Alcohol, Drugs, Guns, Violence and… the Real Issue?

Alcoholism is blamed for violence.

Ban alcohol. They tried that.

Drugs are blamed for violence.

Ban drugs. They tried that.

Guns are blamed for violence.

Ban guns. They’re trying that.

As for that last point, yes, I am a firm supporter of the 2nd Amendment in its originalist intent: that weapons are one of the best defense against tyranny. Over 100 million people were murdered by their own governments in the 20th century. How many of those governments might have been far more hesitant to take such action had their populations been armed?

But no, this is not a post to go over why an armed population is so important. This is also not a post to discuss the well-argued case that banning guns is an ineffective way to reduce violence. Cars and knives have been perfectly effective weapons in Europe.

This post calls attention to what is often forgotten, ignored or otherwise not generally considered. And like all those calls for action I started with, I, too, have a call for action. A much different one. One that gets to the heart of the issue.

Journalist Johann Hari spent years studying the global war on drugs in countries all over the world. In an interview he did with Tom Woods, he noted a significant conclusion of his research. It was one of those conclusions that is both so obvious and so apparent that you wonder why it strikes you with such profundity.

The real issue with violence or malicious behavior of the sort that causes events like the tragic Las Vegas shooting is not alcohol, drugs or guns.

Studies have revealed that about 10% of alcohol users use to abuse and the violence that tends to come with that. (According to a study done by Professor David Nutt and published in British The Lancet, alcohol was rated as the most harmful drug.) Interestingly, the statistic for drug abuse is about the same: 10%. So what makes about 90% of users to use these drugs in a way that we don’t typically consider “abuse” and the other 10% to do so?

Now, before I go on, I am also not using this post to push my opinion on drug laws. These are but a few of many destructive things in this world, and what we choose to try and legislate against or not is not my purpose here.

So what is the most common factor causing about 10% of users to use into abuse and violence?

As study after study has shown (and logic should lead us to even without statistical analysis), the answer is: a lack of meaningful relationships. Isolation. A lack of love and care by and for those around them. Or trauma without loving support to help them through.

The issue isn’t the thing that is abused. The issue is broken relationships.*

Logic follows that line of reasoning to anything else with which people can cause harm, such as guns or other weapons.

So this is a call to action. Want to really concentrate your efforts in a meaningful way? Love, care for and cherish those who are vulnerable. Those who are isolated. Those who are hurting and broken. Those without friends. Those who face prejudice. Be a friend to those nobody else will. A mentor to those who are shunned. Those who have no meaningful relationships in their lives.

Don’t tell me you really care while you spend your time calling your representative, lobbying them to sign anti-gun regulation, or to pour more money into drug-bust squads, until you start addressing the real issue that causes the violence. No larger police force, more prison cells, more stringent gun regulations or prohibition campaigns will solve the issue. As a friend recently posted, “People, not programs, change people.”

To the Church and fellow Christians: there is no excuse for acting in any fashion other than Christ did to the individual who fits the descriptions above. Be the Samaritan who was willing to credit all expenses of the dying man on the side of the road to his own account. Only Christ can change people’s hearts, but His love through you can often change their minds and through that access their hearts.

Remember when I said this wouldn’t be a soap-box blog? Well, I did say “usually.”

Recognize the real issue. Legislation and police action may be able to change the source and tool of abuse and violence, but it cannot bring meaningful change to the real issue. That is up to individuals — you and I — loving and caring for and treating with dignity … other individuals.

*And because there is always that person who makes entirely illogical conclusions and delights in flimsy assumptions, no, I don’t think this absolves anyone of the responsibility of their actions. Each individual is entirely responsible for their actions and should be held accountable as necessary. But as “love covers a multitude of sins,” so love can act against the inclinations of abuse and violence far better than any law prohibiting it.

Also, I’m not delusional with expectations that if we just “love” enough, all our problems will go away. Attacks that claim I am that naive will likely come. I’m just saying that we understand the real problem, then we can better concentrate on what really matters. 

For those who raise the argument that much violence is committed by those who more committed to ideology than suffering isolation (for example, those inclined to violence in the KKK, Neo-Nazi groups, Antifa, Neo-Communists, the radical ideologies of Islam, et cetera), I will cede that it is probably true for some. Still, even for many driven by ideology, many often arrive at those conclusions because of the comradery and sense of “belonging” they find–even if superficially–within those groups that they felt lacking prior. This is often true for gang members, as well.

I’ve discussed individual responsibility here

I’ve discussed the fallacy and foolishness of collectivist thinking here.

Thumbnail photo credit goes to

A Logical System of Justice?

My 10th grade class, which studies the historical narrative from circa 1600 to 1865 with a focus on Western Civilization (Europe and the Americas), has been spending some time studying the history of Anglo-British law as it developed through the Middle Ages and up through the Glorious Revolution, forming much of what was called English Common Law. I’ve already discussed some of this history briefly in an earlier post.

And in the course of our learning, I teach them that the U.S. judicial system of not based on a system of reparation. (And to note, it was not entirely so in Great Britain, either, as time went on. British royalty increasingly was quite prone to assume that they were the source of law, and the highest levels of the English judicial system were originally appointed by the king and carried his mandate. And when many of the colonists rebelled in 1765-1783, many were doing so on the basis that the English authorities were abandoning their traditional principles. And if you subscribe to my email, my upcoming email begins with an example of a jury trial condemning an English Catholic to death for refusing to admit that the king was the head of the church.)

Understandably, they are surprised. Nobody has presented law in this way before, and it seems so straight-forward to them.

I’ve been teaching them about the difference between negativism and positivism. Negativism (from which are derived negative rights, as I discuss in this post) is the idea that law comes before and outside of government. The opposite is positivism, which says law comes from government … if it is legislated to be wrong (or right), then it is wrong (or right). Negativism says it is wrong to steal, regardless of what the government says. Positivism says it is wrong to steal because the government says it is wrong.

The implication? In the development of English law through the Middle Ages onward, most law, accordingly, was developed through litigation (the legal process) instead of legislation (the law-making process) as negativism was the presumption. If someone was robbed, they could be provided compensation even without a law saying that stealing was wrong. And the guilty party was forced to pay reparations.

And this is where my students can see something obvious. If negativism is the presumption, then the person wronged has to be compensated. If I steal my neighbor’s truck, then I owe him…a truck. That’s called reparation. If I sell that truck and then don’t have money for a new one, then I make reparation by working until my wages have fully compensated my neighbor.

Seems like a logical approach to justice, right? Even the judicial system of the Mosaic Law given to the Hebrews as they left Egypt was built almost entirely on reparations. The person harmed was to be repaid by the guilty party.

That’s not what we have in the United States.

In the United States legal code, the government is essentially always the party that is wronged. It is the government that receives “reparation”.

If I am guilty of extortion, the U.S. system of justice requires that I pay the government a fine and spend time in prison, based on its own assessment of the crime, rather than the extent of the harm. And that money doesn’t go to my neighbor. It goes to the government. The law doesn’t require reparation to the party harmed (who will usually only get compensated if they had the right insurance), as assumed by negativism. Rather, it  treats the government like the harmed party, based on an assumption of positivism.

And yes, there are exceptions. People can file suit for reparation of damages. Unfortunately, this is inaccessible for most people given how high legal and lawyer fees are. But why are fees so high? Because the convoluted system of laws that requires an army of lawyers and their aids to navigate through.

The U.S. legal system as it is today is based on positivism. The laws are not based on negativism, based on natural rights outside of government. If the government wants to take one person’s property and give it to another because thinks the second person would make “better” use of it, then they can. The Supreme Court said so in Kelo v. City of New London (2005).

The main question I want to be drawn from this is: where do laws come from? Do you believe in negativism, which assumes a standard of right and wrong outside of government? Or do you believe in positivism, which says the government is the standard of right and wrong? And what are the implications for the system of justice?

Something to think about.

The History of Conservatism, Liberalism & Libertarianism (Part 6 – Conservatism, Liberalism & Nationalism in Mainland Europe)

Unlike Great Britain or the United States, mainland European countries faced an array of unique issues, giving the ideas of conservatism and liberalism their own unique colors and political ramifications, similar in some ways to that of the island just off their northwest coast or the fledgling thirteen states across the Atlantic, but also very different in many other ways.

But first, make sure you’re caught up:

We’ll come back to both the United States and Great Britain in the upcoming posts, but a neglected Europe certainly deserves a bit of our attention. This is especially true because of the unique way that movements there will ultimately have global impact.

What Was Going on in Europe?

Sadly, many of our teachers overlooked (or breezed through) European politics from the French Revolution to World War I. So a solid historical review of the narrative seems in order.

As Medieval Europe ebbed into the early modern period, many nations across Europe experienced a great deal of centralization of power. Certainly this was true of France, Spain and England, major players on the world stage for centuries. Germany and Italy would take longer to unify, and those people groups of modern Eastern Europe were, by and large, under the control of various other powers, such as Russia, Austria or the Ottoman Turks.

In England, as we’ve already explored, the autocratic power of the monarch had long since been whittled away as constitutionalism – the idea that a system of law supersedes the king and government – became more secure. Quite the opposite in France. Various measures used by the Cardinal Richelieu in the early 1600s help to launch King Louis XIV, nicknamed the “Sun King,” into a position of absolute power, a position envied by King Charles I in England (who was executed by Parliament in 1649, as discussed in part 3).

Maximilien Robespierre (1754-1793)

Two kings later in France, young King Louis XVI faced the guillotine as the line of monarchs was (temporarily) ended during the French Revolution, which began in 1789. It is important to note that the French Revolution did, in fact, have roots in Enlightenment thought, at least parts of it. What started as both a manifestation of the aggrieved (and some nearly starving) poor and middle class of Paris and the more liberal rhetoric of lawyers like Maximilien Robespierre (who at first called for free press and free speech and other liberal goals) soon became an all-out bloodbath. The atrocities of the French Revolution and the thousands murdered cannot be attributed simply to a sort of “mob-mentality,” though certainly the terror it induced was a self-feeding fire. But there was a deeper worldview behind the revolution that sought the entire remaking of society and even of human nature.1 What that remaking was to be fell to the interpretation of whoever was in power. Even Robespierre soon abandoned his liberal beginnings and called for an all-out slaughter of anyone who did not show ready and active support of the “new society” that the French Revolutionaries sought to create. In place of a subject whose existence was to meet the demands of the king was now a citoyen (citizen) whose existence was to promote the “virtue” of the new civic society. Individual dignity or independence had little or no place in either system.

I dedicate more description to the French Revolution, as this will be important to understand both now and when we get to Progressivism.

In the wake of the revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte was able to work his way to the top (as consul) after military campaigns in Italy and Egypt. He would eventually declare himself emperor of the French Empire that he would rapidly expand across Europe, nearly reaching Moscow in 1812 before suffering a serious defeat in his trans-European conquests.

The Congress of Vienna by August Friedrich Andreas

Napoleon’s dominance would radically change Europe, and when European leaders met in 1814 at what has become called the Congress of Vienna, they would seek to undo much of his changes. But there was only so much they could do. Napoleon’s codes of law had replaced many of the old legal codes handed down from medieval Europe, land arrangements within the many Germanic kingdoms (there were around 300) had been rearranged, and dynasties had been overturned.

The Congress of Vienna was more of a series of informal meetings between diplomats and leaders of the five major powers of Europe than it was a formal assembly. The powers? Great Britain, France, Prussia, Austria and Russia. During these meetings, these leaders embraced distinctly conservative goals: the restoration of old monarchies overthrown by Napoleon, the return to old borders (with some changes), and the restoration of the old order in other various respects. To be sure, there were innovations, such as agreements to open up rivers for universal use, but by and large, the Vienna meetings were notably conservative.

And this takes us to our topical discussion.

Europe after the Congress of Vienna, 1815 (Photo credit to

Conservatism in Mainland Europe

Stick with me for a moment as we revisit England. Recall that Edmund Burke (discussed in part 3), Whig and the Father of Modern Conservatism, had aptly predicted the terrors of the French Revolution. His fear of and resistance to any such radical revolutions sparking like events in England was the predictable result of his conservative views.

In mainland Europe, conservative was defined in part by the desire to “conserve” the old order and avoid such drastic revolutions. The difference here was, however, that in England, constitutionalism and natural law traditions had been foundational in England for so long that retention and expansion of these concepts was fundamentally a part of British conservatism. In mainland Europe, conservatives were primarily concerned with the retention of the monarchical dynasties and the church structure and authority. Both of these institutions, they believed, were divinely sanctified by God.

Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821)

Joseph de Maistre from Piedmont-Sardinia (a kingdom in the north part of what is today Italy), a key continental conservative thinker, saw the French Revolution as God’s judgment for their embrace of Enlightenment ideas. As more of an anti-Enlightenment ideologue, Maistre argued that because governments and the church are both divinely ordained, neither can nor need be justified through rationalization or logic; people must be submissive and not question either. On a practical level, he and many other conservatives called for the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France—the family of the executed King Louis XVI.

This conservative bent dominated the Congress of Vienna, as I already mentioned. Austrian foreign minister Klemens von Metternich, a major diplomatic player until 18482, also played a pivotal role in the restoration of old dynasties. In addition to the restoration of the Bourbon family to the throne of France, he and the diplomats in Vienna ensured that the Hapsburgs remained on the throne of Austria, and that France remained a major player in the European theater, despite war between Austria and France virtually from 1792 to 1814.

Klemens von Metternich (1773-1859)

This latter point was fundamental to conservatism, as well, because it helped maintain order and stability. Conservatives would do what they could to ensure balance between the five major powers of Europe in hopes of avowing conflict and the potential revolutions that could be sparked in such conflicts. To this end, they also established multiple alliances, such as the “Holy Alliance” between Austria, Prussia and Russia, or the Quadruple Alliance between those three and Great Britain (and later France).3 At times, alliance members would provide financial and military support to suppress uprisings within member countries’ borders.

Liberalism & Nationalism in Mainland Europe

Liberals in Europe would, like mainland conservatives to their English counterparts, share some traits and be distinct in others. By and large, the liberals of mainland Europe supported movements and even revolutions that held within them the promise of greater individual liberty, freer range of motion in commerce, greater freedom of religion, more limited government (and expanded democracy), et cetera. All ideas espoused by the liberal social, political and economic theorists discussed in part 4. In the German kingdoms, as discussions ramped up about drawing the 30 member states (the 300 prior to the Congress of Vienna consolidated them into about 30) into a closer union,  liberals were pushing for a German constitution that would guarantee these principles. Likewise, in France, where political leadership changed semi-frequently, liberals pushed for more power in their representatives (as opposed to the king or emperor, when they had one) and stronger guarantees of individual rights.

But notable here is that many liberals began to latch on to notions of nationalism. Nationalism can mean many different things in many different contexts, but there are two of pertinence in this discussion. The first is a sort of tribalism—an active support or favoring of those among one’s cultural, racial and/or language-based heritage.  A second sort of nationalism was based not on tangible differences, but based on an invented nation-state. For example, the inhabitants across the Italian boot spoke numerous languages and shared little by way of a common culture. The Piedmontese were different than the Milanese who were different than the Sicilians. But a nationalist in this context, as was a very prolific Giuseppe Mazzini, promoted “Italian Nationalism”—that is, that people should embrace the national identity of “Italian” (something that had not existed prior) rather than Milanese or Venetian. Even in France, where numerous languages can be found across the nation, was the sense that everyone ought to think of themselves as “French” first, and whatever their local culture and language is second.

Many liberals promoted both types of nationalism.

In addition to the nationalism already mentioned, in Germany, liberals would actively promote union on college campuses.4

Why? A modern observer would probably be quick to warn that the centralizing nature of nationalism—especially of the invented kind—would risk more vast abuses of power. That is, the exact opposite of what they sought. But without the benefit of hindsight, such changes offered the opportunity for new constitutions favorable to their goals.

Frédéric Bastiat

Claude Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)

We should certainly mention one other key liberal figure in the continental tradition: Frédéric Bastiat. While Bastiat was not known for major innovations, his writings helped to popularize economic liberalism: the advocacy for private property, free markets and limited government. An astute observer of trends in his native France, Bastiat understood the growing demand for popular redistribution of wealth and property as the ideas of socialism were becoming more popular. One of his most-well-known books, The Law (full text linked), exposed this reality by claiming that when the majority used the power of the state to acquire and redistribute wealth and property, this was sanctioned theft, or what Bastiat called “legal plunder.” Furthermore, he argued, free market voluntary exchange between individuals was the best way to preserve economic harmony. Among other works was Bastiat’s What is Seen and What is Not Seenin which he makes the point that for any government intervention, it is important to understand and look for the consequences–what is foregone in the implementation of some policy. This would form a cornerstone of works by later economists like Henry Hazlitt and Thomas Sowell.5  Today, many libertarians see Bastiat’s writings as essential readings in classical liberalism and libertarianism.

1848: Year of Revolution 

I will not comment on this extensively, but it must be mentioned that 1848 was a profound year in Europe. Of the major powers, France, Austria and Prussia, along with most other smaller nations, experienced revolution (or attempted revolution). Who led these? Interestingly enough, they were often two-fold. Liberals orchestrated movements to seek their own goals, often pushing for national unification (as in Italy and Germany) en route to those goals. But another major movement mentioned above had also taken root in the early 1800s in mainland Europe: socialism, rooted deeply in the writings of people like Karl Marx. Many of these socialists also had their agendas behind many of the 1848 revolutions. Although the title of this series indicates its emphasis on conservatism, liberalism and libertarianism, socialism (in its many facets) would have perhaps more widespread impact in the 20th century than any other ideology during that century (until the 1980s). So we’ll most certainly have more to say about that in the future and in this series.

1848 would prove a turning point in European history. Though most revolutions failed, the second half of the 19th century would see major shifts in ideological alliances. Nationalism would be taken up by many conservatives. Socialism would be taken up by many who called themselves liberals.

And the world would feel the consequences.


1 This  idea that human nature can be “reformed” or even returned to a state of natural goodness, was, indeed, a part of many of the Enlightenment writers, as the full scope of the Enlightenment covered a great many areas of thought. For example, Enlightenment writer Jean Jacques Rousseau actually rejected many of the rationalistic Enlightenment ideas, embracing a more “emotion-driven” understanding of humanity and society. He would inspire both the leaders of the French Revolution and many in the Romantic movement of the early 1800s (which, ironically, appealed to many conservatives!).

2 Some historians call 1814-1848 the “Age of Metternich” in Western Europe. He would go on to coordinate major diplomatic events in the German Confederacy and Europe more broadly.

3 Those who remember their history well can probably see the beginning of a series of fateful alliance systems that will contribute to World War I. Participants in various alliances, however, would change over the course of the century.

4 In in 1848, the Frankfurt Parliament would propose a plan for a unified Germany, but this would ultimately fail. This plan, had it been enacted, would have unified Germany under a very liberal constitution. When Germany was finally unified in the 1860s, it was done so under Otto von Bismarck, who was far from a Lockean liberal.

I recommend books by both Hazlitt and Sowell on the Recommended Books page

The Civil War… Slavery or States’ Rights? (Answer: Both)

Was the Civil War about slavery or states’ rights? And are supporters of states’ rights, by extension, supporters of slavery?

I recently responded to a Facebook debate over these very questions (I know, I know…I should avoid that sort of thing…but in my defense, I did ask for permission to enter the discussion and was approved), and what I intended for a succinct reply quickly grew into the following more essay-like response. So instead of constantly re-inventing the wheel, I figured it would make a good blog post (I have slightly expanded it here).

First, to suggest that it was EITHER slavery OR states’ rights is far oversimplified. It was clearly both. But real history doesn’t fit on bumper stickers.

To clear one important point up , many southerners were genuinely concerned about the future of slavery in the south, and hence the language in their declarations of secession that testify to that. There is clearly no moral defense of this concern; it should rightly be condemned. However–and this is a key reminder–at the outset of the war1, and indeed even through most of the war, the end or continuation of slavery was not in immediate question or the immediate cause of the war. Lincoln did not start the war with any intent to end slavery in the south. In fact, he had earlier supported a Constitutional amendment that would have specifically protected slavery where it existed. The decision for the emancipation of southern slaves was a strategic move to destabilize the southern economy and encourage southern slaves to have a vested interest in a Northern victory.2 I comment on Lincoln’s views of slavery in the footnotes.It also exempted states like Kentucky and Missouri (where secession was still in debate throughout the early part of the war) and allowed them to retain their slaves if they remained in the Union.

With that being said, saying that the Civil War was about either slavery or states’ rights is like saying the American Revolution was about either taxes or self-government. It’s clearly both. To risk redundancy, saying that the war was really about slavery and not really about states’ rights would be to say that the American Revolution is about self-government and not about unjust taxation. (I’m not drawing a moral equivalency–for crying out loud!–just observing the facts as they stand.)

Let’s start with states’ rights, the legal and immediate question of the war. In 2017, we can’t really understand the states’ rights arguments in the way they were viewed in early American history because we live in a day and age of increasingly centralized power. Local self-government had much of its roots in the Middle Ages, which then endured very importantly in England itself, and many of the American conservatives throughout the colonial period had enjoyed self-government for so long that it was considered, to them, to be part of the unwritten, but very real British Constitution.

The southerners were very much in this vein of belief that power ought to be distributed between multiple sources, in line with the Jeffersonian position (and most of the Constitutional Framers). The modern central state that we have today was not the federal government of the U.S. founders, and as southerners saw it becoming more and more powerful, cesetion was their recourse as negotiations broke down.

This was not something they made up. Multiple states only ratified the Constitution itself on the promise by Constitutional supporters that it did not bring an end to state sovereignty. The states were the primary political unit (like the countries in the UN), and the federal government was formed by the states for pragmatic purposes, mostly related to foreign affairs. During its ratification process, Virginia ratification delegates deliberately said they would only ratify if they retained their right to secede if the federal government went beyond the limited powers granted in the Constitution. Rhode Island and New York maintained similar provisions. When the southern states seceded, the reality that the U.S. was becoming a centralized modern state was on the forefront of many peoples’ minds both in the north and south.

Robert E. Lee wrote, “I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only are essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”4

Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were both against slavery on moral grounds. Lee called slavery a “moral and political evil.”5

The question of secession (and states’ rights more generally) had a more vigorous northern tradition than southern. In fact, New England states had been the first to seriously consider withdrawal from the Union during the War of 1812 due to what they considered unfair federal tariff laws and a federally-imposed embargo. As one of many examples, the Connecticut legislature proclaimed in 1812, “It must not be forgotten, that the state of Connecticut is a free sovereign and independent state; that the United States are a confederacy of states; that we are a confederated and not a consolidated republic.”6 The Massachusetts governor, MA Supreme Court and legislature all concurred and issued a similar statement. New England secession was openly debated at the Hartford Convention of 1814-1815. Later, after the Fugitive Slave Law of the 1850s required active state participation in the rounding up of slaves who had escaped to the north, multiple northern states actively nullified the law—instructing their police forces to ignore it, and several passed “personal liberty laws” for this very purpose.

As for the soldiers in the war, most war memoirs and letters show that soldiers, by and large, were first and foremost concerned with self-government and the self-determination of each political society to decide its own course, as the Founders had been in 1776.

The question of states’ rights and secession was pushed to the point of crisis because of the question of the expansion of slavery. With newly acquired territory from Mexico in 1848, and a population balance in the north putting far more northerners into the federal government than southerners, attempts to compromise on decisions about whether or not newly created states would be permitted to have slavery or not frequently broke down, and those that went through were fraught with controversy. Voting fraud during the vote on statehood in Kansas led to bloodshed there as early as 1854. (There were only 2 slaves in Kansas at the time!)

Also, the abolitionist movement in the North was very small, but very loud. Led by people like William Lloyd Garrison, a small number of passionate abolitionists were very active. Of course, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had profound effect on northerners, drawing many into the abolitionist viewpoint. With that, free-soil parties, like the Republican Party, were formed on the basis of preventing the expansion of slavery into newly created states. (It is important to note that many northerners were opposed to the expansion of slavery because they thought it would crowd out work opportunities for northern laborers moving west.)

Nevertheless, southern concerns that an increasingly powerful federal government filled with more and more abolitionists who might seek to end slavery were real. There is no illusion about the fact that many southerners were very intent on ensuring the institution continue. (As a side note, only 25% of southerners owned slaves. The aristocratic structure of southern society ensured that it was these people who held the vast influence over southern policy.) With people like Jackson and Lee as exceptions, many certainly had their personal financial investments anchored in slavery, and even George Washington had not been able to overcome his financial dependence on the enslavement of humans (while he lived; he bequeathed them freedom after his wife’s death), despite his disdain for the institution as a whole (I commented on this briefly in my previous post, as well.)

So clearly it’s not an ‘either-or’ question. When the war broke out, Lincoln nor his generals were fighting to end slavery; that wasn’t in the question with regard to immediate causes of the war, though many southerners were concerned about the trend in powerful central government that might limit or seek to end the institution.

Real history doesn’t fit onto bumper stickers.

And more than anything, it is so important to understand (and accept) that people who argue that the war was fought for states’ rights are not supporting slavery and may, in fact, be supporting the very traditional and conservative principle of self-government. They can both argue that point and argue that southern slave-holders were profoundly hypocritical in their views on liberty and condemn slavery as the despicable institution that it is; there is no dissonance with that position. To explain or endorse the states’ rights cause of southern secession is not even a defense of the Confederacy, let alone to support slavery or even ‘white nationalism’. Likewise, we shouldn’t ignore the slavery issue and its broad cultural acceptance at that time, nor be insensitive or uncharitable to those who bring attention of this reality to the forefront. But let’s not pretend that the evil of slavery is still being supported by the vast majority of those who see the argument made by Robert E. Lee, as quoted above.

I ask for charity both ways. A rarity, to be sure.

As in all things, condemn what is evil and immoral and praise what is good and virtuous, rather than picking teams and calling names. Let’s be charitable, understanding, and honest.

Some will argue that Lincoln did not start the war because the south fired the first shots at Ft. Sumter, which in fact they did. However, most historians agree, on account of Lincoln’s discussions with his Cabinet, that he very much intended to provoke them, even after the Confederacy government had offered to pay for the land occupied by federal bases, including Ft. Sumter. 

In August of 1863, Lincoln wrote his friend, attorney and federal agent James Conkling, “I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union. .. I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his resistance to you.” 

Lincoln was opposed to slavery as an institution. He wrote, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is.” But he also argued that the “physical difference” between blacks and whites prevented them from ever being able to live together, and argued clearly that whites ought to have the superior position. He supported a plan to encourage blacks to move to Liberia. He later on did appear to have been glad of the opportunity to free slaves as a consequence of the war on moral grounds, but even after the emancipation declaration, he would still contend that he would have sought war to preserve the Union with or without the end of slavery. 

4Quoted in 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask ©2007, Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Ph.D, page 76.


6 Ibid, page 31.


The History of Conservatism, Liberalism & Libertarianism (Part 5 – Conservatism, Liberalism & the Founding of the United States)

One central question can premise this part:

Given that core components of both conservatism and liberalism were influential among the early American Founders, how can we accurately categorize them?

While I’ll leave that to my readers to decide, I think the answer will become rather clear: you can’t. That case is made immediately clear in the debate between some historians as to whether or not Thomas Jefferson was essentially a liberal or a conservative. In the vein of the first argument, Jefferson was hugely influenced by John Locke, continuously promoted civil liberties, and ultimately promoted blatantly liberal policies such as the separation of church and state, a wider democratic base, et cetera. Other historians argue that Jefferson was actually a conservative. In their line of reasoning, Jefferson supported republican principles going back as far as the Roman Republic and was pro-agrarian (a traditional vocation). By the time of Jefferson’s prolific support of all these various principles and ideals, many of his ideas were already widely accepted and promoted by many in the 13 colonies of the U.S. So did that make them conservative…or liberal?

I’ll give you the history; you can decide the answer. Here are the previous parts, if you are just now joining me:

A Review of Colonial Foundations

I want to start this section off with a quick historical comparison of some of the colonies, loosely categorized for our purposes. This will help inform the impact that these founding influences had on the later framers of the United States during the Revolutionary Era and serve as a helpful reminder more generally.

Virginia & the Aristocratic Colonies: The first colony, established in 1607, grew into an agrarian colony (mainly on tobacco) based on the aristocratic hierarchy of England. Their colonial assembly, the House of Burgesses, was made up of members chosen by the various land-holders of Virginia. Until the Revolutionary Era, Virginia looked much like the mother country, with an officially state-established and state-sponsored Anglican Church. Founders such as George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson would all herald from the aristocratic society of Virginia. Maryland and Carolina (and later Georgia) would follow a very similar structure. (And we should note that Thomas Jefferson was able to produce and get a measure passed in 1786 that ended the government-sponsored church in Virginia.)

Massachusetts & Puritan New England: Though preceded by Plymouth Colony (established 1620), Massachusetts Bay Colony (established 1630) would ultimately become the dominant New England Colony. We’re all familiar with the narrative: led by John Winthrop, thousands of Puritans migrated to Massachusetts in the 1630s to escape the restrictive religious/political environment of Anglican England. There are far too many misconceptions about Massachusetts to expound on here, but for now it is suffice to say that the Puritans were very clear about their goal of a Puritan society in which the church was state, and the state was the church.  Their decentralized system of governance left politics extremely local and based in the church in each community. Members in each church were the voting members in their community. The Puritans did not intend for any separation of church and state, and quickly images of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter emerge to condemn them. Another debate for another time, to be sure, but we have to remember Winthrop was also clear in the voluntary nature of living in Massachusetts. When Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson digressed from the basics of Puritanism, they were asked to leave.

Roger Williams

Puritan Dissenters & Rhode Island:  Roger Williams himself decided to establish his own colony in 1636 at Providence (Rhode Island), established on the idea of separation of church and state. In his essay, The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for the Cause of Conscience, Williams argued against the Puritan church and state unification on the argument that enforced religion was no true religion at all, and the political sword could never effectively create or maintain the true church or the true spiritual life of a believer. (Interested readers are encouraged to read his essay and the response by Puritan Minister John Cotton of Massachusetts, The Bloody Tenet Washed and Made White in the Blood of the Lamb.)

The Middle Colonies: New York (established as New Amsterdam by the Dutch in 1624), Pennsylvania and New Jersey were rather distinct from the other colonies in the propensity of their settlers to take advantage of the somewhat greater economic opportunity. Established as a trading colony by the Dutch and later taken by the British, New York boasted of significant diversity, as well as a great number of people loyal to the British crown during the American Revolution. Pennsylvania and New Jersey, gifted to the Quaker William Penn (and established 1681), were afforded extensive economic freedom. Quakers, while known for being distinctly devout, were also very much committed to economic, political and religious freedom.1 Overall, it is not surprising that New York and Philadelphia grew into the two most prosperous cities in the colonies.2

British Colonial Political Culture

It is important to note that during the 17th and 18th centuries, the British people were among some of the most free in the world in comparative terms. The natural law traditions of Great Britain were an element of pride and specific importance to those in Great Britain and her North American colonies. Much of the conflict arising in the early days of the series of crises leading up to the Revolution cited violations of the colonial “rights as Englishmen.” More specifically, according to Dr. Jason Jewell, many colonists, regardless of their colony of origin, saw themselves as heirs of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (discussed in parts 1 & 3) and of the Whiggism that followed (discussed in parts 3 & 4).3

Although a fading part of the current narrative as it is told, most colonists read and were immersed in the Bible on a regular basis, and beliefs in people as both inherently sinful and made in the image of God were common. Additionally, most of the more educated colonists (and a great many of the aristocratic planter-class of the southern colonies) were well-read in the writings of Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic. Political thinking was no doubt influenced by Cicero and Cato the Younger’s advocacy of “civic virtue” and republicanism. Republicanism, in the Roman sense, was deliberately opposed to absolutism and was premised on the idea that those with a vested interest in the political society of a country should be actively involved in the affairs of the political society.

Newspapers of the day displayed these cultural influences with constant Biblical and Roman references. The symbolism of Republican Rome was perhaps most popularly notable with the title given George Washington: “The American Cincinnatus”4. In addition, it was common for newspaper columns to be authored by someone taking a Roman name as an alias. The Federalist Papers were published under the pseudonym Publius, for example.

A key feature of this appeal to Roman republicanism was the conservatism of these Romans. Fundamental to Cicero and Cato the Younger was a desire to retain traditions and the norms of the ancestors. The conservative Romans who found their influence in American periodicals often bemoaned the loss of their traditional society and culture under the influence of the Roman emperors.

Likewise, despite modern critiques that blur the importance of the Bible in colonial society, this very importance was itself precisely conservative. We see this from New England, where the “puritan ethic” described the general adherence to a life of hard work and strong Biblical ethics, to Georgia, where even the aristocratic elites were well-versed in Scripture. Prayer and Scripture, whether with devout or nominal devotion, were a regular part of private and political life throughout the colonies. (And do not criticize me for any lack of critique with regard to issues of hypocrisy, inconsistency or slavery; that is not the purpose of this series. I merely wish to highlight historical realities that help us understand the progression of the ideas in its title.)

And note one omission from the narrative that is not by accident. Many critics today accuse the conservatism of the Founding generation to be inherently tied to the preservation of slavery. Clearly, that is not the case in any uniform sense. Yes, a distinct conservative thread would emerge in the defense of the slave-based plantation system in the south insofar as they wanted to conserve that lifestyle, but it was not applicable in a more broad sense during the founding days of the United States. (I have included a small digression related to this issue in the footnotes.5 )

The Revolutionary Crisis

Philadelphia, c. 1776

A full discussion of the series of events leading up to the Revolutionary War won’t fit in this post(!).6 Most of us are familiar from our school days with the tax crises. After the French & Indian War, a heavily indebted British government began a series of taxing measures in the colonies to help pay off war debt, as well as to help cover the costs of the British troops stationed in the colonies. Long story short, early problems caused by the taxes led to repeal of some of the taxes, but a Parliament itself divided over policy (Whigs vs. Tories) ended up instating further taxes (some of which were also repealed, and some of which were kept). Eventually, with increased resistance on the part of the colonists and increased determination to secure authority over them by Parliament, a snowball effect of events led to an acute crisis in Massachusetts. A meeting of colonial delegates (ambassadors) was called and the First Continental Congress was formed. It would be the second Continental Congress that would issue the Declaration of Independence two years later.

What was the real issue? Did the resisters oppose taxation on principle? No, not particularly. The real issue was the belief in local government. It was common belief that only the local legislative assembly had the authority to tax its constituents (we’re all familiar with the cry, “no taxation without representation.”)

This principle of localism was very conservative, drawing largely on the localism and traditions of the Middle Ages. As Tom Woods writes,

“Medieval Europe…was a radically decentralized society that featured a multiplicity of jurisdictions. … The Catholic Church, giving voice to the rich tradition of Christian social thought, recommends the principle of subsidiarity… The ideas of federalism and states’ rights, in short, hold a central and honored place within the Western tradition.”7

Finally, it should also be obvious by now the effect that liberalism had in the colonies. We are all familiar with John Locke’s influence on Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. As many colonists saw it, their traditional rights as Englishmen were being violated and their traditional societal values were being challenged. All this culminated into justification for rhetorical and active resistance and ultimate rebellion against the British.

American colonists themselves split as the crisis unfolded. Many remained loyalists and gained themselves the title Tories (recall the Tory origins in England). According to Dr. Jewell, an estimated 20-30% of the colonial population supported continued union with England and the king. Though many did not support British tax policy, they nevertheless were not willing to sever ties to a country that had a better track-record than most of protecting their natural rights, as they saw it.

Of course, the Patriots won the day in bringing full rebellion to pass. Radicals such as Thomas Paine (especially in his booklets such as Common Sense) helped push American colonists into supporting independence.

Post-Revolution Politics

I once again apologize for my lack of historical exposition. It is my full intention to expound fully in the future. For now, I intend to summarize the points that help tell the conservative/liberal story.

With the decision to fight for independence, the citizens of the 13 independent states began a process of attempting the creation of a new political system. In the wake of the declaration, they created the Articles of Confederation to form a continual Congress of delegates from the sovereign states.

I do want to explain the importance of the all-too-often overlooked Articles of Confederation, ratified as the Revolutionary War began. See the footnotes for more information on that document8, but for now, a few points. First, the Articles of Confederation were particularly deliberate in protecting the full sovereignty of each of its member states, much as the nations of the United Nations maintain their sovereignty today. As we’ve already seen, this was a conservative position. Likewise, the Articles were conservative in their guard against democracy, as was the later Constitution (though, with the implementation of the House of Representatives, to a lesser extent). Like the conservative Tories in England (though generally emphasizing different reasons), the Founders, as historians have aptly pointed out, were not supporters of direct democracy, understanding its tendency for the tyranny of the majority.9

In 1787, delegates met once again in Philadelphia to discuss changes to (or more specifically, by the design of James Madison, a full replacement of) the Articles. The Constitution emerged from its debates.

Thomas Jefferson

Passage of the Constitution not a foregone conclusion (something I think we don’t get taught today!), vigorous debate broke out in many states over its merits and demerits. Ultimately, these factions would become known as the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, respectively. The Federalists were proponents of ratification and the consolidated powers given the new federal government not given under the Articles. In opposition, the Anti-Federalists were concerned about losses to state sovereignty that could be brought about by the Constitution. Appeasing their concerns, the Federalists promised a Bill of Rights, the most important of which to the Anti-Federalists was the 10th Amendment. According to historians Kevin Gutzman, Brion McClanahan and many others, the promise of the 10th Amendment was pivotal in getting several key states to ratify the Constitution, including Virginia. The 10th Amendment was put in place to protect state sovereignty, and the conservative principle that promoted localism.

John Adams


Thomas Jefferson (though not in the states during the ratification debates), taking the helm of the arguments against increases in the scope of the federal government’s power, is most remembered for his continued push for the separation of church and state, civil liberties, and generally more limited government. The Constitution passed despite his concerns with the document, but he later went on to demand that the federal government must be bound down by the “chains of the Constitution.” Today, many traditional conservatives, as well as libertarians, look back at Thomas Jefferson for inspiration.

John Adams, who very much could be considered a conservative in his era, was the president who signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, violating the First Amendment and punishing those who publicly spoke poorly of Adams or the government. This was done, incidentally, about the same time that Tory William Pitt the Younger signed the British Sedition Act into law (discussed in part 3). Jefferson and Madison, in reply, authored the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, calling state “nullification” of the laws the “rightful remedy.”

So, how do we classify the Founders and their ideas? Once again, it becomes clear that categorization is not so clear. (And clearly, a complete analysis would discuss individuals and not such a generalized approach. My goal has been summary.) Nevertheless, understanding how they fit into (or didn’t) the ideas during their day will help to clarify the progression of conservative and liberal thought heading toward the current day.

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1 Quakers were, notably, some of the most passionate abolitionists well into the 1840s and 50s. They got their name from the way their services would include quiet worship time during which members were known to quiver or quake as part of their worship experience.

2 Some might attribute that claim to southern cities such as Charleston, but the wealth of Charleston was created by the land and slave-holding aristocrats and brought back into the cities. New York and Philadelphia were filled with far more entrepreneurial-generated wealth created from the unique opportunities of economic freedom.

3 Jason Jewell is the Humanities Chair at Faulkner University and blogs at The Western Tradition. His lecture series on related topics is a key source of my series. You can subscribe to Liberty Classroom for a special discount by subscribing to Already subscribed? Send me an email or message at the Facebook page for the coupon codes.

4 Cincinnatus was a Roman farmer who, in the time of need, led Rome to victory against invasion, after which he returned to his farm, declining an opportunity to use his power and loyalty as an avenue to dictatorship. Washington, likewise, returned to Mount Vernon after becoming the hero of the Revolutionary War, despite concerns (and some proposals) that he would become an American King.

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington were all slave-owners, and all admitted to a distaste of slavery in general, but were unwilling to alter their lifestyles so radically as to honor their distaste. Some who expect perfection of humanity do not think these two ideas can go hand in hand, but human nature is more complicated than these people will admit. George Washington was willing to ensure all his slaves were free upon his and his wife’s death and wrote regularly of his opposition to the institution, but, knowing that freeing his slaves would lead him into bankruptcy, was not willing to catapult himself into poverty. It was a conflict of desires, and his personal desire to avoid bankruptcy and a radical change of lifestyle for which he was not prepared won out over his desire to see slaves freed. Sure, there is plenty of critique to be made here, but that is not the place for this series.

6 I am currently working on writing a summary of these events, but my time dedicated to it has been rather limited. Subscribe to know right away when that one is finished and posted!

33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask, ©2007, Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Ph.D, page 25.

8 I am going to be embarrassed to post this, but I did a video discussion about it for my students, which you can find here. There is nothing professional about the videography or style, and it is my first video lecture I have done! The Articles are far more important in understanding the American founding than they are almost ever given credit for. Instead, we’re always stuck with the “did they succeed, or did they fail?” discussion…and we miss the whole point.

9 John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton make this point very clear later on in the Federalist Papers.


Do You Aspire for Political Power?

I was recently having a conversation with someone who explained to me her interest in politics. Her ultimate goal she said: to become president. She was quite convinced of it, too.  A self-described “control freak,” she had a plan for moving up the political ladder and ultimately emerging in that prized executive position.

Now, I pledge to never disparage anyone with the terribly powerful weapon and tool of my metaphorical pen, and that is not my purpose here. But the interaction struck me and I had to hold my tongue politely in the setting that did not allow for further discussion of the matter. Still, I managed one bit of cordially-delivered advice.

The advice? That politicians are the only people with the legal authority to use force, violence and the threat of each, and the reality of that ought to be sobering.

And as I said, I spoke with lighthearted understatement that somewhat masked the formidable reminder. I will not mince my words here.

Do you aspire for political power?

Please remember the same.

This is not a treatise on political power and its proper role or extent. It is merely a warning.

Saint Augustine theorized that those in power are by and large those who are already inclined to such an abuse of that power, as those not so inclined are most often found in the more docile of vocations. This, of course, is quite counter to the general perspective we are taught of government officials from our youngest days: that those bearing our team label are sacrificial benefactors out for our own good. (You already know how I feel about “team politics” from my post, “I Am Not Partisan”.)

Sure, in response to some of your protests, there are politicians who are not naturally those already inclined to seek the position for its own sake. But am I really that far out on a limb to suggest that these are by far the exception rather than the norm? Saint Augustine and many others would not think so. When the Hebrews demanded a king, the Lord told Samuel to warn them of the ways the kings would turn the people into his very slaves.1 If the vocation of painting draws those who naturally tend to be artistic, then why are we so ready to proclaim that the vocation of power must be a great a sacrifice born by those in its pursuit for the greater good of those they have power over? Does it not likewise tend to draw those who are naturally “control freaks”?

In one of the first posts of this project (“What is the State?”), I made the assertion that the state is a monopoly on force.

Do you aspire for political power? Do you aspire to be a member of this prestigious monopoly with the power to hold the metaphorical gun of legal force?

There is an old adage that we all knew from a young age: “power corrupts.” And when we learned about the kings of France, we added, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And there may be some truth here in a colloquial sense, as some who seek political office often find their benevolent aspirations twisted cruelly into an activity of self-advancement. But perhaps it is a far more accurate reality that power draws out the natural corruption of human nature and gives it far more dangerous an impact than the more benign professions.

Again, this is not a treatise on the role or legitimacy of power. It is, to sound like a broken record, a caution. A warning.

Indeed, I am not altogether opposed to a pragmatic pursuit of political position (and on this, there will be divided opinion among my readers), so long as all such pursuits are used for the advancement of liberty, anchored in the most unshakable of moral caliber. Such pursuit and integrity is a rare find among the political class.

We have come so far from God’s warning to the Hebrews that a king would “draft your sons,” force some to “plow in his fields and harvest his crops,” “take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials,” and “take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest.”2 Indeed, we have come to revere the very power that God told Samuel was a rejection of His sovereignty.3

This is the power to tax. The power to wage war. The power to wield the only legal metaphorical gun and the power to use it.

And for those who want to add, “the power to build up or to destroy,” do not be misled. The power of government cannot build up. It cannot create. It can only feed on the productivity and creativity of others. All true conservatives have understood that truth and beauty can never be the product of force. As the great conservative Edmund Burke (who I discuss here) wrote,

“In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing, the Thing itself is the Abuse!”4

And the great 20th Century writer, conservative and libertarian-leaning J.R.R. Tolkien, expressing his views in The Lord of the Rings, expresses his views in Gandalf’s reply to Frodo’s suggestion that he take the Ring (which in a later letter, Tolkien says symbolizes power itself):

“No! With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly! Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused.”5

Do you aspire for this power?

Then be sobered by the reality of this danger and proceed with humility, integrity and a deep and abiding fear of what the weapon and tool in your hands really means.

1 1 Samuel 8

2 Ibid, verses 11-15

3 Ibid, verse 7.

4 This comes from one of his early essays, though it was repeated as a motto throughout much of Burke’s political life. Numerous commentaries can be found on it with a simple Google search.

5 The Lord of the Rings, page 60. A very interesting and thorough look at Tolkien’s views on power as expressed through The Lord of the Rings can be found here.

Book Review: The Problem with Socialism

The book begins by citing a 2015 study showing that “43% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 had a ‘favorable’ opinion of socialism and that they have a higher opinion of socialism than they do of capitalism.1 It immediately cites another study in 2016 that “found that 69% of voters under the age of thirty expressed a ‘willingness to vote for a socialist president of the United States.’”2

Economics professor Thomas DiLorenzo saw this as a challenge.

In his beautifully short and information-packed book, The Problem with Socialism, DiLorenzo strikes at the heart of the major elements and issues with socialism. As he aptly states in his introduction, “In order to have a ‘favorable’ view of socialism one must have either forgotten what the entire world learned about socialism from the late nineteenth century on, or have never learned anything about it in the first place.”3

He is correct.

And he knows how to cater it to millennials, many of whom seem to be trending in a Bernie Sanders direction. Well, okay, let’s be honest. The best way to do that might be flashy short video clips. But for a book, DiLorenzo keeps his chapters snappy and thorough; most can be read in 20 minutes or less. I read virtually the entire book in a weekend—quite a feat for a slow reader with a toddler, newborn and two jobs.

What does DiLorenzo cover? Everything from the fundamental economic problems of socialism to how forced egalitarianism conflicts with human nature, to how Scandinavian socialism isn’t what it’s made out to be, to the problems of minimum wage, welfare, state-sponsored education and more. As he writes, this book is meant to be a “primer on socialism (and capitalism) for some; a historical reminder for others; and a handy sourcebook on all the problems of socialism and how it threatens a free society.”4 And he does it all in an easy-to-read way, without the total-silence-needed-for-concentration burden of heavy economic analysis. This book is written for the layperson.

For anyone looking for this sort of easy, quick but comprehensive examination of all the major issues of socialism, I cannot more highly recommend this book. I agree with Thomas Woods, and others who contend that every high school student ought to read this book before heading off to college, but even for those of us beyond that point and immersed in busy lives, DiLorenzo helps us avoid the ignorance that seems to be increasing around us on the topic of socialism. The fact of the matter is, this isn’t just something that you can just take or leave. The more these realities are forgotten by voters and their elected officials, the more it truly will affect our lives. Treat yourself to an excellent source of understanding.

And for my fellow nerds, enjoy a lecture given by Professor DiLorenzo based on this book:

1 DiLorenzo, Thomas, The Problem with Socialism, page 1.

2 Ibid, 2.

3 Ibid, 4.

4 Ibid, 12


The History of Conservatism, Liberalism & Libertarianism (Part 4 – Liberalism in 18th & 19th Century Great Britain)

Let’s jump right in. In this part, I’m going through the key elements of liberalism in Great Britain during the 18th and early 19th centuries. In case you missed any of the previous parts:

In my approach to this rather sweeping scope and sequence, I am going to first discuss key thinkers (primarily John Locke) in the development of distinctly liberal thought in the political sphere and then in the economic sphere. Then, I’ll look at specifically how liberal ideas had an impact on British politics and policies more directly.

John Locke (1632-1704)

John Locke & Other Key Theorists in Liberal Political Theory

As already stated numerous times, the character perhaps most foundation to classical liberalism is John Locke, who we already mentioned briefly in part 1. Given the profound influence on many thinkers and particularly on many of the American Founders, Locke’s ideas merit a bit more expansion than I have offered so far. As Edmund Burke is often cited as the “father of conservatism,” so Locke is considered the “father of liberalism.”1

Despite his work as a physician to the Earl of Shaftsbury (a key founder of the Whig Party who probably influenced many of Locke’s ideas), John Locke committed much of his time to philosophy and writing, producing, among other works, his primary disposition on political philosophy, The Second Treatise of Government.

Though I will not reproduce a full analysis of Locke’s theory, I do want to lay out some of his foundational ideas. To begin, Locke believed that all people are entitled to what he called the “law of nature.” He writes first that the state of nature is “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they see fit, within the bounds of the law of nature.” A few paragraphs later, he clarifies this law of nature:

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one; and reason, which is that law, teaching all mankind who will but consult it, that, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberties or possessions. For men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker—all the servants of one sovereign Master—they are his property” and “there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another.”²


Continuing through his Treatise, Locke then theorizes that the reason that men leave the “state of nature” and join together in political society is for the protection of those rights. In gathering together, Locke believes that people have formed a sort of “social contract,” whereby they consent to be governed by the very status of being in civil society (called social contract theory). In this civil society, they then create for themselves a government (which Locke specifically calls a commonwealth) for the protection of natural rights, and that commonwealth is only legitimate insofar as it gains its power from the consent of the governed. When the government fails to protect natural rights, it can and should be resisted and, if necessary, replaced.³

Any readers familiar with the American Declaration of Independence cannot miss Locke’s profound impact on its primary author, Thomas Jefferson.

To safeguard the government’s prescribed role as protector of individual liberty, Locke advocated a clear separation of political power into the law-making (legislative), law-enforcing (executive) and judicial branches. Of course, it’s all but impossible to miss the impact his ideas had on the American Constitution, as well.

Locke’s ideas expanded beyond his Treatises on Government. In A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke also argued adamantly for the separation of church and state and for religious toleration, writing that “no man by nature is bound unto any particular church or sect.”4 His ideas on religious toleration and the separation of church and state would, of course, as any student of American History understands, have profound influence on the debate over these issues in the North American British colonies.

A final note before moving on. Neither modern American conservatives nor most current libertarians fully adhere to all of John Locke’s principles or premises. Nevertheless, it is hard to understand the impact of his ideas on American political life, both in the conservative and classically liberal traditions, without a more complete understanding of these fundamental tenants.

Though perhaps the greatest voice of his day advocating for natural rights, Locke was not alone. We’ve already mentioned Samuel Rutherford in part 1, but even some French thinkers would have an impact on the liberal tradition in Great Britain.

Voltaire (1694-1778)

Voltaire is a key example. A poet, playwright and humanist who spent much of his time in England, Voltaire is largely remembered for his political writings like the satirical Candide. In his writings, Voltaire argued against arbitrary power and specifically for free speech and religious toleration.

Another writer in the liberal tradition (and, incidentally, also in the conservative tradition, depending on the ideas discussed) is David Hume (1711-1776). Though an entire section could be written on Hume, as well, it must be suffice to say that he spent much of his writing arguing for the liberal idea of minimal government.

And born nearly a decade after Locke’s death, John Stuart Mill would also write a passionate treatise advocating for liberty in his essay conspicuously titled, On Liberty. I’ll mention him again in a bit.


Key Theorists in Liberal Economic Theory

Supplemental to the political theorists were numerous economists who either self-consciously or inadvertently can be identified in the same liberal vein. As Locke argued for political liberty, economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo would argue for economic liberty.

Adam Smith (1723-1790)

The name most people are familiar with, naturally, is Adam Smith, a Scottish economist boasting his major work, The Wealth of Nations (1776). We find ironies with Smith as with Locke; as a professor of moral philosophy, it is his economic writings that have earned him the title by many, “the father of modern capitalism.” (Note that some current free-market economists contend this title.)

Though by no means the key originator of these ideas, Smith made the now well-known case for free trade and deliberately opposed the mercantile ideas of the day. Mercantilism is (in layman’s terms) the economic theory that wealth is fundamentally finite and it is in a nation’s best interest to maintain a favorable balance of trade (more exports than imports) in order that more wealth enters a country than leaves. In summary, Smith is probably most well-known for his advocacy of laissez faire—or “hand’s off”—economic policy. In truth, Smith drew much of his understanding from others. This same anti-mercantilist ideology was perhaps first promoted by a group of economists in France known as the physiocrats.

(Readers hoping for a more extensive description of the economic ideas of the day will have to forgive me; click the links for further reading. Particularly interested readers may also research Cantillon, an Irish-French economist preceding Smith who laid much of the anti-mercantile groundwork. He would play a key role in the development of economics as a field of study broadly and in Austrian Economics specifically.)

In summary, then, the French physiocrats, Adam Smith and other classical economists were largely united in their view that markets, both domestic and international, ought to remain largely free of government intervention, a position that aligned itself with and became a key part of liberalism going forward.


I want to touch briefly on one other vein of thought that is often tied, in historical context, to the liberalism of the era we’re discussing: utilitarianism. To be sure, not all liberals adhered to utilitarianism, and not all utilitarians can be considered liberals. But that a few key figures did does tie the two movements together to a limited extent.

John Stuart Mill

But first, what is utilitarianism? Utilitarianism is the idea that favors policy that maximizes social utility, that is, whatever improves the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. Advocated first largely by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), utilitarians believed that government should pursue policies that improve social utility (or happiness) for the most people. (Some even went so far as to try to calculate pain and pleasure in what Bentham called “hedonistic calculus.”)

While not premised on principle, as for liberals such as John Locke, utilitarians often ended at liberal conclusions such as free trade, civil liberties and political equality, inevitably uniting many of their policy positions.

As already mentioned, James Mill (1773-1836) and his son, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), are two well-known thinkers in the utilitarian and liberal streams of philosophy. Though both passionately agnostic and anti-Christian, they wrote both economics works and political philosophy pieces such as Mill the younger’s On Liberty.

Liberalism in British Politics

Okay, time to get to the practical influence of liberalism on English politics. We need to back up in time for a moment. In the last part, we looked at the development of the Whig and Tory parties surrounding the question of whether to allow James II to become king of England, which he finally did in 1685. Whiggism, originating in the fear that James would bring Great Britain back into Catholicism, became tied more and more with liberal ideology over the following centuries. Part of the reason for this was that Whigs based their policy positions on the longstanding natural law traditions in England that afforded the land-holding gentry some, if limited, sovereignty over their government.

As time went on, the ideas of John Locke helped to solidify the philosophical grounding to many Whig positions. Drawing on not only Locke, but as far back as Classical Roman Republicans, a series of essays called Cato’s Letters circulated Great Britain.5 Using historical characters to expose contemporary issues, Cato’s Letters dealt with government corruption, natural law, freedom of speech and political resistance, among other things. Published while Whigs held Parliamentary power from 1720 to 1723, Cato’s Letters helped inspire many in English society, as well as the North American English colonists.

What of specific policy prescriptions of the liberals? Let’s jump ahead to the early 1800s, where we see a few key clear-cut liberal policies come into effect.

One already mentioned in the previous part was Catholic Emancipation. Liberals and Whigs were the most ardent in their advocacy that Catholics be allowed to meet in public and serve in public office. Ultimately, in an effort by both liberals and the conservative Duke of Wellington, Catholic Emancipation managed to be passed in 1832.

Another major issue put forth by liberals was the Reform Act of 1832.

It is important to draw out one more clear point here. During the later 18th and early 19th centuries, liberalism pursued democratic expansion—the inclusion of greater numbers of people in the political process. The theory behind this is best understood in context. With the backdrop of Divine Right (discussed in Part 1), absolutism becoming stronger in neighboring France, and a hierarchical system that put power in the hands of the aristocracy, liberals saw some of the best safeguards of liberty to be in the greater “voice” of the people as a check against the arbitrary power of oligarchs. (That many people would soon come to see democracy as a way for large numbers of people to vote themselves political privileges and monetary transfers was not particularly clear to liberals at the time. More on this development later.)

Charles Grey (1764-1845)

And it was in this push for greater democracy that the Reform Act of 1832 was passed. Passed under Whig Charles Grey (for whom the tea Earl Grey is named), the Reform Act vastly expanded suffrage (by relaxing land-owning requirements for voting) and rearranged parliamentary districts (called boroughs) to ensure more equal representation. The Industrial Revolution had resulted in such massive demographic shifts and boroughs that were either vastly over-represented or under-represented, that it had become a major Whig goal to reform the entire Parliamentary district system.

The Reform Act was met with substantial opposition from Tories, who feared that a greater voting base would degrade politics into a sort of rough and tumble sport while removing it from those with the higher levels of education and nobility. It is also an important note to remember that almost all taxes were paid primarily by the land-owners. Conservatives feared that by giving suffrage to those who paid little or no taxes, the political process could, in fact, become vulnerable to taxes being raised under the pressure of those who would not pay them.

Despite opposition and with the help of political maneuvering, Charles Grey managed to get the Reform Bill passed.

Encouraged by this, the Chartism working-class movement of the 1830s-1850s sought to expand these democratic and, at the time, liberal gains. The Chartists pushed for universal male suffrage, voting by secret ballot, the elimination of property-requirements for members of Parliament, a more evenly balanced constituency for these members, and annual elections. For the time being, these measures failed in the British Parliament.

Finally, liberals were at the forefront of the abolitionist movement. While the slave trade had already been passed in England (with the advocacy of conservative William Pitt the Younger), it was also during Charles Grey’s tenure during which all slaves were freed in the entirety of the British empire, a longstanding goal of many liberals.

And this concludes the foundational ideas of conservatism and liberalism as they developed in Great Britain. Many readers will already see how these ideas impacted the development of the United States, in some cases in opposition to each other, and at times in unison. In the coming posts, we’ll head over to the specifics of this narrative in the American colonies before coming back to look at these ideas on continental Europe, the emergence of socialism, the modern trends in conservatism and liberalism, and so much more. Thanks for reading!

¹A quick Google search turns up many articles testifying to these titles. 

²The hyperlink before is to a full-length text. The quoted portions come from pages 2-3 of the Dover Thrift Edition.

³Ironically and contrary to the understanding of previous scholarship, it turns out that Locke’s Second Treatise on Government was written prior to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, discussed in parts 1 and 3.

4Same version as footnote #2, page 116. 

5Cato the Younger was the Roman Republican who, after attempting and failing to prevent Julius Caesar’s rise to virtual dicatorship, eventually committed suicide. In addition to inspiring his namesake essays circulating Great Britain, his story also inspired many in the American Colonies, especially Patrick Henry.

Don’t Trust Me; Study What I Say

This post is going to be a bit different than many of my posts, but something that I very much want to emphasize:

Don’t trust me.

That seems like an odd thing to say, especially given my vocation and passion as a teacher. But it just because of that vocation and passion that I say it.

I’m not implying that I’m untrustworthy, obviously! So let me explain completely what I mean.

If you haven’t read it, yet, I began this project with a post (“Why On Earth Do We Need Another Blog?”) that reveals my reasoning and intent on a broad, and yet very personal level. There is an abundance of information out there; the Information Age is aptly named, or so it seems. Likewise, the more abundant a product, the more abundant is its counterfeit, in this case: disinformation. Or skewed information.

To have one more source of information and thought-provoking content in the current environment is almost like a drop in the lake saying, “hey, drink me, not that other drop over there!”

And that’s why I say don’t trust me. The reality is, I really do want you to trust me, but I understand something crucial: my credibility to the reader is only as good as their verification of what I say. So that’s ultimately what I want you do to: study what I say. Do your own research. See if I’m truly telling the truth, or if I am sound in my arguments.

For those who have studied the art of argumentation, you know that there are three major ways to argue, approaching the debate on logos, ethos or pathos.¹ Logos is the idea that an argument is logically and factually sound. Ethos refers to the credibility of the debater; do we trust them? As a constant student and teacher of the material I write about, I hope that I have some “ethos” in my articles. Pathos is an appeal to emotion. The most effective arguments have all three.

My goal with this project truly comes from a desire to dispense truth and genuine understanding. I want a strong logos and ethos to bolster what I say, but I am not a soap-box blogger (most of the time). Frankly, that might make me less popular than the Tomi Lahren’s of the information world, as human nature is generally more drawn to the pathos approach. (And that is not to say I ignore pathos, but that will come third of the three appeals.)

So study what I say. See if I am right. Do your own research. I want you to trust me, of course, but I want mostly to be a conduit for your own investigation. As a teacher, I know that my students will only really learn when they care about the learning and study it for themselves. That’s true for anyone (how many of us would have enjoyed the books we were assigned to read in school if they had not been an assignment?). What I care about is truth and learning, not about building my “brand” or making a name for myself. (Incidentally, the main reason this project took my name is because I struggled to find an effective alternative.)

If you find something to be awry or not correct, I want to correct it or re-think what I say, or engage you in courteous discussion about the disagreement. You can contact me at the “Contact Me” tab or, even better, private message me at the LCKeagy Facebook page.

Want to engage in discussion on matters related to these or similar topics? Join the LCKeagy Forum, a discussion group meant for just such courteous and productive debate.

Want to followup with your own study and research? Check out my Recommended Books and/or check out Liberty (subscribe for special discounts), and go to sources I don’t have listed and let me know if you find what I say to be off or untrue.

In the end, I hope this project is a helpful conduit of learning that both challenges you to think about things in perhaps a way you have not, or learn about things that are not otherwise the common repetition of the nightly news or the items crossing your Facebook news or Twitter feed. Learning and understanding what is true in a world of information, disinformation and confused information is the ultimate goal.

¹There is an abundance of material on these argumentative appeals; here is just one such source.

Book Review: The Primal Prescription

It’s a bit of a rarity for me to write a book review. Let me qualify that. This is the first I’ve written beyond the paragraph comments provided for the various books I have so far recommended under my “Recommended Books” page.

But why not start somewhere? I’ve always had a bit of an interest in it.

I have recently finished reading The Primal Prescription: Surviving the ‘Sick Care’ Sink Hole (© 2014)¹ by Doug McGuff and Robert Murphy. McGuff is a Medical Doctor with years of experience working in the Emergency Room, while Robert Murphy is an economist with the Free Market Institute of Texas Tech University, the author of numerous books and the co-host of one of my favorite podcasts, ContraKrugman (listed on my “Recommended Podcasts” page).

The Primal Prescription serves two major purposes and is divided accordingly.

First, the authors draw on Murphy’s economic insights to explain and analyze the complete history of health care in the United States and how things have progressed to what we have today, from wage and price controls in World War II to EMTALA under Reagan and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) under Obama. They break down the effects of various laws, and spend several chapters showing how the ACA “works.”  Additionally, they show the process of new drug approval and the relationships between what has notoriously become known as “Big Pharma” and the FDA. And here’s a shocker. For everyone who says, “the free market is broken in healthcare,” you’ll find that it’s not so much the free market, but rather intervention and “tweaking” over the last century that have, in their attempt to “correct” for various problems and perceived problems, caused many unintended “side-effects” in the health care and health insurance markets that needed further and further intervention and tweaking.

In this thorough analysis and exceptional insight into the healthcare and health insurance markets, McGuff and Murphy’s examination is replete with statistics. These are not cherry-picked; they draw largely on the numbers offered by the Congressional Budget Office. And in so doing they show the clear unsustainability of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) and the progression of American medicine toward a Canada- or Britain-style single-payer system (the “public option”). This was the ultimate goal that then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed with Journalist Steve Sebelius when he said, “We had a real good run at the public option” and “ObamaCare is a step in the right direction, but we’re far from having something that’s going to work.” (Video link to that interview here.)

The information is thorough and detailed; bring a highlighter.

The second half of the book transitions into a unique insight on how to both try and avoid the healthcare system as much as possible through a Paleo-style diet and lifestyle, but also to know how to navigate the system effectively. It is in this section where where Doctor McGuff’s experience is paramount. Covering topics from choosing a physician to navigating a hospital stay, getting off medications and whether or not to choose screening procedures, there is no shortage of helpful revelation and advice.

If you’re looking for a book that both explains the economics of healthcare and health insurance and lays out how to navigate both in a way that avoids getting trapped by either, then The Primal Prescription is well worth your while. And ultimately, as one who believes firmly in individual responsibility (as opposed to expecting others to give things to you), we ought to be well-armed with understanding in order to make wise and informed decisions in an environment where healthcare and health insurance are becoming increasingly complex, convoluted and expensive, both in time and money.

(¹A note on commissions: I do not earn commission sales on books I link to on Amazon. There are a handful of states that Amazon is not allowed to pay commission to residents of, and I happen to live in one of those states. So I am not linking to books or recommending them for any financial income, at least not at this point under the current rules.)