The Reading Room

The OLL blog explores the fascinating, vital, and often surprising texts and people that fill our library. Come talk in our library!

A Dissertation upon Parties: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

I should be clear. I am aware that Bolingbroke's Dissertation Upon Parties has nothing to do with the kinds of parties we are all anticipating as 2022 begins to transform into 2023. That said, I was entirely unable to resist posting…

Robert Burns and the Theory of Moral Sentiments

By: Walter Donway

As a young man, Robert Burns read Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and expressed his reaction in the strongest terms in his “commonplace book”—a personal journal not intended for publication, but obviously not destroyed by…

A Meeting of Minds in the Middle of the Street

By: Richard B. McKenzie

We lived across a quiet neighborhood street from one another for more than three decades. On the political spectrum, however, we were so far apart that we couldn’t see one another from our houses. On the religion spectrum, we had an…

Why Read Borges?

By: Marcos Falcone

At first glance, the idea that classical liberals throughout the world should learn about the writings of an Argentine man who is well-known for his fiction may seem odd. The works of Jorge Luis Borges, though, are something else.

OLL’s December Birthday: John Milton (December 9, 1608 – November 8, 1674)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

December’s OLL Birthday essay is in honor of the poet, statesman, and political philosopher John Milton, considered by many to be the most important author in the English language. His deeply idiosyncratic personal, political, and…

Christmas Tales From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Aside from the Bible story, it would be hard to find a more traditional and beloved Christmas tale than Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, so it was no surprise to find a copy in Pierre Goodrich's book collection. The cheery red…

The Deadweight Loss of the Magi

By: Sarah Skwire and Amy Willis

Last year, Sarah Skwire and Amy Willis got together to discuss two famous Christmas stories by Charles Dickens. This year, they did some thinking about the equally classic Christmas story, "The Gift of the Magi," by O. Henry. It's a…

Dickens as an Adapter of Dante

By: Alexander Schmid

Today, I turn to Susan Colón’s work “Dickens’s HARD TIMES and Dante’s INFERNO,” in which she makes the case that Dickens’s work Hard Times includes imagery, descriptions, and “moral analysis” of his characters in a way suggestive of…

Did Dickens Read Dante? Charles Dickens’s Adaptation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy in his A Christmas Carol

By: Alexander Schmid

Stephen Bertman has observed several structural similarities between Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Dante’s entire Divine Comedy, including their shared tripartite structure, exploration of religious themes, and notions of…

The Economics of Modern Soccer

By: Garth Bond

With the World Cup concluding yesterday, some readers will be quietly relieved at not having to pay attention to soccer for another four years, while others will be anxiously awaiting the European season’s restart with the English…

Tales and Maxims from the Talmud: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

I'm currently reading the Talmud--a record of more than 600 years worth of rabbinic teaching, commentary, debate, and discussion) at the rate of one Hebrew page a day. (I'm reading it in English, which works out to about 5 pages per…

An Overweening Purpose: Tolkien on Adapting Middle-Earth

By: Nathaniel Birzer

Much can and has already been said regarding Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: the Rings of Power’s merits and flaws, both in the show’s relation to Tolkien’s universally acclaimed world The Tolkien Societybuilding and established…

Soccer’s Invisible Hand: Globalization

By: Garth Bond

In my previous post in honor of the World Cup, I explored the role that soccer’s early adoption of professionalism played both in its rapid growth and in that tournament’s founding. But that a World Cup was even feasible by the…

The Enlightenment of Robert Burns

By: Walter Donway

Many a literary critic classifies the (unofficial) national bard of Scotland, Robert Burns, as a poet of the Romantic Movement. It is easy to see why. His poetry deals with nature and those living and working close to it; embraces…

Milton’s Poetry and Prose: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Given that today is the birthday of one of the greatest writers of English prose and poetry, John Milton, I pulled a few of Milton's works from the shelves of Pierre Goodrich's collection in Liberty Fund's rare book room. The first…

Fukuzawa Yukichi: The Man Who Was “Civilization and Enlightenment” in Japan

By: Walter Donway

“Each individual man and each individual country, according to the principles of natural reason, is free from bondage.”
Fukuzawa Yukichi made this statement in Japan in 1872, a few years after the end of Japan’s last samurai…

Soccer’s Invisible Hand: Professionalism

By: Garth Bond

On Sunday, November 20th, in Qatar, the World Cup kicked off its 22nd edition since debuting in Uruguay in 1930. There is little question, for better or worse, that viewing the World Cup is among the most widely shared human…

Why Bones and All Leaves Readers Hungry

By: Caroline Breashears

Camille DeAngelis's Bones and All, now an award winning film directed by Luca Guadagnino promises a delicious repast for readers interested in horror. Cannibalism, wicked relatives, romantic tension, a road trip, a carnival and a…

The Screwtape Letters: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

I will confess that I decided to take a look at Pierre Goodrich's 1948 copy of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis because it's a book I love, and not because this edition is a particularly compelling example of the bookbinder's…

On Geryon’s Spiral Flight: Fraud

By: Alexander Schmid

Behold the beast who bears the pointed tail,who crosses mountains, shatters weapons, walls!Behold the one whose stench fills all the world!

