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!

Causes of the Trojan War: Agamemnon’s Grisly Choice

By: Alexander Schmid

The final cause of the Trojan War was Agamemnon's choice to sacrifice Iphigeneia at Aulis after the goddess Artemis bound the troops there due to a perceived slight. The goddess insisted that the blood of Atreus be spilt, or no…

Francis Bacon: An Enlightenment Man before the Enlightenment

By: Walter Donway

“All students and undergraduates should lay aside their various authors and only follow Aristotle and those who defend him. . . . [Avoid] all sterile and inane questions departing or disagreeing from ancient and true philosophy.” —…

Me and My Shadow: Liberty, “Breaking Bad”, and Shadow Possession

By: Lawrence Meyers

What is the nexus between liberty and Breaking Bad, named by Rolling Stone as the third-best television show of all-time? The archetypal tale of Walter White’s “transformation from Mr. Chips to Scarface” teaches that there is no…

Happy Holidays!

By: OLL Editor

Happy Holidays from all of us at the Online Library of Liberty!!

The Spirit of Christmas, Scrooge, and Dante

By: Alexander Schmid

What could possibly connect the spirit of Christmas, A Christmas Carol’s Ebenezer Scrooge, and Dante’s Inferno? Though they are differing representations at the literal level, each work portrays a similar underlying religious…

Santa Claus in Purgatory

By: Alexander Schmid

Though Dante Alighieri is well known for his Inferno and the fact that he was happy to include bishops, popes, and kings in it, it would surprise many readers to hear that he included Santa Claus in his infernal masterpiece too.

Montesquieu on Republican Government: Separation of Powers and “the Liberalism of Fear”

By: Walter Donway

Baron de Montesquieu (1689–1755), valuing above all things political liberty—the opposite of despotism—valorizes the republican form of government but nonetheless offers a dispassionate analysis of republican (democratic or…

Remembering William Cullen Dennis II

By: Hans Eicholz

It is with the deepest sadness that I have learned of the sudden passing of William Cullen Dennis II (1941-2023), one of Liberty Fund’s longtime employees who helped shape the form and substance of the foundation’s mission in its…

Bastiat and immigration

By: Josh T. Smith

That Robinson Crusoe and Friday are better together is obvious. No reader is surprised to find that, once united and working together, they do more together than apart. Yet, when we talk about essentially equivalent situations…

Dante and the Symbolic Meaning of the Colors of Christmas

By: Alexander Schmid

Though the Christmas season is rapidly approaching, and Christmas trees, both artificial and natural, are adorning the homes of many individuals, it is far less likely that the denizens of those homes understand the origin of their…

Epictetus and Psychological Freedom

By: Bill Glod

Critics sometimes accuse Stoic philosophy of defending an inflexible rationalism calling for single-minded pursuit of virtue for its own sake, at the expense of other commonly recognized goods like love and accomplishment, which are…

Montesquieu: Legal Foundations of Liberal Government

By: Walter Donway

If you wish to study, discuss, and write about history, it can be useful to have memory tags. When it comes to Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689–1755)—a titan of the French Enlightenment—your tag is “separation…

Justice and Marriage in Shakespeare’s As You Like it

By: Jonathan Den Hartog

When As You Like It opens, the political world of its unnamed duchy is truly out of joint. At both the familial and ducal level, injustice is ascendent. What marks the play as a comedy—rather than one of Shakespeare’s blood-thirsty…

Kato Mikeladze at the Beginnings of Georgian Feminism

By: Irakli Javakhishvili

A hundred years ago, even in the most difficult political situation, when the Tsarist Russian Empire was collapsing and Georgia was fighting for independence, there were fearless women who fought for equality and emancipation of…

How To Live Amid Falling Walls

By: Daniel Ross Goodman

During the past few weeks, as Jews in America, Europe, and Israel have been experiencing an upsurge an antisemitism unlike anything the world has seen since the Holocaust—an increase in Jew-hatred so alarming that it prompted Senate…

John Dickinson and the Moderation of Constitutional Balance in The Letters of Fabius

By: William Reddinger

Some might be tempted to remember John Dickinson only as the man who at the last hour refused to support American independence. That would be an error. Among those American founders fallen into relative obscurity, few deserve…

The Haskalah Comes of Age with Moses Mendelssohn

By: Walter Donway

Born in Dessau to a poor family, his father a scribe, Moses Mendelssohn was educated privately by his father and a local rabbi, David Frankel, who not only taught him the Talmud and the Bible but also introduced him to philosophy…

Free Will Hiding In Plain Sight

By: Bill Glod

1qq`Some authors tend to deny the existence of free will because we are not Epicurean atoms or Nietzschean Ubermen with unconstrained freedom. We’re unable to defy the physical and social world in which we’re indelibly embedded. We…

Enheduana: The New Oldest Author

By: Erik Rostad

In the 2300s B.C., Sargon the Great united a disparate collection of city states located in Sumer in the southern portion of modern-day Iraq. By doing so, he created the world’s first empire, the Akkadian Empire. Having solidified…

The Freedom of Poets: Thomas Wyatt as a Character in Wolf Hall

By: Shannon Chamberlain

Sir Thomas Wyatt, a Tudor courtier, the first English translator of Petrarch’s sonnets, and a famous poet in his own right, is a supporting but important character in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall novels. Mantel first introduces him…

Childhood Myth-Making and Horror in the works of Stephen King

By: Nathaniel Birzer

It might seem weird to be including renowned horror novelist Stephen King in this essay series on classic pulp fiction. For one thing, he’s still alive, and for another thing, he’s not exactly known for pulp magazine short stories.…

The Maskilim Launch the Haskalah: The Jewish Enlightenment

By: Walter Donway

“The Haskalah movement had no less a historical impact on the Jews than did the French Revolution on Europe.” —Shmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment

Counsel, Command and English Renaissance Politics: Thomas Elyot and Henry VIII

By: Joanne Paul

The period between the Wars of the Roses and the England Civil War has been referred to by scholars as the ‘monarchy of counsel’: an era where advice and advisers were at the centre of political discourse. As concepts of ‘counsel’…

The Carnival of the Soul in Ray Bradbury’s Tales of the Macabre

By: Nathaniel Birzer

“THE OCTOBER COUNTRY …that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country…

Play—in the Classics?

By: Daniel Ross Goodman

When we think of the classics, we usually think of long, sober epic works of literature that address very serious themes—war, individual and societal turmoil, vengeance, treachery, and tragedy.

