The State

Author: Murray Rothbard 13 March 2013

Murray Rothbard (1926-95) was a prolific scholar who played a key role in the formation of a consciously libertarian intellectual and political movement. He staked out a radical position within libertarian scholarship, arguing that individual rights were absolute and that all goods and services, including law and justice, could be provided without coercive government. He published books in the fields of economics (Man, Economy, and State and Power and Market), political philosophy (The Ethics of Liberty), history (four volumes of Conceived in Liberty), and contemporary policy (For a New Liberty). In this excerpt from For a New Liberty he argues that the state is “the supreme, the eternal, the best organized aggressor against persons and property.”

You are a man, and so am I

Author: Frederick Douglas 10 March 2013

Frederick Douglass (c. 1817-95) escaped from slavery in 1838 and became a prominent abolitionist speaker and editor of the North Star. In these selections from three essays—“Letter to His Old Master,” “The Nature of Slavery,” and his 1852 Fourth of July Oration in Rochester, New York—he argues that slavery “destroys the central principle of human responsibility” and that the Constitution nowhere sanctions this odious institution.

On Equality and Inequality

Author: Ludwig von Mises 02 March 2013

From at least the time of the Levellers, libertarians have firmly defended the equal rights of all individuals. But the very term “Levellers” was a libel by their aristocratic opponents. The so-called Levellers did not want to level society, to abolish private property in order to bring about absolute equality; they wanted only to take away legal privileges and make men equal before the law. The chimera of equality has been a mainstay of socialist visionaries. Libertarians have understood that people have different talents and interests. That makes the division of labor both necessary and productive; and in turn the division of labor means that some people will prove better at satisfying the wants of others and will thus profit more in the marketplace. We cannot have a complex economy, in which people can develop their unique talents, without finding that people will achieve unequal results. But, as Ludwig von Mises points out in this selection, in precapitalist societies stronger or more ambitious men got ahead by subjugating and exploiting others; capitalism encourages the talented to prosper by “vying with one another in serving the masses” in order to make money. Mises (1881-1973) was a towering figure in the history of libertarianism and of twentieth-century economics.

Of Individuality

Author: John Stuart Mill 02 March 2013

Mill’s concept of individuality in On Liberty was greatly influenced by the German author Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835), in his book The Sphere and Duties of Government, written in 1792 but published in 1851. (Humboldt’s book has also been published in English as The Limits of State Action.) As Mill notes here, Humboldt emphasized the individual’s need to develop his own character and personality. In order to flourish, individuals need two things: freedom and a wide variety of circumstances or living arrangements so that people can find the circumstances that are best for them.

Justice and Beneficience

Author: Adam Smith 02 March 2013

Adam Smith (1723-90) is best known as the father of modern economics, but he was a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. His first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), makes clear that the common view of Smith as an advocate of self-interest and obsessive capital accumulation is entirely wrong. In fact, he tried to understand human motivations, including both self-interest and sympathy with others, and offered the metaphor of the Impartial Spectator by which we all weigh the justice and morality of our actions. He urges a balance between the virtues of prudence, justice, and benevolence. In these excerpts from The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he explains why benevolence is desirable but justice is essential to civil society and how we measure our behavior in the eyes of others.

Interest Rightly Understood

Author: Alexis de Tocqueville 24 December 2012

In this selection Tocqueville discusses the ways that self-interest “rightly understood” disciplines people “in the habits of regularity, temperance, moderation, foresight, [and] self-command.”

WHEN THE WORLD was managed by a few rich and powerful individuals, these persons loved to entertain a lofty idea of the duties of man. They were fond of professing that it is praiseworthy to forget oneself, and that good should be done without hope of reward, as it is by the Deity himself. Such were the standard opinions of that time in morals.

The Inequality of freedom, The non-freedom of equality

Author: Academic speech of Milen Velchev 24 December 2012

Mr. Chancellor,

Dear Professors and students,

Ladies and Gentleman,

Let me address all of you to express my thanks for the high honor I was granted today by being bestowed the honorable title “doctor honoris causa” of the University of National and World Economy. I most sincerely thank the Academic Council of UNWE for the tribute it has given to one of its alumni- proud, happy, and honestly moved by the possibility to acquire the most valuable tribute for his work and progress from his University.

Understanding Can Not Be Compelled

Author: John Locke 07 September 2012

Libertarianism is often seen primarily as a philosophy of economic freedom, but its historical roots are perhaps more firmly planted in the struggle for religious toleration. From the early Christians who developed theories of toleration in the face of Roman persecution to the observers of the happy Dutch experience with toleration in the seventeenth century, proto-libertarians argued that each person has “a property in his conscience” into which the state should not intrude. John Locke (1632-1704) argued both that “liberty of conscience is every man’s natural right” and that truth would emerge from religious pluralism. This selection is drawn from his Letter Concerning Toleration, published in 1689.

The Liberty Of The Ancients Compared With That Of The Moderns

Author: Benjamin Constant 07 September 2012

Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) was a prominent French liberal in the postrevolutionary era. He served in the chamber of deputies and helped to shape a parliamentary opposition along the English model. In his political writings he examined the nature of liberty and in particular the differences between the liberty of the ancient city-states and the individual liberty suitable to modern commercial society. He sympathized with the longing for the ancient forms but believed that modernity was both preferable and inevitable. In this essay, delivered as a speech in 1833, he argues that the ancient concept of liberty as political participation was not suited to modern society, in which people were busy with the production of wealth. Modern people want autonomy, the freedom to live their lives as they choose, more than full-time participation in politics. This essay has been enormously influential in the development of Continental liberalism, but it was until recently known in the English-speaking world almost exclusively through the influence it had on the Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin.

Liberty is not a means to a political end. It is itself the highest political end.

Lord Acton

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