The Classic Liberals and their mistake

In his book “For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto” Murray N. Rothbard gives us a little history of the Classical Liberals of the 17th and 18th century. He wrote the following:

The libertarian creed emerged from the “classical liberal” movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Western world, specifically, from the English Revolution of the seventeenth century. This radical libertarian movement, even though only partially successful in its birthplace, Great Britain, was still able to usher in the Industrial Revolution there by freeing industry and production from the strangling restrictions of State control and urban government-supported guilds. For the classical liberal movement was, throughout the Western world, a mighty libertarian “revolution” against what we might call the Old Order — the ancien régime — which had dominated its subjects for centuries. This regime had, in the early modern period beginning in the sixteenth century, imposed an absolute central State and a king ruling by divine right on top of an older, restrictive web of feudal land monopolies and urban guild controls and restrictions. The result was a Europe stagnating under a crippling web of controls, taxes, and monopoly privileges to produce and sell conferred by central (and local) governments upon their favorite producers. This alliance of the new bureaucratic, war-making central State with privileged merchants — an alliance to be called “mercantilism” by later historians — and with a class of ruling feudal landlords constituted the Old Order against which the new movement of classical liberals and radicals arose and rebelled in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Classical Liberals sought to overturn the Old Order and level the playing field for all people to the extent that they could, which meant that the State was to be kept extremely small and its tax revenues were to be kept as small as possible. The classical liberals saw that taxes enabled the State and gave it power over the people and they knew that power corrupts.

I once saw a list of beliefs of those of us who urge voluntary cooperation. This list is also a fairly good description of what the Classical Liberals were urging in the 17th and 18th century.

  1. Private ownership of property; not only of personal possessions but also of land, homes, natural resources, tools, and capital goods;
  2. Contracts and voluntary exchange of goods and services, by individuals or groups, on the expectation of mutual benefit;
  3. Totally free competition among all buyers and sellers — in price, quality, and all other aspects of exchange — without ex ante restraints or burdensome barriers to entry;
  4. Entrepreneurial discovery, undertaken not only to compete in existing markets but also in order to discover and develop new opportunities for economic or social benefit; and
  5. Spontaneous order, recognized as a significant and positive coordinating force — in which decentralized negotiations, exchanges, and entrepreneurship converge to produce large-scale coordination without, or beyond the capacity of, any deliberate plans or explicit common blueprints for social or economic development.

The above list is essentially the Classical Liberal vision of laissez-faire capitalism and it is essentially the librarian view as well. The problem is that the list allows for the State in the view of a Classical Liberal. This is the idea of a “night watchman” state where the government is constrained to a few well defined and necessary duties. The government of the US started out just that way under the Articles of Confederation but look at how short a time it took to see power accumulate at the center. After just nine years of the Articles of Confederation we saw the enactment of the present Constitution and then centralized power really took off. From a “night watchman” start, we now have a central government with seemingly unlimited power to do as it pleases. Many recognize that we live in a police state now.


I have seen many people try to put a date on where America really went wrong. A favorite is the war between the states which meant that no state could secede from the union and “vote with its feet” any longer. Others say that it was WWI and the emergence of Empire by the US. Still others blame the reaction to the great depression by Franklin D. Roosevelt. I reject all the various guesses as to where we went wrong. I think that the new nation went wrong by forming a government in the first place. There was no way to write down some rules on a piece of paper that would constrain power-seeking men over time. Sooner or later the new government would grow teeth and bite the people. History is a testament to my view.

After centuries of experience most people continue to believe that “all good things flow from the compassionate nature of government.” Has the record of the actions of governments in the 20th century not shown us the true nature of the beast?

I am convinced that the Classic Liberals have been on the right path, but they need to recognize that the state is far too dangerous to ever make use of. We need to let people interact via mutual free-will consent. People will need protection since men are not Angels, and so private companies will arise to offer that protection to their customers. The free market can provide anything that the state claims to provide — and without pointing a gun at your head to make you buy it.

9 thoughts on “The Classic Liberals and their mistake

  1. I agree completely with ” I think that the new nation went wrong by forming a government in the first place.” I’ve rarely read that perspective – but I agree with it wholeheartedly. Great article.

  2. Mark, All fine and dandy until you run into the Bully on Horseback and his thugs. ( Think Minerva Reef vs Tonga)

    At this point the world is just too small and you HAVE TO have a standing Army to keep the SOBs who would rather steal than trade at bay. If you have a standing Army that means taxes to pay for them and a government of some sort. The USA found out the hard way they needed a standing army in the war of 1812. The British government was impressing American sailors into the British Navy and imposing trade restrictions on the USA. The USA ‘won’ the war but Britain kept right on impressing US sailors.

    If we did away with the US government tomorrow the land would be annexed by Mexico, Canada, Russia and maybe China within a month.

    The world is full of power hungry sociopaths and the only option is to keep ‘yours’ under as much control as possible. That is why the right of free speech and the right to bear arms is so very important.

    • I would agree with this, and I would like to point out that more and more international agreements (such as those signed through UN climate conferences) have language inserted which will limit national sovereignty including the right of nations to keep standing armies. They might be trying to take your guns, but if they take your armies, hello peace-keepers and hello Orwell. Can you imagine the UN defending Syria? Remember Rwanda? There are even clauses inserted into these agreements which state that there is no way to get out of these agreements once they are signed. And of course, those doing the signing will be elected officials, but those gathering the signatures, writing the policies, and doling out punishment for not following the letter of the law are unelected. Remember Greece? Remember Pacino in Godfather III.
      Read the following for more on this topic, who is involved, what is at stake, and what we should do (all wrapped up in a doubter-friendly article on climate and governance.)

  3. Mark,
    On a different but related topic, I would like your thoughts.
    My education in history and philosophy is sketchy at best.

    As you have outlined above the Classic Liberals really shook-up the dominant social order in the 1700s and 1800s. The Holy Roman Empire and satellite aristocracy had been in place for a thousand years. In December of 800, Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne as Emperor. Emperor Francis II dissolved the empire on 6 August 1806, after its defeat by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz.

    A quick look at the history of the time shows:
    1776 – American Revolution

    1789 until 1799. French Revolution

    1803 – 1815 Napoleonic Wars (involving most of Europe)

    War of 1812

    Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain which existed from 1838 to 1858. ( Classical Liberal or Socialist? I would think Classical Liberal.)

    All of this was the third estate (peasants/bourgeoisie) shaking off the yoke of the Aristocracy and the clergy and putting a major scare into the elite.

    It is my thesis that contrary to popular belief, Karl Marx was not writing in the interest of the worker/peasant but in the interests of the Aristocracy/Banking Elite. The idea was to establish a replacement for the clergy as a method to legitimize the confiscation of private property and return it to the control of the State/Elite.

    The Connection to the Aristocracy:</b.
    From WIKI on Karl Marx:

    …Spending summer and autumn 1836 in Trier, Marx became more serious about his studies and his life. He became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, an educated baroness of the Prussian ruling class who had known Marx since childhood. Having broken off her engagement with a young aristocrat to be with Marx, their relationship was socially controversial due to the differences between their ethnic and class origins, but Marx befriended her father, a liberal aristocrat, Ludwig von Westphalen, and later dedicated his doctoral thesis to him….

    From WIKI on Ludwig von Westphalen:

    Westphalen, was the youngest son of Christian Philip Heinrich von Westphalen (1724–92), who had been de facto “chief of staff” to Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick during the Seven Years’ War, and from whom he inherited the aristocratic title of baron.[1][2] Through his mother he was the descendant of many Scottish and European noble families….

    in 1816 Ludwig von Westphalen was transferred to Trier.[1]

    It was in Trier that he met and befriended Heinrich Marx, the father of Karl Marx….

    ….In fact, Ludwig was seen as the mentor and role model of Karl Marx, who referred to him as a “dear fatherly friend”.[1] It was Ludwig who first introduced Marx to the socialist teachings of Saint-Simon.[2] Marx’s dissertation was dedicated to Ludwig.

    So Marx was not exactly unfriendly with the aristocracy.

    On 28 August 1844, Marx met the German socialist Friedrich Engels at the Café de la Régence, beginning a lifelong friendship.[59] Engels showed Marx his recently published The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844,[60][61] convincing Marx that the working class would be the agent and instrument of the final revolution in history….

    The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 had been written between April and August 1844.

    In mid-July 1845, Marx and Engels left Brussels for England to visit the leaders of the Chartists, a socialist movement in Britain. This was Marx’s first trip to England and Engels was an ideal guide for the trip. Engels had already spent two years living in Manchester, from November 1842[85] to August 1844.[86] Not only did Engels already know the English language,[87] he had developed a close relationship with many Chartist leaders.[87] Indeed, Engels was serving as a reporter for many Chartist and socialist English newspapers….

    , Marx knew that people would tend on most occasions to act in accordance with their own economic interests. Thus, appealing to an entire class (the working class in this case) with a broad appeal to the class’s best material interest would be the best way to mobilize the broad mass of that class to make a revolution and change society. This was the intent of the new book that Marx was planning…..

    The Connection to the central banking cartel:
    A wealth banker, his mother’s brother Benjamin Philips, financed Marx.

    Marx was born into the Jewish business class. His father was a lawyer, for businesses, and he owned vinyards. His maternal grandfather was a textile merchant and banker. His grandmother’s first cousin married Nathan Rothschild, founder of the British branch of the Rothschild banking dynasty. Lion Philips’ brother Benjamin was a “banker and industrialist”. Lion’s son Frederick was a banker.

    Also Nathan Rothschild was executor of Cecil Rhodes will around fifty years later.


    With that as background this passage from The Communist Manifesto makes a bit more sense:

    “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

    The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

    The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”
    ― Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

    Feel free to take this and expand it if you think I might be on the correct track.

  4. Also do not forget the Church was, prior to the American Revolution pushing:

    1. The divine Right of Kings

    2. Justification for taxation by the Aristocracy and the tithe for the Church:
    Mark 12:14 – 17 (often quoted as “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”)
    And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?

    Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.

    And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s.

    And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.

    3. Altruism
    Hebrews 13:5 – [Let your] conversation [be] without covetousness; [and be] content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

    Proverbs 19:17 – He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.

    Luke 18:25 – For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

    Mark 4:19 – And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

    4. Your reward in this the future and not in this life.
    Matthew 5:1 -5
    And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
    And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

    ….Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth….

    Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….

    Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

    Then follows a whole bunch of God’s laws reinforcing the Ten Commandments

    So What do we have from the Marxist Communists?
    1. Justification for the Vanguard to seize power:

    Hook quotes Trotsky, to explain how the communist elite
    vanguard believes it protects the masses from themselves: “If the dictatorship of the proletariat means anything at all, then it means that the vanguard of the class is armed with resources of the state in order to repel dangers, including those emanating from the backward layers of the proletariat itself.”

    2. Your property and the wealth you create do not belong to you. (100% taxation)

    3. The Karl Marx version of Altruism
    From Dr. Thomas West

    We should know better, but you know, think about the way people today typically defend capitalism. They’ll say something like it’s more efficient, people get more money, it’s something that’s productive of conveniences. In other words, people will make material arguments on behalf of capitalism. But what the Marxists do, and what Marx-related thinking does is to say that’s all low and disgusting and materialistic, and we have a grander vision. We think that humanity has a higher destiny than simply material indulgence. And we’ve got this grand thing in which all human beings can become siblings, brothers and sisters together. We don’t need to have politics. We don’t need to have selfishness. The big thing is selfishness. The thing about capitalism, it involves a certain legitimacy of people pursuing their own interests. And the Marxists are saying we can get beyond that. And until defenders of capitalism can come up with an argument that’s based on an idea of justice, and ideal, they’re not, they’re going to keep losing this argument to the left.

    … the context in which Marx was writing was this period of immense optimism and immense confidence in the power of modern science and the modern world to sweep everything that was old and fossilized and ancient, and put in its play some kind of a grand vision…..

    ….you can find [it] in the writings of Hegel, because he’s talking about how all of human history is leading towards increasing human freedom. And what Marx did was to take that basic idea, which was widely accepted in Europe, and to radicalize it, … we’ve got to take Hegel’s idea and apply it to the family, to private property, to religion. We’re going to get rid of religion, we’re going to abolish the family, and we’re [going] to deny any right to own anything of one’s own.

    …. he’s telling you we’re going to abolish all suffering. We’re going to get rid of all party struggle, we’re going to get rid of the evils of the family, and where women are trapped, where children are made to work for their parents without pay, and we’re going to get rid of religion….

    the two books… that Marx is famous for, Capital and the Manifesto, … they avoid that really nasty violent language that Marx was very enamored of…. Marx and Engels used to exchange letters in which they would talk gleefully about we need to bring back 1793, meaning the French Terror, in which people were executed without trial, in which there were thousands of people, innocent people murdered on behalf of the revolution. Marx … had a nasty, violent streak that not as well known,… because… it doesn’t, … appear in these various occasional writings that actually turned out to be, in retrospect, quite fundamental for Marx’ thinking.

    3. Your reward is in the future and not in your life time – (The withering away of the State.) Any and all measures for bring about this Socialist Utopia are allowed in keeping with Marx violent streak.

    When he [Josef Stalin] became Comrade Number One, his main goal was to consolidate power. Of course, he used Marxism-Leninism to explain this move. Tom West described Stalin’s outlook:

    Only one man, the wisest and strongest of all, can be entrusted with the task of building socialism. And this man must not flinch from inflicting mass killings, deliberate famines, and torture involving the suffering and deaths of many millions of people. The Wise Man must employ whatever means he deems necessary to root out the millions of enemies of the people so that he can lead men to perpetual peace, happiness, and total communization.

    All quotes not from Dr West are from the book Willing Accomplices: How KGB Covert Influence Agents Created Political Correctness and Destroyed America by Kent Clizbe

  5. The following is a critical point that I think Kent Clizbe is missing.

    Clizbe says this of Dr West in his book.

    Tom West in his Claremont Institute article, “Marx and Lenin” noted Marx’s goal of critical, “dialectical” discussion was not to arrive at the truth. Marx’s goal was to use criticism to destroy the

    Tom West goes on to point out that Marxist criticism is essentially emotional…..

    Tom West goes on to point out that Marxist criticism is essentially emotional. And its fundamental “feeling is indignation.” West points out that Marxist critics are set on “denunciation.” They are not concerned with the fundamental humanity of their opponent. All that concerns the Marxist critics is the need to “strike” their opponent.

    Tom West’s Postscript

    After a scathing expose of how Marxism-Leninism has polluted American culture, West says he does not understand how this could have happened. Like nearly all historians and critics who see the parallels between Marxist-Leninism and PC today, West cannot conceive of the covert influence operations that created PC. His “Postscript” is worth pondering here. He notes that “for some reason,” scholarship on Marx has “not been satisfactory.”

    One might wonder why an essay on “Marx and Lenin” needs to be written, considering that scholars have been writing on the subject for half a century and more. The unfortunate fact is that scholarship on this and other Marxian themes has in general not been satisfactory. For some reason Western scholars have been reluctant to call a spade a spade. The majority of them keep trying to assure us that Marx and Lenin are not such bad fellows after all. Why an entire class of educated people, including many at our most prestigious institutions of higher learning, should want to hide the truth about Marx and communism from others, perhaps even from themselves, is hard to understand.

