Liberty Matters Archives

The Roman Senate in Early Modern Europe (May 2023)

The rise and fall of the Roman republic continued to influence political thought for centuries after its demise. In this Liberty Matters, we invited a group of scholars, led by Paulina Kewes, to consider the influence of this history on the political thought and culture of early modern Europe. What did the rise and decline of this republican ancestor have to teach early moderns (and perhaps us today!) about the political and moral milieu within which we live? Kewes is joined by Ioannis Evrigenis, Filippo Sabetti, and Michael Moses in this exploration of the continued relevance of this ancient republic.

Did we have a Constitutional Revolution but not reconstruct the South? (April 2023)

Revolution (n) "a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system." How many constitutional revolutions has America experienced? Certainly all agree on the first. Was there another constitutional revolution after the Civil War with Reconstruction? Did Reconstruction actually accomplish the goals it was intended for, or do "old habits die hard?" We posed these questions to a group of scholars to get their takes. Read on as the conversation unfolds in this month's Liberty Matters.

Why Do We Need Feminist Economics? (March 2023)

What is feminist economics? Is it a complement or subsitute for standard economic analysis? Regardless, why do we need it today? These are the questions that animate this Liberty Matters symposium. Led by Professor Giandomenica Becchio, four scholars will each take their turn at providing answers to these questions. Becchio reminds us in her opening essay, "Any social phenomenon has many possible causes and correlations, so both the explanations mentioned above are partial. They might coexist: Sometimes discrimination is evident; sometimes gender inequality is not a matter of discrimination. Anyway, the phenomenon of gender inequality exists."

Is there a Role for Monarchy in a Free Society (January/February 2023)

It may seem odd that the topic of monarchy has been chosen for this month’s Liberty Matters. Our stereotypical view of monarchy in the history of liberty is perhaps most often associated with the writings of someone like 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.

Why Read the Ancients Today? (November/December 2022)

Why have ancient texts fallen out of favor today? Once read widely- both in homes and schools- texts by "dead white men" are looked upon today with disfavor. Yet some scholars- and readers- insist upon their enduring significance, even when they reflect a time and place foreign to what we know today. For this Liberty Matters, we invited a diverse group of scholars to ponder the question, Why Read the Ancients Today? Our conversation is led by Roosevelt Montás of Columbia University, known both for claiming that the great books "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.

Systemic Racism in Education and Healthcare (October 2022)

At best, healthcare and education in the United States are suboptimal. At worst, they are  a national disgrace. Any disagreements over how best to improve each institution concern more narrowly focused issues, such as racial disparities in outcomes, and the reasons for these disparities. This month, we've invited several scholars to discuss this issue.

Perspectives on Mises' Socialism After 100 Years (August 2022)

In 1922 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.”

The Constitutional Convention and the Peculiar Institution (July 2022)

It is easy to envision the Constitution as a document that has been so hallowed by history and by the passage of time that it can barely be discussed. It simply exists, and always has. But in recent years, the academic debates of legal scholars and historians have made their way into public discourse and brought the Constitution along with them. As a result, the Constitution may be more actively debated and discussed in popular culture today than at any time since the contentious debates over its ratification. Many of those debates have focused on the wisdom of a modern nation allowing itself to be guided by historic principles. More specifically, many of those debates have questioned whether a document created and agreed upon by a culture that still permitted the enslavement of human beings can still guide a modern nation. This month’s Liberty Matters considers this contemporary debate from a historical perspective. Many of the questions that we raise about the Constitution today were also actively discussed when it was being written, debated, and ratified. Our writers this month seek to ground and contextualize the contentious arguments over the Constitution today in those historical discussions, in the hopes of framing new questions, providing new arguments and perspectives, reviving forgotten ones, and reminding us all that no document–no matter how great and how historic–has ever been unquestioningly accepted.

Is Machiavelli Friend or Foe to Liberty? (May 2022)

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.

Why History Matters for 21st Century Liberty (April 2022)

We invited John Hulsman to write this month’s Liberty Matters essay, “Why History Matters for 21st Century Liberty” because we had been following 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.

Remember the Ladies: The Fight for Equality among the Genders (March 2022)

Women's History Month (formerly Women's History Week) seems a fitting time for us to "Remember the Ladies," as Abigail Adams exhorted her husband, at Liberty Matters. In this month's series, we've invited scholars to reflect on women's fight for gender equality. Over the course of this month, you'll find reflections based in history, politics, and literature, all with an eye toward the role individual liberty and responsibility have played in each account.

What Does Liberty Have to Say to Black History? (February 2022)

Black History Month began in 1926 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History declared the second week of February to be Negro History Week. In 1969, Black History Month was declared first by students at Kent State University, and it has since become officially recognized by many governments. For this edition of Liberty Matters, we asked a group of scholars to reflect on what role liberty has, can, and should play in Black History Month. 

The Legacy of Walter Williams (January 2022)

In December of 2020, the world lost a leading light in modern economics, 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.

What Adam Smith Means to Me (November 2021)

What Adam Smith Means to Me For this Liberty Matters, we asked prominent scholars of 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, Liberty was Islam's First Call (October 2021)

This month's Liberty Matters is another in our occasional series in which we ask notable thought leaders what liberty means to them. In this edition, 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 on Commercial Society (September 2021)

Welcome to our September 2021 edition of Liberty Matters. This month Professor Bas van der Vossen of Chapman University has written an essay on 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, "Can American Liberty Survive American Animosity?" (August 2021)

For this month's edition of Liberty Matters we invited 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.

Understanding Jefferson: Slavery, Race, and the Declaration of Independence (July 2021)

Welcome to the July 2021 edition of Liberty Matters. This month we convene a panel of distinguished scholars to ask, "Who was 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! 

Liberty and Virtue: Frank Meyer's Fusionism (June 2021)

Welcome to our June 2021 edition of Liberty Matters.  This month Stephanie Slade, managing editor at 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.

Humboldt’s State – and Ours (May 2021)

Welcome to our May 2021 edition of Liberty Matters.  This month Professor Michael Bentley has written our lead essay on 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.

Daniel B. Klein, "Meanings of Liberty: Aron, Constant, Berlin" (April 2021)

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.

Keith E. Whittington, "John C. Calhoun, Constitutionalism, and Slavery" (March 2021)

Welcome to our March 2021 edition of Liberty Matters. This month Keith Whittington has written our lead essay on 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.

Reflections on Libraries, Liberty, and Black History (February 2021)

On my office wall there hangs an illustrated quotation from 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.

Judge Glock, "Albert Venn Dicey and the Immunity of the Administrative State" (December 2020)

Welcome to our December 2020 edition of Liberty Matters.  In this month’s forum Judge Glock has written our lead essay on the 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.