength of slavery in the US before 1861
  • the restoration of the conservative monarchies after 1815 and the struggle for constitutional limits on their powers and civil liberties
  • the strength of economic nationalism (F. List) & protectionism
    • protectionism in the US
  • the rise of Nationalism and Wars of Nation Building in Germany and the US
    • Civil War, U.S.
    • German Wars of Unification
  • the expansion of colonialism and imperialism in Asia and Africa
  • the rise of socialism, labour parties, Marxism
  • the return of protectionism
  • the arms race prior to WW1

Part III - The 20th Century to the Present (Socialism, Bolshevism/Communism, Fascism, Keynesianism, Welfare/Warfare/Surveillance State)

The WW1 was a disaster for CL and saw the collapse of many liberal institutions which had been created in the 19thC and the near abandonment of CL ideas among people. The Thirty Years War of the 20thC was the nadir of the CL movement until its slow revival in post-WW2 period and creation of modern libertarian movement in the US in the 1970s.

Growth in Total US Government Spending in the 20thC
Growth in Total US Government Spending in the 20thC
  • the general phenomenon of 20th Century Statism
  • World War 1 - War Socialism
  • post-war hyperinflations and the Great Depression
  • the rise of Bolshevism and Fascism
  • Keynesian & the Welfare State
  • World War 2
    • Total War
    • Military-Industrial Complex
  • post-war welfare state, regulatory state, welfare/warfare state in the US
  • surveillance state

A Summary of What CLs were AGAINST

AGAINST:

  1. arbitrary political power
  2. arbitrary religious power
  3. slavery & serfdom
  4. war & conscription
  5. taxation
  6. national debt
  7. tariffs & other trade protection
  8. subsidies & monopolies to favoured industries
  9. central bank & fiat money
  10. empire & colonies
  11. censorship
  12. torture, arbitrary arrest & imprisonment, execution

Sidebar: The Classical Liberal Theory of the State

All of the above are activities of the state in various versions.

Need to ask, what is the CL theory of the State? what should the Sate do and how big should it be?

Hotly contested issue in the CL tradition. Different liberal theories about the proper functions of the state:

  • the “classical” classical liberal state (Smith, Mill, Hayek): police, national defence, public goods, education (?)
  • the “minarchist state” (Mises, Rand, Nozick): police, national defence, limited public goods
  • the “ultra-minarchist state” (Say, Bastiat, Molinari II): police, national defence, but with considerable private or local provision
  • the fully “voluntarist state” (Spencer, Molinari I, Rothbard): all state activities deregulated, privatised, or abolished

Overhead of “Spectrum of State Power” and “Functions of the Classical Liberal State”:

Spectrum of State Power
Spectrum of State Power
Functions of the Classical Liberal State
Functions of the Classical Liberal State

What Classical Liberals were FOR (the sum of freedoms that make up Liberty)

Pro-Liberty Intellectual and Political Movements were a Reaction to and Opposition against the Abuse of Power

The following is a list of some significant movements and events during which CLs developed their ideas about liberty and which were fundamental in creating free societies. There are four key periods of activity (or “clusters”) when CL ideas were especially prominent and influential, namely the 1640s, the last half of the 18th century, the period of “classical liberalism” during the 19thC, and the post-WW2 renaissance of CL thought and activity.

In summary they are:

  1. The Pre-History of Classical Liberalism: Precursors and Influences
  2. The Birth of Classical Liberalism - 17th and 18th C
  3. Classical Liberalism Proper - 19thC
  4. The Modern Classical Liberal and Libertarian Movement (post WW2)

(1) The Pre-History of Classical Liberalism: Precursors and Influences

  • The Ancient World
    • Stoicism and Epicurianism; Cicero
    • Natural Law; Roman property law
  • Medieval Period
    • Magna Carta
    • the Free Cities and their Charters
    • Scholastics - School of Salamanca
  • Reformation & Renaissance
    • Classical Republicanism
    • The Dutch Republic

(2) The Birth of Classical Liberalism

  • The 17th Century
    • English Common Law: Edward Coke
    • The English Civil Wars/Revolution of the 1640s: the Levellers, John Lilburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn, John Milton
    • the Glorious Revolution of 1688: Algernon Sidney, John Locke, Whigs
  • The 18thC Enlightenment in Europe and North America
    • 18thC Commonwealthmen, Cato’s Letters, Trenchard and Gordon
    • The Scottish Enlightenment: Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, David Hume
    • The French Enlightenment: Physiocracy, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot - Economic Thought: Adam Smith, the Physiocrat, Turgot
  • the 18th Century Revolutions
    • The American Revolution: Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison
    • The French Revolution: Lafayette, Condorcet, the Girondins, Destutt de Tracy, Madame de Stael

(3) Classical Liberalism Proper

  • 19th century Classical Liberalism
    • Classical Liberalism (the English School): Philosophic Radicals, Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, Classical Economics, John Stuart Mill
    • Classical Liberalism (the French School): Jean-Baptiste Say, Benjamin Constant, Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari
  • key issues and movements:
    • the Abolition of Slave Trade and Slavery: Clarkson, William Wilberforce, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Lysander Spooner
    • Constitutional Monarchism: Benjamin Constant
    • Free Trade Movement: Anti-Corn Law League, Richard Cobden, John Bright; Bastiat, Michel Chevalier
    • 1848 Revolutions: constitutionalism and abolition of serfdom
    • opposition to war and empire: Cobden, Bright, W.G. Sumner
    • Feminism and Women’s Rights: Mary Wollstonecraft, J.S. Mill
    • The Radical Individualists: Thomas Hodgskin, Herbert Spencer, Auberon Herbert
  • The Austrian School of Economics (1st generation): Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk

(4) The Modern Classical Liberal and Libertarian Movement

  • The Austrian School (inter-war years): Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek
  • Post-World War 2 Renaissance
    • Mont Pelerin Society: Milton Friedman, Karl Popper
    • Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA): Anthony Fisher, Arthur Seldon
    • Foundation for Economic Education (FEE): Leonard Read
    • Institute for Humane Studies: F.A. Harper
    • Liberty Fund: Pierre Goodrich
  • The Austrian School of Economics (2nd generation): Mises, Hayek, Murray N. Rothbard, Israel Kirzner
  • Other Schools and Movements
    • Chicago School of Economics: Milton Friedman
    • Public Choice Economics: James Buchanan & Gordon Tullock
    • Objectivism: Ayn Rand
  • modern American Libertarian movement
    • Murray Rothbard
    • Cato Institute: Ed Crane
    • Libertarian Party
  • other events of note:
    • liberation of the Chinese peasants/serfs
    • modern Western liberal democracies
      • liberalisation of laws against women, gays, civil rights
      • post-war prosperity
      • liberalised international trade

In a nutshell I would say the CL movement and CL ideas evolved in the following manner:

  • CL first emerged as a reaction to the excessive power of the absolutist state and church in early modern Europe (16th and 17th centuries).
  • Through a series of rebellions and revolutions this power was challenged based upon new ideas about individual liberty which slowly evolved into more coherent and sophisticated theories of how societies, markets, and political institutions worked. CLs had significant political victories, but they were partial ones.
  • The period from about 1750 to 1850 was crucial in the development of CL ideas as a result of the Enlightenment in Europe and America, the development of economic theory by the Physiocrats and Adam Smith, and the emergence of political theories of limited constitutional government during the American and French revolutions and their immediate aftermath.
  • The heyday of CL was much of the 19th century before CL ideas and institutions were smashed by the events of WW1; let’s say approximately 1830–1914. It was during this period that liberal, democratic, and constitutional societies emerged in Western Europe, North America, and some of the colonies of the British Empire (like Australia).
  • Unfortunately this experiment in liberty was all too brief before rampant statism, militarism, fascism, bolshevism, and welfare-statism seriously undermined it.
  • We are now living in a contradictory moment in history when we have never been as prosperous, educated, healthy, and “free” (in some important areas such as discrimination against people of colour, women, and homosexuals) yet at the same time the burden of the state in terms of taxation levels, inflation, debt, regulation, and surveillance and regulation of our personal lives have never been greater.
  • So I would conclude that the great CL experiment has only partly been achieved and that there remains a great deal to be done before the promise of a fully free society can become a reality.

