Reading Room Archives

What We Talk About When We Talk About Horror

I recently had the chance to get on a Zoom call with Reading Room blogger and literature professor Garth Bond and with horror movie writer , director, and producer Adam Simon. We decided to get together to talk about horror from the ancient world on up to today.

Laws of a Bygone Civilization

by Barry Cooper

Liberty Fund’s Online Library of Liberty offers its readers the opportunity to learn from C.H.W. Johns’s classic 1904 edition of Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters. As with later collections of early Mesopotamian documents, his focus was on what the early Israelites inherited and adapted from Babylonian civilization. Pride of place in this collection was given to the recently discovered Code of Hammurabi, first published in October 1902 by members of the French expedition to Persepolis. European and American scholars were particularly impressed with parallels and comparisons of the Code of Hammurabi with the Mosaic Code found in the Torah (particularly in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy). Johns provided a translation of the Code of Hammurabi, which readers unfamiliar with the Akkadian dialect of Babylonian can compare with other versions to get a more complete sense of its provisions.

A Postscript to Property & Justice: A Liberal Theory of Natural Rights

by Billy Christmas

I am grateful to the Online Library of Liberty for hosting this discussion of my book, and of course the discussants, Aeon Skoble, Jacob Levy, and Sarah Skwire, for graciously reading and engaging with my work.
In those reflections Jacob Levy raised two points of criticism I would like to address, or at least gesture to how I think they should be addressed.

Pocket Globes: The World in Your Hand

by Virginia Postrel

The century that began around 1670 was an extraordinary period of exploration and discovery. Antoni van Leeuwenhoek found microscopic animals teeming in a drop of water. Isaac Newton revolutionized physics. The East India Company and Hudson Bay Company expanded the range of British trade. Giovanni Cassini mapped the moon and measured the distance from Earth to Mars. Europeans explored the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, and the desert Southwest. Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen. Captain James Cook charted the South Pacific. Never had the “known world” encompassed more or been better understood.

OLL's April Birthday: Mary Wollstonecraft (April 27, 1759- September 10, 1797)

By Peter Mentzel

This month’s featured birthday anniversary is the English philosopher, writer, and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.  Perhaps best known for her book Vindication of the Rights of Women, she was crucially important in the arguments about the proper education of girls and young women, and in the radical intellectual currents unleashed by the French Revolution.

Something New for Shakespeare at the OLL

by Sarah Skwire

We don’t actually know for sure what day Shakespeare was born. We know that he was baptized on April 26, 1564, and since infants were generally baptized within three days of birth, he was probably not born any earlier than April 23rd. Since he died on April 23, 1616, and since it seems somehow appropriate that his birth and death dates “rhyme”, we generally mark his birthday on April 23rd.

Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and Kurosawa’s Rashomon

by Nathaniel Birzer

Many popular articles have noted the similarities in structure between Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and the classic Kurosawa film Rashomon, and a few  articles have addressed the historical truths which informed the movie and the resultant inaccuracies. However, the medieval romances and courtly love literature which the movie mentions and attempts to deconstruct have yet to really be addressed, let alone their relation to the highly acclaimed Rashomon.

April is the Cruellest Month: A Reading List on Taxation

by Sarah Skwire

We thought this week would be an appropriate time to bracket off a few readings from the OLL on the timely, and most despised, topic of taxation.

Three Ways of Looking at Individualism: Freedom in Responsibility

by Bill Glod

Defending the supreme importance of individual freedom is not about endorsing license – it’s not about doing whatever you want like a self-centered immature kid. Although sometimes accused of such, individualists need not be libertines who only do whatever they feel like and don’t care if their actions harm others. A commitment to individual freedom is not a commitment to “anything goes” or “metaphysical madness”. Values may be objective or subjective – philosophers have debated this for centuries – but even the best “subjectivist” accounts of values defend informed preferences. Our reasons for action are ultimately up to us, but they require a measure of intelligibility and coherence in order for a freely lived life to be judged, even by that very person, as good for her. And it’s worth noting that some of our strongest preferences are not only about others but for them - we truly want those we care for to thrive.

Political Animals: Hesiod's Hawk and Nightingale

by Sarah Skwire

Recently, I was putting together a course on George Orwell's Animal Farm. Naturally, I got distracted and began researching the beast fables that provided Orwell with some of the background literary inspiration for his work. I had grown up with the fairy tales and beast fables collected by the Brothers Grimm. As I got older, I became familiar with the tales told by Aesop, and later beast fables created by Kipling and others. 

Three Ways of Looking at Individualism: Freedom in Association

by Bill Glod

Sometimes defenders of individualism are accused of “atomism”. I’m not really sure what that term means because skeptics, if they define it at all, rarely define it in a way that reflects what serious defenders of individualism claim. Defenders are often charged with preaching selfishness, materialism, anti-socialness, and lack of empathy or support for the larger community outside perhaps one’s narrow band of kin and friends. However, most defenders I’m aware of acknowledge that much of who we are is inherited from our culture and is path dependent on the order of our life experiences. Moreover, in order to live good lives, people could not at all be atomistic in the ways critics allude.

Addison's Cato: How a Dead Roman Brought Two Parties Together

by Caroline Breashears

In his Dictionary (1755), Samuel Johnson famously defines "Tory" as "One who adheres to the antient constitution of the state, and the apostolic hierarchy of the church of England." For the rival "Whig" party, he could summon only five words: "The name of a faction."  

Property and Justice: An OLL Book Discussion

by Sarah Skwire

I recently had the chance to sit down with Jacob Levy and Aeon Skoble to talk about Billy Christmas's new book Property and Justice: A Liberal Theory of Natural Rights. Its carefully drawn argument about the connections among property rights, justice, and natural rights make for complex reading, but Property and Justice is a book that comes alive in the discussion. 

Josiah Child, John Locke, and the Value of Hands

by Eric Mack

Here is what may be regarded as a footnote to Eric Schliesser’s Reading Room essay, “The Encyclopedie, Trade, and the Jews” (1/25/2022) -- in particular, to Schliesser’s discussion of the late seventeenth century economic thinker, Josiah Child’s A New Discourse of Trade (1693). Schliesser points to Child’s endorsement of a policy of welcoming foreigners and their stock (i.e., their capital) into one’s society for the sake of enhancing its wealth. 

OLL's March Birthday: Gustave de Molinari (March 3, 1819 – January 28, 1912)

By Peter Mentzel

This month’s featured birthday anniversary is the Franco-Belgian economist and social scientist Gustave de Molinari.  Over the course of his long life, he wrote numerous books and essays in which he argued that the forces of the free market could take care of most human demands, not only for goods, but also for services, including most of those provided by the State.  Though he never called himself such, he thus emerged as a kind of proto-anarchocapitalist. 

Three Ways of Looking at Individualism: Freedom in Agency

by Bill Glod

In Anarchy, State, and Utopia Robert Nozick asks readers to imagine that we could connect ourselves to “experience machines”. These devices could manipulate our brains into believing an entirely virtual reality where we can vividly experience our wildest dreams as if they were really happening. We wouldn’t even be aware that we were in a virtual space – our memories of connecting with it are erased, and so the space would be indistinguishable from reality in our minds.

In The Reading Room with Plato, and Some Politicians

By Aeon J. Skoble

In previous columns, I’ve discussed Plato’s grand allegory of the city-that-is-the-soul.  If we imagine a city of perfect justice, and figure out what would have to be true of it in order for it to be just, then we’d have an idea of how to cultivate justice in ourselves as an individual virtue.  That many things in his description of the city are unrealistic turns out not to have any damaging effect on the lessons the allegory imparts about how we can live better lives.  So that fact that, for instance, we aren’t likely to find rulers who are perfectly wise and just and who care only about justice and truth doesn’t mean we as individuals shouldn’t strive to be lovers of wisdom, lovers of the real as opposed to the apparent or superficial.  The fact that it’s hard to imagine literally everyone both loving their job and being excellent at it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to moderate our passions and cultivate a measure of rational self-control.

The Return of Oral Story-telling: a review of Critical Role’s The Legend of Vox Machina

by Nathaniel Birzer

From Homer to the medieval romances, the tradition of telling tales aloud to an audience around a fire, either read from a book or performed from memory by a bard, has long been a part of the Western literary tradition, as has the wide variety of tones in which these tales can be told, from the uplifting and meditative of an epic like The Odyssey to the raucous and crowd-pleasing Miller’s Tale of Chaucer

A Novel Education

Date: 5 March, 2022
To: Garth Bond
Subject: Dangerous Reading Room Liaisons

The Magic of Merchants in The Arabian Nights

by Garth Bond

In a previous visit to the Reading Room, I made a case for The Arabian Nights as an anti-epic embodying the commercial values of medieval and early modern Islamic silk road merchants. Today, I want to talk a bit about the actual representations of merchants and commercial culture in the work.

Three Scottish Writers You've Probably Never Heard Of But May Want To Discover

by Tracey S. Rosenberg

The Scottish Enlightenment is a vital part of the history of liberty. The works of Hutcheson, Carmichael, and Smith are foundational to the discussion of a free society. But the Scottish conversation about liberty did not end in the 18th century. Here are three Scottish writers who engage with questions of liberty, education, and responsibility, and whose work is well worth exploring.

America without Black Americans

by Steve Ealy

On April 6, 1970, Time magazine published a special issue devoted to “Black America 1970,” which provided a sweeping survey of contemporary Black life in terms of residential patterns, medicine, psychological and sociological issues, the treatment of race in the press, religion, sports, business, education, and the arts. The issue’s final item was a riveting essay by Ralph Ellison, “What America Would Be Like Without Blacks.” The “vision of a lily-white America” was a ”fantasy” that Ellison linked to its twin, “the illusion of secession.” What ties these two ideas together for Ellison is that they each “become operative whenever the nation grows weary of the struggle toward the ideal of American democratic equality.”

OLL's February Birthday: Thomas Paine (February 9, 1737 – June 8, 1809)

by Peter Mentzel

This month’s featured birthday anniversary is the Anglo-American author and political activist Thomas Paine. Best known for his tremendously influential Rights of Man, he wrote many other important books and pamphlets, while also being a tireless supporter of the American and French Revolutions.

From the Publishing Department: Smyth Sewing

by Dan Kirklin

“Of making many books there is no end,” said Ecclesiastes, but there have long been limits placed on their number by technology. The earliest books were scrolls, sheets of papyrus, vellum, or parchment glued together into a long single strip and rolled into cylinders, one at a time. In the first century of the common era, the Roman poet Martial extolled the virtues of the codex, in which pages were bound together along one edge, essentially the form of the modern book. Paper was first invented in China in the second century BCE, and the technology spread to the Islamic world in the eighth century CE. Muslims brought papermaking to Europe during the eleventh century. Vellum and parchment continued to be used for important documents for centuries to come, but its relative cheapness gave paper a strong advantage for most works.