The Essays of George H. Smith

September/​October 2017 • Policy Report

How are intellectual and religious liberty related? What should libertarians think about the American Revolution? And is libertarianism really any more than “atomized individualism,” as its critics pejoratively name it? A trio of new books from Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org, featuring selected essays by George H. Smith, tackle these three extraordinarily important topics. The essays are adapted from Smith’s weekly column at Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.

Freethought and Freedom traces the history of religious liberty and its impact, from St. Augustine’s defense of righteous persecution to Luther and Calvin’s persecution of heretics, to the development of libertarian deism, to how debates over original sin affected debates over private property. It illustrates the complex development of religious toleration and freedom of speech throughout history, and highlights the many philosophers whose ideas — for good or for ill — influenced their development.

In Self‐​Interest and Social Order in Classical Liberalism, Smith tackles the notion that libertarianism rests on a selfish individualism that does not allow for social harmony. To refute this claim, he delves into the most important philosophical arguments over the nature of self‐​interest, from authors such as Hume, Adam Smith, Hobbes, Butler, Mandeville, and Hutcheson.

The American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, meanwhile, examines the history of the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence through a libertarian lens. Its essays consider the significance of important moments in the Revolution and ask what lessons a libertarian ought to take. “There was much in colonial America (slavery in particular) that was ugly — but there was also the ideal of freedom that, however compromised in practice, was sincerely believed, felt, and acted upon by a significant portion of the population,” writes Smith. “This tells us, at the very least, that the ideal of individual freedom is more than a will-o’-the-wisp, that it was widely appreciated in the past and so may become widely appreciated in the future.”

All three books feature concise and readable essays to expand your understanding of libertarian ideas and the most famous philosophical, political, and religious debates that led to their development.