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:

Adam Smith on the need for “peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice” (1755)

Dugald Stewart had in his possession some notes of lectures Adam Smith gave in 1755, some 21 years before the appearance of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Here Smith gives a pithy description of what he thought the government should do to encourage economic development:

Shaftesbury opposes the nonresisting test bill before the House of Lords as a step towards “absolute and arbitrary” government (1675)

The Earl of Shaftesbury (1621-1683) opposed a measure before the House of Lords in 1675 to force the members to swear an oath of “nonresistance” to the crown (Charles II). He opposed this as a violation of Magna Carta and another step towards absolute and unaccountable government:

Percy Shelley on the two types of property [1820]

In a pamphlet calling for widespread economic and political reform the poet Percy Shelley (1792-1822) identified two very different kinds of property, one which is just and one which is unjust:

Mary Wollstonecraft likens the situation of soldiers under a tyrant king to women under a tyrant husband (1792)

Mary Wollstonecraft likens the situation of soldiers under a tyrant king to women under a tyrant husband - both want blind obedience from their subjects (1792):

Adam Smith debunks that idea that when it comes to public debt “we owe it to ourselves” (1776)

In a discussion of funding a war by increasing public debt, Adam Smith (1723-1790) rejects the commonly held idea that heavy debt is not a problem for a society because “we owe it to ourselves”, or as he put it, “it is the right hand which pays the left”:

Lao Tzu and the Tao of laissez-faire (6thC BC)

Lao Tsu, the founder of Taoism, advises a wise ruler to follow a policy of laissez-faire, in other words “to do nothing” and thus allow the people to transform themselves:

Paul Heyne on THE economic way of thinking (1995)

The economist Paul Heyne (1931-2000) believed that there was a unique “economic way of thinking” about the world which was based upon a handful of key insights which were not well understood by the general public:

Kant on the natural right to seek happiness in one’s own way (1791)

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued in 1791 that there were three basic principles which should be the foundation of any Civil State: individual liberty, equality under the law, and “self-dependency” for voting rights. In this extract Kant defends the right of every individual to seek or pursue their vision of happiness without interference by the State:

David Hume believes we should assume all men are self-interested knaves when it comes to politics (1777)

The Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711-1776) believed that when thinking about politics we should assume that every man and every institution pursues their own self-interest often at the expense of the public good:

Mises on the worship of the state or statolatry (1944)

At the height of WW2 when states on both sides of the conflict had massively increased government intervention in the economy, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) warned against “worship of the state”, or statolatry as he also called it, seeing in it the cause of “the worst evils which mankind ever had to endure”:

Francis Hutcheson’s early formulation of the principle of “the greatest Happiness for the greatest Numbers” (1726)

The Scottish moral philosopher Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746) developed an early version of the utilitarian principle of “the greatest Happiness for the greatest Numbers” as a way of calculating the best action to take when faced with alternatives: