Classical Liberalism and Freedom of the Press

By Liggio, Leonard P. | Journal of Private Enterprise, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Classical Liberalism and Freedom of the Press


Liggio, Leonard P., Journal of Private Enterprise


Histories of the Classical Liberal tradition begin with the Stoic philosophers of the Greco-Roman world. Greek political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle focused on the polis or Greek city-state with its small and homogeneous population. This world ended with Alexander the Great's conquest of the Persian Empire. With his early death, his generals who were his successors from Egypt and Greece to the Indus River established several empires with large new cities of many populations but with commercial Greek as the common language. The polis was replaced by the cosmos polis - the world city, or the whole world as a single country, cosmopolitan. The Stoic philosophers took the world city as their starting point, that is, a world without distinctions of family origins. Civilized people spoke Greek, but non-Greek speakers were equally part of mankind.

Although people might speak Greek they came from different countries with different legal systems. The Romans, who were very conservative about treasuring their archaic legal system, realized that all the merchants who came to Rome had better commercial concepts. The Roman Republic set up a separate judgeship for the foreign merchants which drew on all the different commercial legal concepts to formulate the most efficient and productive law merchant. The Romans generalized from this and felt that what was common to various law systems indicated a common source of law - a natural law. Cicero's legal writings represented this Stoic philosophy of natural kw. This was adopted by the Christian philosophers making it the center of Western European thought, and the foundation for Classical Liberalism.

F. A. Hayek, 1974 Nobel Laureate in Economics, is considered the leading classical liberal thinker of the 20th century. His approach might be similar to the Roman jurists. Hayek thought that means which provide happiness and prosperity will be recognized and adopted under freedom, while those which do not will be rejected or lead to failure. He believed that social evolution produces successful social mechanisms while the unsuccessful will die out. Hayek, his mentor, Ludwig von Mises, and his London School of Economics colleagues, Lord Lionel Robbins or Sir Arnold Plant, or his Chicago colleagues, Milton Friedman, George Stigler or Alien Wallis shared the general approach which Hayek best articulated. Of course, as economists, they were operating only in a positivist and utilitarian framework.

However, there are a number of Classical Liberal-scholars who believe, like the Stoics, that it is possible to draw a more general philosophical framework from the nature of humankind. Henry Babcock Veatch was the dean of such philosophers. Fred Miller, director of the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, Doug Rasmussen, Doug Den Uyl, and Tibor Machan are among these Classical Liberal moral philosophers. A major figure was the late Economics Professor Murray N. Rothbard who felt economics was totally true but incomplete. In addition to Man, Economy and State, and Power and Market, Rothbard wrote The Ethics of Liberty.

These scholars are located in the central tradition of Western philosophy established when Aristode was brought to the University of Paris from the commentaries of the Arabic philosophers. From Thomas Aquinas to Henry Veatch, natural rights has been at the core of moral philosophy and of classical liberalism. Lord Acton named Thomas Aquinas as the first Whig.

The medieval universities arose in and with the re-emergence of European towns. The towns were the centers of trade and manufacture and sought to protect their developing prosperity from the extortion of taxation. There was a struggle for autonomy which resulted in most towns gaining charters which protected their resources dirough self-government. There was a pamphlet literature at each stage of struggles for autonomy which provides early contributions to political philosophy. …

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