17th Century Natural Rights Theorists

The 17th century was an important period in the development of natural law theories. The crises and revolutions of the mid-century prompted many thinkers to see civil and economic relations as being based on natural law and natural rights, independent of the monarch or the church. These thinkers laid the foundation for the further secularization of natural law theories in the Enlightenment of t...

18th Century Commonwealthmen

According to Caroline Robbins, the 18thC Commonwealthmen built upon the Old or Real Whig tradition and were active from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the eve of the American Revolution in 1776. They believed in natural rights, limited government, republicanism, parliamentary reform, the rule of law, religious toleration, the reform or ending of mercantilist economic regulation, increased i...

19th Century English Radical Individualists

In the late 19th Century in Britain, as the Liberal Party gradually abandoned classical liberalism for various aspects of the welfare state and imperialism, a new group of “old liberals” emerged. They were active in the Liberty and Property Defence League organised by Lord Wemyss. They believed in natural rights, a rigorous defence of individual liberty, opposition to the welfare state, and opp...

19th Century French Liberalism

Between the French Revolution and the First World War France produced an impressive group of classical liberal and conservative writers. They focused on the problems of creating a constitutional limited government, the issue of free trade, French imperialism and colonialism, the history of the French Revolution and Napoleon, freedom of speech, the rise of socialism and the welfare state. They d...

19th Century Natural Rights Theorists

Up until the 19th century the dominant grounds for defending individual liberty had been that of natural rights. Jeremy Bentham and his followers in the first half of the 19th century shifted the grounds to that of utility, viz. that which maximized the greatest happiness of the greatest number. In spite of this shift, a number of classical liberals continued to use natural rights as the basis ...

19th Century Utilitarians

The Utilitarians were 19th century British political theorists and journalists who believed that the principle which should govern the actions of government is that which will produce “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” of people. The founder of the school was Jeremy Bentham (the school is thus sometimes called the “Benthamites”), who greatly influenced James Mill, the father of Joh...

Abolition of Slavery

The anti-slavery movement emerged in the late 18th century as part of the more general movement of reform known as the Enlightenment. As major colonial powers with extensive slave colonies France and Britain both had a significant anti-slavery movement. The effort to abolish slavery began with a campaign to end the traffic in slaves from Africa across the Atlantic, and then to abolish slavery w...

The American Revolution and Constitution

The ideals of individual liberty and limited government motivated the men and women who took part in the creation of the American Republic. The OLL includes critical primary sources that helped shape the nation’s cultural, religious, and historical tradition. These books reveal the character of American discourse about such crucial issues as the nature and importance of self-government, the pur...


The Anti-federalists were a group who had reservations about ratifying the U.S. Constitution when it was first proposed. Some thought the Articles of Confederation were sufficient to unite the sovereign American states; others were concerned that the rights of the states and of individuals needed additional protection and so supported a Bill of Rights; others were concerned that the Federalists...


Political, economic, and philosophical ideas are often expressed through works of art. The art collected in the OLL gives us another history of liberty to read–a history written with etchings, paints, pastels, and even carved in stone.

The Austrian School of Economics

The Austrian School of Economics emerged after the publication in 1871 of a trilogy of works (by Jevons, Walras, and Menger) which introduced the idea of the subjective theory of value and began what has been called “the marginal revolution” in economic thought. Leading theorists in the 20th century were Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Murray Rothbard, and Israel Kirzner.

Banned Books

Updated: Sept. 23, 2014. Many of the works in the Online Library of Liberty have been banned or censored at various times by governments, established churches, and pubic schools for their content. This list has been compiled from the following sources: Beacon for Freedom of Expression. Dedicated to the Library of Alexandria. Essay on The Long History of Censorship See, the Beacon for Free...

Beauty and Virtue

Francis Hutcheson entered a controversy among moral philosophers over whether or not human nature was primarily “benevolent” or “selfish”. The former position was taken by the Earl of Shaftesbury in Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times; the latter position by Bernard Mandeville in The Fable of the Bees which was provocatively subtitled “or Private Vices, Publick Benefits.” Hutch...

Best of the OLL

Helpful introductions and carefully edited selections bring the OLL into focus. With recommendations for further reading and useful explanatory notes, these Best of the OLL selections are an ideal way to begin exploring the ideas of liberty.

Books Published by Liberty Fund

The following titles are works published by Liberty Fund which are also available online. A full list of titles published by Liberty Fund can be found in our online catalog.

The Classical School of Political Economy

The Classical School of political economy had its heyday in the period from 1800 to 1850 in England. It can be said to have begun with the writings of Adam Smith and David Hume in the latter part of the 18th century and it continued until well into the late 19th century before the neo-classical school and the marginalists began to replace it. D. P. O'Brien divides the classical school into thre...

Classics of Liberty

The following texts have been selected for being among the most important and influential books in the development of the idea of individual liberty, limited government, and the free market. Each author is represented by only one title in order to have as broad a range of authors as possible. Clicking on the author’s name will take you to that author’s bio page where additional works by that a...

The Divine Right of Kings vs. Individual Rights

Does the legitimacy of government depend on the divinely instituted right of the monarch to rule or upon the natural rights of man and the consent of the governed? Debate on this issue spurred the English Civil War and continued long after the Restoration of 1660.

Economic Travel Literature

A number of very astute observers have written accounts of their travels during which they collected economic information, and described the political, economic, legal, and social condition of the countries through which they passed. Arthur Youngs Travels in France on the eve of the French Revolution are perhaps the best known of these. Thomas Hodgskin also wrote very interesting accounts of hi...


Debates about education go far beyond the classroom and consider the way an understanding of education affects the human condition, while placing an emphasis on the advancement of society. Some of the questions our authors raise are: what kind of education is appropriate for a free society, how should it be funded, what role should the state play, what should individuals be taught in order to m...

The English Civil War

The English Civil War (1642 -1660) pitted supporters of Parliament against the Crown. The period includes the trial and execution of Charles I, the replacement of the monarchy with the Commonwealth of England (1649-1653), the rise of Oliver Cromwell to a virtual military dictatorship, and the eventual restoration of the monarchy. The ultimate outcome of the Revolution was the discrediting of th...

The Founding Fathers of the U.S. Constitution

The “Founding Fathers” refers to that generation of men who were active in the American Revolution and the formation of the early American Republic and the Constitution.

Founding Fathers' Library

Donald Lutz drew up a list of the most frequently cited authors by members of the Founding Generation of the American Republic. A full list can be found here and there is a bibliographical essay on this topic by Forrest McDonald.

Free Trade

One of the key concepts of economic freedom is free trade, which is the idea that there should be no restriction in the right and ability of individuals to exchange the products of their labor and industry with other people.

Freedom of Speech

Debates over free speech are a near-constant feature of human history. They form a key part of the religion and politics of England in the 17th century. English subjects demanded the right to debate opinions freely in both speech and print, to assemble in order discuss these opinions, to engage in public debate, and to petition the king and parliament. The American colonies carried these issues...

The French Enlightenment

During the 18th century there emerged in the French-speaking world a widespread movement of criticism of existing institutions and beliefs which came to be called the “Enlightenment”. The objects of enlightened criticism ranged from the established church, judicial practice, freedom of speech, art, literature and manners in general, the role of the King, and economic reform.

The French Revolution

Like the American Revolution (1775-1783), the French Revolution (1789-1815), had its roots in the Enlightenment and attempted to put enlightened ideas about individual liberty and constitutional government into practice. That one attempt was successful and that the other one failed, leading instead to the Terror and Napoleon’s empire and militarism, has engaged thinkers ever since.

General Treatises on Economics

These treatments of economics present the basic assumptions about economic life and human behaviour on which economics is based; the main principles of the discipline; how the different branches of economics are related; and the author’s own perspective on the discipline.

