Adam Smith on social change and “the man of system” (1759)

Adam Smith (1723-1790) contrasts two different ways by which the evils of society might be reformed: the man of humanity and benevolence who uses reason and persuasion and “the man of system” who imposes his own “ideal plan of government” on others by force:

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

The British MP John Bright (1811-1889) gave a speech to his constituents in the Birmingham Town Hall on October 29, 1858 in which he asked who benefitted from Britain’s foreign policy of constantly interfering in the affairs of other nations? His conclusion was that it served the needs of the “place-hunters”, those members of the ruling elite who sought jobs for themselves, their families, and their friends. In other words, a form of welfare for the aristocracy:

Plucknett contrasts the flexibility and adaptability of customary law with the rigidity and remoteness of state legislation (1956)

In his history of the English common law Theodore Plucknett (1897-1965) stresses how flexible and adaptable customary law was in the middle ages. Unlike modern legislation created by the state, medieval communities were constantly changing their “customs” to suit their changing needs:

Simeon Howard on liberty as the opposition to “external force and constraint” (1773)

In this sermon preached in Massachusetts in 1773 to a company of artillery soldiers Simeon Howard (1733-1804) defines what he means by “liberty” at a time when Americans in the British colonies were increasingly seeing the British as violators of their liberty. He defines this key word in very Lockean terms as the opposition to “external force and constraint” by other men:

Horace Say on “I, Pin” and the international division of labor (1852)

Horace Say (1794-1860), the son of Jean-Baptiste Say, took Adam Smith’s story of a domestic pin factory which he used to explain the productivity gains from the division of labor within the factory, to an international level. He showed that there was an international division of labor which took the argument to a whole new level of sophistication and complexity:

J.S. Mill on the wife as the “actual bondservant of her husband” in the 19th century (1869)

John Stuart Mill was one of the few classical liberals in the 19th century to object to the unequal nature of the so-called “marriage contract”. He questioned whether the consent of both partners to the contract was properly given, whether women were free to act on their own accord, or whether they had control of their own property. He concluded that a wife was no more than the “bondservant of her husband”:

Plucknett on the Renaissance state’s “war against the idea of law” (1956)

The English legal historian Theodore Plucknett (1897-1965) argues that a new concept of law emerged during the Renaissance, replacing the medieval notion of a king both enforcing and subject to divine or natural law, with that of “the modern State based upon force and independent of morality”:

Macaulay argues that “the main end” of government is the protection of persons and property (1839)

In a review of book by William Gladstone, Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay (1800-1859) provides a clear statement of the very limited powers of the state which was commonly held in Victorian England, namely that the state tend to “the protection of the persons and property of men” with very few exceptions:

Bentham on the liberty of contracts and lending money at interest (1787)

The English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) defends the practice of lending money at interest (“usury”) as just another example of consenting adults engaging in their legal right to make contracts with each other:

James Madison on the necessity of separating the power of “the sword from the purse” (1793)

In the debate between “Pacificius” (Hamilton) and “Helvidius” ( Madison) on the proper powers of the executive (President) and legislative (Congress) branches of government Madison argued that the traditional “monarchical” powers of declaring and waging war had been separated in the American republic:

James Bryce on the Party Primaries and Conventions in the American political system (1888)

The British jurist and statesman Viscount James Bryce (1838-1922) tries to explain to a European audience how “voluntary and extra-legal associations of citizens,” i.e. American political parties, were nationalized by the state and turned into “public political institution(s)” regulated by statutory law:

Bastiat, the 1830 Revolution, and the Spilling of Wine not Blood (1830)

The young Frédéric Bastiat helped tip the balance in the garrison of the city of Bayonne during the 1830 Revolution. With a combination of his wit and charm, copious servings of the local red wine, and the singing of political songs by the liberal poet Béranger, he was able to persuade the officers of the garrison to support Louis Philippe and the constitutional monarchists:

Jefferson on Taxes and the General Welfare (1791)

In his “Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank (1791) Jefferson argued that the formation of such an entity would allow Congress to "take possession of a boundless field of power” which would give them the means “to do whatever evil they please”:

Bastiat on trade as a the mutual exchange of “a service for another service” (1848)

The French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) believed that all exchanges in the free market could be seen as a trade of one “service” for another service of equivalent value:

Guyot on the protectionist tyranny (1906)

The French politician and political economist Yves Guyot (1843-1928) denounces protectionists for cloaking their personal interests behind very dubious claims of advancing the “public interest”:

Germaine de Staël on the indestructible love of liberty (1818)

In one of the first histories of the French Revolution Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) decries what had been done in the name of “liberty” during the French Revolution. In spite of these deeds, she believes that love of liberty is deeply embedded in the human soul and that it cannot be extinguished by tyrant:

Milton on Eve’s discovery of the benefits of the division of labor in the Garden of Eden (1667)

In his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667) John Milton (1608-1674) describes how Eve comes across the idea that by specializing on different tasks in the garden of Eden they could produce more. Adam quashes this idea because he thinks that a women must not be allowed to leave her husband’s side for a moment:

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

The radical English republican political theorist Algernon Sidney (1622-1683) asks why subjects of the King should obey the law. He concludes that we should obey not because of threats of punishment or coercion but because the law was based upon the “eternal principle of reason and truth”:

Nassau Senior argues that government is based upon extortion (1854)

In his general introduction to the science of political economy Nassau W. Senior (1790-1864) applies the principle of the division of labor to the functions of government and concludes that it behaves very differently from other exchanges in the market in that it extorts much more than the fair value of the service it provides:

Marcus Aurelius on using reason to live one’s life “straight and right” (170)

The Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180) was also a Stoic philosopher whose Meditations (written while on a military campaign during the 170s) were highly influential during the Scottish Enlightenment. He exhorted each person to find peace within themselves by discovering the natural laws which governed the universe and living one’s life in accordance with them. His advice was to live one’s life “always straight and right, and not as amended or rectified” by others:

Pascal and the absurd notion that the principles of justice vary across state borders (1669)

The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) points out that artificial lines drawn on a map do not invalidate moral laws which are derived from the nature of man. It is “absurd” to think I have the right to kill a foreigner because my sovereign orders me to do so:

Adam Smith on compulsory attendance in the classroom (1776)

Here Adam Smith (1723-1790) argues that the use of compulsion in schools is used primarily for the benefit of the teacher and the administration, not the students. Good lectures are usually well attended:

David Ricardo on the “mere increase of money” (1809)

After Britain went off the gold standard so it could increase funding the war against Napoleon, the English economist David Ricardo (1772-1823) argued that the general increase in prices was a direct result of this policy and, in a series of articles which appeared in 1809, asked “Why should the mere increase of money have any other effect than to lower its value?”:

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

The English radical individualist and Member of Parliament Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) appeals to ordinary workers to acquire property peacefully and to thereby enjoy one of the “master keys” to enjoying peace and prosperity:

Alexander Pope on how private “self love” can lead to the public good (1732)

The English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) in his “An Essay on Man” (1732) argues that “even kings” are obliged to act increasingly morally because of the operation of the natural laws which govern society and the world: