Liberty in Australia and the Asia-Pacific Region

[Building the “beacon of liberty” (1876)]

Where now is “the beacon of liberty”?

The problem for a small, remote, and relatively insignificant country like Australia is to figure out what it can do to contribute to the broader, international liberty movement and where it fits in. One possibility is for it to become a “beacon of liberty” now that Hong Kong is in the process of losing that status as it is gradually swallowed up by the CCP, and given the fact that the government of Singapore has strongly authoritarian bent. On the authoritarian, anti-liberal side of Singapore see The Human Freedom Index 2021 (Cato, Fraser) which ranks it 2 for economic freedom and 88 for personal freedom, for a combined ranking of 48. 1.)) [See below for the relevant country pages of the Index.]

In the absence of Kong Kong and Singapore, imagine there being a truly liberal nation in the Asia-Pacific region which is

  • independent of “entangling alliances”,
  • highly productive and competitive in world markets,
  • fully open to the free movement of goods, services, and people,
  • and which is able to spread the ideas of liberty to the rest of the world.

Is Liberty a “western” notion?

Another problem which needs to be recognized is that for non-Western nations without an historical tradition of thinking about individualism, autonomy, natural rights, limited government, and the rule of law (among other things) there is an additional hurdle to be overcome in spreading the word about liberty in its many dimensions.2 Can a society be truly “free” only in the economic sense of the word, without it also needing to be free in the “political” sense. Milton Friedman for one said that the two were intimately connected.3 However, these concepts are often regarded as being a “western imposition” which does not reflect the needs and traditions of non-western cultures. How to overcome this perception and to express the benefits of liberty of all kinds (not just economic, but also political and social) in a form relevant to these cultures is a significant problem which needs to be addressed.

A third problem is that critics of CL argue that the economic success of countries like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and perhaps now China, shows that politically directed economic development by an elite of trained expert technocratic managers and far-seeing political leaders, has shown that there is an alternative to the western example of free and autonomous individuals pursuing their own interests within a framework of free markets, private property, the rule of law, and limited government. To overcome this argument we will need more studies by historians and economists which show that :

  1. centralized technocratic and political management has not been as successful as claimed by its supporters and has resulted in many failures and distortions,4
  2. that Bastiat’s “what is unseen” argument still applies,5 namely that economic development would have been better and more comprehensive if it had taken place in a free market and perhaps taken a different direction which might have benefited ordinary people more than it has
  3. that it has produced societies dominated by very powerful and rich elites (crony capitalists or “crony communists”) who have benefited at the expense of ordinary consumers and taxpayers 6
  4. that Asians too have (or will soon have) aspirations for freedom of speech, political involvement, and other “western-style” individual freedoms, which will need to be satisfied. Studies of the beliefs and behaviour of the Asian diasporas in places like Australia, Canada, Britain, and the U.S. might shed some light on this.

The Human Freedom Index Rankings

The Freedom Index for Oceania:

For Australia:

For New Zealand:

For Singapore

For Hong Kong:


  1. The Human Freedom Index 2021. A Global Measurement of Personal, Civil, and Economic Freedom. Ian Vásquez, Fred McMahon, Ryan Murphy, and Guillermina Sutter Schneider (Cato Institute and Fraser Institute, 2021). Online – Human Freedom Index: 2021 | Cato Institute and PDF. Note NZ is no. 2, Australis is 8 (down 4), UK is 14 (down 3), and US is 15; Singapore is quite low because of its lack of political and social freedoms at 48 (economic freedom is 2, but personal freedom is 88 []
  2. Ludwig von Mises for example thought that “The Idea of Liberty is Western” which was the title of an article he wrote in 1950 for American Affairs. []
  3. See Milton Friedman, Chap. 1 “The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom” in Capitalism and Freedom (1962). []
  4. See Levy, David M. and Peart, Sandra J., Escape from Democracy: The Role of Experts and the Public in Economic Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Roger Koppl, “The Rule of Experts” in The Oxford Handbook of Austrian Economics. Edited by Christopher J. Coyne and Peter Boettke (Oxford UP, 2015); Roger Koppl, Expert Failure (Cambridge UP, 2018). []
  5. See Bastiat’s book Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit past (What is Seen and what is not Seen) (1850) in Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 3: Economic Sophisms and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen.” (2017). []
  6. A similar phenomenon has emerged in the West as well which Randall Holcombe calls “political capitalism”. []

600 Quotations about Liberty and Power

[Note: This post is part of a series on the History of the Classical Liberal Tradition]

In another post I focus on the “Twelve Key Ideas” which I believe defines what it means to be a “classical” liberal, rather than a modern or “new” liberal who holds views which are inconsistent (even incoherent) and is thus a LINO (liberal in name only).

However, these 12 key ideas do not exhaust the important topics on which liberals have written and taken political action to promote (property rights, sound money, and free trade) or to oppose (war, tyrants and despots, and legal plunder). Over the years I have collected 600 quotations drawn from some of the most important books written by liberals to illustrate this. These quotations (along with my commentary) are organized by topic (about 30). [Note: My list is of the titles of the quotes only. To read the full quotation and my comments follow the link provided back to the OLL website].

The topics covered include the following:

  1. Class
  2. Colonies, Slavery & Abolition
  3. Economics
  4. Education
  5. Food & Drink
  6. Free Trade
  7. Freedom of Speech
  8. Justice
  9. Law
  10. Liberty
  11. Literature & Music
  12. Money & Banking
  13. Natural Rights
  14. Odds & Ends
  15. Origin of Government
  16. Parties & Elections
  17. Philosophy
  18. Politics & Liberty
  19. Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots
  20. Property Rights
  21. Religion & Toleration
  22. Revolution
  23. Rhetoric of Liberty
  24. Science
  25. Socialism & Interventionism
  26. Society
  27. Sport and Liberty
  28. Taxation
  29. The State
  30. War & Peace
  31. Women’s Rights

Liberty as the Sum of All Freedoms

[Note: This is an updated version of “The Key Ideas of Classical Liberalism: Foundations, Processes, Liberties” (23 June 2015) here.]

[Note: This post is part of a series on the History of the Classical Liberal Tradition]

In a recent post I discussed the “ends” that CLs sought and “the means” which they believed would help them achieve these ends. [See “What CLs were For – Part 2: Ends and Means” (19 Oct., 2021) here.]

Another way to approach the question of what CLs believed is to think of “Liberty” (with a capital “L”) as a “bundle” or “cluster” of smaller or partial freedoms or “liberties” (with a lower case “l”) which together make up what is “Liberty”. The following quote comes from Frédéric Bastiat’s essay “The Law” (June 1850). It should be noted that English has two word for “freedom” – a Germanic one “freedom” (die Freiheit) and a Latin one (via the French) “liberty” (libertas). I have used both to make the point I think Bastiat is trying to make clearer:

[French original] – Et qu’est-ce que la Liberté, ce mot qui a la puissance de faire battre tous les cœurs et d’agiter le monde, si ce n’est l’ensemble de toutes les libertés, liberté de conscience, d’enseignement, d’association, de presse, de locomotion, de travail, d’échange; d’autres termes, le franc exercice, pour tous, de toutes les facultés inoffensives; en d’autres termes encore, la destruction de tous les despotismes, même le despotisme légal, et la réduction de la Loi à sa seule attribution rationnelle, qui est de régulariser le Droit individuel de légitime défense ou de réprimer l’injustice.

[my revised translation 13 Aug. 2021] – And what is “Liberty,” this word that has the power of making all hearts beat faster and of moving the entire 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 by all people of all their non-aggressive abilities. And, in still other terms, isn’t freedom the destruction of all despotic regimes, even legal despotism, and the limiting of the law to its sole rational function which is to regulate the individual’s right of legitimate self defense and to prevent injustice?

The following “concept map” is an attempt to show the relationship between the four main components of “Liberty”, namely personal freedoms, economic freedoms, political freedoms, and legal freedoms.

The overview:

See a larger version of this image.

1. Personal Freedoms

Personal freedoms:

  1. right to live one’s own life as one sees fit
  2. right to engage in “acts between consenting adults”
  3. right to buy, sell, ingest drugs, alcohol, etc.
  4. right to buy, sell, view any “printed matter”
  5. right to form a marriage, household, family, or any other kind of domestic arrangement
  6. recognition that one’s “home is one’s castle”

2. Economic Freedoms

Economic freedoms:

  1. The right to enter any trade or profession
  2. The right to set up a business, partnership, etc.
  3. Free markets and prices
  4. The right to make a profit (loss), charge interest, rent
  5. Free trade & exchange (domestic and foreign)
  6. Free movement goods, money, and people

3. Political Freedoms

Political freedoms:

  1. Right to remove an abusive/repressive government
  2. Consent of the Governed (free, open, periodic elections)
  3. Government limited by a Constitution & Bill of Rights
  4. Freedom of speech, print, association
  5. Right of free movement within the state, or to leave/enter the state
  6. Right to form a political party, stand for election, vote
  7. Free co-existence with other peoples/nations

4. Legal Freedoms

Legal freedoms:

  1. Rule of (just) law
  2. Equality under the law
  3. Independent judiciary
  4. Right to “due process” – Habeas corpus, speedy trial
  5. Protection of private property & contracts
  6. Arbitration of disputes (private and public)
  7. Right to compensation for harm (tort law)

Twelve Key Concepts of Liberty

[Note: This post is part of a series on the History of the Classical Liberal Tradition]

I have selected 12 Key Concepts which I think are most important to understanding what CLs have believed in/advocated over the past 400 odd years. Given the sheer number and diversity of individuals who have been part of the CL movement over this time and in many different countries 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.

They are the following:

  1. Natural Law and Natural Rights
  2. Individual Liberty
  3. Private Property
  4. Free Markets
  5. Free Trade
  6. Idea of Spontaneous Order
  7. Consent of the Governed
  8. Limited Government
  9. Rule of Law
  10. Freedom of Speech & Association (special case of Religion)
  11. Peace
  12. Progress and Human Flourishing

For each of the topics I have selected a number of quotations from some classic text to illustrate what classical liberals (and some photo-liberals) have thought on the matter. They come from a compilation of “600 Quotations about Liberty and Power” I made when I was at Liberty Fund between 2004 and 2018.

(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:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. Sir Edward Coke declares that your house is your “Castle and Fortress” (1604) at the OLL
  2. Richard Overton shoots An Arrow against all Tyrants from the prison of Newgate into the prerogative bowels of the arbitrary House of Lords and all other usurpers and tyrants whatsoever (1646) at the OLL
  3. Pascal and the absurd notion that the principles of justice vary across state borders (1669) at the OLL
  4. John Locke on the rights to life, liberty, and property of ourselves and others (1689) at the OLL
  5. Algernon Sidney argues that a People’s liberty is a gift of nature and exists prior to any government (1683) at the OLL
  6. Francis Hutcheson on the difference between “perfect” and “imperfect” rights (1725) at the OLL
  7. Sir William Blackstone differentiates between “absolute rights” of individuals (natural rights which exist prior to the state) and social rights (contractural rights which evolve later) (1753) at the OLL
  8. Denis Diderot argues that the laws must be based upon natural rights and be made for all and not for one (1755) at the OLL
  9. Frédéric Bastiat asks what came first, property or law? (1850) at the OLL
  10. Lysander Spooner spells out his theory of “mine and thine”, or the science of natural law and justice, which alone can ensure that mankind lives in peace (1882) at the OLL

(2.) 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:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. Magna Carta guaranteed the freemen of the kingdom their liberties forever (1215) at the OLL
  2. Immanuel Kant on the natural right to seek happiness in one’s own way (1791) at the OLL
  3. Wilhelm von Humboldt argued that freedom was the “Grand and Indispensable Condition” for individual flourishing (1792) at the OLL
  4. 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) at the OLL
  5. Harriet Taylor wants to see “freedom and admissibility” in all areas of human activity replace the system of “privilege and exclusion” (1847) at the OLL
  6. Alexis de Tocqueville on the true love of liberty (1856) at the OLL
  7. J.S. Mill’s great principle was that “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign” (1859) at the OLL
  8. 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) at the OLL
  9. Lysander Spooner on the idea that laws against “vice” (victimless crimes) are unjust (1875) at the OLL
  10. 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) at the OLL

(3.) 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:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. Gaius states that according to natural reason the first occupier of any previously unowned property becomes the just owner (2nd Century) at the OLL
  2. Captain John Clarke asserts the right of all men to vote in the formation of a new constitution by right of the property they have in themselves (1647) at the OLL
  3. William Penn on property as one of the three fundamental rights all men have (1679) at the OLL
  4. Sir William Blackstone argues that occupancy of previously unowned land creates a natural right to that property which excludes others from it (1753) at the OLL
  5. James Mill on the natural disposition to accumulate property (1808) at the OLL
  6. J.B. Say on the self-evident nature of property rights which is nevertheless violated by the state in taxation and slavery (1817) at the OLL
  7. Thomas Hodgskin argues for a Lockean notion of the right to property (“natural”) and against the Benthamite notion that property rights are created by the state (“artificial”) (1832) at the OLL
  8. Wolowski and Levasseur argue that Property is “the fruit of human liberty” and that Violence and Conquest have done much to disturb this natural order (1884) at the OLL
  9. Lysander Spooner spells out his theory of “mine and thine”, or the science of natural law and justice, which alone can ensure that mankind lives in peace (1882) at the OLL
  10. Auberon Herbert on the “magic of private property” (1897) at the OLL

(4.) 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:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. Robert Molesworth on the benefits of open borders and free immigration (1705) at the OLL
  2. Montesquieu thought that commerce improves manners and cures “the most destructive prejudices” (1748) at the OLL
  3. Adam Smith on the greater productivity brought about by the division of labor and technological innovation (1760s) at the OLL
  4. Adam Smith argued that the “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange” was inherent in human nature and gave rise to things such as the division of labour (1776) at the OLL
  5. Destutt de Tracy on the mutually beneficial nature of exchange (1817) at the OLL
  6. Nassau Senior objected to any government regulation of factories which meant that a horde of inspectors would interfere with the organization of production (1837) at the OLL
  7. Philip Wicksteed’s positive vision of the “cash nexus” (1910) at the OLL
  8. Ludwig von Mises on how price controls lead to socialism (1944) at the OLL
  9. Ludwig von Mises argues that monopolies are the direct result of government intervention and not the product of any inherent tendency within the capitalist system (1949) at the OLL
  10. Israel Kirzner defines economics as the reconciliation of conflicting ends given the existence of inescapable scarcity (1960) at the OLL

(5.) 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:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. The right to free trade under Magna Carta (1215) at the OLL
  2. Adam Smith on the “liberal system” of free trade (1776) at the OLL
  3. Condy Raguet on the anti-Christian character of protection and the need for peace on earth (1832) at the OLL
  4. John Ramsay McCulloch argues that smuggling is “wholly the result of vicious commercial and financial legislation” and that it could be ended immediately by abolishing this legislation (1899) at the OLL
  5. Richard Cobden’s “I have a dream” speech about a world in which free trade is the governing principle (1846) at the OLL
  6. Frédéric Bastiat on the most universally useful freedom, namely to work and to trade (1847) at the OLL
  7. Harriet Martineau condemns tariffs as a “vicious aristocratic principle” designed to harm the ordinary working man and woman (1861) at the OLL
  8. Henry George on a “free trade America” as the real city set on a hill (1886) at the OLL
  9. William Graham Sumner on free trade as another aspect of individual liberty (1888) at the OLL
  10. Yves Guyot accuses all those who seek Protection from foreign competition of being “Socialists” (1893) at the OLL

(6.) 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:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. Henry Vaughan argues that it is the voluntary and “universal concurrence of mankind”, not the laws, which makes money acceptable as a medium of exchange (1675) at the OLL
  2. Bernard Mandeville on the social cooperation which is required to produce a piece of scarlet cloth (1723) at the OLL
  3. Adam Smith on the natural ordering Tendency of Free Markets, or what he called the “Invisible Hand” (1776) at the OLL
  4. Adam Smith argued that the “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange” was inherent in human nature and gave rise to things such as the division of labour (1776) at the OLL
  5. Adam Ferguson observed that social structures of all kinds were not “the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design” (1782) at the OLL
  6. Bernard Mandeville uses a fable about bees to show how prosperity and good order comes about through spontaneous order (1705) at the OLL
  7. Horace Say on “I, Pin” and the international division of labor (1852) at the OLL
  8. Herbert Spencer on spontaneous order produced by “the beneficent working of social forces” (1879) at the OLL
  9. William Graham Sumner on the industrial system as an example of social co-operation (c. 1900) at the OLL
  10. Philip Wicksteed on how impersonal economic relations help others (1910) at the OLL

(7.) The Consent of the Governed

Key ideas:

  • the idea that rulers (kings) have a duty to protect the interests of their subjects and that there is an unwritten (historical) “contract” that binds the two parties, namely that the subjects agree to obey or “consent” to being ruled so long as the king fulfills his duties towards the people; that if this contract is “broken” the people have the right to seek a new ruler
  • sometimes this “consent” can be explicit, for example for the first generation of people who participate in founding a new regime after a revolution (as with the American and French revolutions and the various Constitutions they drew up); at other times is is “tacit” (silent) consent for those later generations, especially if they participate in periodic elections to chose their representatives (“rulers”)
  • The right to change one’s government – either by staying put and choosing a new one (election) or removing a despotic one (right of revolution); or killing a tyrant (tyrannicide)
  • there was a long tradition of
  • other forms of “consent” (or rather the withdrawal of consent) is demonstrated by physically removing oneself from the jurisdiction one does not like, such as
  • 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:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. Cicero on the need for politicians to place the interests of those they represent ahead of their own private interests (1st century BC) at the OLL
  2. La Boétie argues that tyranny will collapse if enough people refuse to cooperate and withdraw their moral support to it (1576) at the OLL
  3. Althusius argues that a political leader is bound by his oath of office which, if violated, requires his removal (1614) at the OLL
  4. Adam Smith on social change and “the man of system” (1759) at the OLL
  5. Thomas Jefferson on the right to change one’s government (1776) at the OLL
  6. Edward Gibbon believed that unless public liberty was defended by “intrepid and vigilant guardians” any constitution would degenerate into despotism (1776) at the OLL
  7. Thomas Jefferson feared that it would only be a matter of time before the American system of government degenerated into a form of “elective despotism” (1785) at the OLL
  8. George Washington warns the nation in his Farewell Address, that love of power will tend to create a real despotism in America unless proper checks and balances are maintained to limit government power (1796) at the OLL
  9. Herbert Spencer concludes from his principle of equal freedom that individuals have the Right to Ignore the State (1851) at the OLL
  10. John Stuart Mill on “the sacred right of insurrection” (1862) at the OLL

(8.) 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 Choice, “who guards the guardians?)

EoL articles:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. Edmund Burke asks a key question of political theory: “quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (how is one to be defended against the very guardians who have been appointed to guard us?) (1756) at the OLL
  2. James Madison on the need for the “separation of powers” because “men are not angels,” Federalist 51 (1788) at the OLL
  3. William Godwin on the need to simplify and reduce the power of the state (1793) at the OLL
  4. Jeremy Bentham on the proper role of government: “Be Quiet” and “Stand out of my sunshine” (1843) at the OLL
  5. Frédéric Bastiat on the state as the great fiction by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else (1848) at the OLL
  6. Bastiat asks the fundamental question of political economy: what should be the size of the state? (1850) at the OLL
  7. John Stuart Mill on the need for limited government and political rights to prevent the “king of the vultures” and his “minor harpies” in the government from preying on the people (1859) at the OLL
  8. The Australian radical liberal Bruce Smith lays down some very strict rules which should govern the actions of any legislator (1887) at the OLL
  9. William Graham Sumner on the “do-nothing” state vs. ”the meddling” state (1888) at the OLL
  10. Hippolyte Taine on how the modern bureaucratic state destroys spontaneous and fruitful private cooperation (1890) at the OLL

(9.) 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:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. Under Magna Carta the King cannot imprison a freeman without being convicted by a trial of his peers (1215) at the OLL
  2. Sir Edward Coke defends British Liberties and the Idea of Habeas Corpus in the Petition of Right before Parliament (1628) at the OLL
  3. Algernon Sidney argues that a law that is not just is not a law (1683) at the OLL
  4. John Locke on the idea that “wherever law ends, tyranny begins” (1689) at the OLL
  5. 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) at the OLL
  6. Cesare Beccaria says that torture is cruel and barbaric and a violation of the principle that no one should be punished until proven guilty in a court of law; in other words it is the “right of power” (1764) at the OLL
  7. 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) at the OLL
  8. Lysander Spooner on Jury Nullification as the “palladium of liberty” against the tyranny of government (1852) at the OLL
  9. 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) at the OLL
  10. Pollock on “our lady” the common law and her devoted servants (1911) at the OLL

(10.) Freedom of Speech & Association

Key ideas:

  • freedom of the press (political, scientific, religious)
  • the right of assembly
  • the 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:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. John Milton on the tyranny of government licensed printing (1644) at the OLL
  2. Benedict de Spinoza on the natural right every person has to think and speak on any subject they choose (1670) at the OLL
  3. John Locke believed that the magistrate should not punish sin but only violations of natural rights and public peace (1689) at the OLL
  4. Pierre Bayle begins his defence of religious toleration with this appeal that the light of nature, or Reason, should be used to settle religious differences and not coercion (1708) at the OLL
  5. The Earl of Shaftesbury on the value of good conversations for questioning everything (1709) at the OLL
  6. Elisha Williams on the unalienable right every person has to think and judge for themselves (1744) at the OLL
  7. David Hume argues that “love of liberty” in some individuals often attracts the religious inquisitor to persecute them and thereby drive society into a state of “ignorance, corruption, and bondage” (1757) at the OLL
  8. Voltaire notes that where Commerce and Toleration predominate, a Multiplicity of Faiths can live together in Peace and Happiness (1764) at the OLL
  9. Thomas Jefferson’s preference for “newspapers without government” over “government without newspapers” (1787) at the OLL
  10. Benjamin Constant and the Freedom of the Press (1815) at the OLL