A Dinner Party for Your Thanksgiving

By: OLL Editor

One of the most famous dinner parties in literature occurs in Book Five of Milton's Paradise Lost. Eve is busily preparing the evening meal when Adam comes running to tell her that the Angel Raphael is arriving to join them. Adam…

Counsel, Command and English Renaissance Politics: Early Tudor England

By: Joanne Paul

The period between the Wars of the Roses and the England Civil War has been referred to by scholars as the ‘monarchy of counsel’: an era where advice and advisers were at the centre of political discourse. As concepts of ‘counsel’…

The political philosophy of Tolkien

By: Gary McGath

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings presents several societies with different approaches to government. The most prominent include the idyllic Shire, the grand realm of Gondor, the hardy kingdom of Rohan, and the absolute…

James Madison and Disobedience in the Public Interest

By: David S. Reed

James Madison’s most radical proposal in The Federalist No. 51 was grounded in personal experience, even though he didn’t say so. Madison used a magisterial writing style, like all the authors who wrote the various Federalist Papers…

Bridges Across the Void in H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythos

By: Nathaniel Birzer

“All my stories,” wrote H.P. Lovecraft, “unconnected as they may be, are based on the fundamental lore or legend that this world was inhabited at one time by another race who, in practising black magic, lost their foothold and were…

Counsel, Command and English Renaissance Politics: Classical and Medieval

By: Joanne Paul

“On the one hand, it was a long-standing requirement that monarchs receive counsel in order to legitimise their rule. On the other, this condition had the potential to undermine their authority if the monarch was required to act on…

Benjamin Tucker Today - War, Antisemitism, Lawyers

By: Michael Zigismund

Benjamin Tucker’s Liberty in 1882 had a few things to say about our day’s concerns, such as war, antisemitism, and lawyers.

Acceptance, Rejection, and Otters

By: Bill Glod

In Chapter 4 of my book, I explore a subtle but important distinction between a person having decisive reason to accept or endorse some view (“acceptability”) versus lacking decisive reason to reject it (“rejectability”). I have in…

Christian Prudence in C Major

By: Henry T. Edmondson III

In recent months, financial services company Northwestern Mutual has used the chorus from a song by the Americana band “The Avett Brothers” in a commercial about managed wealth. The song, “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise”…

“Call me Schnitzel”: Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Anti-Satan

By: Daniel Ross Goodman

One of the surprise cultural hits of this past summer was the three-part Netflix docu-series Arnold, which has scored a 96% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and which has been lauded by critics and audiences alike.

John Stuart Mill, Private Property, and Slavery

By: Rosolino A. Candela

In recent years, there has been a growing literature among historians regarding the relationship between slavery and capitalism, known as the “New History of Capitalism,” which postulates that slavery was the institutional basis for…

The Institutes of the Christian Religion and Calvin’s Lasting Reforms

By: Philip D. Bunn

It is so common for major, innovative thinkers to suffer at the hands of their states that it is almost a trope in the history of politics and theology. Socrates was tried and executed for impiety, Aristotle was accused of impiety…

John Stuart Mill on Say’s Law

By: Rosolino A. Candela

One of the most important and controversial principles originating from classical economics is the principle known as “Say’s Law,” or the fundamental law of markets. Although this economic principle can trace its roots back to Adam…

JS Mill:The Principles of Political Economy

By: Jon Murphy

In 1848, John Stuart Mill published his Principles of Political Economy. The book was an elaboration on the concepts and ideas developed by Adam Smith and David Ricardo and included applications to social philosophy and political…

The Self & Sympathy: David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature

By: John Alcorn

David Hume conceives the mind in metaphors. The mind is a theater, a republic, a stringed instrument. These metaphors suggest that an individual has multiple selves, whose relations resemble social interactions.

A Modified Proposal: The Man of Law’s Tale

By: Nathaniel Birzer

There is a third theme which weaves its way through the first few of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, building up to its use in one of the most famous Tales, the Wife of Bath’s Tale. This is the theme of a good woman.

Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning

By: Philip D. Bunn

It may seem strange to those this side of the Enlightenment that “the advancement of learning” should need any defense. If anything, we today are plagued with fears of misunderstanding rapidly advancing science, or of standing on…

Review: The Soul of Civility

By: Aeon J. Skoble

Review of: Alexandra Hudson, The Soul of Civility: Timeless Principles to Heal Society and Ourselves (St. Martin’s Press, 2023)

Paradise Lost, Perhaps the Greatest English Poem. Banned for 216 Years

By: Walter Donway

Paradise Lost, published more than 350 years ago (1667), is still almost routinely characterized as the greatest poem in English. More guardedly, it is called “the greatest epic poem.” (Yes, there are others, such as Beowulf,…

Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

By: Alice Temnick

Life was nasty, brutish and short. Many of us recall these famous words from Thomas Hobbes’ political treatise, Leviathan (1651). Fewer of us remember the context in which he described this state of humanity.

Banning Shylock

By: Carol McNamara

“One would have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to recognize that Shakespeare’s grand, equivocal comedy, The Merchant of Venice, is a profoundly anti-Semitic work.” This is the pronouncement with which Shakespeare scholar, Harold…

Obfuscating John Milton’s Paradise Lost

By: David V. Urban

As Caroline Breashears has recently discussed, John Milton (1608-74) was a prominent champion of the freedom of the press, something he most famously exhibited in his 1644 tract Areopagitica. But Milton’s own writings were and…

The Complaint of Peace

By: James Hartley

“As Peace, am I not praised by both men and gods as the very source and defender of all good things?...Though nothing is more odious to God and harmful to man, yet it is incredible to see the tremendous expenditure of work and…

A Proposition Critiqued: The Miller’s Tale

By: Nathaniel Birzer

An earlier post explored the rigorous ‘dialogue’ elicited by the Knight’s Tale between the other pilgrims. The Miller is the first to push back, using a two-pronged attack against the ideas of high philosophy and courtly romance in…

Lear: a King and Play in Exile

By: Lucie Alden

King Lear is a graphic, grotesque, visceral play. Blow after blow strikes Lear and the audience as we see a great man transformed from King of England to homeless, mad wretch, worse than the blind Gloucester and the raving Poor Tom.…

David Hume’s Great Work on Religion Is Banned, Along with All His Books

By: Walter Donway

The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.—David HumeThe life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an…

“Out, damned spot.” Out Shakespeare.

By: Lucie Alden

When it comes to why Thomas Bowdler felt the need to “censor” Shakespeare’s Macbeth in 1807, the answer is pretty easy: it features a lady cursing.

Hume on Love of Glory, not Usury

By: Eric Schliesser

It’s probably not a major surprise that prompted by the first three volumes of the Italian translation of Hume’s History of England, the Vatican placed all of Hume’s writings on the Index Librorum prohibitorum in 1827. [1] After…

The Knight’s Tale and its Critics: Chaucer’s Response to Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy

By: Nathaniel Birzer

At the heart of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales lies the Challenge, the thing which draws out the innermost being of each of the characters, revealing a piece of their souls to their fellow pilgrims and sparking the wide-ranging…

What if everyone did that? Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Ethics (1785)

By: John Alcorn

“The categorical imperative is therefore single and one: ‘Act from that maxim only which thou canst will law universal.’”—Immanuel Kant, Groundwork, Chapter II

The Marriage of Figaro: Banned in France

By: Gary McGath

“So it will never be performed?” said the queen. “Certainly not,” said Louis XVI. “You may be sure of that.”

Rousseau’s Discourse on the Arts and Sciences

By: Philip D. Bunn

Rousseau’s life was marked and marred by controversy and persecution. Though his lifestyle was somewhat sordid, as recounted in his Confessions, it was his ideas that were treated as most dangerous by his contemporary intellectual…

Candide: Published in Exile, Denounced, Banned, and a Classic

By: Walter Donway

In 1759, when Voltaire published Candide, at first anonymously, he was sixty-five years of age. He had been imprisoned in the Bastille, exiled to England in lieu of further incarceration, banished from Paris by King Louis XV (in…

John Stuart Mill on Lighthouses

By: Rosolino A. Candela

The limits of laissez-faire as a principle by which to limit the role of the government in a market economy has never been without controversy. Among the biggest “hotspots” that is representative of this controversy, still debated…

Character Description in the Prologue: Chaucer’s Challenge and Threat to England’s Religious

By: Nathaniel Birzer

That Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales has suffered periods of censorship and banning since its first publication should be of little surprise to anyone who has read any of it. Banned in the latter half of the 19th century in America…

“Don’t be such a Machiavel.” Actually, do.

By: Lucie Alden

When I told a friend I had been charged with writing an article on Machiavelli for “banned books” week, he retorted: “Machiavelli? Are we banning Machiavelli now?” I was actually rather surprised he was surprised by a ban on…

How a liberal Constitution became a forbidden book

By: Alberto Mingardi

The old world ended with a bang, not with a whimper. After the Bastille, no political thinker could escape the haunting ghost of the French Revolution - and indeed students of politics still cannot. Antonio Rosmini (1787-1855) was…

Reflecting on Banned Books: Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

By: Aeon J. Skoble

Britain, 1761. All of David Hume’s works are banned by the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, including his 1748 Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. What was so horrible about the work of this Scottish philosopher that would make the…

Nicolas de Condorcet’s Sketch of Unlimited Human Progress—Published 1801, Banned Worldwide 1827

By: Walter Donway

It was a tiny room in the home of Madame Vernet on rue Servandoni in Paris. Marquis Nicolas de Condorcet sat writing by candlelight, the candle shaded for added security. He was writing a fragment of a much longer piece eventually…

Beaumarchais and “The Barber of Seville”

By: Gary McGath

If people today have heard of Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, it’s usually as the author of the source material for two famous operas, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. He deserves to be far…

Justice in Hell and Liberal Rationales of Punishment

By: John Alcorn

Dante plumbs the depths of the human condition by recounting his existential journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise; a journey punctuated by poignant encounters with myriad souls. His journey is impelled by a midlife crisis…

How Homer Foretold the Perils of Big Government

By: Vance Ginn

In the tapestry of human history, one recurring thread stands out – the need for limited power in leadership.

The Praise of Folly

By: James Hartley

“If someone should attempt to take off the masks and costumes of the actors in a play and show to the audience their real appearances, would he not ruin the whole play?… For what else is the life of man but a kind of play in which…

The Holy Qur'an

By: Steve Ealy

In the twentieth century, a few communist or socialist governments banned or restricted access to the Qur’an. After the Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union restricted access to the Qur’an along with the Christian Gospels and Jewish…

The Continuing Story of the Banning and Censoring of the Bible

By: David V. Urban

The banning and censoring of the Bible has a long and multifaceted history that continues to this day, and although it is not typically included within popular lists of banned books, it is safe to assert that the Bible is the most…

Law and its Development in the Talmud

By: Steven Grosby

If one were to reduce the numerous works of the three thousand year-long, still developing Jewish tradition to those books constitutive of that tradition, there would, by general agreement, be three. The first is the Hebrew Bible,…

Areopagitica: Milton on the Tyranny of Licensing Books

By: Caroline Breashears

In 1638, John Milton left England for a Grand Tour of Europe, traveling through cities such as Paris, Nice, and Genoa. In Florence, he writes, "I found and visited the famous Galileo grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition, for…

The Analects: A Target of Tyrants for Two Thousand Years

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

Banned Books Week runs from October 1-7. Because the OLL supports wide access to knowledge, informed readers, and challenging questions, we'll be dedicating the entire month of October to blog posts about books that have been…

Homer’s Iliad and the Causes of the Trojan War: Kidnapping Helen

By: Alexander Schmid

In the first part of Causes of the Trojan War, we discussed the Apple of Eris incident and who was truly at fault. Was it Eris, the goddess of Discord's, fault for throwing the apple marked kallisti in the first place?

Immanuel Kant: “The Last Enlightenment Philosopher”?

By: Walter Donway

Even to summarize the works that flowed from Kant’s pen can be challenging. They included another classic, the Critique of Practical Reason; major volumes on the nature of morality, aesthetics, politics, and anthropology; and one of…

OLL’s September Birthday: Samuel Johnson (September 18, 1709 – December 13, 1784)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

September’s OLL Birthday essay is in honor of Samuel Johnson, essayist, lexicographer, poet, moralist, and critic who has been called “the most distinguished man of letters in English history” and “The Great Cham of Literature.”

Homer’s Iliad and the Causes of the Trojan War, Part. I

By: Alexander Schmid

Many first-time readers of Homer’s Iliad are aghast at the fact that the “most famous” parts of the story do not even happen in the narrative of the Iliad. Achilleus never has his epic duel with Memnon, son of the Dawn. Achilleus is…

Immanuel Kant and the “Crisis of the Enlightenment”

By: Walter Donway

I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith. —Immanuel Kant

Romantic Women Writers

By: Tracey S. Rosenberg

Biography can be an excellent introduction to writers who have fallen into obscurity, and whose work is difficult to obtain or too slight to be a collected body of work. Kudos to Lucasta Miller and Frances Wilson for reconstructing…

Who Will Watch the Watchmen?

By: Henry T. Edmondson III

Will democracy survive? Recent years have not always brought encouragement. In Lincoln’s memorable phrase the possibility of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” was not a guarantee but a “proposition” yet to be…

Oliver Wardrop and His “The Kingdom of Georgia” (1888)

By: Irakli Javakhishvili

British diplomat, translator and well-known Georgianist, Sir Oliver Wardrop (1864-1948) is among those foreigners who were well acquainted not only with the political and socio-economic situation in Georgian, but also with its…

The Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes “Puts the Century on Edge”

By: Walter Donway

René Descartes had written: “I think, therefore I am.” Thomas Hobbes responded: “I think, therefore matter thinks.”

Jane Austen’s Smackdown of the Cult of Sensibility

By: Caroline Breashears

In Jane Austen's "Love and Freindship [sic]," a young man declares that he will not marry the lady his father has chosen: "No never exclaimed I. Lady Dorothea is lovely and Engaging; I prefer no woman to her; but know Sir, that I…

Kalidasa and The Good Life

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

The Sanskrit poet Kalidasa lived and wrote in northern India during the Gupta dynasty (319-467 C.E.). Generally regarded as India’s greatest author, sometimes called the “Indian Shakespeare,” his work is known not only for its…

Nefarious Letters: the Rhetoric of the Diabolic in “Nefarious”

By: Nathaniel Birzer

The comparison of the new movie “Nefarious” and the book it is based on, The Nefarious Plot, to C.S. Lewis’ TheScrewtape Letters is hardly original. It is, however, largely superficial, by which I mean that most reviews do not…

Ancient Perspectives on the Value of Poetry

By: Alexander Schmid

As one begins to read Homer’s Iliad, one might naturally wonder at who the thea, or goddess, from the first line of the poem really is. μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω ἈχιλῆοςRage, goddess, sing of the son of Peleus, Achilleus (Il.1.1)

The Flame and Cycle of Civilization in Robert E. Howard’s Weird Fiction

By: Nathaniel Birzer

“His knowledge was a reeking blasphemy which would never let rest…He had looked on ultimate foulness, and his knowledge was a taint because of which he could never stand clean before men again or touch the flesh of any living thing…

Loci Amoeni: Pleasant Places and the Golden Ages in Ancient Poetry: Part Two

By: Alexander Schmid

In the second part of the study of loci amoeni, the pleasant places of the ancient world, we will continue to examine Homer’s Odyssey, now focusing on the location of one of its semi-divine antagonists. We will then conclude our…

Grover Cleveland

By: Paul A. Cleveland

Grover Cleveland was born in New Jersey. Early in his life his family moved to New York. The death of his father prevented him from going to college after completing his primary education.

OLL’s August Birthday: Francis Hutcheson (August 8, 1694- August 8, 1746)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

August’s OLL Birthday Essay is in honor of Francis Hutcheson. Considered by some to be the Father of the Scottish Enlightenment, he influenced such famous figures as David Hume, Thomas Reid, and Adam Smith. His work was tremendously…

Marlowe’s Machiavels and Malta’s Broken Markets

By: Lucie Alden

It is hard to think of a theorist more straw manned and vilified than Niccolò Machiavelli, though Adam Smith and Karl Marx might give him a run for his money. Machiavelli’s writings, published in 1532 Italy, quickly became the stuff…

Passion and Virtue in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martians

By: Nathaniel Birzer

Of the most famous and influential of the early pulp writers, Edgar Rice Burroughs is now, sadly, probably the least known, despite his vast influence on major science-fiction pop culture figures such as George Lucas and Ray…

Loci Amoeni: Pleasant Places and the Golden Ages in Ancient Poetry: Part One

By: Alexander Schmid

A common motif throughout ancient poetry from the near-East to the West is that of the tranquil and sacred garden. In particular, gardens play a preeminent role in describing paradise for near-Eastern and Western cultures. In fact,…

Culture Wars, Obscenity, and Censorship: Benjamin Tucker Today

By: Michael Zigismund

In recent years, conservative lawmakers across the country have increasingly followed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in censoring or attempting to restrict race- or gender-related content in schools and public libraries.
What would…

The Eighteenth Century’s Boundless Optimism Collides with David Hume

By: Walter Donway

“Epicurus’s old questions are still unanswered: Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” —David…

Virtue and Wealth in Pride and Prejudice

By: Maia Cummings

Although it is now an iconic title and story, Pride and Prejudice was originally supposed to be entitled “First Impressions”. Despite the name being scrapped, its implications are ever present throughout the novel. It is through…

Why Shakespeare Should Be Watched

By: Anna Leman

Reading Shakespeare is hard. The syntax is unusual and archaic. The vocabulary is vast and unfamiliar. The characters and plots are complicated and muddy. All in all, Shakespeare is difficult to understand, much less enjoy. However,…

Miltonheimer Two, The Sequel

By: Daniel Ross Goodman

In Paradise Lost, Raphael makes an account to Adam about the war between the good angels and the rebel angels that took place in Heaven prior to his and Eve’s creation. The archangel tells Adam that Satan, frustrated by his…

John Stuart Mill on Genius and AI Tools

By: Philip D. Bunn

In a short period of time, new, consumer-facing, generative AI tools have exploded in capabilities and applications. Anyone with an internet connection and some time to kill can now use these tools to produce realistic images, short…

David Hume: Skepticism, Pessimism, Enlightenment

By: Walter Donway

“The identity that we ascribe to things is only a fictitious one, established by the mind, not a peculiar nature belonging to what we’re talking about.”—David Hume

Hume’s History of England and The House of Dudley: Part 3

By: Joanne Paul

“The hatred borne the Dudleys, made it be remarked, that Edward [VI] had every moment declined in health, from the time that lord Robert Dudley had been put about him.” Our third Dudley – Robert – makes his villainous entrance into…

VRG Extras: Wolf Hall and Hume

By: Christy Lynn Horpedahl

Brother men, you who live after us,Do not harden your hearts against us.-François Villon


By: Daniel Ross Goodman

For the past few weeks the conversation about movies in America—and around much of the rest of the world, for that matter—has been dominated by two films that have turned out to be two of the biggest hits in years: Christopher Nolan…

Hume’s History of England and The House of Dudley: Part 2

By: Joanne Paul

In his treatment of Edmund Dudley, Henry VII’s unpopular minister, David Hume made arguments about the dangers of arbitrary rule and the importance of justice. As such, Edmund emerges as a mixed character, both a greedy transgressor…

Blaise Pascal Bets It All on God

By: Walter Donway

In some ways, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is a curious figure to include in this series on the Age of Enlightenment. He lived in the seventeenth century, the Age of Science, and so joins Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, and Thomas…

Hume’s History of England and The House of Dudley: Part 1

By: Joanne Paul

This three-part blog series investigates the treatment of the Tudor Dudley family by enlightenment philosopher and historian David Hume in his History of England (vols 3 and 4), comparing his accounts to recent research on the…

Measure for Measure: Duke Vincentio as Impartial Spectator

By: Lucie Alden

A trusted legal system with recognized property rights is one of, if not the, most critical precondition for national wealth accumulation, causing musings over private and public interests to quickly seep from economic into legal…

Beethoven and Napoleon: Clash of the Titans

By: Gary McGath

No one in Europe could be indifferent to Napoleon’s ascent. He was its greatest liberator or its greatest threat. Beethoven, who despised ruling classes, was wildly enthusiastic about him. His manuscript for the Third Symphony, the…

René Descartes Dreams the “Philosopher’s Dream”—And Launches Modern Philosophy

By: Walter Donway

In winter 1619, the man who became the “founder of modern philosophy,” the first great philosophical challenge to centuries of Christianized Aristotelian Scholasticism, found himself caught by winter in the little town of Ulm, near…

Niko Nikoladze: Liberal Nationalism, the Constitution of the United States and International Law

By: Irakli Javakhishvili

In 1865, when he was a student, young Niko Nikoladze met Karl Marx in London. The latter offered him the opportunity to be the representative of the First International in Transcaucasia, which Nikoladze delicately refused.

Shylock on Rats and Rational Choice

By: Lucie Alden

Written less than a decade after Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice explores many of the same themes.

Homer’s Odyssey: Blindness, Allegory, and Insight in the House of Hades

By: Alexander Schmid

Homer’s House of Hades is a dark, unsightly place, but is part of the invisible nature of Hades due to the fact that one might understand it not literally, but allegorically? Let us look to the opening lines of Book XI of Homer’s…

Isaac Newton’s Principia and Life after It

By: Walter Donway

Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica was Newton’s historic achievement. It altered the course of science from that day to this. In summer 1684, Newton began this work, partially stimulated by a visit from the British…

OLL’s July Birthday: Alexis de Tocqueville (July 29, 1805 to April 16, 1859)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

July’s OLL Birthday Essay is in honor of the French historian, political scientist, and politician, Count Alexis Charles Henri Maurice Clérel de Tocqueville (July 29, 1805 to April 16, 1859), better known simply as Alexis de…

True Nobility: The Wife of Bath’s knight from The Canterbury Tales

By: Anna Leman

“The Wife of Bath’s Tale” spends a significant amount of time discussing the qualifications of nobility. In her monologue to the knight, the old woman characterizes gentility as a grace granted by God shown through virtuous deeds.…

Scholasticism: How a Philosophical Monopoly Succumbs to New Ideas

By: Walter Donway

How do countries and cultures evolve from domination by one philosophy, one set of beliefs, one intellectual and academic establishment, to a radically different one?

Bruno Leoni and the (Still Ongoing) ‘Semantic Revolution’ Against Liberty

By: Marcos Falcone

What does language have to tell us about our daily politics? Can the use of specific terminologies influence public debates?

Madame de Stael: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

This first edition of an English translation of Lady Blennerhasset's Madame de Stael: Her Friends and Her Influence in Politics and Literature, which comes to the Liberty Fund archives through the Hamburger collection, seems a…

Symbolism in Homer’s Odyssey: On the Blindness of Polyphemos

By: Alexander Schmid

During Book IX of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus tells the so-called “cyclops episode.” Odysseus gets himself into trouble looking for a "guest-gift" from a man with a savage and wild nature, who also happens to be a giant, man-eating…

Isaac Newton: History’s Greatest Mad (Angry?) Scientist

By: Walter Donway

There exist many striking portraits of Isaac Newton (by then, Sir Isaac Newton) because during his lifetime his work arrested the world’s attention. Knowing something of Newton’s life, especially his early years, one gazes on these…

Odysseus’s Descent into the Underworld

By: Alexander Schmid

Approximately halfway through his journey home from Troy, Odysseus is told that he must descend into the Underworld. Curiously, when Odysseus is told this, his first reaction is to cry (Ody.10.496-500). One might interpret this as…

Abigail and John Adams Disagree Over the Rights of Women

By: Steve Ealy

In a letter dated March 31, 1776, Abigail Adams announces to John that spring has lightened her mood. “I feel a gaiety de Coar to which before I was a stranger.” Her light mood did not prevent her from raising heavy topics, however.…

Benjamin Franklin and Slavery, Part Two

By: Steve Ealy

In 1757, the Pennsylvania Assembly selected Benjamin Franklin to serve as the colony’s agent in London to moderate the Penn Proprietor’s harsh treatment of the colony. While there, he helped the Associates of Dr. Bray, a charity…

Benjamin Franklin and Slavery, Part One

By: Steve Ealy

As was the case with many in colonial America, Benjamin Franklin’s life intersected with the issue of slavery in many, and at times contradictory, ways. Franklin was a slave-owner beginning around 1735 until 1781, when George, whom…

The Bill of Rights

By: Andrew Smith

The ink was barely dry on the Bill of Rights when the U.S. Congress began attempting to restrict speech it might disagree with.

OLL’s June Birthday: Wilhelm von Humboldt (June 22, 1767 – April 8, 1835)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

June’s OLL Birthday Essay goes out to Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt, generally known to history as Wilhelm von Humboldt. A true polymath, he was a diplomat, philosopher, poet, linguist and anthropologist,…

Benjamin Tucker Today

By: Michael Zigismund

Benjamin Tucker’s April 1, 1882 issue of Liberty had a few things to say about our day’s concerns, such as prisons, Silicon Valley Bank, and immigrants’ impacts on wages.

James Watt: Industrial Revolution Spark Plug and Enlightenment “New Philosopher”

By: Walter Donway

Was James Watt (1736–1819), born in Greenock, Scotland, a mechanical engineer, businessman, chemist, and inventor, also a “new philosopher”—the name that Enlightenment intellectuals adopted?

On Revisions and Revenge: The Films of Quentin Tarantino

By: Nathaniel Birzer

Tales of bloody vengeance are among the oldest of all stories. Look no further than Orestes, Hamlet, or any number of Norse Sagas. Laws against vengeance and blood feuds exist as far back as the earliest recorded law, the Code of…

The Adventures of Marco Polo: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

With the official start of summer this week, the world seems to be gearing up for travel. The OLL staff has been everywhere from Arizona to Glasgow to Jerusalem, with a lot more travel coming up through the summer month.

The Phaeacians and the Cyclopes

By: Alexander Schmid

In Book VIII of Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus begins relating the story of his adventurous journey from Troy to the Phaeacian court. During his account, which spans Books VIII-XII, Odysseus famously tells of his dealings with the…

Voltaire: The First Internationally Celebrated Writer?

By: Walter Donway

With the publication of La Henriade, his epic poem glorifying King Henri IV for issuing the Edict of Nantes, which commanded toleration of Protestants (Huguenots), Voltaire was an open public enemy of intolerance and establishment…

The Birth of English (and Roman) Tragedy: Camilla, Diana, and The Aeneid

By: Daniel Ross Goodman

A few weeks ago we were all witnesses to history when we watched the longest heir-to-the-throne-in-waiting in British history finally ascend the throne in his seventy-fourth year of life. But it wasn’t only King Charles III who made…

Dragons, Hoards, and Theft: Beowulf and The Hobbit

By: Anna Leman

Among the many works that influenced and shaped J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth, none is more evident than Beowulf. This 10th Century Anglo-Saxon poem speaks of mighty kings, demonic beasts, and dragon-slaying heroes. One such hero is…

Tocqueville, Washington, and the Moderation of the American Revolution

By: William Reddinger

We often hear of the modest, orderly American Revolution vis-à-vis the French. The American one was a “revolution of sober expectations,” Martin Diamond said. To make his case, Diamond cited Tocqueville, who explained that the “…

Voltaire: The French Enlightenment Is Born

By: Walter Donway

To name Voltaire is to characterize the entire eighteenth century.--Victor Hugo

“This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine”: Prospero and Caliban in The Tempest

By: David V. Urban

In the final act of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the sorcerer Prospero who is also the usurped (but now restored) Duke of Milan, works to settle his affairs before he returns to Milan. He and his daughter Miranda have lived on a…

Happy Birthday, Adam Smith!

By: OLL Editor

It's Adam Smith's 300th birthday this month! Here are a few ways to celebrate!

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

By: Alexander Schmid

William Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet begins with one of the strongest one-two punches in lyric poetry. The first line asks the question, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

The Enlightenment as Method: Rebirth, Science, Humanism, Reformation

By: Walter Donway

On the long runway to take-off of the Enlightenment—and the modern world as we know it—were the intellectual movements of humanism, including the scientific revolution (late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), the Renaissance…

Misguided Perception and Self-Righteous Judgment in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

By: David V. Urban

Like so many of Shakespeare’s comedies, Much Ado About Nothing comes perilously close to becoming a tragedy before being rescued by the mitigating graces of providential serendipity and human forgiveness. A series of entirely…

No Such Thing as a Free Salad Chez Shakespeare

By: Lucie Alden

Though William Shakespeare may have wished it otherwise, there was no such thing as a free lunch or, in Jack Cade’s terms, a “sallet” in the bard’s garden. Conversations of self-interest and social distribution pervade Henry VI,…

John Playfair: The Scottish Enlightenment’s Sherlock Holmes of Geological Science

By: Walter Donway

Amid all the revolutions of the globe, the economy of Nature has been uniform . . . and her laws are the only things that have resisted the general movement. The rivers and the rocks, the seas and the continents, have been changed…

Perverse Machinations, Providential Results: Autolycus in Shakespeaere’s The Winter’s Tale

By: David V. Urban

Shakespeare’s romance The Winter’s Tale depicts the consequences of unfounded mistrust and accusation, the healing results of charity and forgiveness, and the overarching notion that the world is governed by a benevolent Providence…

Ilia Chavchavadze – the Father of Georgian Liberalism on Private Property

By: Irakli Javakhishvili

While in Europe the famous English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote his eminent On Liberty (1859) and perfected the teachings of utilitarian liberalism, in the East, namely in Georgia, which at that time was a part of the Tsarist…

Love and Change: Antony and Cleopatra

By: Carol McNamara

Shakespeare’s telling of the tale of Antony and Cleopatra is at once a story of erotic love and political transformation. Shakespeare understands erotic love as a disruptive force that compels and, just as often, reacts to change.…

OLL’s May Birthday: Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803-April 27, 1882)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

May’s OLL Birthday essay is dedicated to the American essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Through his life of lecturing and writing, Emerson was a tireless supporter of the dignity and freedom of every individual.

The Duke’s Deceit in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

By: David V. Urban

In Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Duke Vincentio of Vienna, disguised as a friar, succeeds in his aim to convince Mariana, the jilted fiancée of his self-righteous and hypocritical deputy Angelo, to trick…

Essays of Elia: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Finals week is upon us, and students everywhere are reviewing notes, writing papers, sitting exams, and hoping to remember enough of what they've read to succeed. Pierre Goodrich's copy of Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia opens a…

Kingship, Legitimacy, and War in Henry V

By: Paulina Kewes

Henry V (1599), Shakespeare’s last Elizabethan history play, is framed by two regime changes. It opens at the accession of Henry V, a man reformed who has left behind his wild ways and degenerate companions such as Falstaff. It…

The First Walpurgis Night

By: Gary McGath

Concert music from before the twentieth century that sympathetically treats pagan religions suffering from Christian persecution is rare. Felix Mendelssohn’s cantata based on Goethe’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht (the first Walpurgis…

The Leaders We Need, or the Leaders We Deserve?: Notions of the “Demos” in Coriolanus

By: Michael C. Munger

When I am teaching about the problem of legitimate political authority, I always start with the First Book of Samuel, from the Hebrew Bible. The story is a debate over the nature of law, obligation, and leadership. Israel was at the…

The King, the Coronation, and Us: Two nations Separated By a Common Tradition

By: Daniel Ross Goodman

Unless you have been living under an upturned mountain by now you likely know that this past Saturday Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor (good luck getting all that on to his driver’s license!) was crowned King Charles…

Time to Trim the Fat: Prince Hal on self-love

By: Lucie Alden

Written at the end of the sixteenth century, Henry IV, Part I depicts an increasingly commercial, market-driven London, based on transactions, accounting, and imported goods. Harry is not just at ease in this grubby, commercial…

The Enlightenment as Methodology (Part One)

By: Walter Donway

I wish that it were a “cliché” that the European movement called the “Enlightenment” (1650–1815) created the modern world. If that were universally acknowledged, then it would be a commonplace that the human faculty of reason must…

Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece

By: Freya Johnston

Disturbed and compelled by the power of storytelling that it exemplifies, The Rape of Lucrece gives its heroine not only physical beauty and chastity but formidable rhetorical skills.

The Odyssey: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

One of Pierre Goodrich's long time hobbies was making reading lists of recommended reading for a well-rounded, well-educated person. He made (at least) one while planning Liberty Fund. He made one for undergraduates at Wabash…

Macbeth in Early Social Media

By: Susan Carlile

In London between 1700 and 1750 one in six theatrical performances was a Shakespearean play. In fact, the most popular comic dramatists of the time, Arthur Murphy, declared, “With us islanders, Shakespeare is a kind of established…

Visions of Unlimited Progress: Denis Diderot and the Encyclopedia of the French Philosophes

By: Walter Donway

All kinds of Enlightenment events occurred before 1715 and after 1789, but those dates tend to prevail because they are French. The most credible explanation for this is the monumental French Encyclopedia and the circle of…

Hamlet: “The best counsellors are the dead.”

By: Joanne Paul

“The best counsellors are the dead.”
So the long-serving Elizabethan and Stuart courtier, Sir Francis Bacon, concluded in his essay “On Counsel” in 1612. Bacon was not the first to use this maxim, often appearing in the Latin as “…

The Science of Dining: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

“The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling, and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society.”~ Judith Martin…

“Put money in thy purse”: Shakespeare and Investment

By: Lucie Alden

Much like Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part I, Shakespeare understood that with reward, comes risk and with individual risk and reward, come certain inequities. Shakespeare’s status as a rational, cautious investor distinguished him from…

John Locke Foments Revolution in the Name of “The Rights of Man”

By: Walter Donway

In his years as physician to and political collaborator with Shaftesbury, leader of the English Whigs, John Locke had many roles, among them as a fellow of the New Royal Society, conducting medical research, and as Shaftesbury's…

The Works of Machiavelli: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Few writers can have been more controversial than Machiavelli, whose very name became an adjective meaning "cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous" with particular reference to those who behave thusly in the political arena. I,…

OLL’s April Birthday: Herbert Spencer (April 27, 1820 – December 8, 1903)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

April’s Birthday Essay is in honor of Herbert Spencer, a British polymath who was probably the most widely read intellectual in history, and who enjoyed tremendous fame during his lifetime, only to be largely forgotten after his…

John Locke and the New Course of Enlightenment Reason: Empiricism

By: Walter Donway

The world hardly needs another brief introduction to the giant of English philosophy, John Locke. He could be called the author of the Western mind. And has been called the quintessential man of the Enlightenment, the “father of…

Ibn Al-Khaldun Approaches Buchanan’s Bridge

By: Owen Holzbach

For the student of the history of economic thought, it is interesting to think about whether the pre-Classical thinkers would grade well on an exam given by Buchanan on what economists should do. Specifically, how would Ibn…

The Lady and the Tycoon: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

The lively colors of this book from Pierre Goodrich's personal collection made it jump off the shelf during this week's visit to the Liberty Fund rare book room. The title is not, as I had first speculated, that of a romance novel.…

On Dante’s Paradiso: Venus, Predestination, and Art

By: Alexander Schmid

In the eighth canto of Dante’s Paradiso, now in the third sphere of Venus, one witnesses a discussion of how Nature, or the embodied Spirit or Will of God, does not actually distinguish between the individuality of people. It sees…

Jefferson Takes Notes and Copies Quotes on Ideas for the New Republic

By: Walter Donway

“We are now trusting to those who are against us in position and principle, to fashion to their own form the minds and affections of our youth. . . . This canker is eating on the vitals of our existence.”—Thomas Jefferson

Schiller’s Ode to Joy, and Beethoven’s

By: Gary McGath

On December 24 and 25, 1989, Leonard Bernstein led concerts celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall. They included Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in which solo singers and a chorus present part of Friedrich Schiller’s “An…

Virtual Reading Group: The House of Mirth and Adam Smith

By: Sarah Skwire

Our friends at Adam Smith Works thought that visitors to the Reading Room might be particularly interested in joining their upcoming Virtual Reading Group on Edith Wharton's House of Mirth and Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations.

Miracles: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

The concurrence of Ramadan, Pesach, and Easter sent me to the Liberty Fund archives to see if I could find an appropriate book title to highlight this week. Goodrich's collection did not disappoint.

T.S. Eliot’s Merging of the Classical and the Christian in Drama

By: Nathaniel Birzer

T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is perhaps one of the best mergings of the Classical and the Christian traditions in dramatic form that I have ever encountered. Though the subject matter is indisputably Christian, the form of…

Cesare Beccaria’s Ideas on Criminal Law Shape the Bill of Rights

By: Walter Donway

The Age of Enlightenment (conventionally, 1685-1815) saw the nations of Europe refocus from religion to the human condition on earth, reason as the method of improving it, and the rights of the individual. But in what field did this…

Borges' Library of Babel and Virtual Reality

By: Alexander Schmid

In Borges' Library of Babel, the titular library contains every book from all possible universes, thoughts, and dreams, including both coherent and incoherent works. Everything that ever could be written is there, and so is every…

Lewis’s Anti-Capitalist Dogma

By: Eric Mack

We have seen that Sandefer’s case for the Rand-Sandefur thesis that Lewis broadly condemns all modern statist regimes is weak. I turn here to the textual case for a different reading of the political message of It Can’t Happen Here.…

Two Readings of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here

By: Eric Mack

The presidential election of 2016 rekindled interest in Sinclair Lewis’ prophetic 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here. (2014, henceforth ICHH) One hard question about It Can’t Happen Here is, what exactly is the It that Lewis…

OLL’s March Birthday: Franz Oppenheimer (March 30, 1864-September 30, 1843)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

This month’s featured birthday anniversary is that of the German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer, best known for his work on the sociology of the State, which subsequently became tremendously influential among anarchist and…

Misreading Dostoyevsky on Moral Responsibility

By: Richard Gunderman

A 2018 article in the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics entitled, “Clinicians’ Need for an Ecological Approach to Violence Reduction” presents an illuminating example of moral overreach, apparently inspired by a line…

Individual Moral Responsibility for Violence: A Decrepit Concept?

By: Richard Gunderman

Moral ambition is, in principle, an admirable trait, but soaring ambition, especially when it is unmodulated by practical wisdom, can wreak considerable harm. In other words, the impulse to do good can fail to respect the bounds of…

The French Revolution Spawns the Terror—and the Classic Conservatism of Burke

By: Walter Donway

It can seem that every battle Edmund Burke fought became epic, remembered by history: his attempts to head off the war with the American colonies, his defense of representative democracy, his opposition to the British East India…

Letters from Ireland: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

The copy of Harriet Martineau's Letters from Ireland that lives in the Liberty Fund rare book room as part of the Hamburger collection, seems to be an idea book to take off the shelves for both Women's History Month and St.…

Shooting from Mercury to Venus: On Dante’s Paradiso

By: Alexander Schmid

How can just vengeance itself receive a just punishment? This is the major question in the seventh canto of Dante’s Paradiso. In this second sphere of heaven, named Mercury, those who sought worldly fame and the active life at the…

Conducting Oneself and Others in Tár

By: Garth Bond

Todd Field’s Tár, nominated for six Oscars, is a beautiful but densely constructed film that expects much of its audience and explains little. The movie assumes a familiarity with the world of classical music, and viewers must…

What Irish Enlightenment? The Case of Edmund Burke

By: Walter Donway

Four times I have posed, in these pages, the question: “What Irish Enlightenment?” And answered with the “cases” of John Toland, Jonathan Swift, George Berkeley, and Maria Edgeworth—a priest/academic, a satirist, a philosopher, and…

Trollope’s Belgium and West Germany: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

What better author from the Liberty Fund archives could there be to mark Women's History Month than Frances "Fanny" Trollope? The mother of the prolific and respected novelist Anthony Trollope, Frances Trollope is widely considered…

Men and Snakes: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Look, we all know how it is. You sit down with the Wall Street Journal, there's a faint haze, a buzzing noise, maybe some flashing lights, and you're suddenly the proud possessor of 5 or 6 new books on topics that you didn't know…

Wagner and Nazism

By: Gary McGath

The Nazis made Richard Wagner a national hero. Hitler loved his music, and Germany made the Bayreuth Music Festival a center of Nazi propaganda. Goebbels called Die Meistersinger “the most German of all German operas.” Today, many…

A Response to Lovecraft: A Review of “1899”

By: Nathaniel Birzer

Imagine you wake up alone on a boat, surrounded by a vast expanse of water with no land in sight. You have no memory of how you got there, what land the boat sailed from or where it is going, or even if you are on an ocean or a…

What Irish Enlightenment? The Case of Maria Edgeworth

By: Walter Donway

Pursuing the elusive character of the Irish Enlightenment through its leading figures (so far in this series, John Toland, Jonathan Swift, and George Berkeley), one issue that arises is the historical parameters of the European…

Pilgrim’s Progress: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

I have, I must confess, romantic and childish notions about John Bunyan's great 1678 allegorical novel, The Pilgrim's Progress. Undoubtedly my notions date from my reading of Little Women when I was a teen. Louisa May Alcott adapts…

Washington’s Address to the Officers of the Army

By: William Reddinger

Legal norms and processes are not mere tools for achieving one’s preferred conception of a good society but are themselves part of a good society. Law is not some third wheel to liberty and justice. It’s a necessary companion to…

OLL’s February Birthday: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (February 28, 1533-September 13, 1592)

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

February’s OLL Birthday Essay celebrates the great French humanist and philosopher, Michel de Montaigne. Despite, or perhaps because of, his aristocratic heritage and privileged upbringing, he developed a non-pretentious personal…

What “Irish Enlightenment”? The Case of George Berkeley

By: Walter Donway

In earlier posts on John Toland and Jonathan Swift, I pointed out that champions of the Irish Enlightenment seem to elude being identified with specifically Irish aspects of that European movement. George Berkeley, born in Dysart…

John Toland’s Tetradymus: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

One of the great joys of working at Liberty Fund, and of working with our websites, in particular, is the chance to learn about so many new things. Without Walter Donway's recent posts on the Irish Enlightenment--and about John…

Studying the Founders: A Summary and Downloadable Collection

By: Thea Burress

Over this past Summer, we invited scholars into the Reading Room to share their views on the Founding Fathers and Mothers and why we should read and understand them today. They explored the likes of George Mason, Deborah Sampson,…

What “Irish Enlightenment”? The case of Jonathan Swift

By: Walter Donway

"It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.""Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others."--Jonathan Swift

The Politics of Music under Louis XIV

By: Gary McGath

Louis XIV of France was a renowned patron of the arts. He provided extravagant royal funds for theater, architecture, dance, and music. Artists who won his favor lived very well. Those without royal connections, though, found it…

De Motu Cordis: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

When I blogged about Pierre Goodrich's copies of Darwin, I mentioned his long-standing interest in the history of science. Finding a modern (1941) translation of William Harvey's masterwork, De Motu Cordis (The Motion of the Heart)…

Teleporting From the Moon to Mercury: Dante’s Paradiso

By: Alexander Schmid

Today we consider Cantos 5-6 from Dante’s Paradiso and finish Dante's time with the Oath Breakers and Unfulfilled vowers from the Sphere of the Moon (Constance and Piccarda). We will then shoot up "like an arrow that strikes the…

Happy Birthday Joseph Schumpeter!

By: Sarah Skwire

I have been a fan of Joseph Schumpeter ever since someone told me of his famous comment, "Early in life I had three ambitions. I wanted to be the greatest economist in the world, the greatest horseman in Austria, and the best lover…

What “Irish Enlightenment”? The Case of John Toland

By: Walter Donway

“What Irish Enlightenment?” is the first question for one setting out to discuss Ireland’s participation in the pan-European philosophical, political, economic, social, and literary movement that created the modern world. About…

Hobbes Translation of Thucydides: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

This is the book that knocked my socks off the first time I visited Liberty Fund's rare book collection, more than twenty years ago. It is a 1648 edition of Hobbes's 1629 translation of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War…

The Russian Enlightenment and Its “Absolutist” Champions

By: Walter Donway

In Russia, the Enlightenment began just as the country emerged from the medieval period. Contrast that with the West, where the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries) and the beginnings of the scientific revolution laid the foundations…

Bach’s Ode to Caffeine

By: Gary McGath

Our modern picture of Johann Sebastian Bach is lopsided. He wrote both secular and religious vocal music, but much more of the latter survived. It’s unquestionable that his Christian beliefs inspired him to write some of the…

OLL’s January Birthday: Lord Acton

By: Peter Carl Mentzel

This January’s Birthday essay honors John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, 1st Baron Acton of Aldenham, 8th Baronet, more commonly known simply as Lord Acton. His writings and lectures as a liberal, Catholic historian were tremendously…

Hooker’s Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

It is hard to overstate the importance of Richard Hooker's Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity. The book set out to describe the ways in which the Church of England was distinctive--neither Catholic nor Calvinist--and wound up all but…

Will and Blame in Dante’s Paradiso

By: Alexander Schmid

In the Sphere of the Moon in Dante’s Paradiso, Dante meets two radiant former-nuns who at first seem like “reflections in a deep pool.” So faint are they to him that they are much like a vague thought or reflection one has not yet…

Doing Justice to John Wick

By: Caroline Breashears

The John Wick franchise is better known for its award-winning stunts than its screenplays. The plots seem thin as a garotte, while the dialogue focuses on guns and Wick's ability to kill with a mere pencil. Yet the March release of…

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe “Gets Religion”

By: Walter Donway

After a frenetic and tirelessly productive career, including advocacy of religious liberty that landed him in prison, Daniel Defoe, age 59, began the writing that made him one of history’s unforgettable novelists--known to us all.

Translations from the Chinese: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Arthur Waley's early 20th century translations opened up the subtle beauties and nuances of classical Chinese poetry to a whole new audience. Still regarded as exceptionally well done, Waley's translations were accurate and erudite,…

Dante’s Paradiso: Illusions and the Sphere of the Moon

By: Alexander Schmid

In the first Sphere of Paradise, the Moon, we encounter our first cadre of difficult philosophical questions. In addition to those “simple” ones of how one moves in Paradise, and how a body would move in it (it couldn’t—just like a…

G.K. Chesterton and Work in 20th Century America

By: Joy Buchanan

One hundred years ago, the British writer G.K. Chesterton traveled to the United States for a lecture tour. He published his observations of America in What I Saw in America (1922). In an essay titled “The American Businessman”,…

Daniel Defoe: Religious Liberty in An Age of Militant Sectarianism

By: Walter Donway

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe made a lasting impression on me as a boy. But I seem to have missed the theme, which historians view as religious salvation—“deliverance”—and religious tolerance.
Nor did I get around, back then, to…

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

By: OLL Editor

We at the Online Library of Liberty think that there are few better things one could do today than to read or listen to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Darwin’s The Descent of Man and The Origin of Species: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

Liberty Fund's founder had an abiding interest in the history of science. His library contains works by Boyle and Newton, and he listed Galileo, Avicenna, Ptolemy, and other scientific thinkers on the wall in the Goodrich Seminar…

Welcome to Paradise: Dante’s Paradiso

By: Alexander Schmid

Welcome to Celestial Paradise, otherwise known as the Heaven in Dante’s Paradiso. Yes, that heaven; the heaven, even, for medieval Catholics.

The “Pamphlet Wars” Climax in the American Revolution and Ratification Debate

By: Walter Donway

You cannot read many biographies of men who engaged the American separation from Britain, declaration of an independent nation, and shaping and winning ratification of the Constitution without encountering—repeatedly—references to…

Moll Flanders and the Pursuit of Happiness

By: Caroline Breashears

Among Daniel Defoe's masterpieces is Moll Flanders, published in 1722 with a long eighteenth-century title that seems to reveal everything but the protagonist's petticoat:
The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders,…

Voltaire’s A Philosophical Dictionary: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

I pulled Pierre Goodrich's copy of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary off the shelves because of the glorious mid 20th century book design. The striking cream and black checkerboard is eye-catching and emphasizes the "marquee"…

Tracing Turkey’s Creation to French Enlightenment’s Influence

By: Walter Donway

Antecedents of the revolution led by Ataturk must be sought in the Turkish Enlightenment, which had two phases.

Kemal Atatürk Founds a Twentieth-century Islamic Nation Rooted in Enlightenment Ideas

By: Walter Donway

He led an overwhelmingly Islamic population out of the Ottoman Empire, created a new secular nation, introduced protections of individual rights, deposed both the sultan and the caliph to introduce a presidency, initiated a Western…