Liberty Matters Archives
Sir Robert Filmer who argued that monarchical authority, no matter its origin, was “the only right and natural authority of a supreme father,” making monarchs responsible to God alone, not to a free and responsible people. Or perhaps our views of monarchy are more like those of Mel Brooks in his classic film History of the World Part I in which Brooks plays a libertine, decadent King Louis in France proclaiming whenever he exercises his authority without limits that, “It’s good to be the king!” The recent death of England’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, prompted a remarkable outpouring of affection for an individual who sat as the titular and unelected head of Britain’s government and commonwealth for 70 years. As undemocratic as monarchy seems to be, the support for the institution in a free society seemed to be quite robust. And of course the history of monarchy and the flowering of liberty in Britain occurred side by side as both Steven Davies and Helen Dale discuss in their essays. Davies opens our forum by asking the key question roughly outlined above. This renewed and recent interest in monarchy flies in the face of hundreds of years of experience with the institutional development of modern political orders that support freer societies. Why should anyone take seriously the idea of monarchy as a bulwark for liberty? Davies explores some of the characteristics of the surviving monarchies to tease out an answer. Dale provides us with an historical answer in the context of monarchy’s influence throughout the former British colonies and ties together the various institutions that have kept a lot of those nations relatively freer than many of their counterparts. Perhaps the reason for this success has been the flexibility and adaptability of the institution, as Elena Woodacre argues in her theoretical interpretation of the relationship between monarchy and liberty. She notes quite clearly that tyranny is hardly confined to monarchical governments. History is full of examples of very oppressive regimes without kings. And as Carolyn Harris shows in her thoughtful review of the role the monarchy played in helping to shape the modern British Commonwealth, the subtle influence of the crown, such as Queen Elizabeth dancing with the newly elected Ghanian president and toasting Nelson Mandela, helped to promote liberty in these newly minted countries. Whether or not this reawakening of interest in the prospects for monarchy as a pillar of liberty is merely a response to the death of the queen or something more profound will take time to determine. Either way, these essays provide us with ample food for thought.
saved his life," and that all undergraduate education should include explloration of classic texts. Montás cautions us that before we interrogate "the canon," we must first read it. Montás will be joined by Profesors Aeon Skoble, Anika Prather, and Jennifer Frey.
Ludwig von Mises published his third book, Die Gemeinwirtschaft: Untersuchungen über den Sozialismus, translated into English in 1936 under the title Socialism. The LibertyClassics edition was published in 1981. It seems fitting to revisit this important work by one of the fathers of Austrian economics on its publication centenary. The book appeared at a time when socialism seemed to hold the answers and solutions for rebuilding a civilization that had just destroyed itself in the Great War. While many, if not most, people (especially intellectuals) associated the war’s outbreak and subsequent horrors with the broadly liberal, free market order that prevailed before 1914, Mises argued that socialism’s promises of a more just and prosperous world were hollow and would only lead to more tyranny and violence. The book was, therefore, either largely ignored or, when noticed, was not generally well received. It remained in circulation, however, and over the years was read by a small number of economists and social scientists on whom it made a profound impression. Probably the most famous of these was Friedrich von Hayek, who read the book upon its initial publication. While he later wrote (in his 1978 “Foreword”) that he did not agree with everything in the book, “I must admit, however, that I was surprised at not only how much of it is still highly relevant to current disputes, but how many of its arguments, which I initially had only half accepted or regarded as exaggerated and one-sided, have since proved remarkably true.”
Niccolo Machiavelli remains one of the most contested figures in the history of liberalism. Was he an advocate of republican government, or an adviser to tyrants? Did he preach a politics of fear or a politics of civility? We asked several scholars where they thought Machiavelli's place in this history ought to be. Over the course of this month, you'll hear from a variety of disciplines and perspectives. Whether we can arrive at a definitive answer to our question remains to be seen. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
his coverage of the war in Ukraine. The coverage was insightful and accurate, but we were particularly drawn to it because it was always deeply seated in historical context. Whether it drew from the specific military and political histories of Russia and Ukraine, or the context of military history writ large, Hulsman’s Ukraine coverage struck us as--all on its own--an important defense of the necessity of studying the past in order to understand the present. Inviting him to respond to the question of why history matters for liberty in the 21st century, then, seemed like a natural next step. The three case studies he provides to Liberty Matters readers this month are thought-provoking and challenging. They pull no punches. They demand that we read more, study harder, and do better. And they make an inspiring argument for believing that history matters, now and always.
Walter Williams. Williams was that rare breed of economist who can also rightly be considered a public intellectual. Through his syndicated columns, talk radio appearances, lectures and his many books for the popular press, Williams was a premier explicator of the principles of economics. These same principles led Williams to be profoundly skeptical of government interventions for both social and economic ends. Above all, Williams was a teacher. Though Williams will not grace a classroom any longer, there remains much we can learn from his legacy. We've asked the economists featured in this month's edition to help us do just that.
Adam Smith to reflect on what the great Scot means to them. We hope you enjoy this fascinating exploration of the legacy of Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment as it unfolds this month. Our first reflection comes from Vernon L. Smith, Nobel laureate and professor of economics at Chapman University. Our second piece is adapted from an address Samuel Fleischacker, professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois Chicago, gave at the International Adam Smith Society conference in the fall of 2021.
Mustafa Akyol reflects on the relationship between liberty and Islam, posing some critical questions about Islam's history which to date have been little considered- by Muslims or others. For example, was the marriage between Islam and the state unavoidable? And even more critical, What was the first political principle that Islam called for? For Akyol, the answer is simple. Liberty.
John Locke’s often underappreciated economic thought. Professor van der Vossen notes that Locke’s impact on the political thought of liberal societies cannot be overstated, but this often means that few scholars look at Locke’s thoughts on labor, property and the importance of markets for free societies. In particular van der Vossen explores the key role that property and property rights play in Locke’s thought about maintaining free and prosperous communities of what Locke calls “free and equal” people. Van der Vossen sees Locke as a pivotal figure in the changing perspective of scholars towards markets and prosperity. While many earlier thinkers were skeptical of the fruits of exchange, markets, and wealth, Locke slowly began to see the advantage of being well off and espoused those views, particularly in the later part of his career.
David French to pen an essay commenting on the state of American liberty. His piece considers the relationship between domestic political polarization and the degradation of American norms and institutions aimed at safeguarding liberty. We hope that French's timely analysis will spark thoughtful conversation and reflection about how domestic animosity might pose an ultimate threat to formal guarantees of American liberty.
Thomas Jefferson, and how did his views--particularly those on race, slavery, and freedom--inform his writings, including the Declaration of Independence?" Lead essayist Hans Eicholz, an historian and Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund, kicks things off in our lead essay by surveying the shifting landscape of Jefferson historiography and examining the central tenets of the new Jefferson scholarship. Subsequent essays from Peter S. Onuf, Susan Love Brown, Lucas E. Morel, and Hannah Spahn will introduce disciplinal variety and additional nuance to the discussion. Check back often this month to stay up to date with the latest in this fascinating exchange!
Reason magazine, has written our lead essay on Frank Meyer. Liberty Fund publishes Meyer’s most widely cited book In Defense of Freedom and related essays which also includes a number of Meyer’s more well known essays. Meyer was one of the founders, along with William F. Buckley, of National Review. Meyer later was credited with being the founder of the political philosophy of fusionism. Fusionism was his effort to combine libertarian and conservative principles to maintain markets and more traditional values in society. Meyer believed that while virtue was critical to the maintenance of a free society, virtue could not be coerced by the state. This focus on the individual rather than the collective as the source of virtuous action, along with a commitment to free markets and limited government, helped animate conservative political thought under President Reagan and forge an alliance between libertarians and conservatives during the latter part of the Cold War. Today conservatives are heading in a very different ideological direction, but Slade argues in her provocative essay it is worth returning to Meyer’s thought during this dynamic period in American politics.
Wilhelm von Humboldt. Humboldt is one of the least well known yet very influential liberal philosophers in the Western world. Humboldt is best known for his work in the fields of linguistics, education, and the importance of individual development. His most famous work,The Limits of State Action, published by Liberty Fund, had a significant impact on John Stuart Mill’s thinking in his classic, On Liberty. Professor Bentley notes that while Humboldt was read in the 19th century as someone commenting on the size and reach of government, the state as he knew it was much smaller, and therefore he focused on the importance of individuals and individual development. According to Bentley, Humboldt’s key contribution to the history of liberal thought is his emphasis on individual experimentation in the scope of human existence. He writes that “He (Humboldt) sees liberty of action as fundamental to personal growth. Its exercise, so long as we do not harm others, functions as a mainstay for an individual-within-society.” It was this focus on providing a wide space for individuals to live their own lives as they saw fit that so influenced Mill and others.
Raymond Aron, Benjamin Constant, and Isaiah Berlin are three thinkers whose work illuminates different aspects of the meaning of the idea of "liberty." This collection of essays and responses engages with the differing characterizations of liberty proffered by these individuals, but also looks for unifying threads running between and among them. Daniel B. Klein kicks things off in his lead essay exploring the ideational dimensions of "liberty" as talked about by Aron, Constant, and Berlin. Responses from Professors Helena Rosenblatt and Daniel J. Mahoney add texture to Klein's analysis, particularly as the three authors engage one another in "the conversation" section below.
John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was one of the most formidable political thinkers of his era as well as a former Vice President, a member of the House and Senate, and a Secretary of State and War during the first half of the 19th century. He was also a Southerner and a defender of the institution of slavery. As Professor Whittington notes in his essay, Calhoun is fascinating because his writings address many of the issues we are facing about the nature of our Constitutional order today. Much like America during Calhoun’s lifetime, we are deeply divided along regional lines in America today, and Calhoun’s writings on state “nullification” and concurrent majorities speak to many of the discussions we have had about our divisive political landscape. However his defense of slavery was and is so deeply at odds with America’s contemporary culture and values that re-examining Calhoun today helps us confront the question of whether or not we can still learn from the contributions of some historical figures even if we find some of their views repugnant and offensive.
Frederick Douglass: “Once you learn to read you will be forever free.” Libraries--online or off--have always been places where voices have mingled across the lines of centuries, cultures, countries, and races. The interaction of those voices has always, to me, been the sound of freedom. This month, in lieu of our standard Liberty Matters format, we present some pieces that use the resources of the Online Library of Liberty to listen to those voices and provoke thought and discussion about Black History and about Black History Month. We begin by bringing you Jack Russell Weinstein’s fine essay about whether we should read Adam Smith during Black History Month. Following him will be pieces by Rachel Ferguson on Frederick Douglass and the Black church experience, and by Sabine El-Chidiac and Janet Bufton on Black Canadian women and the fight for civil rights. You’ll also find a list of links to material from the OLL and other Liberty Fund websites that bring other voices to the forefront of this discussion. Here’s to more reading, and to forever freedom for us all.
A.V. Dicey. Dicey was an English legal scholar at Oxford in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who is best known for having popularized the phrase “the rule of law”. Dicey’s most famous work was Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution and was widely read in Britain and America. As Glock notes in his essay, Dicey argued that rule of law, which he saw as equality before the law including those in power, only existed in two countries, Britain and the US. He contrasted those two nations with France where Dicey believed its administrative law tradition did not sufficiently hold government officials to the same standard as its citizens. Glock’s essay is a powerful reminder of why Dicey is one of the most important legal scholars of the past 200 years and why his work has been so important in understanding how law and liberty are intertwined in the Anglo-American conception of legal justice.