Walt Whitman: Poet of American Democratic Individualism

By: Walter Donway

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) surely has won the popularity contest as “the greatest American poet” and other accolades beyond counting. The Poetry Foundation writes that “Walt Whitman is America’s world poet—a latter-day successor to…

OLL’s November Birthday: Pierre Bayle (November 22, 1647-December 28, 1706)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

November’s OLL Birthday essay is in honor of Pierre Bayle, a philosopher and theologian who exercised a profound influence on Enlightenment thinkers. His works regarding toleration, in particular, were at least as important as those…

An Enquiry into the Origin of Honour: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

We've certainly highlighted more extravagantly produced books from our rare book collection. I'm a sucker for marbled endpapers, gold stamping, raised detailing, and glorious illustrations. It would be easy to pass by this volume,…

Thanksgiving Greetings from the Reading Room

By: Sarah Skwire

A menu of our traditional Thanksgiving treats for visitors to the Reading Room

A Toast: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Recently, I've been diving into the Liberty Fund rare book room every Friday to find and share a treasure with readers of this blog. I hope my posts so far have persuaded you of the wealth of materials that we have on hand in the…

Authority and Oppression in Verdi’s Operas

By: Gary McGath

Giuseppe Verdi’s operas present drama and conflict, heightened by his superb music. Like most opera composers, he didn’t write his own texts but employed several different librettists. In his most successful ones, he worked with the…

Antigone: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Antigone is one of the greatest literary debates about freedom and responsibility in human history, and one of our most enduring works of literature as well. Pierre Goodrich's 1900 edition of Antigone is clearly well loved, and…

One Way Out–Andor’s Critique of Fascism

By: Thomas David Bunting

What is the nature of power and accountability in a fascist regime? The new Star Wars television show Andor is interested in interrogating this question and especially the ways that unaccountable power undermines itself.

Henry Maine’s “Society of Status” Under Feudalism

By: Walter Donway

Even among intellects of the Victorian era, Sir Henry Sumner Maine (1822-1888) shone brightly: on the Cambridge University faculty, at the Inns of Court in London, in India leading legal-system reform, at Oxford University teaching…

Homer’s Odyssey: Reason vs. Desire

By: Alexander Schmid

Today, we will consider appearance vs. reality in Homer's Odyssey. When Odysseus returns home to Ithaka after his ten year long journey, he does so in disguise. He comes as a beggar, a dismal vagabond, and though he is a war-hero, a…

Hume’s History of England: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Some of the most remarkable books in the Liberty Fund rare book room come from the collection of the American historian Joseph Hamburger. Acquired in the late 90s, the selections from Hamburger's collection that we own are some of…

Looking at The Spectator

By: Heather King

Before denizens of the web could pass hours wandering down rabbit holes like McSweeney’s Internet Tendency or The Onion, what did well-read, culturally au currant folks do for amusement?

William Blake: Romantic Poet and Enlightenment Man?

By: Walter Donway

In an article published by the British Library, Stephanie Forward, Ph.D., writes: “In England, the Romantic poets were…inspired by a desire for liberty… There was an emphasis on the importance of the individual; a conviction that…

William Blake, the Romantic Revolution, and Liberty

By: Walter Donway

The Romantic poets, long in English poetry’s pantheon, present a paradox. As a movement, they are defined by their emotional power, preoccupation with nature, fascination with the mythic, and their search for the ideal in earlier…

Faust: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

This visit to the Liberty Fund rare book room is for the mid-century modern design fans. Pierre Goodrich's 1941 copy of Goethe's Faust, published by Knopf, is a perfect example of the charms of mid century book design, as well as…

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) : The Dr. Seuss of the Diss

By: Heather King

What would happen if Dr. Seuss started throwing shade? To the untrained ear, it might sound something like the satiric barbs of Alexander Pope, diss-master of the Enlightenment. Consider his dismissal of Lord Hervey, referred to…

Homer’s Iliad The Relationship between Gods and Mortals

By: Alexander Schmid

The situation at the beginning of Book Three of Homer’s Iliad is this: a truce had been called between the Trojans and the invading Achaians after nine long years of war in order to allow for a single-combat, winner-take-all, fight…

OLL’s October (Belated) Birthday: William Penn (October 14, 1644 – July 30, 1718)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

October’s OLL Birthday Essay features the English theologian, philosopher, activist, and founder of the colony of Pennsylvania, William Penn. Over the course of his life, Penn emerged as an indefatigable champion of religious…

Down for the Count: Restoring Dracula’s Message about Liberty

By: Caroline Breashears

Karl Marx famously observed, "Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks." His comments have inspired critics such as Franco Moretti to interpret…

Tai Shang Kan-Ying Pien: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Last week we visited the Liberty Fund rare book room to take a look at a beautiful early edition of one of the most canonical, and canonizing, books in the English language, Johnson's Dictionary. This week, I thought it might be fun…

George Washington: America’s Founding Father

By: Isadore Johnson

George Washington was born in Pope's Creek, Westmoreland County, Virginia, on February 22, 1732. Most of his childhood was spent on Ferry Farm, which he inherited at age 11, along with 10 slaves. At Ferry Farm, Washington informally…

The Poet as Intellectual: How the Romantics Took on Thomas Malthus

By: Walter Donway

The Romantics—Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, Shelley, and a dozen others—are probably the poets whose names we recall best from school. As a movement in English language poetry, Romanticism towers over all others and still…

Who are the Real Federalists? Why we should read John Francis Mercer

By: Hans Eicholz

Who qualifies as a Founder? Who is a Framer? These are questions about which we often assume general agreement, but the reality is otherwise.
“Founders” can sometimes refer to anyone who supported or participated in the American…

Johnson’s Dictionary: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

One of the real pleasures of working at Liberty Fund is having the chance to bring office visitors into our rare book room to explore its hidden treasures. One of the books I get particularly excited about is our beautiful two volume…

John Dickinson: The “Timid” Founder

By: David F. Forte

Did John Adams described John Dickinson in 1774 as “very modest, delicate, and timid”? Adams, who previously met with Dickinson during the proceedings of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, was much more complimentary,…

The Banning of the Bard

By: Gary McGath

William Shakespeare’s plays have been performed in many ways. They’ve been translated into nearly every language on Earth and at least one “alien” language (Klingon). Sometimes they have undergone serious changes. Legal requirements…

Why George Mason Matters

By: Daniel L. Dreisbach

There is an unfortunate tendency among students of the American founding to focus on the accomplishments of a few “famous founders” while ignoring the salient contributions of an expansive fraternity of “forgotten founders.” One…

Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American New Republic

By: Mark David Hall

In 1777, John Adams described Connecticut’s Roger Sherman as “that old Puritan, as honest as an angel, and as firm in the cause of American Independence as Mt. Atlas.” Late in life, Patrick Henry remarked that Sherman and George…

From Hus to Luther: The Challenge to Orthodoxy

By: Gary McGath

In 1415, Jan Hus was burned alive for challenging the authority of the Catholic Church. In 1521, Martin Luther nearly met the same fate but lived to start a new church with new ways of thinking.

Deborah Sampson: American Warrior

By: Kirstin Anderson Birkhaug

Today, over 1.4 million women serve as active-duty members of the American military. While today’s acceptance of women in warfare is relatively new (women were allowed full participation in the Armed Forces with the Women’s Armed…

John Hancock: The First U.S. President

By: Gary Scott Smith

He is the answer to the trick question: Who was the first president of the United States? His role as the initial president of the Continental Congress makes John Hancock, not George Washington, the correct answer. Known perhaps…

Ethan Allen, Individualism, and Deism

By: Walter Donway

It is extraordinarily telling that Ethan Allen returned at the end of his life to the project of his teens, the manuscript he started with Thomas Young decades earlier. He completed it in 1785 and struggled to find a publisher to…

John Marshall, the Great Chief Justice

By: Matthew J. Franck

There is only one judge in American history for whom the epithet “the Great” has been commonly used: John Marshall (1755–1835), the fourth chief justice of the United States. Yet in a strange way, his outsized reputation, built on…

Phillis Wheatley: A First

By: Susan Love Brown

Being first holds a significant place in American culture, for Americans love being Number One, being winners, being the First. For African Americans, being a first has a somewhat different meaning – it signifies another barrier…

Ethan Allen: Yankee Extraordinaire

By: Walter Donway

In many ways, Ethan Allen is the quintessential Yankee. A farmer, he speculated in land and involved himself in colonial politics regarding land. He plunged into the War of Independence and became its first hero. Captured by the…

Richard Henry Lee: Founding Revolutionary and Anti-Corruption Advocate

By: Isadore Johnson

Richard Henry Lee was born at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland, Virginia, on January 20, 1732. At age 16, Lee moved to Yorkshire, England, for his formal education at Wakefield Academy. In 1750, when he was 18, both of Lee’s parents…

Thinking About Government with John Adams

By: Aeon J. Skoble

In philosophy classes, students sometimes wonder why we continue to read long-dead thinkers like Plato or Descartes, and there are two sorts of answers I usually give. One is that, for better or worse, their ideas set the stage for…

OLL’s September Birthday: The Marquis de Condorcet

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

September’s featured birthday anniversary belongs to Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, The Marquis de Condorcet, usually referred to simply by his title, or sometimes as Nicolas Condorcet. Sometimes called “the Last Witness of…

John Leland: Theologian of the First Amendment

By: Obbie Tyler Todd

Evangelicals today are often accused of supporting political figures who seem to contradict their values and beliefs. But why do such coalitions exist in American politics? To answer that question, Americans should look back not to…

James Monroe: The Anti-Imperialist President and Founding Father

By: Isadore Johnson

Although James Monroe didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence, he is remembered as a crucial part of American History: the last of the “Founding Father” presidents. Beyond the doctrine named after him, Monroe is also known for…

Shelley’s “Ode to Liberty” Infuriated Reviewers—but Made J. S. Mill Weep

By: Walter Donway

It was dangerous age to publish poetry. Imagine a poem, today, attacked as subversive and “as wicked as anything that ever reached the world”—a poem by a poet who today is in the pantheon of English Romantic poetry. Any poet of our…

A Friend to the Revolution: Mercy Otis Warren and the Ordinary Virtues of Republicanism

By: Sarah Morgan Smith

If, as the saying goes, you can judge a man by the company he keeps, then Mercy Otis Warren ought to be more highly regarded.

The Paranoia of Patrick Henry

By: Joy Buchanan

“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.” Those are the words of Patrick Henry to the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788.

Inception in Ilion: Agamemnon’s Dream

By: Alexander Schmid

Long before Christopher Nolan was wowing audiences with expensive CGI and notions of thoughts being placed into minds via dreams, epic Greek literature was doing much the same. For those who need a brief refresher on the concept…

Patrick Henry: America’s Founding Orator

By: Isadore Johnson

Patrick Henry was born on May 29, 1736, in Hanover County, Virginia. He tried his hand at running a store at 15 but was unsuccessful. In 1754, at age 18, he married Sara Shelton and was given 6 slaves and 300 acres of land as a…

Brought to the Scaffold": Pepys, Smith, and Voltaire on Public Executions

By: Sarah Skwire

In early October of 1660, the diarist Samuel Pepys got up in the morning and headed out to Charing Cross to spend a pleasant day with friends and
to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered;

Judith Sargent Murray: A Woman Between Worlds

By: Kirstin Anderson Birkhaug

In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published her famous work The Vindication of the Rights of Woman. To this day, this work is considered one of the origin points of western feminism. While Wollstonecraft enjoys great continuing fame, few…

Mavericks: Soaring to New Heights with Pete Mitchell and David Hume

By: Caroline Breashears

This summer's Top Gun: Maverick blasted past other films in U.S. theaters and continues its path around the globe. There are many reasons for its financial success—it's now the ninth-highest grossing film in domestic box office…

George Mason: Father of Inalienable Rights

By: Isadore Johnson

George Mason was born on December 11, 1725, in Fairfax County, Virginia. His parents died in a boating accident when he was 10, and he was taken in by John Mercer, an uncle, who was both a lawyer and a voracious reader. In 1736,…

OLL’s August Birthday: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (August 28, 1749 – March 22, 1832)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

August’s featured birthday is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. A true polymath, he was a playwright, poet, novelist, scientist, and statesman who had an impact in all of those fields and emerged as probably the most influential writer in…

Benjamin Rush: Founding Father of America & Psychiatry

By: Isadore Johnson

Franklin isn’t the only Founding Father named Benjamin. Benjamin Rush, an American physician, politician, and educator also played an important role in America’s founding. Benjamin Rush was both a historical luminary and a brilliant…

Verdi’s Don Carlo: The Beginnings of Religious Liberty

By: Gary McGath

The Protestant Reformation threw 16th-century Europe into turmoil. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was also the king of Spain, tried to maintain Catholic power in the face of religious schisms. Suffering from poor health and worn…

James Wilson and the New Nation

By: Mark David Hall

In 2007, Gary L. Gregg and I asked more than one hundred history, politics, and law professors who was the most important but forgotten of all American founders. There was widespread agreement that this honor, if it can be called an…

Two Reasons to Read Jefferson

By: Jeremy D. Bailey

We live in a world where attention spans are short and partisan posturing is expected, so why should students bother with reading works by the American Founders, a group of men that did not include philosophers but did include…

Review: Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media by Jacob Mchangama (Basic Books, 2022)

By: Aeon J. Skoble

If you tell people you’re working on some project involving free speech, odds are good they will reply with something about how timely that is, since, regardless of whether they identify as liberal or conservative, they likely think…

John Witherspoon: A Presbyterian’s Impact on America’s Founding

By: Paul A. Cleveland

John Witherspoon was born in Scotland and educated in Edinburgh. He was a leading Presbyterian, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a member of the Continental Congress. He came to America in 1768 to become president of…

Dolley Madison: Queen of America

By: Melissa Matthes

One of the animating questions of the women’s movement in America has long been how much or even whether women should use the qualities and skills traditionally associated with their sex or whether they should try to overcome those…

John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle: An Unlikely Bond

By: Chris Loukas

John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle might seem to be unlikely friends. Mill was a politician, philosopher and economist and Carlyle an essayist and novelist. Mill was a radical, a liberal and a utilitarian and Carlyle was…

Martha Washington: First in the Heart of the President

By: Kirstin Anderson Birkhaug

At George Washington’s funeral, General Henry Lee said of the great man that he was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” These are some of the most famous words spoken regarding Washington,…

Exploring Sandman at the OLL

By: Sarah Skwire

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, transformed from a comic book into a Netflix series, premieres today. Comic fans have long been aware of the complex narrative and the genre bending mix of horror, fantasy, myth, and family drama that comprise…

Common Sense with Thomas Paine

By: Jason Sorens

What does it mean to be an American? I don’t mean, “What are the legal requirements to be an American citizen?” but something more like, “What are the characteristics that make someone a part of the American people?” After all,…

