Political Theory

About this Collection

Political theory encompasses debates over such issues as self-government, the rule of law, and constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press. From foundational writings to twentieth century perspectives, OLL’s collection represents thinkers and texts that have helped shape the ideas of liberty.

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Not Categorized

Acton-Creighton Correspondence

John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton (author)

In one of these 3 letters to Archbishop Creighton Lord Acton makes his famous statement about “power corrupts and absolute power absolutely”. He also makes other remarks about the proper role for moral judgments in history.

Address of the Free Constitutionalists to the People of the United States (1860)

Lysander Spooner (author)

Spooner published this pamphlet prior to the election in November 1860 urging voters not to vote for the Republican Party because it had no plan for the abolition of slavery.

Anti-Slavery Tracts. First Series, Nos. 1-20 (1855-56)

David M. Hart (editor)

The first of two collections of anti-slavery tracts published by the American Anti-Slavery Society between 1855-56. It consists of 20 pamphlets written by Higginson, Foster, Burleigh, Beecher Stowe, and others. A second collection of…

Anti-Slavery Tracts. Second Series, nos. 1-25 (1860-62)

David M. Hart (editor)

The second of two collections of anti-slavery tracts published by the American Anti-Slavery Society between 1860-62. It consists of 25 pamphlets written by William Lloyd Garrison, Daniel O'Connell, Maria Child, Wendell Phillips, and…

Appendix to the Black Book (1834)

John Wade (author)

Following the success of the First Reform Act of 1832 John Wade published an appendix to the 1832 edition of his best selling work detailing corruption which still remained in the English government.

Areopagitica (1644) (Jebb ed.)

John Milton (author)

An edition based upon Sir Richard Jebb’s lectures at Cambridge in 1872, with extensive notes and commentaries on this famous work: Milton’s famous defense of freedom of speech. It was a protest against Parliament’s ordinance to…

Articles in the Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1825)

James Mill (author)

James Mill wrote a number of influential articles for the Encyclopedia Britannica in which he developed the Philosophic Radical view on law, government, education, colonies, and other topcis.

The Best of Bastiat

Frédéric Bastiat (author)

The Best of Bastiat (BOB) is a collection of some of the best material in Liberty Fund’s 6 volume edition of The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat (2011-). They are chapter length extracts and have been edited as pamphlets for…

The Best of Bastiat 1.1: A Life in Letters

Frédéric Bastiat (author)

The Best of Bastiat (BOB) is a collection of some of the best material in Liberty Fund’s 6 volume edition of The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat (2011-). They are chapter length extracts and have been edited as pamphlets for…

The Best of Bastiat 2.1: The State

Frédéric Bastiat (author)

The Best of Bastiat (BOB) is a collection of some of the best material in Liberty Fund’s 6 volume edition of The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat (2011-). They are chapter length extracts and have been formatted as pamphlets for…

The Best of Bastiat 2.2: Property Plunder

Frédéric Bastiat (author)

The Best of Bastiat (BOB) is a collection of some of the best material in Liberty Fund’s 6 volume edition of The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat (2011-). They are chapter length extracts and have been edited as pamphlets for…

The Best of Bastiat 2.3: The Law

Frédéric Bastiat (author)

The Best of Bastiat (BOB) is a collection of some of the best material in Liberty Fund’s 6 volume edition of The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat (2011-). They are chapter length extracts and have been edited as pamphlets for…

The Best of Bastiat 3.1: Petition of the Manufacturers of Candles

Frédéric Bastiat (author)

The Best of Bastiat (BOB) is a collection of some of the best material in Liberty Fund’s 6 volume edition of The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat (2011-). They are chapter length extracts and have been edited as pamphlets for…

The Best of Bastiat 3.3: The Utopian

Frédéric Bastiat (author)

The Best of Bastiat (BOB) is a collection of some of the best material in Liberty Fund’s edition of The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat (2011-). These extracts should be useful in the classroom, or discussion groups. This…

THE READING ROOM

BOLL 10: James M. Buchanan, “The Threat of Leviathan” (1975)

This is part of “The Best of the Online Library of Liberty” which is a collection of some of the most important material in the OLL. This one comes from James Buchanan’s book The Limits of Liberty in which he warns of the dangers…

THE READING ROOM

BOLL 1: John Locke, “Of Property” (1689)

By: John Locke

This is part of “The Best of the Online Library of Liberty” which is a collection of some of the most important material in the OLL. This one comes from John Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government” and is the chapter in which he…

THE READING ROOM

BOLL 4: Ludwig von Mises, “Liberty and Property” (1958)

This is part of “The Best of the Online Library of Liberty” which is a collection of some of the most important material in the OLL. This one comes from a lecture Ludwig von Mises gave to the Mont Pelerin Society in October 1958 in…

THE READING ROOM

BOLL 5: John Stuart Mill, “Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual” (1859)

This is part of “The Best of the Online Library of Liberty” which is a collection of some of the most important material in the OLL. This one comes from John Stuart Mill’s book On Liberty where in Chapter 4 he describes the strict…

THE READING ROOM

BOLL 6: David Hume, “On Government” (1777)

This is part of “The Best of the Online Library of Liberty” which is a collection of some of the most important material in the OLL. This one comes from David Hume’s collection of essays which include several essays on the origins…

THE READING ROOM

BOLL 8: J.B. Say, “Of the Right of Property” (1819)

This is part of “The Best of the Online Library of Liberty” which is a collection of some of the most important material in the OLL. This one comes from Jean-Baptiste Say’s Treatise on Political Economy in which very early on in the…

THE READING ROOM

BOLL 9: William Blackstone, “Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals” (1766)

This is part of “The Best of the Online Library of Liberty” which is a collection of some of the most important material in the OLL. This one comes from Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in which he defines…
Des circonstances actuelles qui peuvent terminer la Révolution et des principes qui doivent fonder la république en France

Germaine de Staël (author)

In this posthumously published work, the French classical liberal Germain Necker (de Staël), provides the most coherent account of her thoughts on constitutional government, property rights, public opinion, and representative…

Colony

James Mill (author)

One of the articles James Mill wrote for the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Classics of Liberty: The Enhanced Editions

David M. Hart (editor)

This is a collection of classic works on liberty from the Online Library of Liberty collection which have been “enhanced” to assist readers is learning more about these important works. The enhancements include, in addition to the…

The Enhanced Edition of The Rights of War and Peace (1625)

Hugo Grotius (author)

This “Enhanced Edition” of Grotius’s famous work on the law of war contains a number of supplementary essays and a selection of chapters from Grotius’s book which are designed to help the reader get a better understanding of this…

Liberty Matters: John Locke on Property (January, 2013)

Eric Mack (author)

This online discussion is part of the series “Liberty Matters: A Forum for the Discussion of Matters pertaining to Liberty.” Eric Mack discusses John Locke’s theory of property to which Jan Narveson, Peter Vallentyne, and Michael…

Liberty Matters: James Buchanan: An Assessment (March, 2013)

Geoffrey Brennan (author)

This online discussion is part of the series “Liberty Matters: A Forum for the Discussion of Matters pertaining to Liberty.” Geoffrey Brennan assesses the work of the Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan with responses and…

Liberty Matters: Gustave de Molinari’s Legacy for Liberty (May, 2013)

Roderick T. Long (author)

This online discussion is part of the series “Liberty Matters: A Forum for the Discussion of Matters pertaining to Liberty.” Roderick T. Long assesses the work of the French political economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) with…

Liberty Matters: Smith and The System of Liberty (September, 2013)

George H. Smith (author)

This online discussion engages with George Smith on his book The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism (CUP 2013). Smith describes the works of the history of political thought which inspired him, and the…

Liberty Matters: Tocqueville’s New Science of Politics Revisited (May 2014)

Aurelian Craiutu (author)

In this Liberty Matters discussion, Aurelian Craiutu argues that Tocqueville was not just an observer of democracy in America but also a theorist of democracy who wanted to create “a new science of politics” suitable to the new world…

Liberty Matters: James Mill on Liberty and 
Governance (Sept. 2014)

Sandra J. Peart (author)

The political thought of James Mill is not as well known as it should be. This online discussion with a lead essay by Sandra J. Peart, attempts to reassess his contribution to classical liberal political theory via his dichotomy…

Liberty Matters: Herbert Spencer’s Sociology of the State (Nov. 2014)

George H. Smith (author)

The English sociologist and individualist political philosopher Herbert Spencer has been either completely neglected or badly misinterpreted by scholars for over one hundred years. In this discussion George Smith explores an…

Liberty Matters: On the Spread of Classical Liberal Ideas (March, 2015)

David M. Hart (author)

In this discussion David Hart surveys the field of ideological movements and present a theory of ideological production and distribution based upon Austrian capital theory as it might be applied to the production of ideas.

Liberty Matters: Anthony de Jasay and the Political Economy of the State (Sept. 2015)

Hartmut Kliemt (author)

The Anglo-Hungarian economist Anthony de Jasay turned 90 in 2015. To celebrate this event Liberty Fund organized a Liberty Matters discussion of his work as an economic and political theorist which came to public attention with the…

Liberty Matters: Montesquieu on Liberty and Sumptuary Law (Nov. 2015)

Henry C. Clark (author)

In this discussion of Montesquieu’s economic thought, in particular his ideas about the need for sumptuary laws in republics, Henry Clark of Dartmouth College investigates this little appreciated aspect of Montesquieu’s thinking and…

Liberty Matters: The Significance of Lysander Spooner (Jan. 2016)

Randy E. Barnett (author)

In this discussion Randy Barnett explores the political thought and constitutional theories of the 19th century American individualist, anarchist, and abolitionist Lysander Spooner (1808-1887). He concludes that “Spooner’s approach…

Liberty Matters: Rationalism, Pluralism, and the History of Liberal Ideas (May 2016)

Jacob T. Levy (author)

Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom (2014), argues that there is a tension within liberal theories of freedom, between views concerned with the risk of tyranny posed by the modern, centralized and centralizing, Weberian state and…

Liberty Matters: Germaine de Staël, Fanaticism, and the Spirit of Party (March 2019)

Aurelian Craiutu (author)

The year 2017 marked the bicentenary of Germaine de Staël’s death (1766-1817). Although her name almost never appears in textbooks or histories of political thought in the English-speaking world her political thought is undeniably…

The Political Writings of James Mill (1815-1836)

James Mill (author)

This is an anthology of James Mill’s writings compiled from The British Review, and London Critical Journal [1815], the Supplement to the 4th, 5th and 6th editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica [1815-1824], Parliamentary History…

Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics Vol. 2 (1644-1645)

John Lilburne (author)

A collection of 12 pamphlets from 1644-1645 including works by Thomas Goodwin, Richard Overton, Henry Robinson, William Walwyn, John Goodwin, and John Lilburne.

Every effort has been made to transcribe these 17th century political…

Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics Vol. 3 (1646).

David M. Hart (editor)

A collection of 22 pamphlets from 1646 including works by John Lilburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn, William Larner, and S. Shepheard. John Rushworth, John Wildman

Every effort has been made to transcribe these 17th century…

Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics Vol. 4 (1647)

David M. Hart (editor)

This volume is part of a seven volume collection of Leveller Tracts. The first edition contains 18 tracts by John Lilburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn, Henry Ireton, John Wildman, and others, and includes important documents…

Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics Vol. 5 (1648)

David M. Hart (editor)

A collection of 30 pamphlets from 1648 including works by William Prynne, John Lilburne, Henry Parker, Henry Marten, William Walwyn, Richard Overton, Oliver Cromwell, King Charles I, John Jubbes, and others.A second expanded edition…

Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics Vol. 6 (1649)

David M. Hart (editor)

A collection of 27 pamphlets from 1649 including works by John Rushworth, John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Robert Ward, Thomas Prince, Robert Lockier, Richard Overton, Oliver Cromwell, Humphrey Brooke, Richard Overton, William Prynne,…

Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics Vol. 7 (1650-1660)

David M. Hart (editor)

A collection of 43 pamphlets from 1650-1660 including works by Richard Hollingworth, Mary Stiff, Gerard Winstanley, Marchamont Nedham, George Walker, William Walwyn, John Lilburne, Benjamin Worsley, John Streater, William…

Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics Vol. 8 Addendum (1638-1643) (forthcoming)

Ross Kenyon (editor)

A collection of 35 additional pamphlets from 1638-1643 including works by John Seldon, John Davies, Katherine Chidley, John Hare, John Marsh, Richard Ward, William Prynne, John Norton, Philip Hunton, Thomas Johnson, John Lilburne,…

Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics Addendum Vol. 9 (1647-49) (forthcoming)

David M. Hart (editor)

A collection of 48 pamphlets from 1647-49 including works by John Taylor, John Lilburne, John Harris, Edward Sexby, John Hare, Marchamont Nedham, Thomas Jordan, William Prynne, Charles I, John Warr, John Canne, Robert Bennet, William…

Quotes

Socialism & Interventionism

Alexis de Tocqueville stood up in the Constituent Assembly to criticize socialism as a violation of human nature, property rights, and individual liberty (1848)

Alexis de Tocqueville

Law

Algernon Sidney argues that a law that is not just is not a law (1683)

Algernon Sidney

The State

Algernon Sidney on de facto vs. de jure political power (1698)

Algernon Sidney

Class

Algernon Sidney on how the absolute state treats its people like cattle (1698)

Algernon Sidney

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

Algernon Sidney on not unquestioningly “rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” before checking to see if they legitimately belong to Caesar (1689)

Algernon Sidney

Law

Algernon Sidney on the need for the law to be “deaf, inexorable, inflexible” and not subject to the arbitrary will of the ruler (1698)

Algernon Sidney

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

Algernon Sidney’s Motto was that his Hand (i.e. his pen) was an Enemy to all Tyrants (1660)

Algernon Sidney

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

Althusius argues that a political leader is bound by his oath of office which, if violated, requires his removal (1614)

Johannes Althusius

The State

Anthony de Jasay asks whether states should be invented if they did not already exist (1985)

Anthony de Jasay

The State

Anthony de Jasay on the proliferation of predators and parasites in the modern state (1998)

Anthony de Jasay

Philosophy

Aristotle insists that man is either a political animal (the natural state) or an outcast like a “bird which flies alone” (4thC BC)

Aristotle

Parties & Elections

Auberon Herbert discusses the “essence of government” when the veneer of elections are stripped away (1894)

Auberon Herbert

Property Rights

Auberon Herbert on compulsory taxation as the “citadel” of state power (1885)

Auberon Herbert

Property Rights

Auberon Herbert on the “magic of private property” (1897)

Auberon Herbert

Parties & Elections

Auberon Herbert warns that the use of force is like a wild and dangerous beast which can easily get out of our control (1906)

Auberon Herbert

Rhetoric of Liberty

Auberon Herbert’s aim is to destroy the love of power and the desire to use force against others (1897)

Auberon Herbert

Politics & Liberty

Benjamin Constant distinguished between the Liberty of the Ancients (“the complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the community”) and that of the Moderns (“where individual rights and commerce are respected”) (1816)

Benjamin Constant

Natural Rights

Benjamin Constant on the difference between rights and utility (1815)

Benjamin Constant

Politics & Liberty

Benjamin Constant on why the oppressed often prefer their chains to liberty (1815)

Benjamin Constant

Parties & Elections

Bruce Smith on the misconceived and harmful legislation produced by voting as an inevitable though temporary case of “measles” (1887)

Bruce Smith

Origin of Government

David Hume ponders why the many can be governed so easily by the few and concludes that both force and opinion play a role (1777)

David Hume

Natural Rights

Diderot argues that the laws must be based upon natural rights and be made for all and not for one (1755)

Denis Diderot

The State

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)

Edmund Burke

Politics & Liberty

Edmund Burke on how the Majority Oppresses the Minority

Edmund Burke

Society

Edmund Burke on Learning from Past Errors

Edmund Burke

Economics

Edmund Burke on Scarcity, Wage Subsidies, and the Abuse of Power

Edmund Burke

Revolution

Edmund Burke on the Levelling Spirit

Edmund Burke

Origin of Government

Étienne de la Boétie provides one of the earliest and clearest explanations of why the suffering majority obeys the minority who rule over them; it is an example of voluntary servitude (1576)

Etienne de la Boétie

Origin of Government

Franz Oppenheimer argues that there are two fundamentally opposed ways of acquiring wealth: the “political means” through coercion, and the “economic means” through peaceful trade (1922)

Franz Oppenheimer

The State

Franz Oppenheimer on the origin of the state in conquest and subjection by one group over another (1907)

Franz Oppenheimer

Free Trade

Frédéric Bastiat’s theory of plunder (1850)

Frédéric Bastiat

Politics & Liberty

George Grote on the difficulty of public opinion alone in curbing the misuse of power by “the sinister interests” (1821)

George Grote

Parties & Elections

Gustave de Molinari argues that political parties are like “actual armies” who are trained to seize power and reward their supporters with jobs and special privileges (1904)

Gustave de Molinari

Politics & Liberty

Herbert Spencer on “the seen” and “the unseen” consequences of the actions of politicians (1884)

Herbert Spencer

War & Peace

Herbert Spencer on the State’s cultivation of “the religion of enmity” to justify its actions (1884)

