How the Online Library of Liberty follows the Strategies outlined by Pierre F. Goodrich

Date: 18 Feb. 2018


This paper should be read alongside my reconstruction of what I thought PFG's strategy to build a free society was; my thoughts on "An Historical Examination of Past and Present Strategies used to bring about Ideological and Political Change" (Feb. 2020) HTML; and the role "The Great Books about Liberty" could play in this by means of the discussion of "provocative pairing" of books about liberty: "The Conflicted Western Tradition: Some Provocative Pairings of Texts about Liberty and Power" (April, 2019) HTML.



General Aspects

  • the OLL locates in one easily accessible place the most complete collection of material about the “Long Tradition of Liberty” which is open to any interested individual anywhere in the world free of charge (a kind of virtual online version of the GSR)
  • provides educational resources outside the traditional university system which can be used by sympathetic scholars/teachers in that system or by other individuals privately
  • provides opportunities (gateways and links) to encourage visitors to read the texts for themselves
  • organises conversations among scholars about key thinkers and key ideas in this tradition
  • encourages visitors to download or buy copies of the books for their private use
  • shows the interconnections between authors (schools of thought) and texts (topics, debates) by hyperlinks instead of physical proximity or juxtaposition as happens in the GSR
  • shows that the Long Tradition about Liberty goes back thousands of years, is interdisciplinary in nature, disputed in the past (it is not a not a settled doctrine), and still discussed today

The Great Books about Liberty

A core component of the OLL collection is the list of the Great Books about Liberty which are engraved on the walls of the GSR

  • supplemented by books/authors from other lists PFG drew up periodically
  • books published by LF
  • other books in the classical liberal (“traditional liberal”) , free market, and (American) conservative traditions.

As of February 2018 there were 1,741 titles in the collection organized in 12 Subject Areas, 20 Topics, 13 Debates, and 15 Major Collections. There are also 482 authors organized by Historical Period and in 29 Schools of Thought.

The OLL version of these texts enable the reader to read the original for themselves by consulting the facsimile PDF. Many titles also provide a version of the text in its original language (French, German, Spanish, Latin).

A major goal of the collection is to show the links between these authors and texts, showing

  • the common threads concerning liberty in all its forms
  • providing links to other works, schools of thought, and topics
  • that ideas about liberty are inter-disciplinary and interconnected, with a long tradition

The commentaries on and study guides about the authors and texts (known in the collection as “the essays”) are kept separate from the texts so readers can, if they wish, read the texts without direction from others. There are 1,269 Essays and Study Guides organised in 23 categories.

“Manuals” and other Teaching and Learning Guides

The overriding goal is to encourage readers to read the texts for themselves without intermediation (unless they seek this out).

One aim is to provide more easily accessible “entry points” (or gateways) into the study of these classic texts by selecting key quotes or important chapters for readers to begin their study with. For example:

  • Quotes about Liberty and Power (now over 560) provide a striking and relevant passage with a connection to some contemporary problem or debate, an explanation of its historical context, why it is still relevant, and a link to the original book to encourage further reading
  • the OLL Reader contains nearly 200 classic chapters organised by topic (there are 12). The aim is to provide a survey and introduction to the tradition which is useful to beginners, show the breadth and interconnectedness of thinking about individual liberty, the long time span of the tradition, and also provide material which is of use in the class room or other teaching and learning situations.

Other guides fall into the category what PFG termed “manuals” which were to be substitutes for the “textbooks” he disliked so much. Our guides such as the subject, author, and topic guides and the other essays provide important background information needed to better understand the texts, multiple links to other related material as well as links to read the original texts themselves. Some of these related texts include opponents of liberty which we include as part of a “Debate”. Some more detailed guides include the following:

  • Eric Mack’s Guide to Locke’s Two Treatises is a section by section guide to his thought, with copious quotations each of which has a link back to the original text
  • Quentin Taylor’s detailed Guide to Federalist (likewise)
  • DMH Readers Guide to Bastiat

We also endeavour to show how ideas about liberty have influenced creative works in literature, music, and art. There are some works by Bach, Beethoven, Verdi; Blake, Shaftesbury, and Holbein; and Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare.

  • the 65 “illustrated essays” in the collection Images of Liberty and Power is another “gateway” we provide to catch the reader’s eye and encourage them to explore the related political and economic texts in more detail.

Conversations (and Debates) about Liberty

The OLL is less geared up to host formal face-to-face “conversations” about liberty which was so central to PFG’s strategic thinking. However, we have adopted a suggestion he made regarding debates and discussions “carried on by correspondence” as it were. We do this on the OLL in two ways:

  • we have constructed lists of texts which in the past have been part of historic debates on political and economic matters. Currently there are 13 such “debates” on topics such as the divine right of kings, the French Revolution, and liberty and equality.
  • for the past 6 years we have hosted “conversations” and debates among contemporary scholars in the Liberty Matters online discussion forums. To date there have been 32 such discussions. We pick authors of “the great books” and LF published books to show that these ideas are not dead and fixed forever but constantly being reinterpreted by modern scholars. We also encourage the scholars to point out any problems and gaps which require further research. All quotes from the key authors under discussion are linked back to the original texts so readers can read them for themselves.

The Next Steps to be Taken on the OLL

In my mind the next steps are “evolutionary” not “revolutionary” in nature. It would be

  • to fill in the gaps in the collection
  • provide more texts in the original langauge
    • side-by-side bilingual editions of important texts; Humboldt, Bastiat, Mises
  • explore the possibility of creating online “annotated editions” of important texts; invite scholars to write commentaries on key passages which can be viewed or not viewed at reader’s discretion
  • produce more “manuals” for users
    • guides to key authors and texts, especially the “big guns” like Mises, Hayek, Tocqueville, and to encourage younger scholars to write this material for us
    • expanded sections of OLL Reader on important topics like free trade, money, socialism; perhaps invite scholars to write introductions to these thematic collections
  • continue the LM online discussion of key authors and titles
  • continue to consult with scholars and teachers about creating new material they can use in the classroom
  • think about new ways to link the OLL to other LF projects, especially the Conference Program

Further Thoughts about Strategies Past and Present to Create a Free Society

We have an ongoing program to explore further the strategic thinking of PFG concerning how to help bring about a freer society. We have done this in an historical fashion by examining past efforts, whether successful or not successful, to introduce liberal reforms. In the Liberty Matters online discussion forum we have examined two specific examples of successful strategies and discussed what might be learned from them:

There are other topics of a similar nature which we could explore in the future, such as the anti-slavery movement.

We have also had a discussion of a more general nature about the impact of ideas and how societies change:

I have explored my ideas about strategy and “the production and distribution of ideas” in a more theoretical paper called “Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Scribblers: An Austrian Analysis of the Structure of Production and Distribution of Ideas” which I gave at the Southern Economics Association, New Orleans, November 21–23, 2015.