About this Blog


This blog contains the thoughts and musings of David Hart concerning the classical liberal tradition, war and the state, and film and art. His main website contains his research and a growing library of books in the classical liberal tradition.

[David contemplating the move back to Sydney.]

For more information see his CV (2019), a description of his Areas of Expertise and Scholarly Activity (PDF) and his LinkedIn page.

See the list of recent papers and talks at my website.

For an explanation of the banner image of Picasso’s “Guernica” see this page.

Bastiat’s Anti-socialist Pamphlets, or “Mister Bastiat’s Little Pamphlets”

One of the most prolific and persuasive critics of socialism in the late 1840s was the economists and free trade campaigner Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850). Between May 1848 and July 1850 he wrote a series of over a dozen anti-socialist pamphlets, or what the Guillaumin publishing firm marketed in their Catalog as the “Petits pamphlets de M. Bastiat” (Mister Bastiat’s Little Pamphlets), which included several for which Bastiat has become justly famous such as “The State” (June and Sept. 1848), “The Law” (July 1850), and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen” (July 1850). The pamphlets sold well for Guillaumin and they were reprinted several times and even marketed as a set which could be purchased for 7 fr. for the complete set of 12. Some originally appeared in journals such as the JDE, while others were written as stand alone pamphlets.

In two of his Election “Manifestos” which he circulated among the voters in his home district of Les Landes during the election campaign in May 1849,1 which he duly won, he identified the particular socialists whose ideas he was attacking in each one of them. Bastiat also wrote other anti-socialist essays and articles which are also included in the list below.

The “Small Pamphlets” included the following titles. The order of publication is provided by his editor Prosper Paillottet in the Oeuvres complètes , vol. 4, p. 274. We have added the price for each pamphlet from an advertisement we found in one of the Guillaumin books {Note_ 1 franc = 100 centimes]. The Paris Chamber of Commerce estimated that average wage per day for an ordinary worker in Paris at the time was about 3 fr. 80 c.,2 so the cost for a worker who purchased the pamphlet Damn Money! and the State for 40 c. was nearly 11% of their daily wage.

Bastiat’s series of anti-socialist pamphlets and articles (the links are to the works in French and to the English translation at the OLL where available):


  1. even before the February Revolution he had addressed the growing threat of socialism in essays like “Du Communisme,” Libre-Échange (27 juin, 1847) which he published in his free trade magazine. In this he criticized the socialist ideas of Philippe Buchez who edited the workers’ magazine L’Atelier (the Workshop) and became the first President of the Republic [ HTML and facs. PDF ]


  1. the first article he wrote after the Feb. Revolution was “Funestes illusions” (Disastrous Illusions) JDE (mars, 1848) in which he urged the people to abolish all political and economic privileges and not to replace the old group of “plunderers” with a new group as the socialists were urging them to do [ HTML and facs. PDF ] [English at OLL ]
  2. “Propriété et loi” (Property and Law) (JDE, May 1848) [40c.] – a defence of property rights against the criticism of socialists like Louis Blanc and others [ HTML and facs. PDF ] [English at OLL ]
  3. “Justice et fraternité” (Justice and Fraternity) (JDE, June 1848) – a response to the socialist Pierre Leroux [ HTML and facs.PDF ] [English at OLL ]
  4. “Individualisme et fraternité” (Individualism and Fraternity) (c. June 1848) – an unpublished paper also written to refute the socialist’s claim (esp. by Louis Blanc) that free markets led to ruinous individualism and competition while socialism led to fraternity and brotherhood for the workers. [ HTML ] [English at OLL ] This is a a topic he would return to in several chapters of Economic Harmonies such as chap. X “Concurrence” (Competition) [ HTML ] and XXI “Solidarité” (Solidarity) [ HTML ]
  5. “L’État” (June, Sept. 1848 and early 1849) [40 c.] : there were three versions of this famous essay – the 1st in June before the June Days riots in Paris which was short and written for the ordinary worker in the streets [English at OLL ]; the 2nd longer version was written for a high-brow magazine in Sept. 1848); and the 3rd longest version was written as a pamphlet and gave a detailed critique of Ledru-Rollin’s socialist (Montagnard) party platform. [ HTML and PDF] [English at OLL ].
  6. “Propriété et spoliation” (Property and Plunder) (JDD, July 1848) [40 c.] – a defence of property, especially of land (and the charging of rent), against the criticism of Victor Considerant [ HTML and facs. PDF ] [English at OLL ]


  1. “Protectionnisme et communisme. Lettre à M. Thiers” (Protectionism and Communism. A Letter to M. Thiers) (Jan. 1849) [35 c.]- addressed to the conservative politician Adolphe Thiers and the protectionist Mimerel committee pointing our the similarities between conservative and socialist policies, namely their use of state coercion to give privileges to some members of society at the expence of others [ HTML and facs. PDF ] [English at OLL ]
  2. “Capitale et rente” (Capital and Rent) (Feb. 1849) [35 c.] – in opposition to the criticisms of Proudhon and others on the legitimacy of rent. [ HTML and facs. PDF ]
  3. Maudit l’argent! (Damn Money) (April 1849) – in opposition to socialist misconceptions about money, banking, and debt. [ HTML and facs. PDF ]
  4. “Propriété, Communauté” (Private and Communal/Community Property) (chap. VIII of Harmonies Économiques 1850) (written mid 1849 and published in the first edition of EH in Jan. 1850) – Bastiat attempts to answer the socialist critique of private property by showing that a system based on private property actually increases the amount of “communal” property to the enormous benefit of all members of the community. [ HTML ]
  5. “Le capital” (Capital), Almanach Républicain pour 1849 (1849) – against Proudhon and Blanc HTML.


  1. Baccalauréate et socialisme (The Baccalaureat and Socialism) (early 1850) [60 c.] – written to oppose the teaching of interventionist and statist ideas (“socialism”) in government schools by means of the teaching of the Latin language which was supported by conservatives like Adolphe Thiers [ HTML and facs. PDF ] [English at OLL ]
  2. Gratuité du crédit. Discussion entre M. Fr. Bastiat et M. Proudhon (Free Credit. A Discussion between M. Fr. Bastiat and M. Proudhon) (1850) 1 fr. 75 c.] – an extended debate with Proudhon over the legitimacy of profit, interest and rent. [ HTML and facs. PDF ]
  3. Spoliation et Loi (Plunder and Law) (1850) [40 c.] – written to oppose the ideas of Louis Blanc, the Luxembourg Commission, and the National Workshops program [ HTML and facs. PDF ] [English at OLL ]
  4. La Loi (The Law) (June 1850) [60 c.] – one of the last things Bastiat wrote before his death; a lengthy critique of the ideas of Louis Blanc and the 18th century predecessors of socialist ideas, most notably Rousseau and Robespierre [ HTML and facs. PDF ] [English at OLL ]
  5. “Liberté, Égalité” (Liberty and Equality) (1850) – a draft of a chapter for the Harmonies Économies which was never published. He attempts to explain how the liberal understanding of “equality” differs from that of the socialists’. [ HTML ] [English at OLL ]

In the last months of his life he wrote on more general economic matters which also covered the errors of all kinds of interventionist policies, including of course, socialist intervention:

  1. Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas, ou l’Économie politique en une leçon (What is Seen and What is Not Seen, or Political Economy in One Lesson (1850) [60 c.] – [ HTML and facs. PDF ] [English at OLL ]
  2. his unfinished treatise on economic theory Harmonies Économiques (Economic Harmonies) : the first half published in his lifetime (10 chaps in early 1850) in facs. PDF ; and a partly “completed” posthumous edition in 1851 (with an additional 15 chapters or sketches of chaps, and an outline of a much larger future work on economic “harmony” and “disharmony”) in HTML and facs. PDF
  1. “Statement of Electoral Principles in April 1849” OC7.65 and “Statement of Electoral Principles in 1849. To MM. Tonnelier, etc.,” OC1. English at [CW1, pp. 390-95] []
  2. Chambre de Commerce de Paris [Horace Say], Statistique de l’Industrie a Paris résultant de l’enquête. Faite par la Chambre de commerce pour les années 1847-1848 (Paris: Guillaumin, 1851). “Chap. XXII. 13e Groupe – Imprimerie, Gravure, Papeterie,” pp. 187-94. []

The Socialist Critique of Private Property and Free Markets and the French Political Economists’ Response

[The cartoonist “Cham” ridicules the plans of the French socialists like Ledru-Rollin who dreams of a new socialist Terror. See, Amédée de Noé, dit Cham, “Ce qu’on appelle des idées nouvelles en 1848” (Paris?: Imp. Aubert & Cie, 1848).]

Before turning to the criticism of socialism by the French political economists it is important to understand what the socialist critique of wage labour, private property, and the free market societies actually was.

During the 1830s and 1840s the basic socialist criticisms of the free market were first expressed at some length and with some coherence, and solutions proposed (usually involving state ownership, regulation of economic activity, and transfer payments to the poor and unemployed) which would remain essentially the same for the next hundred years or so. These criticisms can be summarized as economic, moral/philosophical, and political in nature, and were usually articulated in the various “Manifestos” which were issued by socialist groups, such as Victor Considerant’s “Manifesto” of 1847, Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” of February 1848, and Ledru-Rollin’s “Manifesto for the Mountain Party” of December 1848.

More extensive criticism of the free market can be found in their longer works such as

  1. Louis Blanc, Organisation du travail. Association universelle. Ouvriers (1841) in French HTML and English HTML ; and Le Socialisme. Droit au travail, réponse à M. Thiers (1848)
  2. Victor Considerant, Principes du Socialisme. Manifeste de la Démocratie au XIXe siècle (1847) in French HTML and English HTML ; and Droit de propriété et du droit au travail (1848)
  3. Joseph Proudhon, Qu’est-ce que la propriété? ou Recherches sur le principe du Droit et du Gouvernement (1840) in French HTML and English HTML ; Système des contradictions économiques, ou philosophy de la misère (1846); Le droit au travail et le droit de propriété (1850);

[Proudhon believes “property is theft”]

These criticisms can be summarized as follows:

  1. Economic Criticism
  • the free market and bourgeois society is based upon private property which is unjust; the exclusive ownership of things, especially land, was a form of “theft” against those who did not own property, such as the ordinary worker. Hence Proudhon’s famous dictum “la propriety, c’est le vol” (property is theft)
  • wage labour leads to the “exploitation” of workers because they do not receive the full value of their labour, since some of it is withheld as “profit” by the factory owner
  • wage labour (especially factory work) “alienates” the workers from both the things they create and their full potential (this objection was put forward most forcibly by Karl Marx)
  • profit, interest, and land rent are unjust because they are “unearned” as the factory owner, capitalist or bank, and landowner do not “labour” to produce anything of value (important because most socialists believed that only “labour” produces wealth, hence if one did not “labour” then one inevitably exploited those who did)
  • competition has disastrous consequences for the workers in that they compete for scarce jobs and thus drive down the level of wages, thus becoming poorer and poorer (immiseration) under capitalism
  • there is a tendency towards the formation of monopolies which ruthlessly exploit consumers by charging excess profits and driving their competitors (and their workers) out of business, hence Louis Blanc’s idea that competition was a form of “murder” of workers
  • there are periodic economic crises which adversely affect the poor working class who are least able to survive during periods of unemployment
  • the emergence of international capitalism leads to “free trade”, global competition, and the destruction of national industry
  1. Moral/Philosophical Criticism
  • there is increasing inequality between the wealthy capitalists and the “bourgeoisie” on the one hand, and ordinary working people on the other
  • capitalism is “heartless” as a result of the selfish behaviour of individuals and the drive to get profits
  • there is the destruction of traditional communities as people seek work in the large cities and industrial towns and leave the countryside and smaller towns
  1. Political Criticism
  • the growing power and wealth of the “capitalist class” (the bourgeoisie) within the political system allows them to further their own ends at the expense of the weaker or non-voting working class
  • there is an unequal relationship between employers and labor, especially when it comes to bargaining for wages and conditions
  • the traditional “nuclear family” perpetuates bourgeois thought and behaviour

The political economists gradually realized the threat the socialists posed, both intellectually and increasingly politically after 1845 and addressed them accordingly in an outpouring of books and pamphlets, which unfortunately having been largely forgotten today:

  • Charles Dunoyer, La Liberté du travail (1845): literally on “the liberty of working” as opposed to the socialist notion of “the right to work (or right to a job)” – in French in facs. PDF via this page
  • Adolphe Thiers, De la propriété (1848) – (en français) in HTML and facs. PDF ; and in English with a slightly different title, The Rights of Property: A Refutation of Communism & Socialism (1848) in HTML and facs. PDF
  • Léon Faucher, Du droit au travail (1848)
  • Michel Chevalier, Lettres sur l’Organisation du travail (1848) [in French facs. PDF ] and L’économie politique et le socialisme (1849) [in French facs. PDF ]
  • Frédéric Bastiat’s series of 12 anti-socialist pamphlets (1848-1850) – [these will be discussed in more detail in a future post]
  • Gustave de Molinari, Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare; entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété (1849) [ HTML and facs,. PDF in French; draft English trans. at the OLL]
  • Bastiat and Proudhon, Gratuité du crédit (Oct. 1849 – Feb. 1850) – in French [ HTML and facs. PDF ]
  • Dictionnaire de l’économie politique (1852-53): with many articles on socialism and socialist theorists which was designed to be a compendium of criticism of socialist and other forms of interventionism by the state – in French facs. PDF

[Molinari on the other hand believes socialists will inevitably fail because they ignore “economic laws”]

Their rebuttal of socialist criticisms of the free market and their concerns about why socialism would fail in practice were extensive and detailed. The economists argued that the socialists ignored or misunderstood the following problems:

  • the incentive problem: communally organised living and working arrangements destroy incentives for individuals to work hard when all “profits” go to the community to be equally distributed
  • the division of labour problem: people with key skills (managerial, financial, technical, organisational, entrepreneurial) need to be paid for their extra contribution to the productive process
  • the risk problem: all economic activity involves risks (loss, miscalculation, natural disaster) which needs to be rewarded
  • the injustice of expropriation: to create any socialist system of production existing justly owned property has to be confiscated and given to new communally organised groups
  • the individual liberty problem: many socialists modeled their proposed new communal organisations on the army or a government bureaucracy (like the post office); these organisations would be deliberately hierarchical, with command from above, communal eating and sleeping arrangements, and general loss of individual choice and liberty
  • the human nature problem: socialists assumed that human nature is not fixed but malleable, that it is possible to create a” new socialist man” who would not be selfish or acquisitive; the economists believed humans were social but not communist, self-interested (broadly understood) not willing to sacrifice their interests to the community’s; and that people had vastly different tastes, preferences, skills, and interests which would and not be taken into account under socialism
  • the public choice problem – rulers were not disinterested parties but had own agendas
  • the problem of ignoring economic laws – the economy is governed by economic “laws” (such as the law of supply and demand) which cannot be ignored or wished away by well meaning people

What is striking to the modern reader, are the similarities between both the socialist critique of free markets and the economists’ defense of them of the 1840s and those of today. It would seem that we collectively have remembered nothing of them and thus have learned nothing from them. The major differences in my view is the Hayekian notion that free market prices carry vital information about the relative scarcity of goods and services and the changing demands of both consumers and other producers which are all crucial factors in entrepreneurs knowing what to produce, when and where. This idea is only rudimentary at best or completely absent from the political economists’ understanding of the problems faced by socialist production. On the other hand, the modern day socialists have greatly expanded the Malthusian critique of the ability of free markets to feed and clothe the poorest members of society, and applied this to a critique of “capitalism’s” over-exploitation and thus depletion of resources, its pollution of the environment, and the problem of “global warming” (sorry, “climate change”). It would seem that the proposed “Green New Deal” is just another in the long list of attempts by socialists to centrally plan the economy and thus avoid the waste and destruction inherent in free markets.

The socialist challenge in the 1840s was eventually put down by brutal police action in 1849 and many, like Louis Blanc, were imprisoned or sent into exile. However, their ideas were not so easily defeated. Some of their ideas would be taken up by the soon to be (self-)appointed Emperor Napoleon III and imposed from above in what would become a newly invigorated form of French “dirigisme” or “state socialism”. “Socialism proper” (in the form of working class socialist or labour parties) would reemerge in the 1880s and 1890s and would be met again by the French political economists in another round of anti-socialist publishing activity. This will be the topic of a future post.

On Cham’s cartoon see my talk on “Unfortunately, Hardly Anyone Listens to the Economists”: The Battle against Socialism by the French Economists in the 1840s.

The State of the Libertarian Movement after 50 Years (1970-2020): Some Observations

See my earlier posts:

[Collapsed Building, Bangladesh (Apr. 20213)]

1.) The Collapse of the Liberty Movement in Australia and Elsewhere in 2020

What we have witnessed during 2020 in Australia and probably in the UK and US as well, was the catastrophic collapse and failure of the liberty movement in the face of the Covid hysteria and panic, and the lockdown socialism which has been the result (or in the case of the state of Victoria “lockdown stalinism”). We haven’t seen anything like such an expansion of government power and intervention in the Australian economy since the mid-1970s, and I fear 2021 will continue down this path with barely a squeak of protest.

In 1972 the social democratic Labor Party came to power and in the space of three years completely transformed the Australian economy, including the introduction of a country-wide single payer health care system, huge increases in taxation, and in government debt. That is the reason why I first became active in libertarian politics and I joined many thousands of people who were appalled and outraged at what was happening. Last year, a conservative government did more in 10 months to expand the power of the state, increase debt, and drastically cut private economic activity than three years of a “socialist” government back in the 1970s.

Yet where are all those who once could be relied on to speak out and stand up for liberty? They are all lying low and saying and doing nothing.

Something very similar has happened in the UK and has been recognized by an interesting post on the Lockdown Skeptics website looking back on the anniversary of the first lockdowns in March 2020. See “The First Anniversary of “Three Weeks to Flatten the Curve”” Lockdown Sceptics (23 March 2021) article

It is hard to know what to do in the face of this. Is it “betrayal” of our ideals? cowardice? the failure of their critical faculties, on many levels, to question the dictates of politicians and the so-called advice of technocrats? Have they forgotten all the economics they once knew? Have they stopped loving liberty? Have they become “willing slaves”? Who knows.

2.) Some Reasons for Optimism 50 Years ago

When I look back over my working life things seemed to be more hopeful back in the 1970s and 1980s than they seem today. In 1974 I was at high school in Sydney at the time and had just discovered libertarianism the year before. My path was not unusual – Rand, then Rothbard, then Mises and Hayek. Toss in Lysander Spooner and Bastiat as well for good measure.

At that time, there were reasons for some optimism: Hayek won the Nobel Prize in 1974; Friedman in 1976; Nozick had published Anarchy, State, and Utopia to much acclaim; Rothbard had published a best seller with a mainstream publisher For a New Liberty. A couple of years later Thatcher became PM (1979) followed by Ronald Reagan in 1981; Roger Douglas was Minister of Finance in NZ in 1984 and began deregulating its economy. . Free market ideas were even beginning to appear in popular culture with Friedman’s “Free to Choose” in 1980 and “Yes, Minister” (1981). This was all topped off with the coming down of “The Wall” in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It seemed we were on a roll and victory might be seen, admittedly at the end of a still very long tunnel.

On a personal note I was living in Stanford when Reagan was President, and then in Cambridge when Thatcher was in power, so I was able to witness what was going on first hand. But that is another story.

But then progress in our direction stopped and everything thing seemed to unravel during the 1990s. Instead of cutting back on military expenditure and using the savings to begin winding back the welfare state the neo-cons got control of the US and pushed it in the opposite direction. So I see the 1990s as the “lost decade” for libertarianism. When 9/11 occurred the stage was set for what turned out to be 2 decades of the expansion of state power, not its winding back. I thought in 2001 that the US was “only one crisis” away from full fascism. In 2020 that new crisis might well have come. The people are afraid and they automatically turn to the state for help.

3.) The Willing Slavery of everybody around us today

Watching the craven way in which people just surrendered all their liberties without a fight or even a peep of protest in 2020 made me go back to Étienne de la Boétie’s great essay “Discourse of Voluntary Servitude” (c. 1550s) in order to understand better why this was happening. I started putting different versions of the essay online in English and French. See the Boetie index page His conclusion was that most people accepted the fact of and necessity for being “willing slaves” as a result of custom, education, and ultimately the threat of force. A very few had “a love of liberty” in their hearts which couldn’t be extinguished and struggled against this servitude. The frustrating thing is that he also realized that if enough people just said “no” to the state it would crumble. The problem was to figure out how to fan the spark of the love of liberty in those that had it into a stronger flame, as well as the bigger problem of creating a tiny spark in those who did not already have it. That too is our perennial problem and it has just got much, much worse.

4.) Rethinking the Strategy to achieve Liberty

In Nov. 2020 I also went back to the various papers I had on libertarian strategy going back to Rothbard’s seminal paper) “Toward a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change” (April, 1977) which I put online in a new clean copy (I had an old one there for over a decade but nobody paid any attention to it). I also got hold of several others papers from a conference on strategy which Koch and Rothbard organized in 1976 at the time of the founding of the Libertarian Party and the Cato Institute. These are very interesting and are not readily available. I wanted to provoke a more serious discussion of strategy given the current dire circumstances. See these papers here.

I started getting interested again in strategy back in 2015 when I began writing a few papers and we organised a Liberty Matters discussion on the spread of CL ideas. I wrote even more position papers when Liberty Fund was going through its “Strategic Refresh” in 2018 but these too were all ignored. Some of these are also listed under Nov. 2020 new additions on my website.

5.) The Growing number of Fronts on which we have to fight for liberty

[M46 Patton and M4 Sherman Tanks massed in Korea]

Back in 2010 when Liberty Fund celebrated its 50th anniversary I thought that there was little to celebrate since in the previous 10 years it, along with the other well-funded liberty organizations, seemed to have had no impact in halting some of the greatest new threats to liberty, such as the expansion of wars in the Middle East (now going on for 20 years); the massive and secret surveillance of private emails and phone calls; the restrictions and impediments to plane travel implemented by a massive new bureaucracy; and most recently the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-9 which had seen the almost instantaneous conversion of nearly all economists into Keynesians (if they weren’t already).

It was at this time that I drew up my first list of four major ongoing and new threats to liberty which the liberty movement had failed to address adequately up to 2010. These were:

  1. War: the expansion of the warfare state following 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its further proliferation in Libya, Syria and elsewhere
  2. Presidential Power: the growth of presidential power and the abdication of Congress to restrain these powers, such as declaring and financing foreign wars, or ordering the execution of individuals deemed “enemies of the state” without court or congressional oversight
  3. The Surveillance State: the power of the NSA and other agencies to spy upon and surveil ordinary citizens at will
  4. Sound Money and Banking: the knee-jerk reversal to Keynesian orthodoxy following the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/9, concerning government debt, deficits, and monetary expansion

I tried to encourage my colleagues to discuss this but they were not interested. They were too busy “celebrating.”

Now 10 years later in 2020 not only have we not been able to counter these four serious threats to liberty, we can add three more to the above list:

  1. Protectionism: and the use protectionist trade policies under President Trump after 2016
  2. Socialism: the growth in interest in “socialism” since the 2018 elections; the open self-identification of many politicians as “democratic socialists” is a bad omen
  3. Radical Environmentalism: the Green movement (e.g. the Green New Deal) has become a powerful force and uses fear of “global warming” as cover for socialism; its impact on the thinking of school age children is very worrying for the the future of liberty

If these seven “pre-existing conditions” (to use a medical metaphor) were not enough to frighten lovers of liberty with the enormous effort and time which countering any one of these threats would require, we now face yet two more additional threats to add to my list:

  1. Critical Race Theory and Wokeness – which has exploded in the last few years and seems to have taken over all levels of education, but most especially the university sector; I fear that this has progressed to the point where we have lost at least one generation, perhaps two, to pro-liberty ideas
  2. Hygiene Socialism: the hysteria and panic over a virus which has come about because of the public’s change in their tolerance (and accurate evaluation) of risk, the uncritical acceptance of false mathematical models of the spread of the disease, and belief that government central planning and massive restrictions on individual liberty and economic activity can “halt” the spread of the disease and save more lives than it takes.

It is depressing when one lists these threats to liberty on one page. To switch to a military metaphor, it is hard to know where to begin to fight back on a battle field with so many fronts. Our army is small and theirs is so large and apparently growing in numbers and strength. If we only have scarce resources to fight on one or two fronts, which ones should we focus on? what should we do about the other fronts? can we still fight and win some skirmishes on the margin? what happens about the core or the HQ of the state’s armies? do we have to wait for some crisis or collapse to show people the folly of the old statist ways of doing things? how do we know that something worse won’t replace the current system? have we entered a new “Dark Ages” of liberty which was a fear Pierre Goodrich wrote about in one of the founding memoranda for Liberty Fund which he wrote in the late 1950s?

I was struck by this pessimism of Goodrich when I first read it. One function of the Online Library of Liberty, in the light of this, was to act as a “scriptorum” where dedicated (electronic) monks would copy the great books of liberty for the benefit of future generations , since the current generation had lost interest in and knowledge of these works. It was a very long-term strategy and one Goodrich seriously thought about when LF was founded. I wonder if anybody today is taking a similar long term perspective. And if so, does it really matter given the foes we now face on numerous fronts?


The year 2020 has turned out to be a watershed year in the struggle for liberty. Little did we expect that a corona virus (remember when they called it the “novel” corona virus which meant it was merely the latest of several such viruses we have encountered?) would turn the tables against liberty and the liberty movement so suddenly, so completely, and with so little resistance on the part of the public.

But we need to keep this latest attack on the principles, practices, and institutions of liberty in some historical perspective. I believe that when we do that our plight will appear to be even worse than we have imagined. I say this because this latest expansion of state power (what I have termed “hygiene socialism” or “lockdown socialism”) comes on top of the eight other major areas of expanded state power which have emerged over the last 20 years, which remain largely unchallenged (intellectually) and still intact (politically). Had we been able to make some headway in reducing these other manifestations of state power and intervention, weakening their intellectual justification, persuading voters to exercise their electoral power to elect politicians to begin dismantling key government programs, then we would be in a much better position to tackle head-on this latest manifestation of state power, but because it comes on top on these existing programs, our task has suddenly become much harder.

My great fear is that in order to continue to impose and expand hygiene socialism the state will seek and get enthusiastic public support to use these other, pre-existing programs to do this. This means that the corrupted system of money and banking will be called upon to “fund” programs to support failed businesses, locked-down workers, and drug manufacturers; the extensive system of surveillance of private citizens will be used to “trace” and “monitor” suspected disease carriers (or “ex-disease” carriers); the trade policy of “protection” for domestic industry will be expanded to make sure that “the nation” will be able to manufacture all of its “own” masks and vaccines and not be “dependent” on foreign manufacturers (especially the dreaded “Chinese”), and so on. The result will be an expanding and increasingly interlocked system of government programs and interventions which will be argued is “necessary” in order to secure the “safety of the people” (salus populi). Of course, this notion of “the safety of people” could be vastly expanded to other risks to life and limb which are even greater than covid 19. Once one has started down this slippery slope of statism there is no stopping once a certain momentum has built up.

Given the nine “battle fronts” on which we now have to fight the battle of ideas the big issue as far as I can see is whether or not we can identify the “golden thread” which ties all these different fronts together. If we could pick at that thread and unravel the whole cloth, we might have a chance of reversing the course of the battle. But I don’t know what that thread is. Do you?

[Chinese “Tank Man”]

The Great Books of Liberty

For over twenty years I have been working on making “the great books of liberty” (or “GBL”) accessible and more widely known . These GBL are a subset of the larger “great books” program pioneered by the University of Chicago under the direction of Mortimer Adler (1902-2001) back in the 1950s. Like many people growing up in the 1960s and 1970s our school library had the distinctive custom-made shelf unit which housed the collection of 54 volumes of “the Great Books of the Western World” which one usually bought as a set along with its three companion volumes which tried to make some sense of the collection for the ordinary reader.

These “Introductory Volumes” included a volume on “The Great Conversation” and two volumes on “The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon”, which was a rather awkward neo-Latin word for a “collection of topics”.1

After regular sales produced very poor results in the beginning, the publisher Encyclopedia Britannica employed experienced door-to-door salesmen to sell the set as they would any other “encyclopedia” designed for the home market. This resulted in the sale of millions of the sets, although we have no data about how many of these volumes ever got read by the presumably suburban purchasers.

See these Wikipedia entries for details:
Great Books of the Western World – Wikipedia
A Syntopicon – Wikipedia
Great Conversation – Wikipedia
– and a cutdown version of only 10 volumes: Gateway to the Great Books – Wikipedia

Mortimer Adler’s 102 Great Ideas

Adler thought he could identify 102 “Great Ideas” on which he wrote short introductory essays to the very detailed list of specific pages in “the great books” in the collection. In 1992 Adler updated his introductions which was republished as The Great Ideas: a Lexicon of Western Thought (1992) along with another volume, Mortimer Adler: “The Great Conversation Revisited,” in The Great Conversation: A Peoples Guide to Great Books of the Western World, (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1990).

These “102” ideas were:

Volume I: Angel, Animal, Aristocracy, Art, Astronomy, Beauty, Being, Cause, Chance, Change, Citizen, Constitution, Courage, Custom and Convention, Definition, Democracy, Desire, Dialectic, Duty, Education, Element, Emotion, Eternity, Evolution, Experience, Family, Fate, Form, God, Good and Evil, Government, Habit, Happiness, History, Honor, Hypothesis, Idea, Immortality, Induction, Infinity, Judgment, Justice, Knowledge, Labor, Language, Law, Liberty, Life and Death, Logic, and Love.

Volume II: Man, Mathematics, Matter, Mechanics, Medicine, Memory and Imagination, Metaphysics, Mind, Monarchy, Nature, Necessity and Contingency, Oligarchy, One and Many, Opinion, Opposition, Philosophy, Physics, Pleasure and Pain, Poetry, Principle, Progress, Prophecy, Prudence, Punishment, Quality, Quantity, Reasoning, Relation, Religion, Revolution, Rhetoric, Same and Other, Science, Sense, Sign and Symbol, Sin, Slavery, Soul, Space, State, Temperance, Theology, Time, Truth, Tyranny and Despotism, Universal and Particular, Virtue and Vice, War and Peace, Wealth, Will, Wisdom, and World.

The ideas of individual liberty and constitutional government were important to Adler as the above lists indicate. For example, there are entries on Aristocracy, Constitution, Democracy, Government, Labor, Law, Liberty, Monarchy, Oligarchy, Revolution, Slavery, State, Tyranny and Despotism, War and Peace, and Wealth. He would also write other books in which the idea of freedom or liberty would be given a more prominent position, such as The Idea of Freedom (1958); Six Great Ideas (1984) which were Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Liberty, Equality, and Justice; and We hold these truths : Understanding the Ideas and Ideals of the Constitution (1987).2

I have put online the essays and “links” or references to the texts dealing with Government and Liberty as examples of the extraordinary industry which Adler and his editorial assistants gave to this enormous project. All this or course in the pre-computer era.

His original list of 102 “great ideas” is an eclectic and very idiosyncratic mixture of ideas and concepts which were, on the one hand, an heroic attempt to organise a mass of material but, on the other hand, one which I think fails to do justice to the diversity of thinking and creative activity which is the hallmark of the several thousands of years old “civilisation” or “tradition”, “western” or otherwise.

Adler and the Encyclopedia Britannica publishers which backed the project were criticized for their many omissions, such as women authors and “people of colour” from the Left (especially during the 1970s), as well as for their emphasis on “ideas” rather than the style or form of the works (especially of art and literature). It was also criticized from the Right, such as their erstwhile collaborator, Pierre Goodrich, the founder of Liberty Fund, who had his own idea of the “great books” which placed a much great emphasis on individual liberty, limited government, and free markets than Adler and his colleagues did. For instance, the only economic ”ideas” Adler included in his list were “Labor” and “Wealth” but not “Markets,” “Private Property,” “Cooperation,” “Taxation,” or “Coercion”. There is also no entry for “Individual” or “Individualism” which I believe is a key concept which emerged out of the western tradition.

Being both a business and an intellectual entrepreneur, Goodrich solved the problem by setting up his own foundation in 1960 in competition with Adler’s group at the University of Chicago to promote his own vision of “the great books of liberty.” It was to put online Goodrich’s vision of the GBL that I was originally employed by LF some 20 years ago. The results of my efforts can be seen here:

When the new building for Liberty Fund was being designed the Board wanted to pay homage to Goodrich’s vision of the GBL by having the names of the 100 authors on his list prominently displayed on the exterior of the building, as this photo shows.

[The facade of LF’s new building in Indianapolis, IN.]

Most unfortunately, the end result is largely a failure as the names are barely visible from the main road (even when the sunlight is shining at the right angle), and probably never read by the drivers of the cars as they rush by at high speed. The greatest failing of their attempt is that Goodrich had a teleology in mind, as he believed all these authors and great books were leading up to the writing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but this end point and purpose is mysteriously hidden from view around a corner of the building. It is not visible from the street and is so well hidden and obscured that it is barely visible through a window from one side room which is not used very often.

The Contested Nature of the Great Books

[Jonathan Swift, The Battle of the Books (1704)]

If the gender or ethnicity of the authors, or the feature of a work which defines its “greatness” (the ideas it contains, or its form and style) is a matter of disagreement, I would add my own criticism. This is the idea that “great books” seem to emerge as a whole out of the surrounding intellectual sea in which they were given birth. My view is that what we have now come to regard as “great books” were not deemed such at the time of their appearance, that they came out of or produced hotly contested debates among many authors and groups, in other words they were “contested” at the time and continued to be be “contested” in the present as the debates about the gender and ethnicity of the authors and the general “wokeness” of their content clearly demonstrate.

I think the editors of the original collection were aware of this problem and attempted to deal with it as best they could. As they stated in the first volume on abc concerning what they termed “subordinate types of questions” (Preface to volume 1 of Syntopicon, pp. xxii-xxiii)

The question, *What books other than those published in this set contain important discussions of this ideas?* is answered, to some extent, by the Additional Readings listed in the chapter on each of the great ideas.

The question, *What is the history of the ideas, its various meanings, and the problems or controversies it has raised?* is answered, at least initially, by the Introduction to the chapter on each of the great ideas. Here as before, if the reader’s interest is aroused to further inquiry, the topics, the references under them, the passages in the great books referred to, and the books listed in the Additional Readings, provide the means for a fuller exploration of the idea, in varying degrees of thoroughness and ramification.

In the example I have provided, the Introductory essay on the idea of “Liberty”, one can see for oneself how well they have succeeded in doing this. I fear that sometimes the project becomes so bogged down in details and cross-references that this noble goal disappears from view.

Thus, in the spirit of Goodrich, I have drawn up my own list of “the great books”, a kind of competing “great books” list, in order to make the contested nature of their appearance and content more clearly visible to the contemporary reader. My list at present contains some 17 “pairings” of texts and I plan to expand this in due course. This approach I realize is easier to do with books which deal with questions about the liberty of the individual, the extent of the power of the state, the nature of property rights, and the free market, but I suspect a creative person interested in literature or art could do something similar with the “texts” they are most familiar with. There might be the conflict between “traditionalists” and “innovators” for example. I would love to teach in a broad “Great Books” course where experts in different disciplines could adopt a similar methodology. Furthermore, this approach is very much in the tradition of the original Adlerian approach which was to invoke the study of the Great Books as a continuation of “the great conversation” which has been going on in the west for centuries. By having our own “conversations” in the present about hotly contested “topics” we can continue this excellent approach to teaching and learning.

My list of “provocative pairings” of texts is now on the front page of my website) and contains the introduction which I include below. Wherever possible I include a copy of the text in its original language as I think it important to be able to read some of the texts in the language in which it was actually written, rather than just rely on translations. And since I am now living back in Australia, I have made an attenmpt to include wherever possible a domestic equivalent to show the universal nature of these debates and conversations.


There are different schools of thought about what makes “the western tradition” “western”. One common perspective (advocated here) is to argue that it was in “the west” where ideas about the individual (including individual “natural rights”), limits to the political power of the ruler, the rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, and free markets (in fact the whole discipline of “economics”), were preconditions for the emergence of the industrial revolution (and the massive increase in wealth this made possible) and the institutions and practices of “liberal democracy” such as constitutional government.

However, the emergence of these ideas, institutions, and practices was not inevitable and was in fact hotly contested within “the west” itself, both ideologically (in print) and politically (i.e. by the use of violence). Ideologically, it seems extraordinary to me that “the” western tradition could produce two such contrasting thinkers such as Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer, for example. Thus I think that the best way to understand how the ideas and institutions now associated with “the west” emerged, is to see it as the result of a “dialogue” or “conversation” (and sometimes an outright “battle of the books” as Jonathan Swift described it) between opposing positions.

Politically, many of the iconic texts of “the western tradition” were burned and/or banned and their authors censored, imprisoned, tortured, and even executed by the Catholic Church and various governments. In other words, they were “indexed”. Thus, the struggle was not just an ideological one but also sometimes a violent political one since traditional ruling elites did not relinquish their power and privileges without episodes of violence, such as the Reformation and the Wars of Religion, the English Civil Wars and Revolution, and the revolutions that followed in North America, France, and across Europe in 1848. So it seems to me that the ideological disputes we can read in the texts need to be placed against the backdrop of political events, with the texts being seen as sometimes precursors to political change or reactions to previous political change.

My “Provocative Pairings” of some of the Texts

I suggest that an interesting way to read the “great books” of the western tradition is by pairing each one with a contemporary (or near contemporary) text which takes a different view. This approach works especially well with books on political, economic and social theory. See my paper on “The Conflicted Western Tradition: Some Provocative Pairings of Texts about Liberty and Power” for the Association of Core Texts and Courses annual conference, April 2019, Santa Fe, NM., where I explore this approach in more detail.

Below is a list of some “great” (i.e. influential) books in the western tradition about political power which oppose the idea of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government and which I have paired with a contemporary “pro-liberty” text. Wherever possible I also link to the original language version of the texts as translations can be of variable quality (see the specific book page for details); and in a couple of instances I also include an Australian counterpart if it is available.

See the list here.

I am planning to write a more detailed Study Guide for my list of Provocative Pairings and put it online in due course.

  1. The Great Ideas. A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World. M. J. Adler, Editor in Chief. William Gorman, General Editor (Encyclopaedia Britannica: Chicago, [1952). []
  2. Mortimer Adler, The Idea of Freedom : a Dialectical Examination of the Conceptions of Freedom (Garden City, New York : Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1958); Six Great Ideas: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty – Ideas we Judge By. Liberty, Equality, and Justice – Ideas we Act On (New York: Collier Macmillan, 1984).; and We hold these truths : Understanding the Ideas and Ideals of the Constitution (New York : Macmillan, 1987). []

James Gillray on Debt and Taxes during the War against Napoleon

James Gillray (1756-1815) trained as an engraver but became best known for making hundreds of caricatures of British social and political life in the 1790s and 1800s. He satirized in particular King George III, William Pitt, the French Jacobins, Napoleon, and many others in the British political and military establishment. A recurring theme in his work was the dramatic increase in taxation and the national debt which was imposed in order to fight the wars against Napoleon and which placed a growing burden on the English people (represented as “John Bull”).

Gillray also satirized the large numbers of well-connected people in the government and the military who profited from increased government expenditure by depicting them as greedy cormorants, sucking pigs, highway men, and wasps and hornets. These individuals came from both sides of the political spectrum (from the both the Whig and the Tory parties) and were thus called members of the “Broad Bottom’d” (or bipartisan) party.

“BEGGING no ROBBERY; i.e. Voluntary Contribution; or John Bull escaping a Forced Loan” (1796) s one of several caricatures Gillray did about the “voluntary loan” which was a thinly veiled threat by the government that a “forced loan” would be imposed on taxpayers to raise money for the war effort if they did not make “voluntary” contributions to the exchequer.

Here we see John Bull riding an emaciated horse which looks like it is on its last legs. He has been waylaid by highwaymen hiding in the bushes as he rides by and is obliged to make a “donation” of coins into their hat instead of being forced to make a loan to the government to fund the army. The men in the bushes on the right have pistols pointed at him and are wearing fine robes and hats which suggest that they represent the aristocracy, the church, and the law. The man kneeling by the roadside is a soldier wearing torn and bedraggled clothes. He has in his pocket a pistol and a sheet of paper which says “forced loan in reserve”. He is holding a blunderbuss on which is written “standing army”. In the speech bubble above him it says “Good Sir, for Charity’s sake, have Pity upon a poor ruin’d Man; drop if you please, a few bits of Money into the Hat, & you shall be rewarded hereafter.”

“More PIGS than TEATS, or the new Litter of hungry Grunters sucking John Bull’s old Sow to death” (1806). In this caricature John Bull is shown as a pig farmer who has come to check on his old sow in the pig stye. The sow represents the British economy which was being sucked dry by all the demands being placed upon it by the British government in order to fight the war against Napoleon, especially the new war taxes. Those doing the “sucking” are the vested interests which benefited from the policy of war, such as members of the government, the law, the military, and the aristocracy. John Bull is shocked to see his poor emaciated sow (emaciated and near death, with a very forlorn look on her face) being besieged by “hungry Grunters” wanting to suck at her teats. John Bull says “O Lord. O Lord! I never had such a dam’d Litter of hungry pigs in all my life before! why they’s beyond all count! [I count 28 (editor)]. where the devil do they think I shall find Wash & Grains for all their Guts? zookers, why they’ll drain the poor old Sow to an Otomy! (?) e’cod She’ll make but bad Bacon for Boney [the English nickname for Napoleon Bonaparte], when they’s all done sucking o’her!!!”

“A Great Stream from a Petty-Fountain; or John Bull swamped in the Flood of new-Taxes; Cormorants Fishing the Stream” (1806). In this caricature, on the left we see John Bull (the personification of Britain) in a sinking boat which has been swamped by a mass of new taxes to fund the war against Napoleon. He has lost hold of an oar with the name of “William Pitt” written on it. [William Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister from 1804-1806 as well as Chancellor of the Exchequer (or minister of finance)]. On the right we see a man’s head (probably Lord Henry Petty the new Chancellor of the Exchequer) from whose mouth pours a fountain of water labeled “new taxes” which are named in the cascades of the fountain (taxes on salt, tea, hops, malt, sugar, alcohol, candles, horses, servants, soap, houses, land, stamps, windows, property, etc.). In the foreground we see 10 hungry cormorants with human heads devouring the fish, crabs, and eels which thrive in the waters of the tax fountain. In the middle ground there are 2 other human-headed birds; in the distance we can see dozens more hungry cormorants heading towards the tax feast. The heads of the cormorants probably depict prominent politicians and other figures of the day.

In these cartoons Gillray seems to have an understanding of a classical liberal theory class analysis where the productive many are exploited by the unproductive few. This view is epitomised in this 1816 illustration of John Bull as a modern “Atlas” who has to carry the parasitic British establishment of the monarchy and the standing army on his shoulders.

For a discussion of more images by Gillray, see this illustrated essay and “John Bull as the British Atlas” (1816).

See also “Images of the Ruling Class and the State” and “Images of the Ruled as “Atlas”