Lost Language, Lost Liberalism

A review of the changes 1880-1940 to the central semantics of liberal civilization.

Liberty  Rejoinders

John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn  (1838 – 1923) was a British Liberal statesman, writer and newspaper editor. He was elected a Member of Parliament in 1883. He was Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1886 and between 1892 and 1895, Secretary of State for India between 1905 and 1910 and again in 1911 and Lord President of the Council between 1910 and 1914.

John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn  (1838 – 1923) was a British Liberal statesman, writer and newspaper editor. He was elected a Member of Parliament in 1883. He was Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1886 and between 1892 and 1895, Secretary of State for India between 1905 and 1910 and again in 1911 and Lord President of the Council between 1910 and 1914.

Morley, John. 1877. On Compromise. Chapman and Hill: London.

[203] In the sense in which we are speaking of it, liberty is not a positive force, any more than the smoothness of a railroad is a positive force. It is a condition. As a force, there is a sense in which it is true to call liberty a negation. As a condition, though it may still be a negation, yet it may be indispensable for the production of certain positive results. The vacuity of an exhausted receiver is not a force, but it is the indispensable condition of certain positive operations. Liberty as a force may be as impotent as its opponents allege.


Brodrick, George Charles. 1879. Political Studies. C. Kegan Paul and Co.: London.

[24] Individual liberty, the right of all men, is negative rather than positive, and contains more securities than privileges. The most important parts of it, the right of self-defence, and that which entitles a man to the fruit of his own labour, are but prohibitions, founded in nature, of the violence and rapacity of his fellows. Others, such as the right of bequest, though originally granted by enactment, and not by nature, have been sanctioned by an all but unanimous practice of civilized peoples. Out of these two sources is compounded the civil liberty of individuals, that which constitutes them freemen, —a privilege once so limited.


Auberon, Hubert. 1885. The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State. Williams and Norgate: London.

[1] The creed of Liberty does not offer what the politician offers. She neither offers to perform State services, to take land from some and transfers it to others, or to place ever-increasing burdens of taxation upon the shoulders of the rich. She does no offer to shower down upon any man gifts that are not of his own making and winning. All those who hunger for such gifts she can only bid, with scorn upon her lips, to go elsewhere.


Arthur Bruce Smith  (1851 –  1937) was a long serving Australian politician and leading political opponent of the White Australia policy.

Arthur Bruce Smith  (1851 –  1937) was a long serving Australian politician and leading political opponent of the White Australia policy.

Smith, Bruce. 1887. Liberty and Liberalism. Longmans Green: London.

[434] There is a great difference between giving a man the liberty to do anything, and supplying him with the means with which to do it.


OBrien, M. D. 1892. “Free Libraries” in A Plea for Liberty: An Argument against Socialism and Socialistic Legislation edited by Thomas Mackay. John Murray: London.

[273] Don't you see that you are claiming more for yourself than you are allowing to me, and are supplementing your own liberty by robbing me of mine? Is this the way you promote the public good? Is this your boasted free library? I tell you it is founded upon theft and upon the violation of the most sacred thing in this world—the liberty of your fellow man. It is the embodiment of a gross injustice, and only realises the selfish purpose of a cowardly and dishonest majority.


Edward Estlin Cummings 1894 – 1962), known as E. E. Cummings, was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He is remembered as an eminent voice of 20th century poetry.

Edward Estlin Cummings 1894 – 1962), known as E. E. Cummings, was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He is remembered as an eminent voice of 20th century poetry.

Cummings, Edward. 1899. “A Collectivist Philosophy of Trade Unionism,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 13(2): 151-186.

[183-184] [The new collectivist philosophy of Trade Unionism] is obviously not so much a theory of economics as a temperamental gospel of social reform. It is another important and ambitious attempt to reveal to the British workman what ought to be his unconscious aspirations, purposes, and prepossessions, and to formulate a programme and insinuate advice in the name of history. … Like most gospels of social emancipation, it has its denunciatory and its triumphant tone. There is something eminently clear in the brutal frankness with which it breaks with the old world of conventional and accepted ideas. Instead of the doctrine of the beneficence of competitive freedom, we have the dogma of the total depravity of complete competitive freedom; instead of liberty of individual contract, the new compulsory freedom of collective contract. There is no sophistical attempt to reconcile trade union ideals of a common rule and collective bargaining with absence of coercion and liberty of choice of non-unionists. Such industrial non-conformity is only tolerated as an illogical result of weak organization. Realization of the trade minimum and the national minimum involves the deliberate abandonment of illusory ideals of liberty: otherwise Collectivism would have little interest in such realization. ‘Freedom,unregulated competition, is the worst possible state: hence any method of regulation, however imperfect and antiquated, is better than none. To efficient enforcement of the common rule everything else must bow.


Flint, Robert. 1894. Socialism. Isbister and Co.: London.

[465] There is no Socialism, properly so called, where the freedom to which individuals are entitled is not unduly sacrificed to the will of society. A Socialism like that of Social Democracy, which would refuse to men the right to possess private property or capital, which would give them no choice as to what work they are to do, or as to the remuneration which they are to receive for their work, would manifestly destroy individual liberty. To pretend, as its advocates do, that it would establish and enlarge liberty is as absurd as to assert that things equal to the same thing are unequal to each other, or any immediate self-contradiction whatsoever.


Brooks, George. 1895. Industry and Property. Sampson Low, Marston and Co.: London.

[14] The ideas which have been disseminated among the working classes by industrial agitators with regard to the liberty of the individual workman are as perverted in their nature and as vicious in their effects as the ideas with regard to property which we have just considered. It has been proclaimed from every Labour platform that an individual workman who dared to act upon his own judgment and in his own interests, and to oppose the general body of his fellows, was a coward and a traitor. The idea that a working man should be free to act according to his own lights and his own conscience, is denounced as a doctrine of devils by the very men who prate{C}[1]{C}  most loudly of liberty. The Trade Union notion of liberty is, that the individual workman should efface himself by giving himself over body and soul into the hands of some autocrat or some committee whose orders he is to obey as unquestioningly as a slave obeys his owner, however unreasonable or preposterous those orders may be.

[65] Democratic Governments must learn how to make their authority obeyed and feared if they wish to preserve democratic institutions. If they cannot or will not learn how to do this, then it is certain they will have to make way for some other form of Government more worthy of the support of reasonable men. Nations have always preferred a military despotism which has ensured to the majority of the people security of life and property, even when it has seriously curtailed their liberties, to a form of government which has not been able adequately to safeguard the possessions and the lives of the people, although it might theoretically and nominally give them greater freedom. Of what use is liberty when no man can rest assured that he will be able to retain his own? Under such conditions liberty is nothing more than a name: it is a mockery of man's highest hopes.

[205] Amid the enthusiasm for ‘reform,’ which characterises the present day, there is grave danger of these two facts being forgotten—first, that we owe our progress to our obedience of sound economical laws; and, secondly, that we shall inevitably lose the ground we have already gained if we cease to act in harmony with these laws, and permit ourselves to be made the sport of a blind and destructive Socialism. We have only to sanction attacks upon property, none the less vicious because they are veiled, and attacks upon freedom, the more fatal because they masquerade in the cloak of zeal for liberty; we have but to use the political power which has been placed in the hands of the working classes as an engine for oppressing and despoiling the owners of wealth; we have but to make stealthy inroads upon the doctrine and custom of private property, in order to hurl England from her proud position as the wealthiest and mightiest nation in the world and to degrade her to the position of the meanest and the poorest.


Scotsburn. 1898. What is Socialism? Isbister and Co.: London.

[399-400] And what is to be said of liberty? Men have preached of it, sung of it, fought for it, died for it. But one thing only is to be said of it here; and that is, that it does not inhere in Socialism. It is scarcely pretended, as far as can be seen, that it does; there is an intimation that a higher, truer, sort of liberty than we have any idea of is to emerge later out of a rigorous system of repression and compulsion; but as no one is ever to be allowed to do as he likes with his own, with himself or with his own life, it is difficult to see where his liberty will be, nor is this pointed out by any Socialist. There are promises of nearly everything that can be thought of as attractions, but liberty is not promised, and very little is said about it. It is evidently not wanted, and could not be had coincidently with the measures proposed by Socialists if it were.

This, at least, among all the vagueness and contradictions is plain: that there is to be no liberty anywhere under Socialism. If all men are to live under enforced equality of condition, if all are to be compelled to produce the necessaries of life under penalty of starvation, if no one is allowed to do or have anything different from every other, nor to possess anything which might be useful to the community, nor which others might desire to have, nor to use anything he has in the way he sees fit, or to spend his money in any way the State disapproves, it is clear that there can be no liberty whatever—no liberty of choice, no liberty of action; and there is to be no liberty of the press, for, as we have seen, the Socialist State is to be the sole printer and publisher.


Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster (1855 – 1909), known as H. O. Arnold-Forster, was a British politician and writer. He notably served as Secretary of State for War from 1903 to 1905.

Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster (1855 – 1909), known as H. O. Arnold-Forster, was a British politician and writer. He notably served as Secretary of State for War from 1903 to 1905.

Arnold-Forster, Hugh Oakeley. 1908. English Socialism of To-day. Smith, Elder, and Co.: London.  

[132-133] In each [period of Socialist activity] the great watchwords…of ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity’ played a leading part. In each case the finest humanitarian sentiments were to be found in the written and spoken expositions of the new doctrine. It is true that in all the three cases referred[2]  to the promises were made to the ‘Elect’ only. Torment in the next world, or ruin, torture, and death in this world, were the portions assigned to those who were outside the fold. It is also true that in all three movements a minority claimed the right to coerce, and did in fact coerce, a majority.

Nor are the three movements alike in their inception and their main principles only. At every stage we see similar forces producing identical results. The Government, which is, in theory, purely democratic, and depends upon the people's will, becomes the Government of a narrow and tyrannical oligarchy. Liberty is instantly strangled, Fraternity gives place to deadly hate and internecine feuds, while the only trace of Equality is found in the equal zeal with which one section after another strives to trample its rivals under foot.


London Municipal Society. 1908. The Case Against Socialism. George Allen and Sons: London.

[215] Whilst, similarly, complete Equality involves the destruction of Liberty. The absolute Equality dreamed of by the Socialist can, therefore, never be maintained in the absence of a despotic rule fundamentally opposes to the existence of Liberty.

[223] In advocating equality of condition the Socialist has recourse to the history of the past which never in fact existed. The main ideas are for the most part borrowed from Rousseau.


Salmon, Lucy M. 1912. “Democracy in the Household,” The American Journal of Sociology 17(4): 437-457.

[439] Another reason for our failure to define democracy has been the confusion of democracy with other abstract principles that have an external, but only an external, resemblance to it. We have confused democracy with equality, democracy with liberty, and equality with liberty. ‘The deepest cause,’ says Lord Acton, ‘which made the French Revolution so disastrous to liberty was its theory of equality. Liberty was the watchword of the middle class, equality of the lower.Equality and liberty are really mutually antagonistic in spite of the coupling of the two terms on all the public buildings of the French Republic, and neither the one nor the other is a necessary accompaniment of democracy. It has been repeatedly pointed out that all men are equal only as the liberty of some is restricted, and that if all men have liberty, inequality results.


William Graham Sumner (1840 – 1910) was a classic liberal American academic and held a professorship in sociology at Yale University

William Graham Sumner (1840 – 1910) was a classic liberal American academic and held a professorship in sociology at Yale University

Sumner, William Graham. 1913. Earth-Hunger and Other Essays. Yale University Press: New Haven.

[109]  It will be the aim of this essay to show that liberty is the least analyzed of all the important social conceptions, that is the thing at stake in the most important current controversies and that it needs to be defended as much as against those who abuse it as against those who deride it.

[112] [The] philosophers of the newest school, who, seizing on the plain fact that all liberty is subject to moral restraints, as we shall presently see, are forcing upon us, or trying to force upon us, by legislation, restraints on liberty derived from altruistic dogmas, and in general, under the high-sounding name of ethics, are assuming a character for interference wherever they choose to allege that they have moral grounds for believing that things ought to be as they want them.

[120] The notions of liberty, and of things to which it pertains, has changed, even in modern history, from age to age.

[128] The fact, however, is rapidly making itself felt that this civil liberty of the modern type is a high and costly thing. A generation which has been glorifying in it and heralding it to all the world as a boon and a blessing, to be had for the taking and to be enjoyed for nothing, begins to cry out that it is too great for them; that they cannot attain to it nor even bear it; that to be a free man means to come up to the standards and be it; and that it is asking too much of human nature. They want somebody to come and help them to be free.

[130] Among the most important tides of thought at the present time which are hostile to liberty are socialism which always has to assume a controlling organ to overrule personal liberty and set aside civil liberty, in order to bring about what the socialist authorities have decided shall be done; nationalism, really a cognate of socialism, with opposition to emigration or immigration; state absolutism, which, in its newest form, insists that the individual exists for the state; and altruism, which, when put forward as an absolute dogma, is as anti-social as selfishness. All these are the latest forms of devices by which men live at the expense of others.

[131] The ‘state of nature’ and the ‘social compactare exploded superstitions, or rather, they have given way to a new set of superstitions—those of the nineteenth century. Rousseaus idea of liberty is not dead. The eighteenth-century notions of liberty and equality have passed into the most cherished political faiths of the nineteenth century.

[132] Monopoly is in the order of nature. The relaxation of monopoly, and the introduction of the free play of effort, that is of liberty and competition, is due to the growth of civilization. It seems to be believed by a great many of the popular writers of the day that there not only was liberty in the primitive state of society, but that liberty did not mean competition.

[141] The poets have also used the birds of the air as symbols of liberty, and the philosophers have assumed that the original savage enjoyed the same liberty as the beasts and birds.

[146-147] We must be convinced that liberty to do as one pleases is not a gift or boon of nature; it is not a natural and original situation which we have lost, or which has been taken from us. All that notion{C}[3]{C}  vanishes into the realm of illusions.

[183] It is in vain now that we attempt anywhere in this domain to reduce the notion of liberty to something positive or hard and fast; it presents itself to us as a set of dissolving views, which are forever changing with the changing aspects of social relations as they go on their course of evolution.

[187] It is very evident that many are enraged, and declare liberty all a delusion, because they had persuaded themselves that liberty meant emancipation from the need of working at all, or emancipation from all the hardships of the struggle of existence.

[198] Those then who ascribe liberty to the wise resolutions of political conventions, and set it in opposition to the industrial conditions of modern life, make a woeful mistake.


Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (1862 – 1932), was a British political scientist and philosopher. He led most of his life at Cambridge, where he wrote a dissertation on Neoplatonism before becoming a fellow. He was closely associated with the Bloomsbury Group.

Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (1862 – 1932), was a British political scientist and philosopher. He led most of his life at Cambridge, where he wrote a dissertation on Neoplatonism before becoming a fellow. He was closely associated with the Bloomsbury Group.

Dickinson, Goldsworthy Lowes. 1917. The Choice Before Us. Dodd, Mead and Co.: New York.

[58-59] Advocates of liberty take a friendly and hopeful view of human nature. They conceive it as continually pushing and straining — in all men, not only in some — towards a full and noble life, much as trees may be thought to aim at a perfect and symmetrical growth, and only to fail to attain it by overcrowding or by inclemencies and accidents of climate or position. Nothing has to be put into the tree. Everything is there, if it had its chance. So with Man. It all lies there in him. But natural and social obstacles continually hinder its realization. Thus to the advocate of liberty, the important thing is the preparation of the ground. That is why liberty is sometimes accused of being an empty or negative ideal. What is to come out, the libertarian trusts and feels, it would be presumptuous to define. It is a something ‘ever on before.’ But some suggestions of it, to confirm his faith, he finds in every great manifestation of the human spirit. Thus his main aim is always to remove obstacles. The positive content life, set free, will reveal.


