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Liberty Matters

I assume most readers of this blog are already familiar with Cato UnboundThe idea there is to take some topic of interest to libertarians, get an expert in the field to write a substantial lead essay on the topic, then get 3 or so other experts to write response essays, and finally open it up for freewheeling discussion among the whole crew. Each discussion runs the course of a whole month, so topics are given the kind of in-depth treatment that is often lacking in the blogosphere. It’s a great forum. John Tomasi and I wrote an essay there on the history of classical liberal thought last spring, and you can find lots of other good stuff there from BHLers like Steve Horwitz, Sarah Skwire, Jason Brennan, and Roderick Long.

Anyway, Liberty Fund is now launching a similar program, called “Liberty Matters.” Think of it as Cato Unbound with a more historical emphasis. The idea, as they describe it, is to ask scholars to “reflect upon how some of the authors whose works are part of the Online Library of Liberty have defended individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace over the past 300 years.”

The first lead essay is now up. It’s by Eric Mack, and discusses issues pertaining to John Locke and property. Locke, of course, is admired by libertarians for his defense of self-ownership and homesteading. But, as Mack writes:

it is hard to avoid the conclusion that when Locke shifts from high philosophy to public policy – especially public policy concerning the less reputable members of society – liberty and property tend to get lost in the shuffle.   When the poor escape from “negligent officers,” the untoward result is that they “are at liberty for a new ramble.” “Restraint of the debauchery” of the poor is a necessary step “towards setting the poor on work.”  Despite Locke’s core devotion to property rights and despite the strong anti-paternalism and anti-moralism of his A Letter Concerning Toleration,  in the “Essay on the Poor Law” (1697) Locke calls for “the suppressing of superfluous brandy shops and unnecessary alehouses, especially in country parishes not lying upon great roads.”

Read the whole essay. And watch for response essays soon by Jan Narveson, Peter Vallentyne, and Michael Zuckert.

In March, Liberty Matters will host a forum on the thought of Gustave de Molinari, arguably the originator of contemporary market anarchism. The lead essay will be written by Roderick Long, with responses essays by me, Gary Chartier, and David Friedman.

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Author: Matt Zwolinski
  • CFV

    Excellent essay (although I already knew its main points from his book on John Locke).

    An objection. It doesn’t follow “if the earth were originally commonly owned in
    any substantive sense,” then “universal consent would be needed before any
    individual could permissibly take up and use any portion of the earth”. You might have, for example, a moral right to appropriate only and no more than your equal share of natural raw resources even against the will of right-libertarians first-comers (!)