The Libertarian Tradition

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Was Classical Liberalism a "Strife of Interests Masquerading as a Contest of Principles"?

  • The Libertarian Tradition
07/27/2010Jeff Riggenbach

As Barnes noted, there were a number of "middle-class writers" who took more or less this line, but "by far the most influential" of them "was the 17th-century English philosopher, John Locke. Many of his theories were taken up and popularized in America by Thomas Jefferson...

This brings us to the question Barnes's account of political developments in 17th-century England poses for us. For it seems clear that the theory Barnes depicts as having been developed to "justify" the economic and political program of the middle class is none other than what we call today by the name "libertarianism." And John Locke is, of course, one of the major heroes of the libertarian intellectual pantheon. But should we regard Locke in this way? Was he one of the pioneers in the effort to discover and work out the implications of libertarian principle? Or was he merely a clever propagandist — a composer of "justifications" for political policies actually designed to benefit the middle class economically?

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