Benett, William. 1920. Freedom and Liberty. Oxford University Press: London.

[6] In political freedom we submit to law for the sake of liberty. To invert the terms, and say that we value liberty for the sake of law, would be a palpable absurdity.


Harold Cox. 1920. Economic Liberty. London: Longmans, Green and Co.

[170-171] It will be sufficient here to quote the words of a man who for a long period was one of the most prominent members of the Liberal Party. Speaking at Oxford in 1873, Sir William Harcourt said: Liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free intervenes with everything it can, and a free Government interferers with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government tries, so far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes. It has been the function of the Liberal Party consistently to maintain to doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the country where people can do more what they please than in any country in the world.

Since Sir William Harcourt laid down these propositions a large part of the country, and especially that section which still calls itself the Liberal Party, has travelled so far that the word liberty has almost come to mean exactly what he said it did not mean. People talk today, apparently without any sense of incongruity, as if liberty from the constitutional point of view meant the multiplication of electors and of elections. Perfect constitutional liberty all be attainted—so at least these modern Liberals imply—when every person, male or female, is entitled to vote for one or more parliaments and a plethora of local administrative bodies. It is further 153assumed, or more often expressly stated, that these parliaments and local bodies are all to be busy doing things, and as the action of every governing body is in one form or another coercive action, it follows that what is now called constitutional liberty really means an elaborate organization for giving everybody an equal opportunity of sharing in the frequent coercion of everybody else.

This habitual inversion of the meaning of the word liberty is so complete that is would be an excess of politeness to describe it as being due to loose thinking. It is due to loose speaking and no thinking at all. By American presidents as well as by Hyde Park tub-thumpers democracy and liberty are mentioned in one breath as if they represented the same ideal. They may both be ideals, but they are not the same.


Brett, Oliver. 1921. A Defense of Liberty. G. P. Putnams Sons: New York.

[47] Socialism…if it ever arises and overthrows Democracy, will not be a Liberal revolution, but a Conservative reaction, because it contains no tendency towards liberty whatever.

[59] The Socialist ideal State, ignoring all the natural rights and unchangeable desires of the individual, repudiating the fundamental ideas both of Christianity and democracy, utterly devoid of that tendency towards liberty which is the test of political conceptions, was laboriously and scientifically constructed on the belief that men live by bread alone, that their past is the development of economics, and that their future can be organized and solidified into a definite and calculated system of social laws. … There is a perpetual conflict between the desire of the individual for complete liberty and the necessity of granting to governments power to carry out their functions. The problem of statecraft is how to combine security with absolute freedom. In our days there is a compromise by which we obtain to a certain extent both security and freedom, without completely obtaining either. But the Liberal view is that it is our business to obtain both completely, and that we shall not do so if, in our eagerness for definite conclusions, we admit the possibility of a permanent and final constitution of the State.

[105-106] Socialism, in so far as it postulates State control, is Conservative in thought. But the great difference between the State control suggested by Karl Marx and the State control that you have traced through history is that the former is allied to Democracy. Socialism, as laid down by Lycurgus, may have been Conservative, but democratic Socialism is not. In the meantime mankind has become free. It is the illusion of freedom that has given Socialism its hold on the human mind. Once more it cannot be too forcibly stated that this idea of achieved freedom is an illusion.

Democracy is not liberty, although it is a nearer approach to liberty than the political systems that it has superseded. Democracy was a transfer of power, valuable and liberal, because it contained that tendency towards liberty which is the test of all political movements. But power is the antithesis of liberty; its exercise is the origin of tyranny. Democracy, when it inherited power, inherited a Conservative instinct, an instinct which is bound to conflict, and is conflicting, under the guise of Socialism, with the Liberal tendency towards liberty.

It is the duty of Liberalism to help Democracy to overcome the Conservative instinct of power in whatever form it may manifest itself.

[208-209] There is, of course, a profound fallacy that underlies the Socialist position. They are under the illusion that human beings, who dislike being ordered about by people who are better born or richer than themselves, are going to relish being ordered about by people who are cleverer than they are. … The latest of the despots will, no doubt, make the usual Conservative claim that the tyranny of statistics is more upright and more benevolent than its predecessors. … They have never realized that it is control itself which is irksome to human ideas of liberty. Once more the conflict between Liberal and Conservative is obvious. Liberals do not deny that there is now a tyranny of Capital, but they maintain that it is a tyranny that will rapidly decrease before the onslaught of Liberalism. … At any rate the tyranny of Capital has a tendency towards increasing individual liberty, since there is in existence a power greater than itself, the power of the Liberal State to interfere in its capacity as the guardian of liberty, from whatever quarter that liberty may be threatened. But the tyranny of bureaucracy has no tendency whatever towards increasing individual liberty, since, like Louis XIV, it is the State, and there is no power in existence greater than itself, to protect us from its organized control.


Parry, Ralph Barton. 1922. The Present Conflict of Ideas. Longmans, Green and Co.: London.

[513-514] In our own American tradition the term ‘liberty’ is associated with the war for independence, with the determination not to be governed by Great Britain. … But so far as our own liberty is concerned this sentiment has long since been an anachronism. We may now take our national independence for granted and expend our feelings more opportunely.

This deliverance of a people from a foreign yoke is one of the negative senses of the term ‘liberty.It is only accidentally associated with democracy, since it is equally possible for a monarchical state like Germany to value its independence. But there is another negative sense of the term ‘libertythat is bound up with democracy in principle. This is the deliverance of an individual or class from governmental authority as such. The motive of national liberty is the desire to have one's own government; the motive of individual liberty is to be freed from one's own government.

[517] The appeal from the state to the people in the name of liberty does not, then, deliver the individual altogether from restraint. It results in new forms of authority which are more hastily improvised, less orderly, and at the same time often more harsh. Therefore it is quite possible to appeal from the people to the state in the name of this same principle of liberty. This is the motive underlying the idea of civil liberty. … So readily does any popular propaganda, not excepting the propaganda of ‘libertyitself, assume the sinister aspect of an inquisition, that individuals desiring to be free may soon find themselves longing even for a Bourbon monarchy.


Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken (1880 – 1956) was an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, critic of American life and culture, and scholar of American English. 

Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken (1880 – 1956) was an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, critic of American life and culture, and scholar of American English. 

Mencken, Henry Louis. 1922. Prejudices, third series. Alfred A. Knopf: New York. 

[52] The typical American of to-day has lost all the love of liberty that his forefathers had, and all their distrust of emotion, and pride in self-reliance. He is led no longer by Davy Crocketts; he is led by cheer leaders, press agents, word-mongers, up- lifters. I do not believe that such a faint-hearted and inflammatory fellow, shoved into a war demanding every resource of courage, ingenuity and pertinacity, would give a good account of himself. He is fit for lynching-bees and heretic-hunts, but he is not fit for tight corners and desperate odds.


Mencken, H. L. 1925. “Liberty and Democracy” from the Baltimore Evening Sun, April 13. Reprinted in A Second Mencken Chrestomathy, 1995, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[35] Liberty and democracy are eternal enemies, and every one knows it who has ever given any sober reflection to the matter. A democratic state may profess to venerate the name, and even pass laws making it officially sacred, but it simply cannot tolerate the thing. In order to keep any coherence in the government process, to prevent the wildest anarchy in thought and act, the government must put limits upon the free play of opinion. In part, it can reach that end by mere propaganda, by the bald force of its authority—that is, making certain doctrines officially infamous. But in part it must resort to force, i.e., to law. One of the main purposes of laws in a democratic society is to put burdened upon intelligence and reduce it to impotence. Ostensibly, their aim is to penalize anti-social acts; actually, their aim is to penalize heretical opinions. At least ninety-five American out of 100 believe that this process is honest and even laudable; it is practically impossible to convince them that there is anything evil in it. In other words, they cannot grasp the concept of liberty.

