Shakespeare on the ruler who has “the power to hurt and will do none” (1609)

A political reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94 (1609) is that he admires the ruler who has the “power to hurt and will do none”. A ruler who follows this practice will, he predicts, “inherit heaven’s graces”:

The Levellers’ Declaration of Independence (March 1647)

In the “Large Petition” of March 1647 the Levellers unsuccessfully demanded that Parliament introduce many reforms to protect the rights of “free born Englishmen” in what may rightly be called their “Declaration of Independence” from both kingly and parliamentary tyranny:

Adam Smith on why people obey and defer to their rulers (1759)

In the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) Adam Smith (1723-1790) reflects on why so many people defer to authority, especially to monarchs and the nobility:

Jeremy Bentham argued that the ruling elite benefits from corruption, waste, and war (1827)

According to Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) the “ruling one” (the monarch) along with its companion group, “the sub-ruling few” (the establishment), have an interest in creating or maintaining corruption, waste, and war:

Madame de Staël on how liberty is ancient and despotism is modern (1818)

In her history of the French Revolution Madame Germaine de Staël (née Necker) (1766-1817) makes the important point that it is liberty which is “ancient” and much predated the rise of relatively recent and “modern” despotism, such as Napoléon’s:

Nassau Senior on how the universal acceptance of gold and silver currency creates a world economy (1830)

The British classical economist Nassau William Senior (1790-1864) wrote a number of works on both paper money and hard currency in the late 1820s. In this quote he discusses how the portability and widespread acceptance of precious metal currency creates a true global economy:

Herbert Spencer observes that class structures emerge in societies as a result of war and violence (1882)

In his discussion of the origin of the state and the elites which control it, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) notes that war made it possible for class and exploitation to emerge, whether between men and women or between master and slave:

James Otis on the right of the people to alter their government (1764)

The Massachusetts lawyer and revolutionary pamphleteer James Otis (1725–83) argued as early as 1764 that people had a natural right to alter their government and should so by agreement or “compact”:

Nicholas Barbon on the mutual benefits of free trade even in luxury goods (“wants of the mind”) (1690)

The English physician and businessman Nicholas Barbon (1623-1698) was one of the earliest defenders of free trade, even for goods which were not necessities (“wants of the body”) but also for so-called foreign luxury goods (“wants of the mind”):

William Cobbett denounces the destruction of liberty during and after the Napoleonic Wars (1817)

The English radical journalist William Cobbett (1763-1835) denounced the crack down on dissent by the British government during the period of difficult economic adjustment which followed the ending of the 25 year war against France. He thought that England, “the cradle of real liberty and just laws”, had just experienced another revolution in government which had restored despotism:

Lysistrata’s clever plan to end the war between Athens and Sparta (411 BC)

Aristophanes‘ Lysistrata persuades a group of her women friends to seize control of the Acropolis where the money used to fund the war between Athens and Sparta is stored and demand that their husbands sue for peace. When their husbands refuse to do so the women go on strike with comic and eventually peaceful results. In these passages Lysistrata explains to a member of the City’s Ruling Committee why the women felt obliged to intervene to stop the war:

Franz Oppenheimer on the origin of the state in conquest and subjection by one group over another (1907)

The German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer (1864-1943) developed a theory of the “class-state” or the “wolf state” which had its origins in the “conquest and subjugation” of one group of powerless people by a more powerful one:

Bastiat’s Malthusian theory of the growth of the state (1847)

The French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) believed that the state would continue to expand in size until it over-reached the ability or willingness of the taxpayers to fund it:

Anthony de Jasay on the proliferation of predators and parasites in the modern state (1998)

The political theorist Anthony de Jasay (1925-2019) believes that interest groups (made up of “predators” and free-riding “parasites”) will continue to proliferate in the modern state given its current structure of incentives:

Jean-Baptiste Say regards regulations which favor producers as a form of political privilege at the expence of the community (1803)

The French industrialist and economist Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) witnessed first hand attempts by manufacturers to get special privileges from the government to limit competition in their favor and at the expence of ordinary consumers:

David Hume on property as a convention which gradually emerges from society (1739)

The Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711-1776) argued that the idea of property and the need to defend it emerged gradually out of social practices. Once it had evolved into a widely accepted convention did it become a “right” which needed to be respected:

Benjamin Franklin on making the transition from slavery to civil liberty (1789)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) warns that after having been brutalised by being enslaved the freed slave faces additional problems of adjusting to a life as a free person. Franklin was a member of a society which sought to raise money to assist them in making this transition:

James Mill’s formulation of “Say’s Law” (1808)

The English Philosophic Radical James Mill (1773-1836) responded to criticism concerning the “unproductiveness” of trade with a spirited defence of commerce which also included one of the clearest statements of “Say’s Law”, that “the production of commodities creates a market for the commodities which have been produced”:

David Hume on how the prosperity of one’s neighbors increases one’s own prosperity (1777)

The Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) argued that one should not be jealous of the prosperity of one’s neighbors as this provides them with the means to trade with you to mutual benefit:

Mandeville on the social cooperation which is required to produce a piece of scarlet cloth (1723)

The Anglo-Dutch doctor and writer Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) was one of the first to note the extraordinary amount of social and economic cooperation which was required to produce something for sale on the market, in this case a piece of scarlet cloth:

Lysander Spooner on why government monopolies like the post office are inherently inefficient (1844)

The American legal theorist, abolitionist, and radical individualist Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) started his own mail company in order to challenge the monopoly held by the US government. He perceptively noted that, in the absence of competition, “government functionaries” had no incentive to innovate or provide good service:

William Graham Sumner on the racism which lies behind Imperialism (1898)

The American classical liberal sociologist William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) pointed out the contradiction between the American ideal that “all men are equal” with its actual treatment of “Indians and negroes” and other so-called “uncivilized and half-civilized peoples”:

George Grote on the difficulty of public opinion alone in curbing the misuse of power by “the sinister interests” (1821)

The Philosophic Radical George Grote (1794-1871) wrote this defence of democratic reform of the British electoral system in 1821. He noted the special problem posed by the concentration of political benefits being concentrated in a few hands and the costs being dispersed over very many individuals:

William Cobbett on the dangers posed by the “Paper Aristocracy” (1804)

The English radical William Cobbett (1763-1835) objected to the funding of the war against Napoleon by issuing debt and suspending gold payments. He called the financial elite who benefited from the huge increase in government debt as the “Paper Aristocracy”:

The State of California issued its own Bill of Rights in 1849 with a strong defence of property rights (1849)

The Declaration of Rights in the California Constitution of 1849 listed among a person’s inalienable rights “acquiring, possessing, and protecting property” as well as a ban on a standing army in time of peace: