History: The Struggle for Liberty

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4. Class and Conflict

History the Struggle for Liberty 2003

Tags War and Foreign PolicyWorld HistoryPhilosophy and MethodologyPolitical Theory

09/03/2004Ralph Raico

Gustave de Molinari became the grand old man of classical liberalism, crediting Pareto. Molinari understood that the main issue in the Civil War was the tariff, not slavery. In Italy economists founded free market economics, crediting Bastiat.

In America, John Taylor saw society becoming feudalistic with exploiting classes. Government needed to be separated from banking systems. Thomas Jefferson’s values were held most high. William Graham Sumner talked about plutocrats – wealthy persons who used the state. There was the liberal idea of class conflict. Production led to peace, whereas militarism led to war and destruction. War is the health of the state, said Bourne.

The pro-peace position was led by the Manchester School, particularly by Richard Cobden. They led the free trade movement. Their aim was harmony and peace among nations.

The tax-eating rather than the tax-paying classes favored war. Cobden emphasized trade not politics. Bastiat proposed getting rid of the French army. The American Open Door policy with China was free trade imperialism. Unilateral free trade works. Trade agreements don’t. Just do away with tariffs.

War making was often based upon incorrect information. Kosovo and Iraq are examples of disinformation stampeding us into war. The liberal anti-war tradition was against imperialism. The US went down the road of empire as did Spain. Constant war, large standing armies, crushing debt, and destructive levels of taxation are all with us now.

Herbert Spencer believed that warfare was only suitable to man’s primitive stage, not his advanced stage after industrialization. However, some liberals, like de Tocqueville, did support war under certain conditions.

Lecture 4 of 10 from Ralph Raico's History: The Struggle for Liberty.


Ralph Raico

Ralph Raico (1936–2016) was professor emeritus in European history at Buffalo State College and a senior fellow of the Mises Institute. He was a specialist on the history of liberty, the liberal tradition in Europe, and the relationship between war and the rise of the state. He is the author of The Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton.

A bibliography of Ralph Raico's work, compiled by Tyler Kubik, is found here.