German Liberalism

In the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries a number of German liberals emerged to argue for enlightened reform, deregulation, and constitutional government. The failure to achieve these aims in the 1848 Revolution meant that German liberalism was eclipsed by nationalism, militarism, and socialism for the next 100 years.

Goodrich Seminar Room

In the Goodrich Seminar Room in the Lilly Library at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana the limestone walls are engraved with the names of the political and legal documents and authors which Pierre Goodrich, the founder of Liberty Fund, believed had most contributed to our understanding of what it means to be free and responsible individuals. At the center of the large room is a circular...

Intellectual Portrait Series

Conversations with some of the most original thinkers of our generation are now available on videotape from Liberty Funds online catalog or in various audio-only formats at this website. Liberty Fund taped conversations with two dozen of the most original thinkers about liberty of our times. They included Armen A. Alchian, Manuel Ayau, Jacques Barzun, Raoul Berger, Lord Peter Thomas Bauer, Gary...

Jeffersonian Republicans

The Jeffersonian Republicans, or Old Republicans as they were also known, were in the words of John Randolph advocates of the following ideas: “love of peace, hatred of offensive war, jealousy of the State governments towards the General Government and of the influence of the Executive over the coordinate branches of the Government; a dread of standing armies; a loathing of public debt, taxes,...


From the earliest written legal codes to the beginnings of modern constitutionalism, the history of law is the story of our working out how personal liberties interact with responsibilities to others.

The Levellers

The Levellers, such as John Lilburne (1615-1657), Richard Overton (1631-1664), and William Walwyn (c. 1600-1681), were a group of radical libertarian activists and pamphleteers who were active during the English Revolution. They advocated individual liberty, property rights, constitutionally limited government, religious toleration, and free trade at a time when virtually none of these things...


Serious discussions of liberty are not limited to academic works. Poets, playwrights, and novelists have had much to contribute as well.

Magna Carta

Magna Carta (1215) is one of the core documents of Anglo-American legal and constitutional liberty. The books in this collection contain various copies of the charter (in both Latin and English) as well as essays about its significance. To explore this topic further we suggest that you also look in the Forum under Key Documents and Essays on Law.

The Manchester School

The name “Manchester School” is given to the group of economists, businessmen, and lobbyists who campaigned in England in the mid-19th century for free trade, reduced government regulation of the economy (in other words for a policy of laissez-faire), and an non-interventionist foreign policy (the so-called “Little Englanders”). They got their name from the fact that some of their leading membe...

Money and Banking

As modern economics began to emerge in the late 18th century money and banks quickly became the focus of much attention. Of particular interest were questions about the proper role of government in the issuing of coins, the regulation of interest rates, and other banking activities.


From historic changes in form to the choice of what texts to set to music, the art of music has long been a vital force in the expression of the human desire for liberty.

Natural Law and Enlightenment Series

The intellectual struggle to articulate the theory of classical liberalism was often as hard fought as the physical battle for its political realization. The Natural Law and Enlightenment Classics Series presents not only some of the most famous figures from this history but also the lesser-known theorists who contributed their part to the contest of ideas. Through some of the Enlightenment’s m...

Natural Law and Natural Rights

The natural law and natural rights tradition emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries and argues that the world is governed by natural laws which are discoverable by human reason. A key aspect of this intellectual tradition is the notion that natural rights are not created by governments. Governments are instead created to secure these rights.

The Philosophical Radicals

The Philosophical Radicals were a group of British reformers in the early and mid-19th century who were inspired by the ideas of Jeremy Bentham. Their group included James Mill, Francis Place, George Grote, John Stuart Mill, and William Molesworth. Some of them entered Parliament to lobby for legislative reforms. Their main journal was the *Westminster Review".


What does it mean to be a human? What is the best life to live, and how can we live it? These questions, and the texts which explore them, have long guided humanity in its struggle to understand itself.

The Physiocrats

The Physiocrats were French economists who were advocates of free trade and deregulation before the French Revolution. Their name came from their belief that the economy operated according to the laws of nature which were discoverable to reasoning individuals. They believed reform should be introduced by persuading the monarchs of the day to behave like “enlightened despots” and reform society ...

Political Theory

Political theory encompasses debates over such issues as self-government, the rule of law, and constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press. From foundational writings to twentieth century perspectives, OLL’s collection represents thinkers and texts that have helped shape the ideas of liberty.

Pre-Smithian Economists

Adam Smith is justly regarded as the first of the modern economists given his deep insights into the functioning of the economy and his comprehensive approach to the subject. Nevertheless, those economists of the 17th and 18th centuries who preceded Smith also had important insights even though there were many false trails and wrong turnings. This collection of economists documents the 150 year...


Property can be thought of as a “right” which all individuals have, as the basis for the rule of law in a free society, as a key aspect of any properly functioning free market society, and as an important part of the emergence of free societies in the West. The wide range of texts collected here reflects these multiple approaches to property.

The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation was the European religious movement which appeared in the early 16th century and which sought to reform what was regarded as serious problems within the Catholic Church. These problems were doctrinal, financial (to do with corruption), the refusal to permit the use of vernacular translations of the Bible, the celibacy of priests, and the power of the Pope.

Public Choice

According to William F. Shughart II in his entry on Public Choice Theory in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics at Econlib “Public choice theory is a branch of economics that developed from the study of taxation and public spending. It emerged in the fifties and received widespread public attention in 1986, when James Buchanan, one of its two leading architects (the other was his colleague Go...


Liberty is an idea and an idealized state of being that can be traced through many of the religious traditions of the world. Across time periods, theological differences, and cultural contexts, many different religious thinkers have arrived at an understanding of the importance of liberty–coupled with some form of moral responsibility–in the organization and conduct of human affairs. We encoura...


The right to inquire freely about questions of science is an important part of a free society. The discoveries that arise from this kind of open inquiry often help to build the free society even as they arise from it.

The Scottish Enlightenment

The 18th century Enlightenment was a European, even a trans-Atlantic phenomenon. Two of its main centres of intellectual activity were France and Scotland. The latter country produced an extraordinary amount of “enlightened” historical, economic, legal, and philosophical analysis by figures such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and Francis Hutcheson. For additional information about the Scottish Enl...


The modern form of socialism emerged in Britain, France and Germany in the 1830s and 1840s and has continued to evolve ever since. Various strands make up the socialist school of thought including voluntary socialists who wished to set up communities where socialism could be put into practice among the members (such as Robert Owen), revolutionary socialism or Marxism which advocated the seizure...


How do human societies constitute themselves? How do they interact with one another? How do they preserve and change themselves? The study of sociology is the exploration of these questions.

Spontaneous Order

The idea of a “spontaneous order”, i.e. an order which emerges as result of the voluntary activities of individuals and not one which is created by a government, is a key idea in the classical liberal and free market tradition. The idea emerged in the medieval period, but it is closely associated with a number of figures who wrote during the 18th century, in particular a group of writers associ...

The State

These titles provide some general theoretical, historical, or sociological analysis of the State and how it functions.

Thomas Hollis Library (LF)

Thomas Hollis (1720-74) was an eighteenth-century Englishman who dedicated his life to the cause of liberty. He believed that citizens should educate themselves so they could hold their governments to account. To that end, he distributed books that he believed would assist in that project. The Thomas Hollis Library makes available a selection of those titles that comprise the best of the books ...


The name given to an ideal political community, “Utopia,” comes from Thomas More’s work Utopia which was published in Latin in 1516. What is interesting about many conceptions of utopian communities is that the authors assumed that without free markets and private property there would be an absence of conflict and greater prosperity.

War and Peace

Wars can be fought to preserve freedom, and they can also be tragically destructive of it. The way that human societies have made war and sought peace throughout our existence provides a useful study for considering how best to keep and protect the freedoms we have, and how to gain the ones we want.

Women on Liberty

Many women authors have contributed to our understanding of the nature of individual liberty and limited government through their writings about history, economics, and political philosophy.

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