• 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.

I believe that every individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so far as it in no way interferes with any other men’s rights.

Abraham Lincoln

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