    It may be that only a psychologist of the rank of Nietzsche could fully penetrate the phenomenon–historically unprecedented as far as I know–of the intellectual leadership of a strong and free society making every effort to find reasons not to criticize its main enemy and to denounce those who do criticize it.

    At work, no doubt, is the self-loathing that Paul Hollander detected over and over again in his study of the long history of favorable responses to communism by Western scholars and students. But whence arises this self-loathing?

    Nietzsche said that man would rather will nothingness than not will. People who have lost their faith that life has a higher purpose may believe, deep down and almost unnoticed, that their life is not worth living. Thus the definitive refutation of Marx may not even be possible until the leading classes in our society are once again composed of men who reject root and branch the modern idea, stemming from Descartes, Hobbes, and others, that human life has no ultimate meaning beyond what human beings themselves will that it have.

    The point Clizbe is missing is WHO sent Lenin from New York City to Russia in the first place and WHO financed the revolution.

    Congressman McFadden answered the question in 1934 and was drummed out of Congress and then murdered as a result.

    …”These twelve private credit monopolies were deceitfully and disloyally foisted upon this Country by the bankers who came here from Europe and repaid us our hospitality by undermining our American institutions. Those bankers took money out of this Country to finance Japan in a war against Russia. They created a reign of terror in Russia with our money in order to help that war along. They instigated the separate peace between Germany and Russia, and thus drove a wedge between the allies in World War. They financed Trotsky’s passage from New York to Russia so that he might assist in the destruction of the Russian Empire. They fomented and instigated the Russian Revolution, and placed a large fund of American dollars at Trotsky’s disposal in one of their branch banks in Sweden so that through him Russian homes might be thoroughly broken up and Russian children flung far and wide from their natural protectors. They have since begun breaking up of American homes and the dispersal of American children. “Mr. Chairman, there should be no partisanship in matters concerning banking and currency affairs in this Country, and I do not speak with any.

    The above cartoon showing Marx being greeted with great delight by famous Wall Street financiers.

    ….In 1911 the St. Louis Dispatch published a cartoon by a Bolshevik named Robert Minor. Minor was later to be arrested in Tsarist Russia for revolutionary activities and in fact was himself bankrolled by famous Wall Street financiers. Since we may safely assume, that he knew his topic well, his cartoon is of great historical importance. It portrays Karl Marx with a book entitled Socialism under his arm, standing amid a cheering crowd on Wall Street. Gathered around and greeting him with enthusiastic handshakes are characters in silk hats identified as John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, John D. Ryan of National City Bank, Morgan partner George W. Perkins and Teddy Roosevelt, leader of the Progressive Party….
    Who financed Lenin and Trotsky?

    I see nothing that makes me think that Marx actually cared for the ‘Masses’ instead I see a giant scam to bring the masses back under the control of the elite.

    Marx and Engel saw the masses as scum

    Marx an Engels, 14. August 1879
    “Als wir heut morgen im Hôtel de l’Europe anfrugen, traf es sich glücklich so, daß grade 60 Franzosen sich auf die Abreise vorbereiteten, während andrerseits die mit frischem Menschenkehricht belasteten steamers noch nicht eingetroffen.”

    “When this morning we inquired at the Hotel de l’Europe, fortunately it so happened that 60 Frenchmen were preparing to leave, while on the other hand the steam ships loaded with fresh human debris had not arrived yet.”

    • The google translate of the last Marx quote is even worse:

      “When we anfrugen this morning at the Hôtel de l’Europe, it happened so happy that grade 60 French were preparing to depart, while on the other hand the loaded with fresh human waste steamers not yet arrived

      erfrugen = inquire (for)**

      So anfrugen is likely a misspelling.

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