Classical Liberals

The New Stuff!


A small addition--an excerpt from Thomas Jefferson's oft-quoted letter to James Madison, in which he writes about the virtues of "a little rebellion." He outlines and rates what he saw as the three different kinds of societies in the world.

Foul-ups are embarrassing, and I made a whopper when it came to William Godwin. Back in the summer of 2009, I put up what I intended to be Godwin's first edition of "Political Justice." Through some careless mix-up I'm still at a loss to explain, I posted Godwin's later extensively revised edition in its place, and its been sitting there, represented to all the world as the first edition, for a year-and-a-half. I apologize if this has caused any problems for anyone, and I've fixed it.
--j. of j. & Jenn

A new liberal added: Joseph Priestley. "Gunpowder Joe," as his enemies dubbed him. He was an historian, teacher, political theorist, publisher, scientist, grammarian, heterodox theologian, one of the founders of Unitarianism, the author of over 150 texts, the discoverer of oxygen and several other gases, the inventor of soda water, and one of the great liberal writers of his or any other age. His first text: "An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and on the Nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty" (1768).

Following hot on the heels of the new revision of the first essay in the series comes the all-new second essay, A Few Words on Ludwig Von Mises "Liberalism", continuing our examination of the claims of contemporary American "Libertarians" on classical liberalism. As with the first, comments on the essay are welcome at our blog, where it's also being posted.

Finally back up, the revised version of Of Means & Ends, the first in an intended series of essays regarding the claim of contemporary "Libertarianism" in the U.S. on the classical liberal tradition. Comments on the essay are welcome at our blog, where it's also being posted.

Sometimes, these updates seem to take forever. This time around, we have William Godwin's 1793 first edition of "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice." Godwin later extensively revised this text--part of the revised edition is already available on his page, with more to come, one of these days--but the first edition, for some obvious shortcomings, is a more radical and, in many ways, more interesting document. Enjoy.

Returning from far too long an absence, we've launched Classical Liberals! The Blog, devoted to expanding upon the work we do here. Check it out; comments are, as always, welcome.

A new liberal added. The extraordinarily learned Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu comes to us from the especially productive French wing of the Enlightenment. Our first selection of the good Baron is the complete text of his mammoth tome "The Spirit of Laws," his most important (and most debated) work. Enjoy!

A new James Madison piece.William Barry was a member of a committee of the Kentucky legislature assigned the task of researching education, as the state was then undertaking a significant public education project. Receiving a request for advice from Barry, Madison wrote perhaps his single strongest defense of public education.

A new liberal added. Jeremy Bentham was the British reformer who turned the utilitarianism of the classical liberals into a system of Utilitarianism, and spent his adult life advocating reforms based on it principles. First up for his page is "Of the Principle of Utility," the first chapter of "An Introduction to the Principles of Morals & Legislation," his most popular work.

A big new addition to the Thomas Paine page: "The Age of Reason." In recording his own Deistic religious sentiments, Paine gives his typically masterful voice to Enlightenment-era religious notions, creating, among other things, a classic of rationalist criticism of Christian orthodoxy.

A new addition to the Church & State issues page: John Abbott, in this excerpt from his largely sympathetic 1873 biography of Peter Stuyvesant (ch. 10), outlines the religious oppression imposed by Stuyvesant on the New Netherlands (in present-day New York). Briefly covers the events surrounding the Flushing Remonstrance.

Also, the Links section is finally beginning to take shape. Still very much a work in progress, but a distinct improvement over its previous incarnation.

Today comes the long-delayed final massive batch of Cato's Letters, including #87-138, and all of the "Additional Letters of Cato." This completes the collection of Trenchard and Gordon's Cato articles at this site!

Yet another new batch of Cato's Letters, completing the run up to #87, and still more to come. Also today, the third book of William Godwin's "Political Justice."

Massive new additions to Cato's Letters, with more to come in the coming days.

Another new page, this time William Godwin. Godwin's liberalism, growing out of Paine, Price, Priestley, the utilitarians, anticipated the anarchists of the 19th century. The initial selection contains the first two books of his "Political Justice," his major work of political philosophy. The text comes from the much-revised third edition of the book favored by Godwin.

"...all the power of civil government relates only to menís civil interests, is confined to the care of the things of this world, and hath nothing to do with the world to come." From John Locke comes something of a "transitional" work, in thought on church/state matters, the First Letter Concerning Toleration. Locke outlines a case for religious liberty, but declines to embrace its implications, falling back, instead, on an endorsement for a "tolerance" regime (one, in this case, which doesn't tolerate Catholics or atheists).

More Voltaire. Voltaire vs. literary censorship in France in a Letter to a First Commissioner, and ironic Voltaire as his most savage in a Letter to M. de Bastide.

Another new page, this one spotlighting the works of Voltaire. The Frenchman's ambivalence toward democracy and his infamous advocacy of "enlightened despotism" may seem, at first, to make him an odd addition to these pages. With regard to the latter, it should be recalled that his emphasis was on the "enlightened" part, and not on "despotism," which he clearly detested in all its forms. His comments on such matters are reflective of a shallow treatment of the subject of government forms generally. Not his specialty. Voltaire is one of the most gifted critics of the last several centuries, and his work often breathes the spirit of purest liberalism--far too often to exclude him from a seat, here.

His page begins with "On Toleration," wherein he takes up his pen to protest the horror inflicted upon a Protestant family in Toulouse by Catholic fanatics acting under color of public authority, and, marshalling historical, utilitarian, and even religious arguments, creates a strong treatise against intolerance. "Intolerance," from his "Philosophical Dictionary," offers a few short, sharp remarks on the intolerant. "Liberty of Opinion" is a revealing dialogue on the title subject between an Englishman and a Spaniard. Finally, "Liberty of the Press" has some pointed words for those who deceive themselves into believing the world is undone by an unduly free press.

A new page devoted to the remarkable Wilhelm Von Humboldt, and his "Limits of State Action," one of the most extraordinary works of political philosophy produced by the early liberals. Anticipating the arguments of the anarchists of the 19th century, Humboldt declares "the true end of Man" to be "the highest and most harmonious development of his powers to a complete and consistent whole." Man is a work of art, one that is always in progress. Continuing this progress requires an environment where social interaction can occur free of external constraints. Unpublished in its entirety until 17 years after the author's death, the work became an important influence upon a long line of thinkers from John Stuart Mill to Noam Chomsky. Enjoy.

Another new liberal; Algernon Sidney. While Sir Robert Filmer's "Patriarcha" flattered the nobility with its argument for the Divine Right of Kings, Sidney took up his quill and created the "Discourses Concerning Government," one of the two genuine classics dedicated to a corrective of the pernicious doctrine (the other, and most famous, being John Locke's "Two Treatises of Government"). Uneven, at times, and a bit of a mixed bag, doctrinally speaking, the book nevertheless earned the high esteem in which it was held by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Gordon, and so many others.

A new liberal added; Cesare Beccaria, a Milan-born writer who, at the ripe old age of 26, became the Founding Father of modern criminology, and revolutionized the European approach to crime and punishment. Included is the full text of his tract "Of Crimes and Punishments," the work upon which his reputation rests. Also today, yet more additions to the Church & State issues page: The Maryland Toleration Act, a 1649 attempt--ultimately unsuccessful--to diffuse tensions between the colonies' developing Protestant majority and the Catholics for whom the colony had been intended as a refuge. It's an example of a policy of religious "toleration," rather than of religious liberty (and shows why liberty is a better policy). Next up is The Flushing Remonstrance. In 1646, the Dutch made the unfortunate decision to burden their New Netherlands colony (in present-day New York) with a director-general by name of Peter Stuyvesant, a dictatorial slug who, among other charming habits, was a ruthless persecutor of any non-conformists to the established Dutch Reformed Church. In 1657, on one of his rampages, he began issuing orders to persecute Quakers, at which point 31 courageous residents of Flushing created then signed this remonstrance, telling Stuyvesant in eloquent, reasoned language, where he could shove his anti-Quaker nonsense. One of the great liberal documents of the colonial era.

Two new letters from Thomas Jefferson. The first, to James Madison in 1789,  sees Jefferson kicking around some fascinating thoughts on the limits of the power of one generation to bind the next. The implications are, of course, revolutionary. He revisits the theme 27 years later in the second letter, this time to Samuel Kercheval, wherein he condemns those who "look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched." He also offers a fascinating discussion on various aspects of liberal democracy. A most worthy treatise.

Tons of new additions to the Church & State issues page. Two excellent historical pieces: Mary Dyer of Rhode Island, Horatio Rogers' 1896 account of the unfortunate fate which befell a Quaker lass in 1660, when they fell afoul of Massachusetts' murderous Puritan theocrats. Rogers paints a vivid portrait of the merciless brutality of the American Puritans toward dissenters, up to and including officially-sanctioned murder. From Baptist historian Thomas Armitage comes a rather eloquent and detailed account of the Settlement of Rhode Island , and its subsequent development as an experiment in democracy and religious liberty. To go along with this, there two pieces from Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, excerpted from 1644's Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, and its 1652 sequel, The Bloody Tenet of Persecution, Made Yet More Bloody. For contrast, there's "Naturally detested...", a meandering tirade against religious toleration by Nathaniel Ward, one of the early Massachusetts Puritan ministers. Drawn from his "Simple Cobbler of Aggawamm in America," it offers a glimpse into the unsettling (and unsettled) minds of those early American Talibanists. Wrapping up today's goodys is the second Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Roger Williams had procured a general charter of incorporation for Rhode Island in 1644, but the Stuart Restoration in 1660 threw its legitimacy into question, so, to sew up the legalities and protect the colony from encroachment by neighbors, this second charter--the most liberal of the colonial era--was sought, and, in 1663, granted by Charles II. So pleased were the colonists with the final result that it served as Rhode Island's constitution until 1843.

Major new additions to the Church & State issues page. First up, there's the most excellent Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, by Isaac Backus detailing the unpleasantness involved in life as a religious minority under the jack-boot of an ecclesiastical establishment, and arguing, from a religious perspective, that civil powers have no right to make laws regarding such matters. Then, there's an excerpt from Notes on the State of Virginia, wherein Thomas Jefferson outlines the ugly history of "religious slavery" in his own state, and makes one of his most forceful and eloquent appeals for religious liberty. Next up is George Washington's exchange with the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, wherein Washington stresses that the American experiment is one in religious liberty, not in mere toleration, as some backwards souls of today would have it. Going into further detail on the same subject is Thomas Paine in an excerpt from "The Rights of Man," wherein he calls the union of church and state "a sort of mule animal." Baptist minister John Leland offers The Rights of Conscience Inalienable, a sermon that largely appropriates--and, at times, plagiarizes--Jefferson's argument for liberty of conscience, along with some further remarks.

American opposition to slavery began with the Quakers in the late 17th century, but abolitionism didn't congeal into a movement until master propagandist Tom Paine, himself the son of a Quaker, arrived in America and penned "African Slavery in America", an uncompromising condemnation of the practice.

Two new James Madison articles, from the series he wrote for the National Gazette. The first, "Parties", suggests containing factions by reducing inequalities of wealth and of rights, and by using parties as a check on one another. Madison contrasts this view with that of the monarchists. In the second, "Spirit of Governments", Madison offers his analysis of the various forms of governments, and the "spirit which predominates in each." His third form is what Madison hopes for the U.S.; unfortunately, the second is what the U.S. actually became.

Four new additions to Cato's Letters, the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th letters, wherein Thomas Gordon continues his commentary on the South-Sea debacle. Gordon continues his condemnations of stock-jobbers and his call for vengeance upon the companies' directors, chides the English public for being such easy prey for such schemers, and warns against involvement in new such schemes to repair the damage left in the wake of the last one.

Two new additions to Cato's Letters, the 2nd and 3rd in John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon's magnificent series. T. & G. launched "Cato's Letters" in the immediate aftermath of one of the great corporate scandals, the South Sea Bubble debacle, which ruined thousands. Such scandals, unfortunately commonplace today, were then a novelty, and these new articles (and more to follow) positively froth with the outrage such "pestilent conduct" should always inspire--an outrage that familiarity all too often blunts today.

Classical Liberals is not dead! Creeping back from the brink, we've got Mary Wollstonecraft's wonderful but sometimes difficult-to-find Vindication of the Rights of Men, Ms. W's reply to Edmund Burke's ill-considered attack on self-determination, the French, and Richard Price.

Finally got the  John Locke  page back online, beginning with the text of Locke's always-important "Second Treatise on Civil Government." Onward and upward, slowly but surely!

Another new article from our friend at Left Hook! added to the Church & State Issues page.  David Barton Strikes Again. David Barton, religious right propagandist extraordinaire, used the resurgent controversy over congressional chaplains to launch another of his infamous revised drafts of "history," this time aiming his guns at James Madison. Maybe the best article yet on the Wallbuilders founder and his methods, this one demonstrates the systematic nature of Barton's deceptions, showing that he isn't merely a sometime-peddler of phony quotations and occasionally inaccurate information, but a full-fledged huckster who indulges in a comprehensive disinformation campaign.

New article from our friend at Left Hook! added to the  Church & State Issues page.  James Madison, Sean Hannity, & the Question of Congressional Chaplains. On Sept. 4, 2002, Sean Hannity, Fox News Channel's cherubic demagogue, took on a guest who was opposed to congressional chaplains. Hannity pulled out James Madison to make his case and, in doing so, prepetrated a fraud on his viewers. Left Hook nails the bastard, and sets the record straight.

This new "What's New" page inaugurated!