(11.) 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:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. Erasmus has the personification of Peace come down to earth to see with dismay how war ravages human societies (1521) at the OLL
  2. Hugo Grotius on Moderation in Despoiling the Country of one’s Enemies (1625) at the OLL
  3. John Trenchard on the dangers posed by a standing army (1698) at the OLL
  4. Madison argued that war is the major way by which the executive office increases its power, patronage, and taxing power (1793) at the OLL
  5. George Washington on the Difference between Commercial and Political Relations with other Countries (1796) at the OLL
  6. James Mill likens the expence and economic stagnation brought about by war to a “pestilential wind” which ravages the country (1808) at the OLL
  7. Thomas Hodgskin on the Suffering of those who had been Impressed or Conscripted into the despotism of the British Navy (1813) at the OLL
  8. Richard Cobden urges the British Parliament not to be the “Don Quixotes of Europe” using military force to right the wrongs of the world (1854) at the OLL
  9. William Graham Sumner denounced America’s war against Spain and thought that “war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand governmental system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, political jobbery” would result in imperialism (1898) at the OLL
  10. Ludwig von Mises laments the passing of the Age of Limited Warfare and the coming of Mass Destruction in the Age of Statism and Conquest (1949) at the OLL

(12.) Progress and Human Flourishing

Key ideas:

  • A belief in the possibility of Progress (intellectual and material/economic)
  • 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)
  • and “the pursuit of happiness” (Thomas Jefferson)

EoL articles:

Quotations from some Classic Texts:

  1. Marcus Aurelius on using reason to live one’s life “straight and right” (170) at the OLL
  2. The Earl of Shaftesbury states that civility and politeness is a consequence of liberty by which “we polish one another, and rub off our Corners and rough Sides” (1709) at the OLL
  3. Jean Barbeyrac on the Virtues which all free Men should have (1718) at the OLL
  4. Immanuel Kant on the natural right to seek happiness in one’s own way (1791) at the OLL
  5. Wilhelm von Humboldt argued that freedom was the “Grand and Indispensable Condition” for individual flourishing (1792) at the OLL
  6. Voltaire on the Benefits which Trade and Economic Abundance bring to People living in the Present Age (1736) at the OLL
  7. Montesquieu thought that commerce improves manners and cures “the most destructive prejudices” (1748) at the OLL
  8. Condorcet writes about the inevitability of the spread of liberty and prosperity while he was in prison awaiting execution by the Jacobins (1796) at the OLL
  9. Lord Macaulay writes a devastating review of Southey’s Colloquies in which the Poet Laureate’s ignorance of the real condition of the working class in England is exposed (1830) at the OLL
  10. Samuel Smiles on how an idle, thriftless, or drunken man can, and should, improve himself through self-help and not by means of the state (1859).at the OLL

The Classical Liberal Tradition – A 400 Year History Of Ideas And Movements: Lecture/Seminar Outline

Date: 22 Apr. 2022

[Note: This post is part of a series on the History of the Classical Liberal Tradition]

This is an outline/overview of my Lecture/Seminar and extended paper on the history of the Classical Liberal tradition. It consists of the following sections:

  1. Introduction: What is Liberalism?
  2. CL and the State
  3. Liberal Ideas
  4. Key Individuals, Texts, and Movements for Reform
  5. A Balance Sheet of Liberal Successes and Failures
  6. Strategies to achieve Liberal Reforms

See other posts relevant to this topic.

1. Introduction: What is Liberalism?

  1. The Problem of Definition:
    1. where CL lies on the political spectrum
      1. Is Liberalism “Left” or “Right”?
      2. Radical/Revolutionary (the emancipation of others) or Conservative (preserving existing liberties)?
  2. The Multi-Dimensional Nature of Liberalism
    1. political liberties
    2. economic liberties
    3. social (individual) liberties
    4. legal liberties
  3. The Three Main Kinds of Liberalism
    1. Radical Liberalism
    2. Moderate Liberalism
    3. “New” Liberalism
  4. Other Hyphenated Liberalisms
    1. proto-liberalism
    2. neo-liberalism
    3. false liberalism
    4. state liberalism
    5. LINO

2. Liberalism and the State

  1. How big/powerful should the State be?
    1. Limited government liberalism
      1. Minarchist State
      2. Ultra-Minarchist State
      3. Fully Voluntarist “State”
    2. big government liberalism: welfare-state, regulatory state
  2. The Problem of creating a Limited State
    1. via (piecemeal, democratic) reform or
    2. revolution (violence)
  3. The Problem of Keeping the State Limited
    1. public opinion / free press
    2. written constitution and bill of rights (policed by courts)
    3. a vigilant and consistent “liberal” political party
  4. The Problem of turning a big “predatory” State into a limited “protective” State
    1. The Problem of Obedience: Why people obey the State?
    2. persuading people a limited state / CL is a good thing
      1. the ideal of liberal justice for all
      2. the exaggeration of market failure
      3. the neglect of political failure
      4. public ignorance of basic economic principles
    3. overcoming the powerful groups who live off the state
      1. The Problem of Vested Interests and Rent-Seeking
      2. Class Rule and Class Struggle
      3. “crony-ism” (institutionalized privilege-seeking)
        1. “crony capitalism” – industry, commerce, banking, farming
        2. “crony democracy” (voters, politicians)
        3. “crony bureaucracy” and public sector unions

3. Liberal Ideas

  1. What Liberals were AGAINST
    1. arbitrary political power,
    2. arbitrary religious power
    3. slavery & serfdom
    4. war & conscription
    5. restrictions on who could stand for election and vote
    6. heavy and arbitrary taxation
    7. central banks, fiat money, and national debt
    8. tariffs & other trade restrictions
    9. subsidies & monopolies to favoured industries
    10. empire & colonies
  2. What Liberals were FOR
    1. highest order ends: individual and social flourishing
    2. other high order ends: life, liberty, property, justice
    3. liberty as a “bundle” of more specific freedoms:
      1. political liberty
      2. economic liberty
      3. individual/social liberty
      4. legal liberty
    4. Twelve Key Concepts of Liberty
      1. Natural Law and Natural Rights
      2. Individual Liberty
      3. Private Property
      4. Free Markets
      5. Free Trade
      6. Idea of Spontaneous Order
      7. Consent of the Governed
      8. Limited Government
      9. Rule of Law
      10. Freedom of Speech & Association (special case of Religion)
      11. Peace
      12. Progress and Human Flourishing
    5. Liberal “Virtues”
      1. people should “live liberally” (i.e. by “liberal virtues”) as individuals, members of a family, as neighbors, and as citizens
        1. Being responsible for one’s own actions
        2. Respecting the equal rights of others
        3. Refusing to initiate the use of coercion against others
        4. Being open to new ideas & behaviour
        5. Showing compassion towards others
        6. Being tolerant of others
        7. Wanting liberal justice for all
  3. The “Liberal Vision”
    1. CLs have had inspiring visions of what a free society might look like and what its benefits to humanity would be
    2. this vision disappeared towards the end of the 19thC which led to young people looking elsewhere for inspiration (socialism, nationalism, fascism)
    3. Buchanan, Ebeling, and Boettke have called for CLs to rediscover their “liberal soul”, its “beautiful philosophy”, and the “passion for justice”
    4. some examples of inspiring CL “visionaries”
      1. Condorcet (1794): the ‘Tenth Epoch” of human progress towards unending liberty and prosperity
      2. Richard Cobden’s “dream” of free trade in everything (1846)
      3. Frédéric Bastiat’s (1847) speeches put into the mouths of “Mr. Utopian” and “Pancho” on urging people “to do as you please”
      4. Gustave de Molinari’s (1849) “Spartacus speech” urging modern day slaves to rise up and throw off their chains
      5. J.S. Mill’s (1859) vision of people engaging in “different experiments in living”
      6. Friedrich Hayek (1949): “a liberal Utopia”, “a truly liberal radicalism”, of interlocking spontaneous orders
      7. Ayn Rand’s (1957) vision of the anarchist refuge of “Galt’s Gulch”
      8. Robert Nozick (1974): the CL minimal state provides a “framework for Utopias” to complete against each other
      9. James Buchanan’s (2000) vision of “the soul” of CL which imagined a social order in which everyone can be free and where “no person exerts power over another”.
      10. Chandran Kukathas’ (2003) idea of the “liberal archipelago” of multiple jurisdictions in a sea of mutual toleration (2003)
      11. Peter Boettke’s (2021) radical vision of a cosmopolitan, emancipatory, and compassionate liberal society which is a “workable utopia”

4. Key Individuals, Texts, and Movements for Reform

[This section is necessarily brief. See the main section for more information.]

