Hugo Grotius on the natural sociability of humans (1625)

The Dutch legal philosopher Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) believed that human beings were by nature sociable creatures and that the purpose of natural rights, especially the right of property, was to enable them to live together in peace and prosperity:

Thomas Gordon on the nature of power to expand (1721)

The Commonwealthman Thomas Gordon (1692-1750) has some acute observations about human nature. He thinks most people are too credulous or accepting of political power, and that power has a tendency to expand at the expence of liberty:

William Paley on the tragedy of the commons (1785)

The English moral philosopher William Paley (1743-1805) discussed the problems created by the communal ownership of property. He was aware of the incentive problem as well as this early formulation of the “tragedy of the commons”:

Lord Acton argues that civil liberty arose out of the conflict between the power of the Church and the Monarchy (1877)

The English Catholic historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) believed that liberty emerged almost as an unintended by-product of the conflict between the Church and the monarchies of Europe for absolute authority over the course of nearly 400 years:

Guizot on how intellectual and political diversity and competition created a unique European civilization (1828)

The French politician and liberal historian François Guizot (1787-1874) argued that what distinguished European civilization from others, and made it superior, was the fact that no one idea or institution was able to become dominant and this left it free to experiment with many alternatives:

Herbert Spencer on the prospects for liberty (1882)

The English radical individualist Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) thought that the prospects for liberty in late 19th century England and America were not good if people continued to believe that the general welfare could be improved by legislation and “wirepulling politicians”:

Kant believed that citizens must give their free consent via their representatives to every separate declaration of war (1790)

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued that because the lives and property of a nation’s citizens were used in fighting a war they had the right to give their free consent via their political representatives to every separate declaration of war:

Bastiat’s has a utopian dream of drastically reducing the size of the French state (1847)

In an article he wrote in January 1847 the French free trade advocate Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) dreams he is appointed Prime Minister had outlines his plans to the King to drastically reduce taxes and slash government spending by 50 percent:

Spooner on the “natural right to labor” and to acquire all one honestly can (1846)

The American radical individualist Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) argued that a person could not exercise their “natural right to labor” unless they could also exercise their “natural right to make contracts” which more often than not was restricted by “arbitrary legislation”:

Heineccius argues that no man should be deprived of anything which he has received by nature, or has justly acquired (1738)

The 18th century German jurist Johann Gottlieb Heineccius (1681–1741) argues that because all “men” are by nature equal we should treat others as equally human and refrain from causing them any injury to the things they have have by nature or have acquired justly:

Montaigne argues that is right and proper for a people to speak ill of a “faulty prince” after his death (1580)

The French Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) argues that it may be prudent not to criticise a “faulty prince” while he is alive but once he has died we owe it to ourselves and to posterity to expose their crimes and wickedness:

William Penn on property as one of the three fundamental rights all men have (1679)

The Quaker William Penn (1644-1718) argued in 1679 for the recognition of three fundamental rights that all Englishmen have: the right to property, the right to share in the making of the laws, and the right to be judged by a jury of one’s peers:

William Cobbett opposes the government bail-out at taxpayer expence of those who lent money to the state (1815)

The English radical William Cobbett (1763-1835) did not believe that the British taxpayer should bail out those who had lent money to the British government which had been so profligate in its spending during the wars against Napoleon:

Condorcet on why the French revolution was more violent than the American (1794)

While in prison possibly awaiting execution during the Terror, Condorcet wrote a history of the progress of humanity. In Epoch Nine he notes how the American Revolution influenced the French but explains why the French was more violent:

Lord Acton on the storming of “the instrument and the emblem of tyranny” in Paris, the Bastille, on July 14, 1789 (1910)

The English classical liberal historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) wrote a graphic description of the event which triggered the French Revolution on July 14, 1789 - the storming of the fortress and prison of the Bastille in Paris:

Erasmus on the “Folly” of upsetting conventional opinion by pointing out the sins of kings and princes (1511)

In his sly and underhand way the Dutch theologian and critic Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) pokes fun at the pretensions of kings and princes and those who believe in their superiority to other people in his work In Praise of Folly (1511):

Adams and Jefferson reflect on the Revolution and the future of liberty (1823)

John Adams (1735-1826) and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) both died on July 4, 1824 within hours of each other. In their last years they corresponded about the future of liberty and the role of revolution in bringing free societies into existence. We include here extracts from three letters which they wrote in August and September 1823 on this topic:

Rousseau on the natural tendency of governments to degenerate into tyranny (1762)

The Swiss political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) warned that there is a strong tendency for members of the government to usurp the sovereign power in order to pursue their own private interests, leading to tyranny:

John Wade exposes the system of political corruption in England (1835)

The British Philosophic Radical John Wade (1788-1875) compiled detailed lists of all those who used the British state to get taxpayers money and legal privileges with the aim of so angering the British people that they would support the movement for reform:

John Millar on liberty as an unintended consequence of a struggle between tyrants (1787)

The Scottish historian John Millar (1735-1801) noted that although it was not the intention of the nobles to promote the liberties of ordinary Englishman when they challenged King John in 1215, by defending their own liberties they created both a precedent and a vocabulary for arguing for liberty against the crown:

James Mill on the ruling Few and the subject Many (1835)

James Mill (1773-1836) identifies two groups in British society, namely “the ruling Few” who enjoy legal and economic privileges, and “the subject Many” who pay the taxes and submit to the regulations:

Henry George on a “free trade America” as the real city set on a hill (1886)

The American free trade advocate Henry George (1839-1897) thought the best way to spread the idea of liberty was not the use of “steelplated” naval vessels or “death-dealing air ships” but the removal of all “impediments to trade and travel”:

McCulloch argues that the right to property extends to “the faculties of (one’s) mind and the powers of (one’s) body” (1864)

In his treatise on the Principles of Political Economy McCulloch (1789-1864) grounds the science of economics on the principle of the right to property, by which he meant much more than physical things:

James Wilson argues that it is the people, not the prince, who is superior in matters of legal sovereignty (1790)

In a series of Lectures on Law which James Wilson (1742-1798), one of the first Justices on the Supreme Court, gave in 1790 he dismisses as “absurd and ridiculous” the idea that the monarch is sovereign over the people because he is “superior” in some way:

Mary Wollstonecraft’s “I have a dream” speech from 1792

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) dreams of the day when women are capable of acting like rational creatures and are not treated like so many slaves or brutes: