Classical Liberalism

Classical Liberalism,Ilana Mercer,Ilana On Radio & TV,Individual Rights,Liberty

Jerri from Righttalk.com, with whom I do a short commentary segment fortnightly, once asked what “classical liberalism” meant. How about the principles upon which this country was founded?

Not so long ago I became acquainted with the writings of French classical liberal, Benjamin Constant (1767-1830). And in particular, his treatise on the Principles of Politics. Frederic Bastiat was, “in some ways,” Constant’s heir.

I liked Constant’s definition of freedom: “Individuals must enjoy a boundless freedom in the use of their property and the exercise of their labor, as long as in disposing of their property or exercising their labor they do not harm others who have the same rights.” Of course, today’s statist interpretation of “harm” would include competition: setting up a Wal-Mart adjacent to a mom-and-pop shop.

More pearls from Constant: “Society has no right to be unjust toward a single of its members…the whole society minus one is not authorized to obstruct the latter in his opinions, nor in those actions which are not harmful, in the use of his property or the exercise of his labor, save in those cases where that use or that exercise would obstruct another individual possessing the same right.”

As I recently explained liberty it in “Jackass Cooper & The 1-Trick Donkeys”: “Classical liberals (this writer) are distinguished in that the only rights they recognize are the individual’s right to life, liberty and property, and the pursuit of happiness. The sole role of a legitimate government is to protect only those liberties. Why life, liberty, and property, and not housing, food, education, health care, child benefits, emotional well-being, enriching employment, ad infinitum? Because the former impose no obligations on other free individuals; the latter enslave some in the service of others.”

In addition to an application of the principles of liberty, my columns/essays almost always include references. It’s about taking the time to work through the columns and extract the references. I have links on my Links Page to great classical liberal sites.

My website is easy to navigate. Begin with Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, Henry Hazlitt, Frederic Bastiat, F. A. Hayek, Lysander Spooner, and the great heroes of the Old Right, such as Felix Morley, Frank Chodorov, Garet Garrett, and John T. Flynn.

A discussion of rights is here.

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5 thoughts on “Classical Liberalism

  1. Alexander Sazonov

    Mrs. Mercer.

    Although, to be perfectly honest, I would not classify myself as a classical liberal, I nevertheless have tremendous admiration for your work and agree with many of your views.

    There is one thing with regard to libertarian philosophy that has always puzzled me;
    If any kind of taxation is nothing but legalized theft, and any governmental monopoly is simply legalized banditry & racketeering, which is undoubtedly true, how can intellectuals of a libertarian persuasion justify the existence of a so called “limited government”?

    After all, by doing so these individuals are saying that SOME AMOUNT of THIEVERY, EXTORTION and COERCION is still necessary for the creation of a free society.
    In this regard I find Murray Rothbard much more intellectually honest and decent than Ayn Rand. This is because Mr. Rothbard rejects the existence of ANY STATE, regardless of size or organization, due to its criminal nature. He reaches the logical conclusion that the only real liberal society, in which individual rights are protected, is a stateless one. I guess my question is as follows; how can (so many) libertarians/classical liberals be genuine advocates of freedom, when they still support an organization that despite being small still violates the very same natural rights they claim to uphold?

  2. Andrew T.

    I believe that individuals have rights, though I do not believe that these rights are completely absolute. In other words, your right to use your yacht for whatever purpose you deem fit ends where the stranger who is stranded on a desert island begins; only the most insidious sophistry would lead one to the belief that the necessity of saving the life of an innocent were not worth a momentary denial of the right to boating property, and at any rate the God-given rights that you have must be exercised to His service. I think many contemporary libertarians bog themselves in an assumption that property is utterly as opposed to generally inviolable and that politics must be plumb-line in like manner (I’m lookin’ at you, Block-head), which spawns a monstrous and utterly irascible ideology that puts them out of touch with middle America and any practical reality.

    Laissez faire is also of greater practical utility in nearly every circumstance than any alternatives. For anyone that disagrees, simply research the value-free science of Austro-Misesean Economics and you will understand why I am right. Our politicians sure as heck need to try this.

  3. Andrew T.

    Alexander,

    A proponent of limited government, a minarchist, believes that a governmental institution (a monopoly on taxation and ultimate decision-making) would contend that a limited state is significantly less oppressive than a stateless alternative, which in their beliefs is an anarchic competition of violent gangs that ultimately ends in a manipulative and authoritarian regime anyway. Whatever position is correct is another, more complex, matter.

    Although I don’t know too much about Rothbard, I get the sense that in his twilight years, when he reestablished himself as part of the American hard Right, he was neither explicitly ancap or minarch, but someone who was agnostic to that often asinine and banal debate and was concerned with practical freedom. But since I am largely uneducated and unread on Rothbard, I may be incorrect.

  4. John Danforth

    If I save someone’s life, I don’t consider it a violation of my rights, even if I choose to risk my own life doing it. But if you want to deny my absolute rights under the authority of your god, you’d better bring your gun along to do it.

    And the reason why free, rational men would voluntarily form a government is in recognition of the fact that humans tend to form gangs, the better to kill, pillage, and rape those unable to defend themselves. The sticky wicket is in how to finance it and stop it from becoming the aggressor itself. Without any other viable solution to the primary problem, we are stuck with finding ways to deal with the latter two. And it seems an uneasy truce is the best compromise we’ve been able to come up with so far. Far from perfect, but we’d have to perfect mankind before we could have peaceful anarchy.

  5. Andrew T.

    John, I think your assertion of “absolute rights” is farcical. If you accept that people have certain inalienable rights (think Locke), I think it is coherent and even complimentary that they have certain responsibilities to their fellows (think Kant).

    But I’m probably not getting through to you, in the same way that I can’t get through to someone who believes in “open borders“, because those who take such positions seem to have a psychology all their own. You either believe that man is social and thus has implicit rights AND responsibilities, as the overwhelming majority of good and decent people do, or you are a narcissistic renegade who fancies himself a Robinson Crusoe voluntarily suffering a candy shop of homo sapiens.

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