Herbert Spencer

Law

Herbert Spencer on the superiority of private enterprise over State activity (1853)

Herbert Spencer

Parties & Elections

Herbert Spencer takes “philosophical politicians” to task for claiming that government promotes the “public good” when in fact they are seeking “party aggrandisement” (1843)

Herbert Spencer

Liberty

Jacques Maritain on the dynamism of freedom (1938)

Jacques Maritain

Class

James Bryce on the autocratic oligarchy which controls the party machine in the American democratic system (1921)

Viscount James Bryce

War & Peace

John Bright calls British foreign policy “a gigantic system of (welfare) for the aristocracy” (1858)

John Bright

Class

John C. Calhoun notes that taxation divides the community into two great antagonistic classes, those who pay the taxes and those who benefit from them (1850)

John C. Calhoun

Politics & Liberty

John Calhoun and the Unchecked Majority

John C. Calhoun

Politics & Liberty

John Calhoun on Concurrent Majorities

John C. Calhoun

Politics & Liberty

John Calhoun on Executive Power and Constitutional Order

John C. Calhoun

Politics & Liberty

John Calhoun on the Nature and Purpose of Constitutions

John C. Calhoun

The State

John Calhoun on Unchecked Majorities

John C. Calhoun

Natural Rights

John Locke on “perfect freedom” in the state of nature (1689)

John Locke

Law

John Locke on the idea that “wherever law ends, tyranny begins” (1689)

John Locke

Natural Rights

John Locke on the rights to life, liberty, and property of ourselves and others (1689)

John Locke

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

John Milton believes men live under a “double tyranny” within (the tyranny of custom and passions) which makes them blind to the tyranny of government without (1649)

John Milton

Liberty

Joseph Priestley on the presumption of liberty (1771)

Joseph Priestley

Liberty

Kant on the natural right to seek happiness in one’s own way (1791)

Immanuel Kant

Taxation

Knox on how the people during wartime are cowered into submission and pay their taxes “without a murmur” (1795)

Vicesimus Knox

Taxation

Knox on how the people during wartime are cowered into submission and pay their taxes “without a murmur” (1795)

Vicesimus Knox

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

La Boétie argues that tyranny will collapse if enough people refuse to cooperate and withdraw their moral support to it (1576)

Etienne de la Boétie

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

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)

John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton

Liberty

Milton Friedman and the Free Society

Milton Friedman

The State

Milton Friedman on the Deconcentration of Power

Milton Friedman

Socialism & Interventionism

Mises and the Emergence of Etatism in Germany (1944)

Ludwig von Mises

War & Peace

Mises on cosmopolitan cooperation and peace (1927)

Ludwig von Mises

Socialism & Interventionism

Mises on how price controls lead to socialism (1944)

Ludwig von Mises

Liberty

Mises on liberalism and the battle of ideas (1927)

Ludwig von Mises

The State

Mises on the worship of the state or statolatry (1944)

Ludwig von Mises

Origin of Government

Sidney argues that a People’s liberty is a gift of nature and exists prior to any government (1683)

Algernon Sidney

Freedom of Speech

Spinoza on being master of one’s own thoughts (1670)

Benedict de Spinoza

Politics & Liberty

The Australian radical liberal Bruce Smith lays down some very strict rules which should govern the actions of any legislator (1887)

Bruce Smith

Religion & Toleration

Thomas Gordon warns about the dangers of a politicised Religion which tries to rule this world (1720)

Thomas Gordon

Literature & Music

Thomas Paine’s patriotic song called “Hail Great Republic” which is to be sung to the tune of Rule Britannia

Thomas Paine

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

Viscount Bryce on how the President in wartime becomes “a sort of dictator” (1888)

Viscount James Bryce

Philosophy

Wilhelm von Humboldt argued that freedom was the “Grand and Indispensable Condition” for individual flourishing (1792)

Wilhelm von Humboldt

The State

William Godwin on the need to simplify and reduce the power of the state (1793)

William Godwin

Notes About This Collection

John Locke (1632-1704) Edmund Burke (1729-1797) John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

The OLL has the complete works of many major political theorists (many of which are older editions and thus are not as “complete” as some modern editions), such as Plato, Tacitus, James Harrington, John Locke, Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Alexander Hamilton. It has the selected works of many others, such as Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas Hobbes, John Milton, Immanuel Kant, Edmund Burke, Richard Cobden, John Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer.

See also the extracts, chapters, and introductions in the Political Thought section of the Ideas page.