The Two Different Faces of CL - Conservative and Revolutionary

There are two different “faces” or “aspects” to CL which this history reveals to us:

A “conservative” CL: where individuals resist state imposed changes on their traditional religious, social, political practices:

  • state/church wants to ban/repress unorthodox religious practices/ideas
  • state introduces new taxes to pay for war
  • good example is North American colonists in mid–18thC after enjoying “salutary neglect” from Imperial England reacting to new or properly enforced taxation to pay for French-Indian Wars

A “revolutionary” CL: where individuals see the possibilities of going further in new directions of liberty:

  • bringing freedom to those who have never enjoyed it before, slaves, serfs, women, gays;
  • or moving society towards a new, radical pro-freedom direction which has never existed before (complete free trade, laissez-faire, the complete voluntary or private provision of public goods)

The Key Ideas of Classical Liberalism: Foundations, Process, Liberties

Key Ideas of Classical Liberalism
Key Ideas of Classical Liberalism

This idea map is designed to give you an overview of what I think are the essential features of the classical liberal tradition as it has evolved over the past 400 years.

The Foundations of CL Ideas

The Foundations of CL Thought
The Foundations of CL Thought

The foundations for these beliefs are based upon the following:

  • the basic principles
    • life
    • liberty
    • property
  • the philosophical grounds for belief
    • natural law (God’s Law) and natural rights
    • utility

The Processes for Achieving and Sustaining a Free Society

The Processes for Achieving a Free Society
The Processes for Achieving a Free Society

The processes by which these principles are carried out/put into practice; how people interact with each other

  • the non-aggression principle
  • voluntary cooperation
  • toleration
  • free movement of people, goods, & ideas
  • individual flourishing
  • peaceful coexistence with others
  • arbitration of disputes
  • spontaneous orders

Liberty as “the sum of all freedoms”

The Bundles of Freedoms which make up Liberty
The Bundles of Freedoms which make up Liberty

Liberty should be seen as a “bundle” or “cluster” of freedoms which together make up what is “Liberty” (FB quote).

Frédéric Bastiat on LIBERTY as the sum of all freedoms (1850) - from The Law (June 1850) http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2450#Bastiat_1573-02_931

And what is liberty, this word that has the power of making all hearts beat faster and causing agitation around the world, if it is not the sum of all freedoms: freedom of conscience, teaching, and association; freedom of the press; freedom to travel, work, and trade; in other words, the free exercise of all inoffensive faculties by all men and, in still other terms, the destruction of all despotic regimes, even legal despotism, and the reduction of the law to its sole rational attribution, which is to regulate the individual law of legitimate defense or to punish injustice.

LIBERTY is compromised of three main bundles of freedoms:

  • political/legal freedoms
    • limited (no) government
    • the rule of law
    • freedom speech and association (religion)
    • right of exit/entry (movement or new govt)
  • economic freedoms:
    • domestic free markets
    • international free trade
    • laissez-faire
    • progress
  • social freedoms
    • equality under the law
    • toleration of different ideas and behaviour
    • acts between consenting adults

A Summary of what CLs were FOR: Twelve Key Concepts of Liberty

I have picked out 12 Concepts from the above mind map which I think are most important to understanding what CL was and is.

  1. Natural Law and Natural Rights
  2. Private Property
  3. Individual Liberty
  4. Idea of Spontaneous Order
  5. Free Markets
  6. Limited Government
  7. Rule of Law
  8. Freedom of Speech & Religion
  9. Free Trade
  10. Peace
  11. Progress
  12. Right of Exit

Above is a list of 12 key concepts of liberty which have been developed over several hundred years by many authors in the classical liberal, free market and conservative traditions. There is probably no single thinker who would agree with every aspect of these key concepts. Rather, they are an amalgam or “ideal type” taken from the various streams of thinking about individual liberty which have emerged in Western Europe and North America since the early modern period. It is designed to summarize in a more manageable way a complex way of thinking about the nature of individual liberty.

Sidebar question: When did Liberals become aware that they had a unique, different, and coherent view of the world?

Who wrote the first one volume survey of the CL position?

Sidebar question: When did theorists become self-conscious that they were advocating a unique, consistent and all-encompassing liberal worldview (Weltanschauung) which could be articulated in one volume; that their ideas were interconnected, were based upon a well thought out set of fundamental principles, and resulted in a comprehensive set of proposals for liberal reform?

  • Wilhelm von Humboldt, Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Gränzen der Wirksamkeit des Staates zu bestimmen (The Limits of State Action) (1792, 1851)
  • Benjamin Constant, Principes de politique, applicables à tous les gouvernemens représentatifs (The Principles of Politics) (1815)
  • Gustave de Molinari, Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare (Conversations on Saint Lazarus Street) (1849)
  • Herbert Spencer, Social Statics (1851)
  • J.S. Mill, On Liberty (1859)
  • Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Ethics (1879)
  • Bruce Smith, Liberty and Liberalism (1888)
  • Ludwig von Mises, Liberalismus (Liberalism) (1927)
  • Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (1960)
  • Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (1962)
  • Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty (1974)
Molinari, Les Soirées (1849)
Molinari, Les Soirées (1849)
Spencer, Social Statics (1851)
Spencer, Social Statics (1851)

Twelve Key Concepts of Liberty

A more detailed examination of the “12 Key Concepts of Liberty”

  1. Natural Law and Natural Rights
  2. Private Property
  3. Individual Liberty
  4. Idea of Spontaneous Order
  5. Free Markets
  6. Limited Government
  7. Rule of Law
  8. Freedom of Speech & Religion
  9. Free Trade
  10. Peace
  11. Progress
  12. Right of Exit

See the collection of 501 Quotations about Liberty and Power at the OLL organised by topic:

501 Quotations about Liberty and Power: The Collected Quotations from the Online Library of Liberty (2004–2014) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2015). http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2648.

See also The OLL Reader: An Anthology of the Best of the Online Library of Liberty [Updated February 13, 2015 - 72 extracts] http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/best-of-the-oll.

  • Part I: Scepticism about Power
  • Part II: The Basic Principles
  • Part III: Political Liberty
  • Part IV: Economic Liberty
  • Part V: Individual Liberty
  • Part VI: War and Peace
  • Part VII: Key Legal and Political Documents
  • Part VIII: The History of Liberty and Power
  • Part IX: The Literature of Liberty
  • Part X: The Critique of Socialism and Interventionism
  • Part XI: Visions of the Future

(1.) Natural Law and Natural Rights

Key ideas:

  • the world is governed by natural laws which are discoverable by human reason
  • Tom Paine’s “imprescriptible rights”: the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
  • rights are not created by government but exist anterior to it
  • [alternative view of utilitarianism - maximization of happiness or utility]

EoL articles:

  • “Natural Law” & “Natural Rights”
  • “Theories of Rights”
  • “Utilitarianism”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

(2.) Private Property

Key ideas:

  • property rights are not created by government but exist anterior to it (i.e. they are “natural rights” not “artificial rights” (Hodgskin)
  • the right of self-propriety or self-ownership (the Levellers & Locke)
  • the right to create or acquire property titles in unowned resources (Locke)
  • the right to exchange property titles with others (private contracts)
  • the right to enjoy one’s property so long as no aggression is initiated against others (non-aggression axiom)
  • property rights (in one’s person, home, possessions) create an individual, private sphere which must be protected from outside interference (by state, church, other individuals) (Humboldt & Mill)

EoL articles:

  • “Private Property”
  • “Nonaggression Axiom”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

(3.) Individual Liberty

Key ideas:

  • the dignity of the individual, individual autonomy, sanctity of life
  • an individual, private sphere which is protected from outside interference
  • right of voluntary association among individuals
  • civil society results from voluntary association between individuals with common interests
  • the Law of Equal Freedom (Spencer)

EoL articles:

  • “Civil Society”
  • “Individual Rights” & “Equality” (of rights)
  • “Freedom” & “Political and Ethical Individualism”
  • “Presumption of Liberty”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

  • Wilhelm von Humboldt argued that freedom was the “Grand and Indispensable Condition” for individual flourishing (1792) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/62
  • In Percy Shelley’s poem Liberty liberty is compared to a force of nature sweeping the globe, where “tyrants and slaves are like shadows of night” which will disappear in “the van of the morning light” (1824) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/101
  • Harriet Taylor wants to see “freedom and admissibility” in all areas of human activity replace the system of “privilege and exclusion” (1847) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/225
  • J.S. Mill’s great principle was that “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign” (1859) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/81
  • J.S. Mill spoke in Parliament in favour of granting women the right to vote, to have “a voice in determining who shall be their rulers” (1866) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/91
  • Lysander Spooner on the idea that laws against “vice” (victimless crimes) are unjust (1875) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/270
  • Lord Acton writes to Bishop Creighton that the same moral standards should be applied to all men, political and religious leaders included, especially since “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (1887) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/214

(4.) Idea of Spontaneous Order

Key ideas:

  • institutions emerge spontaneously and evolve over time
  • by pursuing their own selfish interests in a voluntary manner they are led as if by an “invisible hand” (Adam Smith) to promote the welfare of others
  • e.g. language, money, private law, markets

EoL articles:

  • “Spontaneous Order”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

(5.) Free Markets

Key ideas:

  • domestic free markets and international free trade (A. Smith, F. Bastiat, L. von Mises)
  • voluntary exchanges are mutually beneficial (ex ante)
  • division of labour
  • freely set market prices (information about supply & demand - Hayek)
  • private ownership of economic assets
  • private contracts for exchange of property
  • legal protection of property rights
  • decentralized decision-making - “I, Pencil” - Hayek’s “problem of knowledge”
  • no regulation outside of legal protection of property rights (tort law for fraud, damages)
  • complete freedom of movement of people (labour), capital, and goods (laissez-faire, laissez-passer)
  • minimal/no taxes, balanced government budgets
  • no subsidies or protection for favoured individuals or groups
  • the incentive of profit and the disincentive of losses

EoL articles:

  • “Capitalism”
  • “Laissez-Faire Policy” & “Competition”
  • “Division of Labor”
  • “Entrepreneurship” & “Free-Market Economy”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

(6.) Limited Government

Key ideas:

  • governments rule with the consent of the governed (Locke)
  • strictly defined powers limited by constitution or bill of rights (Jefferson, Madison)
  • right to choose one’s rulers/representatives (elections); elections to periodically remove bad governments (Philosophic Radicals - Mill)
  • checks & balances to limit power of branches of government (Montesquieu, US Constitution)
  • decentralization of power (federalism, states rights, municipal govt.)
  • the problem of defining the limits of govt. power (classical Smithian view, nightwatchman state (JB Say, Bastiat), anarcho-capitalism (Molinari, Spencer, Rothbard)
  • the problem of keeping government limited (Public Choce, "who guards the guardians?)

Overhead of “Spectrum of State Power” and “Functions of the Classical Liberal State”

Spectrum of State Power
Spectrum of State Power
Functions of the Classical Liberal State
Functions of the Classical Liberal State

EoL articles:

  • “Constitutionalism” & “Limited Government”
  • “Bill of Rights, U.S.” & “Federalism”
  • “Minimal State” & “State”
  • “Anarchism” & “Anarcho-Capitalism”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

(7.) Rule of Law

Key ideas:

  • rule of laws not of men
  • law applies equally to all (including agents of the state)
  • common law
  • independent courts
  • common law, trial by jury, right to habeas corpus
  • abolition of “cruel & unusual punishment” (torture, death penalty)

EoL articles:

  • “Coercion” & “Constitutionalism”
  • “Common Law” & “Law Merchant”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

  • Sir Edward Coke defends British Liberties and the Idea of Habeas Corpus in the Petition of Right before Parliament (1628) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/16
  • Sir William Blackstone provides a strong defence of personal liberty and concludes that to “secretly hurry” a man to prison is a “dangerous engine of arbitrary government” (1753) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/203
  • The IVth Amendment to the American Constitution states that the people shall be secure in their persons against unreasonable searches and seizures and that no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause (1788) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/134
  • J.S. Mill in a speech before parliament denounced the suspension of Habeas Corpus and the use of flogging in Ireland, saying that those who ordered this “deserved flogging as much as any of those who were flogged by his orders” (1866) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/87
  • Pollock on “our lady” the common law and her devoted servants (1911) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/330

(8.) Freedom of Speech & Religion

Key ideas:

  • freedom of the press
  • the right of assembly and right to engage in peaceful protest
  • no state-enforced religion
  • right to practice the religion of one’s choice
  • liberty of political belief and practice (18th & 19thC, JS Mill)
  • toleration of all unorthodox thought and (non injurious) behaviour

EoL articles:

  • “Conscience” (liberty of)
  • “Cosmopolitanism”
  • “Freedom of Speech” & “Freedom of Thought”
  • “Religion and Liberty” & “Separation of Church and State”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

(9.) Free Trade

Key ideas:

  • complete freedom of movement of people and goods (laissez-faire, laissez-passer)
    domestic free markets and international free trade (A. Smith, F. Bastiat, L. von Mises)
  • natural harmony of interests leads to peace
  • benefits of division of labour, comparative advantage (David Ricardo) exist between households, cities, regions, and “nation states”
  • no subsidies or protection for favoured individuals or groups
  • policy of unilateral free trade is beneficial to consumers

EoL articles:

  • “Free Trade”
  • “Natural Harmony of Interests”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

(10.) Peace

Key ideas:

  • non-interference in the affairs of other nations (Washington, Cobden)
  • international arbitration to solve disputes
  • free trade between all nations
  • war leads to higher taxes, debt, growth in size of government
  • opposed taxation, conscription, national debt to fund “standing army” & fight wars
  • favoured local, volunteer militias (US Bill of Rights) - irregular, guerrilla war (Am. Rev)
  • “war is the health of the state” (R. Bourne) & Robert Higgs’ “ratchet effect”
  • modern military is anti-individualistic, command economy (Mises), socialist institution
  • free and open immigration/emigration

EoL articles:

  • “Peace and Pacifism”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

(11.) Progress

Key ideas:

  • through hard work and initiative both individuals and society can be improved indefinitely
  • wealth creation is a product of the free market and trade
  • savings create pool of wealth to benefit current & next generation
  • goal of individual flourishing (Humboldt)

EoL articles:

  • “Economic Development”
  • “Material Progress”
  • “Progress”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

(12.) Right of Free Movement (Exit/Entry)

Key ideas:

  • internal (personal & geographical) - right to free movement within the state (no slavery, being tied to the land (serfs), internal passports & controls)
  • external (personal & geographical) - right to emigrate/immigrate, right to cross political borders
  • internal (govt, leave its “jurisdiction”)
    • right to change one’s government (“throw the bastards out” in free elections, problem of “serial bastardry”)
    • right of rebellion against unjust state, resistance to tyranny
    • the right to secede
    • the right to ignore the state (Spencer)

EoL articles:

  • “Right of Revolution” & “Secessionism”
  • Freedom of Movement - Emigration & “Immigration”

OLL Quotations from Key Texts:

Recommended Reading

General

David M. Hart, “Study Guides on the Classical Liberal Tradition” <davidmhart.com/liberty/Guides/ClassicalLiberalism/index.html>

  • Concept Map showing the key ideas of the Classical Liberal tradition
  • Part 1: Twelve Key Concepts of the Classical Liberal Tradition
  • Part 2: Ideological Movements and Key Political Events
  • Part 3: Quotations from Key Texts Illustrating Classical Liberal Ideas

Key Text: The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, ed. Ronald Hamowy (Los Angeles: Sage, 2008. A Project of the Cato Institute).

Anthologies of Primary Sources:

  • The OLL Reader: An Anthology of the Best of the Online Library of Liberty http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/best-of-the-oll
  • Quotations about Liberty and Power http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes : a selection of over 500 quotations from the most important texts in the OLL collection arranged by topic.
  • The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Readings from Lao-Tzu to Milton Friedman, ed. David Boaz (New York: The Free Press, 1997).
  • A Libertarian Primer, ed. David Boaz (New York: The Free Press, 1997).
  • Western Liberalism: A History in Documents from Locke to Croce, ed. E.K. Bramstead and K.J. Melhuish (London: Longman, 1978).

Histories of the Classical Liberal/Libertarian Movement:

  • Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty: A 2,000-Year History, told through the Lives of Freedom’s greatest Champions (New York: The Free Press, 2000).

  • A Libertarian Primer, ed. David Boaz (New York: The Free Press, 1997).
  • Brian Doherty, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007).

  • George Smith, The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

History and Theory of Free Market Economics:

  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, ed. David R. Henderson (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008). Also available online at Econlib http://www.econlib.org/library/CEE.html.
  • Murray N. Rothbard, An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought: Vol. I Economic Thought before Adam Smith (Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006).
  • Murray N. Rothbard, An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought: Vol. II Classical Economics (Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006).

One Volume Treatments of CL/L Theory and Policy

(Classic and Modern, in chronological order).

This is a list of one volume surveys of the classical liberal position which have appeared over the past two centuries. The defining characteristic is that they are an attempt to provide the reader with a survey of the basic political and economic principles behind the classical liberal tradition as well as some concrete proposals for reform in order to bring about a freer society. With the exception of Wilhelm von Humboldt’s The Limits of State Action which was written in 1792 but was not published in full until 1854, it seems that it was not until the mid–19th century before people began thinking of classical liberalism as a coherent body of thought which could be encapsulated in a one volume treatment.

One Volume Surveys of Classical Liberalism http://oll.libertyfund.org/groups/162.

  • Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Sphere and Duties of Government (The Limits of State Action) (1792, 1854) </titles/589>
  • Constant (1818??)
  • Gustave de Molinari, Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare (Conversations on Saint Lazarus Street) (1849)
  • Herbert Spencer, Social Statics (1851) </titles/273>
    • Herbert Spencer, Social Statics: or, The Conditions essential to Happiness specified, and the First of them Developed (London: John Chapman, 1851). http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/273.
      JS Mill, On Liberty (1859) </titles/347>
    • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859) in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XVIII - Essays on Politics and Society Part I, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Alexander Brady (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/233/16550.
  • Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Ethics (1879) </titles/1882>
  • Ludwig von Mises, Liberalismus (Jena: Fischer Verlag, 1927).
  • Bruce Smith, Liberty and Liberalism (1888) </titles/296>
  • Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (1960)
    • Friedrich A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1960).
  • Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (1962).
  • Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty (New York: Macmillan, 1973). Revised edition 1978.
  • David Friedman, Machinery of Freedom (1973)

What CLs were against

The relevant articles in the EoL which give a good idea of what CLs were AGAINST include the following:

  • “State”
  • “Taxation”
  • “War”
  • “Mercantilism”
  • Slavery - “World Slavery”

There are some surprising gaps in the coverage provided by the EoL which is might be expected given the complexity of the ideas and historical events spanning several centuries. It is already over 600 pages. Here are some topics which are missing from the EoL:

  • the Old Order (ancien régime)
  • Absolutism
  • Aristocracy
  • The Church
  • Religious persecution
  • Censorship
  • Class privilege
  • Serfdom (the abolition of serfdom in Europe between the late 18th and mid 19th centuries was one of the great examples of liberation of oppressed people in human history)

Articles on Key Concepts from the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism

Articles from The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism (EoL) which are most pertinent to my list of key concepts include the following. The items in bold are particularly important in my view.

One should begin with Steve Davies’ “General Introduction,” EoL, pp. xxv-xxxvii, which is an excellent survey of the ideas, movements, and key events in the development of liberty, then read as many of the following articles as you can:

  • Natural Law and Natural Rights
    • “Natural Law” & “Natural Rights”
    • “Theories of Rights”
    • “Utilitarianism”
  • Private Property
    • “Private Property”
    • “Nonaggression Axiom”
  • Individual Liberty
    • “Civil Society”
    • “Individual Rights” & “Equality” (of rights)
    • “Freedom” & “Political and Ethical Individualism”
    • “Presumption of Liberty”
  • Idea of Spontaneous Order
    • “Spontaneous Order”
  • Free Markets
    • “Capitalism”
    • “Laissez-Faire Policy” & “Competition”
    • “Division of Labor”
    • “Entrepreneurship” & “Free-Market Economy”
  • Limited Government
    • “Constitutionalism” & “Limited Government”
    • “Bill of Rights, U.S.” & “Federalism”
    • “Minimal State” & “State”
    • “Anarchism” & “Anarcho-Capitalism”
  • Rule of Law - “Rule of Law”
    • “Coercion” & “Constitutionalism”
    • “Common Law” & “Law Merchant”
  • Freedom of Speech & Religion, Toleration
    • “Conscience” (liberty of)
    • “Cosmopolitanism”
    • “Religion and Liberty” & “Separation of Church and State”
  • Free Trade
    • “Free Trade”
    • “Natural Harmony of Interests”
  • Peace
    • “Peace and Pacifism”
  • Progress
    • “Economic Development”
    • “Material Progress”
    • “Progress”
  • Right of “Exit/Entry”
    • “Right of Revolution” & “Secessionism”
    • Freedom of Movement - Emigration & “Immigration”

Readings on Key Movements and Events in the History of the CLT

One should begin with Steve Davies’ “General Introduction,” EoL, pp. xxv-xxxvii, which is an excellent survey of the ideas, movements, and key events in the development of liberty, then read some of the articles on specific historical periods, movements, schools of thought, and individuals. Items in quotes are entries in the EoL.

(1) The Pre-History of Classical Liberalism

  • The Ancient World
    • “Liberty in the Ancient World”
    • “Epicurianism”, “Stoicism”
    • “Cicero”
  • Medieval Period
    • “Magna Carta”
    • “Scholastics - School of Salamanca”
  • Reformation & Renaissance
    • “Classical Republicanism”
    • “Dutch Republic”

(2) The Birth of Classical Liberalism

  • The 17th Century
    • English “Common Law”: “Edward Coke”
    • “English Civil Wars”; “The Levellers”; “John Milton” & “Puritanism”
    • “Glorious Revolution”; “John Locke” & “Algernon Sidney”; “Whiggism”
  • The 18th Century
    • 18thC Commonwealthmen - “Cato’s Letters”
    • The Scottish Enlightenment; “Enlightenment”; “Adam Smith”, “Adam Ferguson” & “David Hume”
    • The French Enlightenment; “Physiocracy”; “Turgot”; “Diderot”, “Montesquieu” & “Voltaire”
    • “American Revolution”; “Declaration of Independence”; “Thomas Jefferson” & “Thomas Paine”; “Constitution, U.S.”; “James Madison”; “Bill of Rights, U.S.”
    • “French Revolution”; “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”

(3) Classical Liberalism Proper

  • The 19th Century
    • “Classical Liberalism” - the English School; “Philosophic Radicals”; “Utilitarianism”; “Jeremy Bentham”; “Classical Economics”; “John Stuart Mill”
    • “Classical Liberalism” - the French School; “Jean-Baptiste Say”; “Benjamin Constant”; “Charles Comte”; “Charles Dunoyer”; “Frédéric Bastiat”; “Gustave de Molinari”
    • Free Trade Movement; “Anti-Corn Law League”; “John Bright”; “Richard Cobden”
    • “Feminism and Women’s Rights”; “Mary Wollstonecraft”; “Condorcet”
    • Abolition of Slavery - “Abolitionism”; “William Wilberforce”; “William Lloyd Garrison”; “John Brown”; “Frederick Douglass”; “Lysander Spooner”
    • [The Radical Individualists]; “Thomas Hodgskin”, “Herbert Spencer”, “Auberon Herbert”
    • The “Austrian School of Economics” I; 1st generation - “Carl Menger”, “Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk”; interwar years - “Ludwig von Mises”, “Friedrich Hayek”

(4) The Modern Classical Liberal and Libertarian Movement

  • Post-World War 2 Renaissance
    • “Mont Pelerin Society” - “Friedrich Hayek”, “Milton Friedman”, “Karl Popper”, “James Buchanan”
    • Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) & “Antony Fisher”
    • Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) & “Leonard Read”
    • Institute for Humane Studies & “F.A. Harper”
  • The Austrian School of Economics II; post-WW2 2nd generation
    • “Ludwig von Mises”, “Friedrich Hayek”, “Murray N. Rothbard”, “Israel Kirzner”
  • Other Schools and Movements
    • “Chicago School of Economics” & “Milton Friedman”
    • “Public Choice Economics” & “James Buchanan”
    • “Objectivism” & “Ayn Rand”

Readings on Key Individuals in the History of the CLT

Here is a list of some of the key individuals involved in these developments (all have entries in the EoL):

  • John Milton
  • John Locke
  • Adam Smith
  • Turgot
  • Voltaire
  • Condorcet
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Madison
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • Jean-Baptiste Say
  • Frédéric Bastiat
  • Richard Cobden
  • William Wilberforce
  • William Lloyd Garrison
  • Lysander Spooner
  • Herbert Spencer
  • Carl Menger
  • Ludwig von Mises
  • Friedrich Hayek
  • Milton Friedman
  • James Buchanan
  • Antony Fisher, Leonard Read, & F.A. Harper
  • Murray Rothbard
  • Ayn Rand

Key Movements and Events which have hampered the Emergence of Free Societies

The items in quote marks have entries in the EoL:

  • Absolutist Monarchy and the Old Regime
    • Throne and Altar
    • Aristocracy
  • Mercantilism - “Mercantilism”
  • Slavery
    • “World Slavery”
    • “Slavery in America”
  • Napoleonic Wars
  • “Imperialism”
  • Economic Nationalism & Protectionism
    • “Nationalism”
  • Wars of Nation Building
    • “Civil War, U.S.”
    • German Wars of Unification
  • Socialism/Marxism
    • “Socialism”
    • “Marxism”
    • “Socialist Calculation Debate”
  • World War 1 - War Socialism
  • Inflation & Depression
    • “Interventionism”
  • “Fascism” & Bolshevism
  • “Economics, Keynesian” & “Welfare State”
    • “New Deal”
    • “Welfare State”
  • World War 2
    • Total War
    • “Military-Industrial Complex”