Internal Improvements

By: Andrew Smith

Whenever I drive through parts of my hometown of Indianapolis, I cross a small waterway with a trail running alongside - the Central Canal.
Today, it’s a recreational area, with people walking and biking along its towpath and…

Jefferson and the Principle of Natural Equality

By: Jason Jividen

Not long after his debates with Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln was invited by Henry L. Pierce and a group of Boston-area Republicans to a festival honoring Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. Unable to attend, on April 6, 1859, Lincoln…

Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention, Part 2

By: Steve Ealy

In 1776, Benjamin Franklin served as President of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention that produced the most radically democratic constitution of any of the colonies/states. Among the provisions of Pennsylvania’s constitution…

Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention

By: Steve Ealy

At 81, Benjamin Franklin was the senior statesman at a convention of young men. He was three times the age of the Convention’s youngest delegate (Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey, aged 26), and twice the average age for all delegates…

Benjamin Franklin and American Union

By: Steve Ealy

Under the dateline Philadelphia, May 9 [1754], Franklin’s The Pennsylvania Gazette printed an item based on dispatches from Major George Washington which detailed French advances and British losses along the Monongahela River. The…

OLL’s July Birthday: Francesco Petrarch (July 20, 1304 – July 19, 1374)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

July’s featured birthday is Francesco Petrarca, usually rendered into English as Petrarch. A scholar, poet, and churchman, he is regarded as one of the first humanists and is sometimes even called the “Father of the Renaissance.”…

“A perpetual jealousy, respecting liberty”: John Dickinson on Fundamental Rights

By: Jane E. Calvert

Although few Americans today have heard of John Dickinson, he was a central figure of the Founding era. Writing more for the American cause than any other figure, he was America’s first celebrity, known around the Atlantic World as…

In The Reading Room with Aristotle

By: Aeon J. Skoble

In several previous columns, I have talked about why we might continue to find value in Plato. But all the reasons why it’s worth taking seriously some of Plato’s insights apply as well to his pupil Aristotle. Aristotle came to…

John Jay: Legal and Constitutional Framer

By: Jonathan Den Hartog

John Jay (1745–1829) was one of the most significant members of the founding generation, but his reputation hasn’t kept pace with that reality. Most Americans, if they wrack their brains, might be able to come up with vague…

Unpersuaded; or, Ten Ways to Lose an Austen Reader

By: Caroline Breashears

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader in possession of a Jane Austen novel must be in want of a film adaptation. In fact, such readers want many film adaptations, if not to revisit Austen's world then to have the…

Gouverneur Morris on the Word “Liberty”: An Empty Sound?

By: Melanie Randolph Miller

Is it enough for a nation to have a constitution purporting to guarantee liberty and justice? Gouverneur Morris would say emphatically no: a consistent theme in his writings is that a constitution must be suited to the people it…

“What ‘Severance’ Viewers Get Wrong About Infantilizing Office Perks”

By: Joy Buchanan

A theme in the new TV show Severance is how "perks" serve as incentives at the office.
There are four "data refiners" working in the basement of secretive Lumon Industries. They are supposed to behave according to the corporate…

The Written Legacy of Gouverneur Morris: Constitutional Wisdom We Cannot Afford to Forget

By: Melanie Randolph Miller

We the People. It is a phrase that shows up everywhere, on the banners of protestors on both sides of an issue, as the name of an expletive-laden song by Kid Rock, in the title of many books, many art exhibitions, and, of course, on…

Abigail Adams Argues for More “Learned Women”

By: Elizabeth Amato

In the previous post on Abigail Adams, I noted that she was a staunch advocate of traditional American liberties and showed great fortitude during tough times.
But Abigail was no mere defender of the status quo. No insignificant…

The Unimpeachable Politics of The Beggar’s Opera

By: Caroline Breashears

John Gay's The Beggar's Opera took London by storm in 1728, when it was staged 62 times in succession. It remains a classic for many reasons, starting with its humor. In the first act, Mrs. Peachum, upon hearing that her daughter…

Abigail Adams’ Patriotism

By: Elizabeth Amato

A Gallop poll shows a worrisome decline in patriotism among younger Americans. A mere half of Americans 35 and younger report being proud of their country. A generational shift is occurring that will have far-reaching consequences…

Founding Mother Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton…Remember Me!

By: Melissa Matthes

When the wife, mother or sister of a famous man is invoked, the first inclination is to wonder how that woman might have influenced her celebrated male counterpart. It is a reasonable question. The next question is whether that…

In the Reading Room with Plato and Feminism

By: Aeon J. Skoble

In previous columns I’ve discussed some reasons why there are insightful contributions from Plato that contemporary audiences might benefit from thinking about. Here’s another: his feminism. For the most part we don’t think of the…

Mind Your Manners: Mercy Otis Warren on the Character of the American People

By: Megan Marie Russo

Why should we care about Mercy Otis Warren’s political writings today? Just because she’s a woman? No, but then again, maybe yes.
Even if we keep sex and gender out of it, Warren was impressive in her own right. At an early age,…

OLL’s June Birthday: Harriet Martineau

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

June’s birthday is the British liberal social theorist, writer, and political activist Harriet Martineau (born June 12, 1802). Often described as the first female sociologist, Martineau wrote on a wide variety of subjects such as…

Thomas Jefferson’s Last-Minute Flip-Flop on the Future of American Democracy

By: Dennis C. Rasmussen

As Thomas Jefferson neared his death—which came on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—he composed some of the most famous and optimistic lines ever to emerge from his pen. He…

The Marriage of Figaro and the Fall of the Aristocracy

By: Gary McGath

When Mozart wanted to make his name known to Vienna’s opera-going public, he made a daring choice. He had Lorenzo Da Ponte write a libretto based on a controversial play by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Like the play, the…

How to Read a Constitution…Hamilton Style

By: Hans Eicholz

To continue the Beatles analogy, if James Madison was the George Harrison of his day, certainly Alexander Hamilton was a lead vocalist of the caliber of John Lennon, and there are very good reasons why he resonates so well today…

Is Madison’s Federalist Theory Still Relevant Today?

By: Colleen A. Sheehan

From: Colleen Sheehan
Date: June 16, 2022
To: G. Patrick Lynch, Hans Eicholz
Subject: Is Madison’s Federalist Theory Still Relevant Today?

When Liberals Behave Illiberally

By: Bill Glod

Attempts to reach a liberal utopia are likely to fail. I claim this not as a Burkean conservative but as a classical liberal and ardent defender of individualism. People should be free to live and interact by their own conscience…

Get Back!…to Madison: More Reasons to Read Madison

By: Hans Eicholz

From: Hans EicholzDate: June 14, 2022To: G. Patrick LynchCc: OLL
Subject: Get Back! Madison…More Reasons to read Madison

Which Beatle is James Madison?

By: G Patrick Lynch

If we think about the most prominent of the American Founding Fathers as the Beatles, then Jefferson, Washington and Hamilton have gotten most of the attention from folks, much like Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr. They…

Beyond the Hate: George Orwell’s 1984

By: Caroline Breashears

Readers across the political spectrum love George Orwell's 1984His concepts of the "Ministry of Truth" and "Newspeak" permeate discussions about political rhetoric, while "the Hate" is a ritual that viewers of news programs might…

Samuel Adams…Much More Than a Beer

By: Gary Scott Smith

Millions of Americans today are concerned about social justice. Issues ranging from abortion to environmental devastation to racial disparities in income, education, convictions, and imprisonment roil our nation. Similarly, more…

Fidelio: Beethoven’s Hymn to Freedom

By: Gary McGath

Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, which dates from 1805, addresses issues which are just as important today. Its plot concerns a whistleblower whom a corrupt prison governor has “disappeared.” His wife, Leonore, disguises herself as a…

Envy and Inequality

By: Bill Glod

Is a desire to reduce inequality largely motivated by envy? In his pioneering work Envy, sociologist Helmut Schoeck explores the ramifications of what he claims is our indelible human tendency to compare ourselves with others. He…

OLL’s May Birthday–Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818 – March 14, 1883)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

May’s featured OLL Birthday is the Journalist, classical economist, historian, and political activist Karl Marx. Marx’s many contributions in these areas are so profound that it is scarcely possible to understand the history of the…

The Last King of America: A Review

By: Renee Wilmeth

When it comes to Enlightenment-era monarchs, we generally think the worst of one in particular, especially when it comes to progress – King George III of England. Too often, we think of him as the king who lost the American…

Realism and Liturgy: Robert Eggers’s The Northman

By: Nathaniel Birzer

Robert Eggers’s newest film, The Northman, is a phenomenal movie…provided you know what you are in for. The film’s advertising, apparently, did not, selling it as another gritty and gray ‘realistic’ medieval movie. The film’s…

216 years of John Stuart Mill

By: Chris Loukas

The 20th of May marks the birthday of John Stuart Mill who was born in 1806, 216 years ago. He was a prolific economist, philosopher and politician who advocated for equal rights for women and individual freedom. His books like On…

Freedom and Work in Severance

By: Joy Buchanan

Are employees free when they are at work? The new science-fiction TV show Severanceexplores themes about workplace culture and political oppression. Severance can also be very funny, in the tradition of Dilbert and Office Space.

God, Grotius, and Moral Truth: Barbeyrac’s Critique

By: Eric Mack

In “God, Grotius, and Moral Truth: Part I,” I presented Grotius’s view that, if there are sound basic moral/political principles, their truth and their obligatory force do not depend upon God’s willing or commanding those…

God, Grotius, and Moral Truth: Part I

By: Eric Mack

My previous contributions to the Reading Room describe some striking, proto-liberal strands in Hugo Grotius’s early essay, The Free Sea (1609). This two-part entry begins a series of discussions of remarkable contentions about the…

What We Talk About When We Talk About Horror

By: Sarah Skwire and Garth Bond

I recently had the chance to get on a Zoom call with Reading Room blogger and literature professor Garth Bond and with horror movie writer , director, and producer Adam Simon. We decided to get together to talk about horror from the…

Laws of a Bygone Civilization

By: Barry Cooper

Liberty Fund’s Online Library of Liberty offers its readers the opportunity to learn from C.H.W. Johns’s classic 1904 edition of Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters. As with later collections of early Mesopotamian…

A Postscript to Property & Justice: A Liberal Theory of Natural Rights

By: Billy Christmas

I am grateful to the Online Library of Liberty for hosting this discussion of my book, and of course the discussants, Aeon Skoble, Jacob Levy, and Sarah Skwire, for graciously reading and engaging with my work.
In those reflections…

Pocket Globes: The World in Your Hand

By: Virginia Postrel

The century that began around 1670 was an extraordinary period of exploration and discovery. Antoni van Leeuwenhoek found microscopic animals teeming in a drop of water. Isaac Newton revolutionized physics. The East India Company…

OLL’s April Birthday: Mary Wollstonecraft (April 27, 1759- September 10, 1797)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

This month’s featured birthday anniversary is the English philosopher, writer, and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Perhaps best known for her book Vindication of the Rights of Women, she was crucially important in the arguments about…

Something New for Shakespeare at the OLL

By: Sarah Skwire

We don’t actually know for sure what day Shakespeare was born. We know that he was baptized on April 26, 1564, and since infants were generally baptized within three days of birth, he was probably not born any earlier than April…

Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and Kurosawa’s Rashomon

By: Nathaniel Birzer

Many popular articles have noted the similarities in structure between Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and the classic Kurosawa film Rashomon, and a few articles have addressed the historical truths which informed the movie and the…

April is the Cruellest Month: A Reading List on Taxation

By: Sarah Skwire

We thought this week would be an appropriate time to bracket off a few readings from the OLL on the timely, and most despised, topic of taxation.

Three Ways of Looking at Individualism: Freedom in Responsibility

By: Bill Glod

Defending the supreme importance of individual freedom is not about endorsing license – it’s not about doing whatever you want like a self-centered immature kid. Although sometimes accused of such, individualists need not be…

Political Animals: Hesiod’s Hawk and Nightingale

By: Sarah Skwire

Recently, I was putting together a course on George Orwell's Animal Farm. Naturally, I got distracted and began researching the beast fables that provided Orwell with some of the background literary inspiration for his work. I had…

Three Ways of Looking at Individualism: Freedom in Association

By: Bill Glod

Sometimes defenders of individualism are accused of “atomism”. I’m not really sure what that term means because skeptics, if they define it at all, rarely define it in a way that reflects what serious defenders of individualism…

Addison’s Cato: How a Dead Roman Brought Two Parties Together

By: Caroline Breashears

In his Dictionary (1755), Samuel Johnson famously defines "Tory" as "One who adheres to the antient constitution of the state, and the apostolic hierarchy of the church of England." For the rival "Whig" party, he could summon only…

Property and Justice: An OLL Book Discussion

By: Sarah Skwire, Jacob T. Levy, and Aeon J. Skoble

I recently had the chance to sit down with Jacob Levy and Aeon Skoble to talk about Billy Christmas's new book Property and Justice: A Liberal Theory of Natural Rights. Its carefully drawn argument about the connections among…

Josiah Child, John Locke, and the Value of Hands

By: Eric Mack

Here is what may be regarded as a footnote to Eric Schliesser’s Reading Room essay, “The Encyclopedie, Trade, and the Jews” (1/25/2022) -- in particular, to Schliesser’s discussion of the late seventeenth century economic thinker,…

OLL’s March Birthday: Gustave de Molinari (March 3, 1819 – January 28, 1912)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

This month’s featured birthday anniversary is the Franco-Belgian economist and social scientist Gustave de Molinari. Over the course of his long life, he wrote numerous books and essays in which he argued that the forces of the free…

Three Ways of Looking at Individualism: Freedom in Agency

By: Bill Glod

In Anarchy, State, and Utopia Robert Nozick asks readers to imagine that we could connect ourselves to “experience machines”. These devices could manipulate our brains into believing an entirely virtual reality where we can vividly…

In The Reading Room with Plato, and Some Politicians

By: Aeon J. Skoble

In previous columns, I’ve discussed Plato’s grand allegory of the city-that-is-the-soul. If we imagine a city of perfect justice, and figure out what would have to be true of it in order for it to be just, then we’d have an idea of…

The Return of Oral Story-telling: a review of Critical Role’s The Legend of Vox Machina

By: Nathaniel Birzer

From Homer to the medieval romances, the tradition of telling tales aloud to an audience around a fire, either read from a book or performed from memory by a bard, has long been a part of the Western literary tradition, as has the…

A Novel Education

By: Caroline Breashears

From: Caroline Breashears
Date: 5 March, 2022
To: Garth Bond
Subject: Dangerous Reading Room Liaisons

The Magic of Merchants in The Arabian Nights

By: Garth Bond

In a previous visit to the Reading Room, I made a case for The Arabian Nights as an anti-epic embodying the commercial values of medieval and early modern Islamic silk road merchants. Today, I want to talk a bit about the actual…

Three Scottish Writers You’ve Probably Never Heard Of But May Want To Discover

By: Tracey S. Rosenberg

The Scottish Enlightenment is a vital part of the history of liberty. The works of Hutcheson, Carmichael, and Smith are foundational to the discussion of a free society. But the Scottish conversation about liberty did not end in the…

America without Black Americans

By: Steve Ealy

On April 6, 1970, Time magazine published a special issue devoted to “Black America 1970,” which provided a sweeping survey of contemporary Black life in terms of residential patterns, medicine, psychological and sociological…

OLL’s February Birthday: Thomas Paine (February 9, 1737 – June 8, 1809)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

This month’s featured birthday anniversary is the Anglo-American author and political activist Thomas Paine. Best known for his tremendously influential Rights of Man, he wrote many other important books and pamphlets, while also…

From the Publishing Department: Smyth Sewing

By: Dan Kirklin

“Of making many books there is no end,” said Ecclesiastes, but there have long been limits placed on their number by technology. The earliest books were scrolls, sheets of papyrus, vellum, or parchment glued together into a long…

Scandalous Fictions, Novel Liaisons

By: Garth Bond

From: Garth BondDate: Tuesday, February 15, 2022 at 8:06 PMTo: Caroline Breashears
Cc: OLLSubject: Dangerous Reading Room Liaisons

Adaptation as Dilution: A Review of Amazon’s Wheel of Time show

By: Nathaniel Birzer

The adaptation of The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime is probably one of the best examples of the current media trend of adaptation, and its reception by fans of the original book series is equally indicative of the negatives and…

Hearts and Flowers

By: Sarah Skwire

Valentine’s Day is all but guaranteed to inspire some kind of case of the feels. Some of us love the hearts, flowers, and the unbridled romance of it. Some of us can’t stand it and flee like a vampire exposed to light. Some of us…

Scandalous Liaisons: Narratives about One Class for the Instruction of Others

By: Caroline Breashears

Sex scandals are rarely just about sex. From the Mary Anne Clarke affair of 1809 to the recent trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, the real issue is power. What are the elite really doing? How do they abuse their position and wealth at the…

In The Reading Room with Plato, Again: Work-Life Balance

By: Aeon J. Skoble

In our last visit with Plato, we considered what insights he has regarding free speech and cancel culture. Another topic one can’t help but read about these days is the need for psychological balance as we pursue happiness and…

The Buddha and the Quest for Liberation

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

The Buddha (Sanskrit for “The Enlightened One”) is the title given to Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BCE). His life and teachings formed the foundations of Buddhism, one of the world’s major religions. The Buddha’s biography and…

In Praise of the Long Read

By: Sarah Skwire

Despite persistent cultural insistence that February is the shortest month, it is obvious to even the most casual observer that it is, in fact, the longest. Its 28 (and sometimes 29) days of damp, cold, enveloping gray mushiness…

Many Myths, One Hero, A Review of Spiderman: No Way Home

By: Nathaniel Birzer

As with the Ancient Greeks and their myths, so now with our modern superheroes there are many retellings of new and different and even contradicting stories about our present-day mythic heroes, some good, many mediocre, and several…

The Encyclopedie, Trade, and the Jews

By: Eric Schliesser

In volume 3 of the original edition of the Encyclopédie, edited by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, is an entry, ‘Trading Company’ (French: Compagnie de Commerce), written by Véron de Forbonnais (1722-1800), a leading…

The Law and the Lady: A Book Discussion

By: Sarah Skwire

The Law and the Lady is a much neglected Victorian legal gothic novel. Written by one of Charles Dickens's closest friends, Wilkie Collins, the novel is a forerunner of today's popular detective and legal thriller genres. In fact,…

The Free Sea: Grotius against the Portugals

By: Eric Mack

Beyond his arguments for the right to trade and for the Sea being open to all who seek to travel for trade, a good deal of The Free Sea is devoted to countering various particular arguments that the Portugals might advance for their…

OLL’s January Birthday: Francis Bacon (January 22, 1561 – April 9, 1626)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

This month’s featured birthday anniversary is the English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon. A key figure in the transition from the Renaissance to the Early Modern Period, he is widely regarded as one of the most important…

The Free See: Grotius and the Sea as a Permanent Commons

By: Eric Mack

According to Grotius, “God gave all things not to this man or that but to mankind . . .” (Free Sea, 22) However, it is clear that Grotius does not mean that all persons are joint-owners of the raw natural world in the sense that any…

History on Film: Sifting Through the Past

By: Sarah Skwire

Basil Brown: Is that why you want to dig, Mrs. Pretty? Tales of buried treasure?Edith Pretty: My interest in archaeology began like yours, when I was scarcely old enough to hold a trowel. My childhood home was built on a Cistercian…

Shakespeare and January 6th

By: Garth Bond

On the first anniversary of the Capitol riots, I find myself reflecting on Shakespeare’s various depictions of popular insurrections. He devoted a full act of his first history play, which we know as Henry the Sixth, Part 2, to Jack…

The Free Sea: Hugo Grotius and the Right to Trade

By: Eric Mack

In early 1603 an armed merchant ship of the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) attacked and captured the Portuguese ship Sta. Catarina in the Straits of Singapore. The south-east Asian spices and products carried by that ship were…