[36] Including especially Liberals, who pretend—and often quite honestly believe—that they are hot for liberty. They never really are. Deep down in their hearts they know, as good democrats, that liberty would be fatal to democracy…. They themselves, as a practical matter, advocate only certain narrow kinds of of liberty—liberty, that is, for the persons they happen to favor. … The liberty to have and hold property is not one that they recognize. They believe only in the liberty to envy, hate and loot the man who has it.


Mencken, Henry Louis. 1926. Notes on Democracy. Alfred A Knopf: New York.

[43-44] All the revolutions in history have been started by hungry city mobs. The fact is, indeed, so plain that it has attracted the notice of historians, and some of them deduce from it the doctrine that city life breeds a love of liberty. … When the city mob fights it is not for liberty, but for ham and cabbage. When it wins, its first act is to destroy every form of freedom that is not directed wholly to that end. And its second is to butcher all professional libertarians.”

[49] Thus the lower orders of men, however grandiloquently they may talk of liberty to-day, have had but a short and highly deceptive experience of it. … The proletarian may mouth the phrases, as he did in Jefferson’s day, but he cannot take in the underlying realities, as was also demonstrated in Jeffersons day.


Williams, Ira Jewell. 1935. “The Future of Democracy in the United States,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 180(Jul.): 83-93.

[87] What of liberty under fascism or socialism as contrasted with liberty under American democracy? Every successful fascist has flouted the doctrine of liberty, political or social, as an outworn and dangerous doctrine. Our liberty in America may not be ideal, but we have the ideal of liberty. Fascist and socialist iconoclasts may sneer at it and wisecrack about the ‘liberty to starve,’ but the ideal of liberty remains and will remain as a supreme human aspiration, the great reality, the best hope in a troubled world. … Both fascism and socialism are forms of despotism, and despotism is the antithesis of freedom.


Lynch, J. A. 1940. “The Role of Propaganda in a Liberal Democracy,” Peabody Journal of Education 17(6): 369-378.

[377] The critics of the liberal point of view claim that the doctrine set forth by Jefferson and Mill has been tried, and it has failed. It may be true that it has failed or that it has fallen short of the expectations; but they are wrong in assuming that it has been tried. Even in America, no serious attempt has ever been made to expose youth to this point of view. In connection with civics courses, liberty is used as a symbol along with the other national symbols but not as a concept to be clarified. As a symbol, liberty means all things to all men.


Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises (1881 – 1973) was a philosopher, economist, sociologist, and classical liberal. 

Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises (1881 – 1973) was a philosopher, economist, sociologist, and classical liberal. 

Mises, Ludwig von. [1949] 2007. Human Action, Vol. II. Liberty Fund: Indianapolis.

[283-284] The detractors of liberty are in the right in calling [liberty] a ‘bourgeois’ issue and in blaming the rights guaranteeing liberty for being negative. In the realm of state government, liberty means restraint imposed upon the exercise of police power.

There would be no need to dwell upon this obvious fact if the champions of the abolition of liberty had not purposely brought about a semantic confusion. They realized that it was hopeless for them to fight openly and sincerely for restraint and servitude. The notions liberty and freedom had such prestige that no propaganda could shake their popularity. … No open attack upon the freedom of the individual had any prospect of success.

Thus the advocates of totalitarianism chose other tactics. They reversed the meaning of words. They call true or genuine liberty the condition of the individuals under a system in which they have no right other than to obey orders.


Michael Joseph Oakeshott (1901 – 1990) was an English philosopher and political theorist who wrote about philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and philosophy of law. 

Michael Joseph Oakeshott (1901 – 1990) was an English philosopher and political theorist who wrote about philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and philosophy of law. 

Oakeshott, Michael. 1991. Rationalism in Politics and other Essays. Liberty Fund: Indianapolis.

[386] Liberty has become the emblem of frivolous or of disingenuous politics.

4L is authored by Daniel B. Klein, Professor of Economics, JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center, George Mason University, Associate Fellow of the Ratio Institute; email: dklein@gmu.edu

Quotations compiled by Ryan Daza & Daniel B. Klein