  1. The Pre-history of Liberalism (proto-liberalism)
  2. The Four Main Periods of Liberal Activity/Reform
    1. 1640-80s: the English Civil War/Revolution
    2. 1750s-1790s: the American and French Revolutions
    3. the long liberal 19th century 1815-1914
    4. the post-WW2 liberal renaissance
  3. Other Key Elements for Each of the Main Periods
    1. key thinkers and their texts
    2. “movers and shakers”: important politicians and movement organizers and agitators
    3. key political and legal documents
  4. A specific example of this: the Free Trade movement
    1. Key theorists: Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (1776); J.B. Say, Treatise of Political Economy (1803)
    2. Activists and organisations: Richard Cobden and the Anti-Corn Law League (1838), Frédéric Bastiat and the French Association for Free Trade (1847)
    3. Document/Legislation: the Repeal of the Corn Laws (1846); the Anglo-French Free Trade Treaty (1860)

5. A Balance Sheet of Liberal Successes and Failures

  1. The Achievements of Liberalism
    1. The Great Emancipation
      1. 1from coerced labour
      2. from the arbitrary authority of kings and princes
      3. from “cruel & unusual punishment”
      4. from violations of property rights
      5. from the arbitrary power of the Church
      6. from restrictions and bans on associating with others on a voluntary basis
      7. from restrictions on trade and industrial activity
      8. from restrictions on the movement of people, goods, and capital
      9. from strict limits on who could participate in political activity
      10. from war and conscription into the army
    2. The Great Enrichment
      1. spread of CL ideas led to changes in the way people interacted with other
        1. respect for the life, liberty, and property of others
        2. the dignity of productive and useful labour, trading with others
      2. greater productivity and innovation led to explosion of wealth creation
      3. longer life expectancy, lower infant morality (and childbirth deaths of mothers), reduction of disease, less demanding physical labour (mechanization), and greater home comforts for ordinary working people (piped water, sewers, heating, light)
  2. The Failures of Liberalism
    1. The emancipation project was left incomplete
      1. the inconsistent application of liberal principles
      2. complacency
      3. religious arrogance
    2. CL political and economic theory suffered from a series of weaknesses
      1. viewing “democracy” as an end in itself rather than as a means
      2. the weakening of belief in natural rights
      3. exaggerating the extent of and misunderstanding the reasons for “market failure”
      4. ignoring the problem of “government failure”
      5. not being able to explain the cause of the business cycle and the economic depressions which were the result
    3. Many CLs were politically naive
      1. their faith in the benevolence and omniscience of the state and its officials
      2. their willingness to let the new democratic state be “captured” by vested interests (both old and new)
      3. their faith in the ability and willingness of the “middling class” to make democracy work
    4. The inability to explain basic economic ideas simply to the ordinary person
    5. The “Loss” of the Intellectuals to Socialism
    6. CLs lost their “Vision” of what a free society should be like
  3. What still needs to be done?

6. Strategies to Achieve Liberal Reforms

  1. the Aim is to change the Climate of Opinion and then Policies
  2. Understanding the Theory and History of successful Ideological and Political Change
  3. Getting the Main Building Blocks in Place: the Structure of Production of Ideas, their Dissemination, and their Practical Application
    1. Scholarship and Higher Learning
      1. innovative scholars who develop the “high theory”
      2. other scholars who take the theory further and disseminate it to their students
    2. Entrepreneurs and Investors in Ideas who establish research centres, think tanks, and outreach organisations
    3. Outreach Organisations which make the ideas available/accessible to students, teachers, intellectuals, and other interested members of the public
    4. the “Dark Side” of Liberal Reform (getting our hands dirty with “politics”)
      1. Lobby Groups and Policy Study Centres which influence politicians, legislators, senior bureaucrats, journalists
      2. Organisations/Parities which educate and organise ordinary citizens/voters by means of the “popularization” of liberal ideas (especially economic ideas)
  4. The main Threats to Liberty and “What is to be done”
    1. Identification of the current threats (15+)
    2. the Prioritisation of their danger to Liberty
    3. taking steps to Eliminate or Neutralise them using the “building blocks” outlined above
    4. using liberal means to achieve liberal ends