Category Archive: Philosophers

  1. Liberalism reconstructed for a world divided

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    So 2016 is limping to an end with an assassination of an ambassador, another “inspired” attack on innocents at a Christmas market, and the formal election of a master crony-capitalist to the office of the presidency of the United States.  We have angry tweets, mean tweets, and self-congratulatory tweets defining our age.  But our age requires something different.

    The liberal project must be reconstructed for a world divided by ethnic, linguistic, religious, nationalist, and economic class.  The liberal project has always been an evolving project, not fixed in time.  It has taken on different meanings at different historical junctures.  Now is no different, and to do the necessary reconstruction, there must be no divide between the humanities and the social sciences.  Philosophy without economics is daydreaming, and economics without philosophy has no purpose, and both without politics are sterile intellectual exercises.

    In this reconstruction, we may draw inspiration from Smith and Hume, Mises and Hayek, Friedman and Buchanan, Nozick, etc., but repeating their answers to the problems of their day will not work.  We live in the post-colonial and post-communist era, where the neoconservative project of a ‘world order’ has only exacerbated the social tensions that define our age.

    This post is designed for one purpose — to encourage young scholars of classical liberalism — be they philosophers, political scientists, economists, historians, sociologists, etc. — to pick up this challenge and apply all their talents to be students of our civilization.  If the best and the brightest don’t pick up the challenge because of academic conformity methodologically, analytically, ideologically, then the necessary reconstruction will not occur.  Note I am not saying “restatement”, I am saying reconstruction.

    My career as an academic political economist began with studying the history, collapse and transition from socialism in the former Soviet Union, it then switched to the institutional lessons to be learned from the failure of development planning in Africa, Latin America and Asia.  This has led to studies on economic calculation and complex coordination; institutional infrastructure and economic development; endogenous rule formation and analytical anarchism; and social epistemology and comparative institutional analysis.  But, these are at best inputs into a study that seeks to addresses the problems that plague our world and the reconstructed liberal project.

    We have serious problems that require serious attention.  Let’s get to work.

    This piece was originally published at Coordination Problem.

  2. Schools of thought in classical liberalism

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    Classical liberals all agree that government should be limited, but they disagree about how they get to that conclusion. I want to approach these differences by looking at three different questions that anyone concerned about the role of government should care about.

    1. What is the methodology or the philosophy that will determine what the role of government is?
    2. Why should government be limited? Should it be limited because of the consequences of government actions or because people have natural rights?
    3. What is the legitimate role of government? What should governments do, and what should government not do?

    I’m going to ask those three questions with reference to five different schools of thought. All these schools are classical liberal, and all believe that liberty is the most important political value, but they disagree on these three fundamental questions.

    Milton Friedman and the Chicago School

    Methodology

    The Chicago School of Economics approached the questions above by using an empirical methodology. That is, they were all about testing the power of theories.

    To test a theory, the Chicago School economists would present a hypothesis (e.g. if you increase the minimum wage, lower-skilled workers will find it more difficult to find employment) and test it with empirical evidence.

    Why Limited Government?

    The Chicago School believe that there is such a thing as market failure—markets sometimes fail—but that there’s also such a thing as government failure. And they claim that usually government failure is much greater than market failure.

    In much public debate about the role of government, politicians will identify a market failure and assume that a perfect government can come in and solve that problem. The Chicago School says that’s not right. We need to compare imperfect markets, with all the imperfections they have, with imperfect government, with all of their imperfections. The Chicago School believes that when you do these two things, government failure is usually much greater than market failure.

    Underlying this claim is the observation that there is a gap between the intentions of policymakers and the actual results of what they advocate. Sometimes policies even lead to the opposite to that of which was intended. For example, the idea of rent control is to provide more housing opportunities for poor people. But by reducing the price of rental property, you actually reduce the supply of rental property, which makes it more difficult for poor people to find housing. It has the opposite effect to what’s intended.

    And why is there this gap between intentions and consequences? The Chicago School argues it’s because of policymakers’ failure to take into account the importance of self-interest in explaining peoples’ behavior. They ignore human nature.

    Then there are many other government policies that, while they might actually achieve their intended goals, also have negative, unintended consequences. For example, some people do benefit from raising the minimum wage, but large numbers of people can’t get jobs at all because of it. And so we need to compare both the positive consequences, which were intended, and the negative, unintended consequences.

    Role of Government

    Milton Friedman identifies four main areas of government responsibility.

    1. Protection: We need a military to provide us with defense against our foreign enemies and a police force to protect us from criminals.
    1. Administration of justice: If you live in a society with other people, people will inevitably come into conflict with one another. One possible way of resolving any sort of conflict is by beating up the other person. Presumably, though, we don’t want to live in a society where every time there is a disagreement, we try and have a physical fight with the other person. So we want some neutral arbiter that is not connected with either side to say who was right and who was wrong. It’s the job of the government to provide courts for this service
    1. Public Goods and Negative Externalities: There are some things that the marketplace simply cannot provide satisfactorily, and the government has a role in providing them.Public goods have two characteristics. One, you can’t exclude people from benefiting from them. And two, they are “nonrival”, meaning the fact that I consume more of it does not mean that you have less of the product.

      The classic example of a public good is defense. Suppose that I didn’t want to pay my taxes towards defense. The problem is a) that the American military are going to defend me whether I want it to or not. I can’t be excluded from American defense. And b) it’s nonrival. The protection of me doesn’t mean any less protection for anyone else. This would not work in a voluntary system because people would simply not contribute to public goods, preferring to free-ride.

      Negative externalities occur when interactions between people have consequences for third parties. The classic case of that is pollution, where my production of a good produces pollution, which then affects the people who live in my neighborhood. The Chicago School says that we need some way of controlling these negative externalities.

      More controversially, Milton Friedman argued that the poor are a negative externality. We don’t want to live in a society where there are people begging and starving on the streets. Therefore, Friedman argues for some form of social safety net.

    1. Protecting the irresponsible: The classic case of where it is appropriate for government to care for those who cannot look after themselves is children. Normally we can allow parents to make these decisions, but we still have to keep an eye. Not all adults treat children properly.

    The Chicago School approach to the role of government is often called the Social Market Approach. Friedman believes that while governments do have some responsibilities, they should use market mechanisms as much as possible to achieve these ends. So, for example, it is a responsibility of government to make sure every child is educated, but that does not mean that government has to provide the schools. Government could give vouchers or support private schooling. While government has a social responsibility, it doesn’t necessarily have to directly provide in order to meet that social responsibility.

    The Public Choice School

    Methodology

    The approach of the School of Public Choice to the question of how we decide the role of government is to look for a “social contract”. Supposing you’ve got rational individuals together and they had to decide what they would do, how would they set up a form of government? What would they universally agree upon?

    Public Choice scholars start with the question of what would happen if we had no state at all. They believe it would look something like English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s “state of nature”. Hobbes said that life without a government is “nasty, brutish, and short.” Without a government, humans could basically do three things: produce things, steal other people’s things, or spend time protecting their things.

    Because life in the state of nature wouldn’t be very pleasant, it would be in the self-interest of everyone to create a body that would protect the things that we produce. With a protective government body, we could spend a lot more energy producing things. We would be wealthier. We wouldn’t need to spend so many resources protecting ourselves. So it’s argued that rational individuals, thinking about what sort of government they would want, would create a government whose responsibility was to protect our life and property.

    Why Limited Government?

    In economics, we assume that people are motivated by their own self-interest, and Public Choice scholars say that people behave exactly the same way in the political realm as they do in the economic realm.

    What their self-interest drives them to do, however, may not be the same. In economics, we tend to look for income and wealth to identify people’s self-interest. In politics, your self-interest is getting elected and reelected to public office. Politicians do that by promising goodies to particular groups. Vote for me, and I will protect your Social Security! Vote for me, and I will reduce your student loans! Vote for me, and I will support your farms! So it’s in the vested self-interest of politicians to promise goodies to particular groups within society.

    Government bureaucrats are also self-interested. It’s in the interest of bureaucrats to have a bigger government. The more government there is, the more income they probably have and the more power they have. The bigger their offices are.

    Interest groups are self-interested as well. They look to manipulate government to work to their benefit. To use an economic term, they are rent-seekers. They try to get the rules written in such a way that makes it more difficult, for example, for a competitor to enter into the market and compete with them.

    So the problem for the Public Choice School is that most political actors have a vested interest in growing government well beyond what people agree on in the social contract. That’s why they think government needs to be limited—to prevent it from going well beyond what the proper role of government should be.

    Role of Government

    So what should the role of government be in that context? It’s often described as the public goods state. The public goods state has two responsibilities.

    1. Protection: It should protect individual rights, especially our property.
    2. Production: It needs to provide public goods and deal with externalities

    It is not the responsibility of the state—public choice argues—to have any form of welfare state; that goes well beyond the social contract.

    So why does government tend to grow far beyond that which people would reasonably agree to under the social contract? For example, why does the federal government in the United States do so much more than the limited and enumerated powers established in the U.S. Constitution? The public choice school explains this with the concept of concentrated benefits and dispersed cost. That is, the benefits of a government program concentrate in the hands of a relatively small number of people while the costs of those programs are spread out among a larger group of people.

    Let’s take agricultural policy for example. Only about 3 percent of the population in the United States is engaged in agriculture. 97 percent are not. But when it comes to deciding agricultural policy, these 3 percent, they really, really care about it. It would determine who they vote for. It would determine who they campaign for. It would determine who they will give money for.

    The 3 percent would throw cow manure over politicians who don’t support agricultural subsidies and tariffs that make it difficult to import food from outside the United States. The 97 percent of us all lose by this. We lose because we pay higher taxes to subsidize this. We lose because the tariffs mean that we pay more for the food we buy in the supermarkets.

    You would think that, in a democracy, a policy that is in the interest of 3 percent and against the interest of 97 percent would fail. But every attempt to do away with these agriculture supports has failed. And that’s because those who really care about it really care about it. They’re active on the issue.

    The rest of us, the population who loses by it, don’t even think about agricultural policy. But even if we did think about it, the losses for each one of us amount to only a couple of dollars a week. We’re not going to get politically active on that issue. So when it comes to debating agricultural policy, it’s the small 3 percent that determine what those policies should be. According to public choice, this is true of most government laws and programs. It is driven by the small number of people, by the concentrated beneficiaries of that policy, and not at all by those who pay the costs—consumers and tax payers.

    The Austrian School

    Methodology

    The Austrian School of economics actually approaches limited government with two different methodologies, propounded by the two leading Austrian School figures—Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.

    When arguing for limited government, Friedrich Hayek tends to emphasize the limits of knowledge and reason. He’s much more willing to give deference to tradition, to how social and legal rules have evolved over a period of time. So, for example, he’s much more interested in the concept of a spontaneous order, how we come to work together without any central planner that tells us how we should behave. He’s interested in the common law, how traditional law has developed over the ages.

    Hayek is cautious about self-evident proofs that, for example, the Founders of the United States Constitution examined. He thinks that much of the order that we do see in society was the result of human action, but not of human design. Take the English language, for example: no group or institution decided this is what the English language was meant to be; it’s something that has naturally evolved over time. But we recognize what the rules of the language are, and we can live with those sorts of rules.

    Ludwig von Mises had a totally different approach. He adopts what’s called a priori deductive reasoning. He believes that we can identify certain truths about human behavior, what he calls axioms, and that we can discover these axioms through our experience and through the use of reason:

    1. Human action is purposeful. That is, humans seek to achieve certain goals. Actions are neither random nor predetermined. We can identify what people’s goals are and what it is they’re trying to achieve through their actions.
    2. Individuals are the only actors. The technical term for this is “methodological individualism”. In so much political debate, we tend to say, “France does this” or “London does that.” Of course, it’s not all the French people acting, but a small number of ministers at the top of the French government deciding to act. Actions are only conducted by individuals; they’re not conducted by broad groups.
    1. Value is in the eye of the beholder. This is the so-called “subjective theory of value”. That is, things do not have value in themselves, but only that to which people attribute to it. For example, I think rap is crap, but some people like rap. Some people think it’s a good thing. There’s no objective value to rap.

    You often hear a criticism of economists that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. But that assumes that we can know what the value is of something. But that is impossible. The value for the same thing can be different for different people.

    Mises argues that simply using our reason, we can identify these axioms or these truths.

    Why Limited Government?

    Now, Mises and Hayek tend to agree about why government should be limited: because government policymakers lack the knowledge to:

    1. Understand what the goals are of regular people.
    2. Work out what the best means are for people to achieve these goals.

    That’s why the Soviet Union collapsed. It wasn’t able to know what people wanted, and even if it did, it wouldn’t know how to achieve those wants. The Austrian School takes a consequentialist view—that the consequences of government action are often bad.

    Role of Government

    When it comes to the question about the role of the state though, Hayek and Mises again diverge. Hayek says the criteria for deciding what government should do is what he calls the “rule of law”, by which he means that there are certain general principles that we should apply to any government action or any piece of legislation. In the United States, for example, the Supreme Court will often look at the law passed by Congress and signed by the president and strike it down under the U.S. Constitution.

    Hayek argues that every society should have general principles that we should apply to every government action and every citizen, without exception. But in America, it’s very common for the U.S. Congress to pass a law which applies to everyone but themselves.

    A classic example is the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law says that all buildings need to adjust in a certain way to enable disabled access. During the debate on the bill, however, they realized it would cost the U.S. Congress hundreds of millions of dollars to adapt Capitol Hill to meet those standards. So they excluded themselves from that bill. That’s an example of inequality before the law.

    Another example would be earmarks, where government offers money to a particular company in a particular way. Hayek argues that this should be considered illegitimate because it goes against the rule of law.

    Hayek does believe that some form of limited welfare state can be justified by following the rule of law. Ludwig van Mises, however, concludes that there should only be a minimal state. That is, the job of government is solely and exclusively to guarantee the protection of life, health, liberty, and private property. There’s no role for the welfare state—only a minimal state.

    Natural Rights

    America has a strong tradition of natural rights going back to the American founding. They were strongly influenced by the ideas of John Locke, who believed these natural rights came from God. And we saw that expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

    Perhaps two of the most famous natural rights thinkers in the classical liberal tradition are Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick. Ayn Rand is famous for being a novelist, but she also wrote lots of philosophy. She is probably best known for her book Atlas Shrugged. Robert Nozick was a Harvard philosopher who wrote a famous book called Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

    Methodology

    Rand is associated with what she called “objectivism”. She believed that there was an objective reality and an objective morality, that we can discover reality and morality by the use of reason. We know that it is in the nature of man to want to live, to want to survive. In order for people to live, in order for people to survive, they have to have certain natural rights. That is, natural rights exist for the goal or purpose of human beings. This is called a “teleological” explanation.

    Robert Nozick also believed in natural rights. He believed that by pursuing rational self-interest, you would not violate the natural rights of others. He assumed that rights exist and examined the consequences of that assumption. In this view, natural rights takes a so-called “deontological” approach. Natural rights tell us the limits of what we should do. For example, “thou shall not kill” is a clear moral principle that tells us that we should protect the rights of people not to be killed.

    Why Limited Government?

    Rand and Nozick both agree that the problem with government is that it violates our natural rights. It is immoral to use force to obtain your goals. Capitalism, they argue, is the only moral economic system. It is based on voluntary exchange—not coercion.

    Role of Government

    According to both Rand and Nozick, the ideal government is a minimal state whose sole purpose is to protect our natural rights. Nozick specifies that there should be a minimal state against force, theft, and fraud. He also argues that the enforcement of contracts is justified. Anything beyond that role is illegitimate because it violates people’s rights.

    He also talks about defending capitalist acts between consenting adults. As long as the people involved are agreeing voluntarily, they should be allowed to do whatever they want to do. The result of this is that the state should only be designed to protect us. So the state should provide a military to defend us. It should provide a police to defend us against criminals. It should provide a court to avoid conflict between people. And that is it. There’s no justification for any form of government beyond that, such as a welfare state.

    Anarcho-Capitalism

    So now we’re going to look at Murray Rothbard, David Friedman, and the anarcho-capitalists. Murray Rothbard is famous for his book For a New Liberty. David Friedman, Milton Friedman’s son, wrote a book called The Machinery of Freedom.

    Methodology

    Murray Rothbard defended his anarchist position on the basis of natural rights. In that sense, he was similar to Rand and Nozick. But he was also strongly influenced by Mises and the Austrian School, and he developed what he called the “non-coercive axiom” or the “non-coercive truth”: that it is always wrong to use force except in self-defense. Rothbard argues that this is the principle we should use to establish what government should do.

    David Friedman approaches anarchism from a different point of view: empirical analysis. He compares the relative efficiency of leaving things to the market with the relative efficiency of leaving it to the government.

    And while Rothbard and Friedman used two very different methodologies—one based on natural rights and one based on consequences—they both believe there should be no state at all.

    Why Limited Government?

    The classic definition of a state comes from German sociologist Max Weber. A state is an institution which claims a monopoly of a legitimate use of force over a given territory. So within a society that a government covers, nobody but the government is allowed to use force.

    Rothbard criticized this because he said that this means that governments violate our rights. They obtain what they want through coercive means. If we don’t do what the government wants, they will throw us in prison. So, for example, he says that taxation is theft. If somebody came along and took 25 percent or 40 percent of our income and said “if you don’t give it to me I’m going to put you in jail,” we would call that person a thief and a criminal. Rothbard asks why we behave any differently when it’s the state that demands 25 percent or 40 percent of our income.

    David Friedman, taking his efficiency approach, says the state is inevitably inefficient—that the market is always going to be more efficient than government. Friedman argues that the market can even provide things that most people assume that only government can do—like defense or provision of roads—most efficiently.

    So they conclude that the best society is one of anarchy, one without any government at all. According to Rothbard, government is illegitimate—it has no specific moral claim on us or our property. And according to Friedman, it’s inefficient—it cannot provide the goods and services that the market is able to provide at a lower cost.

    Role of Government

    Both Rothbard and Friedman argue that we tend to forget that there are often private solutions to public problems. For example, there are more people employed in the private security sector than employed by the police force. Most people are protected by private institutions not the police. We just tend to ignore that. We ignore the fact that many disputes between businesses don’t go to our state courts. In fact, many business disputes are settled in private arbitration courts because state courts are so slow; they’re so inefficient; they’re so unreliable. Many businesses will prefer to use private arbitration agencies to do this.

    They also argue that even if you believe in the idea of a minimal state, if you create a minimal state it will never stay minimal. It will be unstable. And it will most likely grow and grow and grow. This is why they favor anarchism—no state whatsoever.

    Conclusion: What’s Your View?

    So what’s your view about what the role of government should be? What’s your criteria for deciding what you think government should do? What’s your methodology? What’s your philosophy?

    Why do you think government should be limited? Do you think it should be limited because of the consequences of government action? Do you think it should be limited because government infringes on your natural rights?

    And what do you think the role of government should be? Do you think there’s no role for government? Are you an anarchist? Do you believe the role of government should be minimal—that it should only provide the army, the police, and the courts but nothing else? Do you believe that there are certain public goods like defense, like dealing with externalities such as the environment? Do you believe that there’s a social-market economy, that there is a responsibility for dealing with the poorest within society? That we need some sort of basic welfare state such as making sure every child can go to school?

    Or do you believe in non-classical liberal views about the role of the state? Is it the job of the state to promote a virtuous society, as some conservatives would argue? Do you think it’s the job of the state to create equality, as many people would argue on the left.

    Are you a socialist? Do you believe that the government should either own or control all aspects of the economy? Or are you—I hope not—a totalitarian, a fascist, or a communist who believes that the government should control every aspect of life?

    The question is—what’s your view about the role of government?

  3. Getting Good Results vs Doing the Right Thing

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    Would you tell a lie to protect someone from harm? Would you sign off on torture to prevent a bomb attack? If you want to look into the ethical aspects of personal and political decisions, you need to start with the basics, and one of the most basic ideas in moral philosophy is the distinction between consequentialism and deontology. These two schools of ethics identify different aspects of decisions as morally important, and lead to very different ways of looking at ethical issues — including freedom and liberty.

    Consequentialism

    Consequentialism tells us to judge decisions by the goodness of their outcomes (or consequences). If there are two (or more) options to choose from, the one with the better (or best) outcome is the morally right choice to make. This is too vague, however, because it doesn’t tell us what about outcomes makes one choice “better” than others. Once we narrow down what “good” or “better” means, we get specific versions of consequentialism based on a particular definition of goodness.

    The most well-known version of consequentialism is utilitarianism, which picks out the ethical choice according to the overall “utility” (roughly, happiness or well-being) it creates. A key aspect of utilitarianism is that overall utility is the sum of each individual’s utility, which implies that each individual’s utility counts exactly as much as everyone else’s. This lends utilitarianism an intrinsic sense of moral equality that was very controversial in the 18th and 19th centuries when Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, both social reformers, popularized it.

    (Not all forms of consequentialism have this property; for instance, prioritarianism recommends placing more weight on the less advantaged in society so they receive more policy attention than utilitarianism would give them.)

    One problem that many people find with utilitarianism — and consequentialism in general — is that it can recommend actions that seem to violate commonsense morality. While acts like lying and cheating would normally be held by utilitarians to be immoral because they usually end up leading to bad outcomes, utilitarians may regard individual cases of both to be good if they lead to good outcomes in those specific cases — and as we all know, it’s very easy to think of situations where this seems to be the case. At the same time, though, we tend to think that lying and cheating, regardless of the outcomes they might generate in specific cases, are simply wrong.

    Deontology

    This is the kind of judgment that a deontologist would make. Deontology finds moral value in an act itself rather than the outcome it leads to. Deontology is usually expressed in rules, principles, or duties that proclaim certain acts to be moral or not.

    For example, most deontologists would regard lying and cheating to be wrong as a matter of principle, regardless of whether they led to better outcomes in select cases. (A version of utilitarianism known as rule utilitarianism also makes general judgments about actions, but based on their usual outcomes rather than the moral nature of the actions themselves.)

    As with consequentialism, there are numerous varieties of deontology, but by far the most commonly cited is that of Immanuel Kant, who grounded his duty-based system of ethics in the autonomy and dignity of the person and the respect they demand from all persons (as well as the government). To Kant, lying is wrong because it uses those being lied to merely as a means to the ends of the liar, without considering those being lied to as valuable in themselves. This determination is based on Kant’s infamous categorical imperative, a formula for generating duties, while W.D. Ross, another prominent deontologist, held that duties were based on simple intuitions about right and wrong.

    Of course, deontology has its share of critics too. Just as consequentialists can ignore strong moral intuitions about right and wrong, deontologists can stand too firm on rules and duties and be insensitive to actual harm, as reflected in the Latin phrase fiat justitia ruat cælum: “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.” Sometimes maintaining a principled stand can be too costly, at which point consequences demand to be considered.

    This consideration is included in threshold deontology, which says to reconsider rules and duties when the costs reach a dangerously high level. (Think of the “ticking bomb” scenario cited in debates about torture, which is often proposed to outweigh deontological rules against the practice.)

    The Good versus the Right

    Despite their differences, consequentialists and deontologists do agree on many things, such as the immorality of lying, stealing, and killing. More important, however, they do so for different reasons that stem from their unique perspectives.

    For example, a utilitarian may say theft in general is bad because it deprives people of their property and makes them anxious about their security, while a deontologist would say that theft is wrong because it violates property rights, which people have a duty to observe. This difference in perspective is often stated in terms of “the good versus the right,” because when these two ethical schools conflict, it is usually a case which a decision promises better outcomes but violates a duty or principle in the process.

    Consequentialism and deontology are useful not only for looking at personal decisions but also for breaking down the ethics of government policy and societal institutions. For example, the current debate over surveillance can be cast as a conflict between safety (which is an outcome that can be increased) and privacy (which is a principle that has to be maintained).

    This is a quick and easy way to frame the debate, but this is only scratching the surface of a complex issue with consequentialist and deontological elements on both sides.

    Liberty and Ethics

    Both ethical approaches have also been used to support individual liberty, but again for different reasons. Consequentialists focus on the wealth and happiness that free markets and societies create, while deontologists emphasize the greater respect for the rights and dignity of individuals that liberty promotes.

    While both positions can be used to support liberty, they sometimes split on specific policies, such as the proper scope of the state and whether taxes should be optimized or eliminated. Again, the proper extent of liberty is a complex issue that can’t be summarized so easily, but nonetheless it starts with the core issues of the good and the right, stemming from consequentialism and deontology — part of the basics of moral philosophy.

  4. Here are 7 lesser-known classical liberal thinkers for your World Philosophy Day

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    Today is World Philosophy Day, and what better way to celebrate than to give a nod to a few lesser-known philosophers associated with the classical liberal tradition. You may know the Hayeks and Nozicks and Lockes of the world, but have you heard of these seven liberty-loving thinkers?

    1. Herbert Spencer
    Recommended reading: Social Statics

    A polymath, Herbert Spencer was originally known for his writing on biology. He coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” used to describe the process of natural selection. Spencer rose to prominence by extending the lessons of biological evolution to politics and sociology.

    Libertarian historian Brian Doherty writes in his tome Radicals for Capitalism that libertarian political theorist Murray Rothbard once described Spencer’s work Social Statics as “the greatest single work of libertarian political philosophy ever written.” In Social Statics, Spencer writes that one has a moral obligation to support charities, considering them “the highest forms of social evolution.” Spencer was ahead of his time in other ways as well, self-identifying as a “radical feminist” advocating for “complete suffrage” and a “right to ignore the state.”

    2. Benjamin Tucker
    Recommended reading: Individual Liberty

    Benjamin Tucker was a 19th century American writer, editor, and publisher, and a self-proclaimed “individualist anarchist”. Tucker is probably best known for his periodical plainly titled Liberty, which ran for nearly 30 years. Feminist thinker Wendy McElroy would go on to describe Liberty as “widely considered to be the finest individualist-anarchist periodical ever issued in the English language.”

    Liberty would eventually showcase the writings of some of the most influential political thinkers of its time, including fellow individualist anarchist Lysander Spooner as well as English translations of Friedrich Nietzsche. Tucker was influenced by and attempted to synthesize the political theories of Herbert Spencer, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and others. He would describe this philosophical anarchism as “anarcho-socialism” predating Marxist definitions of socialism.

    3. Lysander Spooner
    Recommended reading: No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority

    It’s hard to determine where to begin when discussing Lysander Spooner. There’s his hugely successful first class mail company that successfully competed with the United States Postal Service to the point that the USPS had to lower their cost for postage in order to compete. That is, until Congress passed legislation effectively banning people from competing with the USPS.

    Or perhaps we could talk about his work as an abolitionist? Or as an advocate for women’s suffrage? Spooner’s underratedness is underscored by his forward-thinking nature. A 19th century lawyer, entrepreneur, essayist, pamphleteer, abolitionist, and labor movement-supporting anarchist, Spooner is the personification of everything we love about the rugged individualism of early America. He’s probably best known for his highly quotable essay on the illegitimacy of the U.S. Constitution titled No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority.

    4. Isabel Paterson
    Recommended reading: The God of the Machine

    Isabel Paterson was a journalist, novelist, literary critic, and political philosopher. Canadian born, Paterson became an American citizen later in her life. She got her professional start as an editor for a Washington-based paper but would go on to write a regular column for the New York Herald Tribune where she wrote on a variety of topics, including the Harlem Renaissance, the New Deal, and the Great Depression.

    During her tenure at the Herald Tribune she acted as mentor to an up and coming Ayn Rand. Rand and Paterson became ideological allies, using their platforms to promote the other. Rand described Paterson’s magnum opus The God of the Machine as “the best and most complete statement of the basic principles of our side, and the greatest defense of capitalism I have ever read. It does for capitalism what Das Kapital did for the Reds.”

    5. Gustave de Molinari
    Recommended reading: The Production of Security

    Belgian Gustave de Molinari is the intellectual heir to the philosophy of free trade as espoused by Frederic Bastiat. Shortly before Bastiat’s death in 1850, Molinari published The Production of Security, one of the first works to lay out a theoretical framework for markets as a viable alternative to the coercive state. Murray Rothbard writes in the preface of the 1977 English translation that The Production of Security is the “first presentation anywhere in human history of what is now called anarcho-capitalism.”

    Following the death of Bastiat, Molinari became the leading voice for free markets in France in the latter half of the 19th century. Molinari lives on today as the namesake for the market anarchist Molinari Institute.

    6. William Lloyd Garrison
    Recommended reading: Archive of the The Liberator

    William Lloyd Garrison is best known for his work calling for an end to the institution of slavery in the United States. Garrison was the editor and co-founder of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. He was also one of the co-founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

    Following the abolishment of slavery at the conclusion of the Civil War, Garrison went on to become a major player in the movement for women’s suffrage almost a century before women would finally attain the right to vote.

    7. Auberon Herbert
    Recommended reading: A Politician in Trouble About His Soul

    Auberon Herbert was a 19th century writer, philosopher, and individualist. During his time in Parliament he was an outspoken advocate of secularism, especially as it related to public education. Following political life, he was an avid supporter of the aforementioned Herbert Spencer. He would later dub his Spencerian-like flavor of individualism as “voluntaryism.”

    Ever critical of the political system and the behavior it rewards, Herbert was a vocal critic of political parties. In his best known book, A Politician in Trouble about his Soul, Herbert advocated a radical laissez-faire ideology that argued for “voluntary taxation.” Herbert also started a monthly paper titled The Organ of Voluntary Taxation and the Voluntary State, which ran for 11 years.

    So there you have it. Seven lesser known classical liberal theorists who were united by the common goal of human liberation. The classical liberal tradition is a rich one with a vibrant and diverse cast of individuals dating as far back as the 18th century. Their writings and interactions with one another are woven together over centuries, resulting in a compelling and, in some cases, a surprisingly prophetic argument for individual autonomy. Many of them were the earliest advocates of abolitionism and women’s suffrage, while others were creating theoretical frameworks for anarchist societies well before the First World War.

  5. Yet another comically bad caricature of libertarianism

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    I was eating lunch today, a colleague of mine brought to my attention an article in Jacobin Magazine entitled “A Philosophy for the Propertied” – urging us to reject libertarianism as a utopian fantasy. My first response to my colleague was that I was too busy to make a full response, but then I wrote, “who am I kidding, I’ll have a look.” I predicted, just for fun, that most of what I’d find wrong in the piece would be based on misconception or caricature.

    I was correct. What follows are more than a dozen serious problems with the piece.

    Item 1: “right-wing libertarianism.”  Libertarianism isn’t “right-wing” in any meaningful sense of the term. We’re not hawks. We don’t base our positions on religious fundamentalism. We oppose the surveillance state and indeed all government violations of civil liberties. We oppose all censorship. We oppose the drug war. We were for same-sex marriage, and LGBT equality generally, more than 40 years before the Democratic party got on the bandwagon. We oppose subsidies and bailouts to big business, and indeed special privilege for the well-connected in general. So: Not right-wing.

    Item 2: “What is libertarianism? The question is fraught, and dwelling on it is unlikely to be productive”  Translation: I will deliberately avoid defining it so as to avoid the obvious reply that this is all straw-man and caricature.

    Item 2a:  “To hear them tell it” – no quotations or references follow. At this point I’m already  convinced that the author is arguing deliberately dishonestly, and if I were grading this would be more than halfway to already knowing it’s inadequate: You can’t say “I will now argue against X” and then not quote from X at all.

    Item 2b: “they exalt” – ok, so we’ll paper over cracks in the argument with rhetorical devices. Noted.

    Item 3: “Libertarianism is a species of utopian political thinking.”  Nope. We’re not the ones who imagine that power can be entrusted to people as long as they’re the right people. We’re the ones who try to push for structures in which the damage that venal people can do is minimized. We’re the ones who pay attention to what sorts of incentives are provided by different policies and institutions. Of all the political philosophies, we’re the least utopian. Again, author quotes no one.

    Item 4: “free activity of individuals whose interactions are mediated by the market and uninhibited by anything other than their own volition.” Wrong again. The boundary condition is not one’s own volition, it’s the equal respect for the rights of others. Locke specifically differentiates liberty from licentiousness. Which libertarians say “do whatever you please”?  More evidence that this author is either arguing dishonestly or is unaware of most libertarian thought.

    Item 5: “it can’t solve collective action problems like environmental degradation and global warming.” Actually, many libertarians concern themselves with these issues. “Can’t solve” seems to imply that some other philosophy has some easy solution which we petulantly ignore. But that’s false also. Any purported solution that pretends there are no trade-offs is fantasy. “Just ban x” has a history of being a terrible answer to all such problems. People are whipped into a frenzy about the dangers of x, often falsely, and then the ban on x entails unintended consequences which are often even worse, and frequently create black markets in x.

    Item 6: Halfway through, the one quotation I’ve seen so far is from another article in Jacobin criticizing libertarianism.

    Item 7: Notes that libertarians are skeptical of unfettered democracy – a line of argument that’s as old as Plato, and was responsible for the U.S. Constitution not being characterized by direct democracy. You can spin criticism of democracy as sinister, but it actually is the case that unfettered democracy is not what the framers had in mind, as even a cursory skimming of the Federalist Papers reveals. Pure majoritarianism is indefensible. If the author wants to argue about that, fine, but it’s hardly unique to libertarianism to be skeptical of it. Then: “One popular libertarian solution”  – finally a citation to an actual libertarian author!  No quotes of course, just a link, but the person is actually a living libertarian philosopher, Jason Brennan. But “popular solution” is wrong – the work in question is brand new, and while some libertarians like Brennan’s work others do not (I have not read the book yet myself). So, calling this a “popular solution” tells me first of all that the author is amazingly unfamiliar with libertarian thought, and secondly that he’s picking a particularly controversial new book and presenting it as “they all think this.”

    Item 8: A weird segue into criticizing Habermas and Rawls – who aren’t libertarians.

    Item 9: “Unencumbered by the social commitments of contemporary liberalism, libertarianism quickly goes beyond the depoliticized inertia of deliberative theory and actively advocates the dismantling of institutions that are publicly accountable” Lots of wrong packed in here. The first 5 words are already wrong – libertarianism is profoundly informed by the social aspects of human existence. That’s a concern as old as Smith. But the whole sentence is wrong – it’s not that we should dismantle institutions that are publicly accountable (again who says this?  No one quoted) but that the status quo is generally not composed of such institutions. The grain lobby gets subsidies for its members via the processes we have now – that’s not “public accountability.”

    Item 10: “For libertarian theorists, democratic oversight is an immoral abrogation of individual rights.”  Yes, we do say that – and I’m terrified of people who disagree with it. This is an insight as old as Mill, with roots in Plato. That the majority doesn’t like me doing x is not sufficient justification for using coercion to prevent me doing x. Only if my doing x violates someone else’s equal rights, e.g. by hurting him or her, would coercion be justified.

    Item 11: “Far from denouncing coercion, libertarians celebrate it” – quotes would help. Name one libertarian who celebrates coercion. That’s literally the opposite of what we say. See item 10: coercion is only justified to prevent action that violates the equal rights of others. So, I can’t go hit a person and take his car, although if I tried to do this, that person would be justified in hitting me back to prevent me taking his car. Aggression is bad, self-defense is permissible. That the author would say this is further proof of outright distortion.

    Item 12: “libertarianism is a philosophy concerned with the defense of individual property owners” – says this like it’s a bad thing!  This is precisely what the powerless need – an institutional structure that looks out for them, that regards their rights as no less important than the rights of the rich and powerful. Suzette Kelo lost her home because some wealthy developer wanted it. She needed more, not less, protection of property rights. Also, when we say “property,” we mean (as did Locke) one’s life – we have a property right in ourselves. Eric Garner and Philando Castile needed more, not less, protection of property rights. Where property rights aren’t respected, it is the rich and powerful who benefit – always. You cannot name one society where this isn’t case.

    Item 13: “libertarians advocate for conservatism” – No. See F. A. Hayek’s essay entitled “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    Item 14: “libertarians advocate for capitulation to elites” – where?  It’s getting pretty tiresome noting that none of these claims refer to any actual sources except the reference to Brennan’s new book. Anyway, we don’t advocate capitulating to anyone. We’re the pro-freedom team, the ones with “Don’t Tread on Me” bumper stickers. It’s the impositions of arrogant elites that we reject, not endorse.

    Conclusion: author seems upset about one new book by a libertarian philosophy professor but either has no understanding whatsoever of libertarianism or is afraid of honest argumentation, seeing as how no other sources canonical or otherwise are cited – no Smith, Locke, Mill, Hayek, Nozick – just a bunch of unjustified assertions, straw man, caricature, and deliberate distortion. Sadly, I find this to be the case 90% of the time.

    On the one hand, we have a lot more work to do explaining our ideas about peace, freedom, and prosperity to others. But on the other hand, if opponents either refuse to read what we write or deliberately misrepresent it, what good will it do?  Perhaps more of the former will help counteract the latter.

    This piece was originally published at the Foundation for Economic Education.

  6. Did the Ancient Greeks Believe in Freedom?

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    The ancient Greeks left a wealth of knowledge through their surviving writings on a wide variety of themes, including science, logic, philosophy, literature, and the arts.

    In addition, the city-state of Athens is considered the birthplace of intellectual freedom and democracy – lasting legacies that helped to mold the ideas that have influenced the development of Western civilization.

    But, in comparison, their discussions on economics were often few and almost always relatively unsystematic. A primary reason for this is the fact that, for the ancient Greeks, questions concerning “economics” were considered subservient to other themes considered far more crucial to human life and society.

    For the Greek philosophers and social thinkers, the central themes were questions of “justice,” “virtue,” “the good,” and “the beautiful.” What today we call “economic” questions and problems were relegated to a narrow corner of evaluating how economic institutions and organization could be designed or modified to serve these “higher” ends or goals.

    The Greek View of the Society over the Individual

    An extension of this is the general view that the ancient Greeks had concerning the individual in society. For them, the individual was dependent upon the society in which he was born for all that he could become as a person. That is, the community nurtured and molded the individual into a “civilized” human being.

    The society took precedence, or priority, over the individual. The individual was born, lived, and died. The society and the State, however, they believed, lived on.

    The more modern conception of man as a free, autonomous agent who chooses his own ends, selects his own means to attain his desired ends, and in general lives for himself, was an alien notion to the mind of the ancient Greeks.

    One of the leading defenders of individual liberty in early nineteenth century Europe was the French social philosopher, Benjamin Constant (1767-1830). In 1819, he delivered a famous lecture in Paris on, “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns.

    He said that among the ancient Greeks, such as in the city-state of Athens, “freedom” was understood to mean the right of the free citizen to participate in the political deliberations of city affairs, including speaking, debating, and voting. But once the deliberations were over and a vote was taken, the individual was a “slave” to the majority decisions of his fellow citizens. Explained Constant:

    The aim of the ancients was the sharing of [political] power among the citizens of the fatherland: this is what they called liberty. [But] the citizen, almost always sovereign in public affairs, was a slave in all his private relations.

    As a citizen, he decided peace and war, as a private individual, he was constrained, watched and repressed in all his movements; as a member of the collective body, he interrogated, dismissed, condemned, beggared, exiled, or sentenced to death his magistrates and superiors; as a subject of the collective body he could be deprived of his status, stripped of his privileges, banished, put to death, by the discretionary will of the whole to which he belonged …

    The ancients, as Condorcet says, had no notion of individual rights. Men were, so to speak, merely machines, whose gears and cog-wheels were regulated by the law … The individual was in some way lost in the nation, the citizen in the city.

    Benjamin Constant compared this “liberty of the ancients” with that of the “moderns” – that is, the conception and ideal of liberty popular in his own time in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

    Now, he said, the idea of freedom was the right of the individual to be left alone. The individual was at liberty to guide his own life, choose his own goals, and pursue any ambitions and career that he might want. He could form any interpersonal associations he chose, or could follow his own way by himself.

    Political liberty was an important part of freedom, Benjamin Constant argued. But the essence of liberty for the “moderns” was the right of the individual to live his own life as he desired, with no interference or “dictate” by political minorities or majorities. Constant explained:

    … what an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a citizen of the United States of America understand today by the word ‘liberty.’ For each of them it is the right to be subjected to the laws, and to be neither arrested, detained, put to death or maltreated in any way by the arbitrary will of one or more individuals. It is the right of everyone to express their opinion, choose a profession and practice it, to dispose of property, and even to abuse it; to come and go without permission, and without having to account for their motives or undertakings. It is everyone’s right to associate with other individuals, either to discuss their interests, or to profess the religion which they and their associates prefer, or even simply to occupy their days or hours in a way which is most compatible with their inclinations and whims.

    Slavery Demeaned Honest Labor and Weakened Incentives

    It is also important to remember that Greek society and the ancient Greek economy was based on slave labor. This resulted in two outcomes:

    First, anything involving manual labor, and the common working for a living, as well as the day-to-day dealing in money and the exchanging of goods and services, was considered beneath a cultured and free citizen of a Greek city-state. It distracted the Greek citizen from his first and highest duty: participation and interest in the political, philosophical, and artistic affairs of his city-state. This did not make for an intellectual climate conducive to making questions of economic relationships and institutions a respectable field for serious reflection and thought.

    Second, the use of slave labor diminished any motives or incentives on the part of the thinking, free citizen to concern himself with questions of how to economize and more efficiently use labor. Since, once captured and sold into slavery, a slave could not refuse to work or demand higher wages or better work conditions, or search out better employment opportunities, there was little motive for developing ways to more effectively employ labor through better social or market arrangements.

    This piece by Richard Ebeling was originally published at the Foundation for Economic Education.

  7. John Locke’s Top 5 Radical Political Ideas

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    John Locke turns 384 years old today, making this an unusually appropriate occasion for reflecting upon his legacy as a political philosopher.  Further, because this is the internet, I propose we make a list of, say, five features of Locke’s political thought that remain particularly important for students interested in the liberal tradition.

    Natural Equality

    It is difficult today to imagine a time when the notion of the universal equality of mankind was radical or dangerous—that “all men are created equal” resides first among our self-evident truths.  Yet, for Locke and his contemporaries, little could be more radical or more dangerous than the idea that “Creatures of the same species and rank” should not be born into relations of subjection or domination.  Locke was not the first to articulate the idea of natural equality, of course, but his formulation in the opening pages of the Second Treatise placed equality at the very foundation of liberal political thought.

    Property

    Locke’s theory of property, found primarily in Chapter Five of the Second Treatise, is important and curious in a number of ways.  Because we are obligated to preserve ourselves, because the earth is given to men in common, and, Locke argues, because labor is the means by which we convert the earth into sustenance, we each have a natural right to acquire private property by “mixing” our labor with the earth.  This represents, in the first place, a natural law account of the origin of property and thereby supplies a kind of conceptual brake against the purely conventional accounts of property found in Hobbes and elsewhere.

    More curiously, Locke attaches an individual duty to labor to his conception of good citizenship. Locke writes that God gave the earth to “the Industrious and Rational (and Labour was to be his Title to it).”

    Finally, Locke’s account of property helps flesh out a conception of mankind as, by their very nature, owners—that what it means to be a well-functioning member of society is precisely to administer, protect, and otherwise tend to those things—life, liberty, and material stuff among them—over which one exerts ownership.

    Consent

    In the context of the Second Treatise, the notion of consent functions as a solution to a thorny and longstanding problem: if we are all born equally free and equal—or, put another way, if we are born into a world without natural or divinely-inspired relations of subjection—then how is political authority possible at all? Locke’s answer in the Second Treatise is that legitimate political authority—understood as the power to coerce others without violating their natural rights—can be generated by an act of consent.

    As with our discussion of natural equality, it isn’t easy to imagine a conceptual space in which consent isn’t the primary (if not sole) engine of political legitimacy—we in liberal societies tend to look askance at any relationship considered to be non-consensual or non-voluntary.  The function of consent in Locke’s political thought remains vital to our conceptions of liberal morality.

    Resistance

    Locke’s discussion of the “dissolution” of government does not appear until the final chapter of the Second Treatise, but there’s a real sense in which the question of the right of revolution permeates the entire work. That societies, aggrieved minority groups, and even private individuals might resist government actors (violently, if necessary): this was an altogether new and radical idea in Locke’s day and, arguably, remains so in our own.

    Toleration

    Locke further developed his thoughts on the limits of government power in a subsequent exchange with church authorities on the topic of forced religious uniformity.  In A Letter Concerning Toleration, published in 1689, Locke presents a number of arguments against forced religious conformity.  Two of these are of particular interest: on the one hand, Locke argues that religious faith rests outside the purview of political society—that the religious beliefs of its citizens is not the business of government; on the other hand, he argues, political power refers to physical force, and true belief simply cannot be forced.

    And there you have it—five irresistible reasons to honor Locke’s 384th birthday by picking up the nearest copy of his political works.  So, by all means, mix your labor with these ideas and make them your own!

  8. The Semester Is Over, But Your Intellectual Journey Doesn’t Have to Stop

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    School’s out and summer is here, and it’s a great opportunity to keep learning outside the classroom.

    To that end, Learn Liberty is excited to bring you #HayekandChill, five video series about relevant topics on students’ minds.

    Here’s a quick overview of the subjects we’ll be covering.

    Feel the Bern – Election Issues

    Book Burning 1200X675

    In summer 2016, the upcoming presidential election is top of mind for most Americans. If you want an in-depth understanding about what all of the candidates are talking about, explore our “Election Issues” series, beginning June 21st.

    From criminal justice reform, to terrorism, to student debt, Professor Don Boudreaux cuts through the politicking and the noise to give you a breakdown of 2016’s hottest issues.

    Do the Swanson – The Ideas that Shaped America

    Hayek and Chill Meme 1

    Next up is our America’s Founding series, debuting July 4th, 2016. Learn about the group of rebels responsible for launching a revolution and founding a country – and understand the ideas that our nation was founded upon.

    Hayek and Chill Meme 2

    Throughout the rest of the summer, we’ll be releasing three additional series on the following topics:

    • foreign policy
    • free speech
    • behavioral economics

    The complete, color-coded schedule is below:

    hayekandchillschedule

    Why #HayekandChill?

    Friedrich Hayek loved freedom before it was cool. No, really: the Nobel prize-winning Austrian economist served in WWI and lived through WWII. After watching the failures of centrally planned economies to create peace and prosperity (or even meet basic needs, such as in the USSR), Hayek devoted his career to illustrating how social and economic freedom are necessary for human flourishing.

    In 1946, a Cornell professor named F.A. Harper (known to friends as “Baldy”) left his position at the university after officials banned him from assigning readings to his students from Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom. Realizing the need to promote and protect freedom in academia, Harper founded the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) in 1961.

    IHS still fights for academic freedom today, and in 2011, the organization created Learn Liberty to reach students in a whole new way: through online videos, articles, and programs. For five years we’ve been carrying out F.A. Harper’s vision to create a marketplace of ideas where voices like Hayek’s, advocating peace and prosperity, can be heard.

    So this summer, grab some friends and continue your intellectual journey through #HayekandChill.

    hayekandchill2

  9. 4 Things You Probably Never Knew About John Stuart Mill

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    John Stuart Mill was born exactly 210 years ago (May 21, 1806), and he’s still remembered as one of the most foundational classical liberal philosophers and political economists to this day.

    If you’ve studied Mill at all in your college classes, you probably remember him for his development of utilitarian thought—the idea that anything we do should bring about “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” and that good moral behavior is the best way to achieve happiness for as many people as possible. A moral system is only good, argued Mill, if it can accomplish this end.

    Mill was also a huge advocate of personal liberty (especially with regards to freedom of thought and speech) because he believed that this was crucial to our development and happiness as human beings—after all, we know what is better for us than any government.

    Only by experiencing freedom, Mill argued, would we be capable of achieving morality, happiness, and flourishing in society. The only limit that he wanted to see placed on individuals was preventing us from hurting other people or infringing on the freedoms of others.

    So with that helpful refresher, let’s go a little deeper. Here are some things that you might not have guessed about John Stuart Mill.

    Mill believed in mandatory education.

    Mill himself had a rigourous education, though he was mostly self-taught. By the age of three, he was learning classical Greek, and by age eight, he had mastered Latin.

    He believed that well-educated people are best equipped to conduct themselves in a moral fashion in society, and so he advocated for state exams which all people would have to master up to a certain level.

    Mill was not an advocate for public schooling; he believed that it infringed on people’s freedoms to force them to go to one state-approved set of schools. Instead, he advocated for a voucher system which would give people greater choice in which schools they could go to.

    Mill was not completely laissez-faire.

    Despite his contributions to classical liberal thought, Mill believed in protectionism, certain forms of taxation, and employment regulations. Apparently, whether he thought property rights were a crucial aspect of personal freedom is even debatable.

    Music really frustrated Mill

    When Mill would listen to a piece of music, he would be struck by how limited the patterns of chords were. What if there was a finite number of ways to compose music? What if composers stopped creating original sounds?

    And, applying that to utilitarian thinking, what if the human race did someday achieve universal happiness? What would be left to strive for? Would life be worth living?

    These thoughts profoundly disturbed Mill, culminating in a nervous breakdown when he was in his 20s.

    Mill had to become less goal-oriented to survive.

    The high-achieving, goal-oriented Mill literally drove himself crazy. He wondered what would happen if he achieved all his goals, and he feared the lack of challenge that would come with it.

    He began to heal by realizing that happiness was an emotion, not just an objective list of accomplishments that had been checked off. By taking long walks, spending meaningful time with friends, and developing some hobbies, Mill began to deepen his understanding of happiness and to pull himself out of his dark mental state.

    Did we miss something? Do you know something about John Stuart Mill that we don’t know? Leave your comments below.

     

  10. March Madness: Liberty Edition

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    Liberty lovers have another bracket to fill out and obsess over this March. The Institute for Humane Studies is hosting its own version of March Madness, featuring the top thinkers of the liberty movement.

    The competitors represent four quadrants of liberty thought: Nobel Prize winners, classical thinkers, Austrian Economists, and radical thinkers.

    Vote for your favorite and follow the madness on Twitter @theIHS.

  11. Ayn Rand Seminar at ISFLC

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    If you’re interested in Ayn Rand’s writing and will be attending the International Students for Liberty Conference, come a day early and learn about Ayn Rand’s unique and integrated moral-philosophical argument and its connection to a free society.

    The seminar will examine three of her essays, “The Objectivist Ethics,” “Man’s Rights,” and “What Is Capitalism” in four shared Socratic-style sessions, beginning Thursday evening 2/25, and ending just before the beginning of the ISFLC on Friday 2/26.

    Be sure to register today using the promo code Rand16, and you’ll get $25 off!

    More information

  12. Do You Want to Live in the World of Atlas Shrugged?

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    Author Ayn Rand is one of the most divisive thinkers of the modern era, but does her work hint at themes that are common to most if not all of us? In honor of her birthday, take a moment to reflect on whether or not you would want to live in the world Rand created in her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged.