The tradition of classical liberalism reflects the thoughts of men and women who value peace, individual liberty, and freedom of thought, speech, and action. It is represented in the world of action by American revolutionaries such as Thomas Paine and George Mason, by the Jeffersonian Republicans and the Jacksonian "Loco Focos," by French free traders and peace activists such as Frederic Bastiat and Gustave de Molinari, by English free trade anti-imperialists such as Richard Cobden and John Bright, and by countless others who have devoted their efforts to the cause of human liberty. In the history of ideas, classical liberalism is represented by scholars and other intellectuals as diverse as Immanuel Kant and Wilhelm von Humboldt, Adam Smith and Isabel Paterson, Madame de Stal and Albert Jay Nock.
The distinction between the worlds of action and ideas is not as clear as this might suggest, however, for each has affected the other. Thought and reflection are actions in the world; they change the world as they reflect it. Classical liberalism remains a continuing force both in political life (broadly speaking) and in intellectual life. Indeed, recent years have seen a remarkable efflorescence of classical liberal thought, as the world has begun to recover from the collectivist nightmares of the twentieth century brought on by the eclipse of classical liberalism toward the end of the last century and its replacement by various nationalist, racist, collectivist, and statist ideologies.
Thinkers such as the Nobel Laureates F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James Buchanan, who have carried the tradition of classical liberalism through the middle years of the century, are being joined by hundreds of younger intellectuals, journalists, and academics at universities, publications, and think-tanks around the world. A large and growing international network of scholars is advancing the frontiers of thought in many disciplines, from anthropology to economics to history to jurisprudence. These advances have been reflected in the growing trend toward denationalization and privatization of state-owned industries around the world -- from the former communist bloc to South America to Africa to North America and western Europe; in the growing awareness of the importance of individual rights and the rule of law in legal systems around the world; and in the struggles over freedom of trade.
The agenda for social, economic, and political change is increasingly being set by classical liberal thinkers.
But the conflict between liberty and power is far from over. Indeed, as the English historian Lord Acton characterized it, the struggle may be perpetual; in his "Lectures on Modern History," Acton stated, "The passion for power over others can never cease to threaten mankind, and is always sure of finding new and unforeseen allies in continuing its martyrology." The contest between liberty and power involves every thinking person.
It is a contest in which the student has a special place. The writing of a term paper or an essay in a college newspaper, the publication of a journal article or book, the making of a public speech—all can contribute to the process of substituting liberty for coercion, production and exchange for violence and "redistribution," peace for war. The advancement of our understanding of the spontaneous and voluntary ordering of complex social systems, of the historical development of liberty, of the "hidden" history of voluntary mutual aid and self-help, and of many other questions will find its true realization in the changes in social and political processes they bring about.
This introductory guide to scholarship serves as an invitation to join an active international community of scholars dedicated to the classical liberal ideals of liberty, justice, and peace. The topics and works described below will suggest many research programs for students. A topic researched for an undergraduate term paper often becomes the basis for a doctoral dissertation, launching a successful career in the world of academia. Or it can shape a career of a journalist, a lawyer, a policy-maker, or a member of the clergy.
"A Guide to Classical Liberal Scholarship" will prove rewarding to students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Many works listed will introduce the reader to an exciting new world of thought and scholarship. Others provide concise answers to specialized problems. In either case, this guide is a valuable tool for student scholarship. The guide provides by no means a complete listing of works in the classical liberal tradition, nor a comprehensive overview of what is an expanding and evolving tradition. The pleasure is left to the user of following up on the ideas, citations, research suggestions, clues, leads, and opportunities presented by the works listed in this modest guide.
Tom G. Palmer
IHS Research Fellow
Many of the books cited in this Guide, in addition to hundreds of others, are available through Laissez Faire Books, a division of the Center for Independent Thought. For a free catalog, write to Laissez Faire Books, 938 Howard Street, #202, San Francisco, CA 94103, call 1-800-326-0996, send a faxed request to 1-415-541-0597, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.orgReturn to [Guide to Classical Liberal Scholarship][IHS homepage]