Bentham on how “the ins” and “the outs” lie to the people in order to get into power (1843)

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) created a Handbook of Political Fallacies in which he painstakingly categorized the different types of “fallacies” politicians used to deceive the public. He did this in order to show how those in government deceived the people in order to win office or get favours from those in office:

Shakespeare on sweet love remembered (1609)

In his 29th Sonnet William Shakespeare (1564-1616) describes a young man who is disgraced, outcast, shoeless, friendless, full of envy of others more successful than he, and without hope. Yet, he remembers the “sweet love” he feels for his lover and decides he would not swap his current situation for that of even a king:

Molinari appeals to socialists to join him in marching down “the broad, well-trodden highway of liberty” (1848)

At the height of the Revolution in 1848 the French political economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) appealed to his socialist adversaries to join with the liberals in the pursuit of the common goal of “Justice and Plenty” and to abandon their strategy of using violence to achieve this:

Bagehot on the monopoly central bank (1873)

The British journalist and editor of The Economist magazine Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) points out the “anomalous” and potentially “very dangerous” situation of a government controlled, monopoly central bank but can’t quite bring himself to suggest it be replaced by free competition:

Tocqueville on the 1848 Revolution in Paris (1851)

The French aristocrat and liberal politician Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was elected to the Constituent Assembly in April 1848 following the revolution in February. He played a major role by serving on the committee to draw up a new constitution for the French Republic. Here are his reflections on the first days of the new Constituent Assembly in May in which he emphasized the threat to property by the revolutionary crowds:

Bach asks God “when will I die”? (1700)

J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 8 was based upon a hymn by Caspar Neumann (1700) and a melody by Daniel Vetter (1713) which was sung for the first time at the funeral of Jakob Wilisius, Cantor of St Bernhardin’s Church at Breslau. In the Cantata two searing questions are asked, “when will I die” and “what will happen to me afterwards?”:

Tocqueville on the “New Despotism” (1837)

For volume 2 of Democracy in America (1840) Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) drew up several drafts of his thoughts on the nature of what he called the “new despotism” which he predicted would gradually emerge and turn the nation into “a flock of timid and hardworking animals”. This draft is quoted at length in James Schleifer’s book on Tocqueville:

Cobden on the complicity of the British people in supporting war (1852)

The peace and free trade advocate Richard Cobden (1804-1865) believed that before the “peace party” in Britain could be successful it had to overcome the popular misconception the British people had that they were a “peace-loving nation”:

Sven Forkbeard and new Yuletide Taxes (11thC)

The Icelandic historian Snorre Sturlason (1179 - 1241) in his history of the Norse Kings describes how King Sven Forkbeard (960-1014), king of Denmark, Norway, and England, imposed numerous taxes on the people in order to fund his conquests. These included a sizeable number of new taxes which were imposed at Yuletide (Christmas), prompting the usual murmurings of discontent and threats of revolt:

Leggett on the tendency of the government to become “the universal dispenser of good and evil” (1834)

The Jacksonian era journalist William Leggett (1801-1839) argued against government intervention in the economy on moral grounds as well as because its policies favored one group or class over another:

Socrates as the “gadfly” of the state (4thC BC)

Plato in his Apology for the life of Socrates reminds us that all societies need a “gadfly” to sting the “steed” of state into acknowledging its proper duties and obligations:

The City of War and the City of Peace on Achilles' new shield (900 BC)

In his fine translation of Homer’s Iliad, Alexander Pope (1688-1744) describes the images which Vulcan carves on Achilles' new shield, which his mother Thetis has done to help Achilles recover from the news of his friend Patroclus' death. Vulcan depicts the two different types of cities which humans can build on earth; one based on peace and the rule of law; the other based on war, killing, and pillage:

Ferguson on the flourishing of man’s intellectual powers in a commercial society (1767)

The Scottish enlightened thinker Adam Ferguson (1723-1816) believed that in a commercial society where the division of labor operated mankind’s intellectual powers would develop and flourish best:

Adam Smith on how governments learn from each other the best way of draining money from the pockets of the people (1776)

Adam Smith (1723-1790) studied in great detail how taxes were used to fund the activities of the monarchies of his day. He was especially interested in how new taxes in one state would be copied by other states:

Madame de Staël on the tyrant Napoleon (1818)

Madame Germaine de Staël (née Necker) (1766-1817) had the opportunity to observe Napoleon at first hand. She concluded that he was a ruthless tyrant who regarded individuals as pawns on a chessboard which he controlled:

John Adams on how absolute power intoxicates those who excercise that power (1814)

John Adams (1735-1826) was prompted by John Taylor’s book An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States (1814) to defend his idea of democracy:

Cobden on the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries (1859)

In 1859 while Richard Cobden (1804-1865) was visiting the U.S., France and Sardinia fought Austria in order to win independence for the Italian states. This prompted Codben to address his electorate in Rochdale upon his return. In the speech he strongly defended the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries:

Mises on classical liberalism and the gold standard (1928)

In an essay written in 1928 the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) argued that the major reason why classical liberals in the 19th century favored money based on a gold standard was because it meant that the value of money/gold was “independent of any direct manipulation by governments, political policies, public opinion or parliaments”:

Bastiat on the most universally useful freedom, namely to work and to trade (1847)

In this draft Preface for his major theoretical treatise the Economic Harmonies (1850), the French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) argued with himself about his motivation for writing it. He decided on this key feature: that “ the most universally useful (freedom) to mankind … is the freedom to work and to trade”:

Spooner on the “knaves,” the “dupes,” and “do-nothings” among government supporters (1870)

The American abolitionist and legal theorist Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) argued that supporters of the government are divided into three groups - the “knaves” who stand to benefit from the government, the “dupes” who think they are free because they can vote, and those who can see the true situation but can’t or won’t do anything to change it:

Cobden urges the British Parliament not to be the “Don Quixotes of Europe” using military force to right the wrongs of the world (1854)

The British Member of Parliament Richard Cobden (1804-1865) urged the Commons not to intervene in the conflict between Russia and the Ottoman Empire (the Crimean War 1854-56) as it was not Britain’s job to be the “Don Quixote of Europe” who would ride around the world righting all the wrongs it could see around it:

Benjamin Constant and the Freedom of the Press (1815)

In France one of the leading theorists of the principle of free speech was Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) who had been called upon by Napoleon during his brief return to power between March-July 1815 (The Hundred Days) to draw up a new constitution with more constitutional limits on government power. Constant’s ideas were elaborated in a book he wrote at the time Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments (1815) which included chapters on freedom of thought and religion. A typical passage reads:

Mises on how price controls lead to socialism (1944)

The Austrian-American free market economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) left Switzerland for the United States in August 1940. During the war years he wrote a number of books which criticised government intervention and control of the economy, especially price controls and rationing. He had witnessed first hand how the Nazis used price controls in Europe and saw something very similar happening in the United States during World War 2. He thought the logical consequence of strict price controls would be a system of socialism:

Mises and the Emergence of Etatism in Germany (1944)

Writing in the last stages of the Second World War, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), now resident in the United States, reflected on how the total state in Germany came into being. He traced its origins to the 1840s when statist and interventionist ideas emerged in Britain, France, and the U.S. and were eagerly taken up by intellectuals in the German states:

James Mill likens the expence and economic stagnation brought about by war to a “pestilential wind” which ravages the country (1808)

In 1808 when the war against Napoleon was in full swing the Scottish economist James Mill (1773-1836) denounced the economic impact that higher taxes and restrictions on foreign trade were having on the British people. He compared the ravages of war to a “pestilential wind” which shrivels up the national wealth and causes great poverty and hardship among ordinary working people: