Gustave de Molinari and the Anti-statist Liberal Tradition, Part 1

However, it was not until the eighteenth century that these liberal ideas of liberty and property were developed into a more comprehensive theory of the state. The young Edmund Burke, for example, in his Vindication of Natural Society written in 1756, extended the religious dissenter’s criticism of “artificial,” imposed religion to the institutions of government.2 In what is probably the first individualist, liberal anarchist tract ever written, Burke condemned all forms of political society for being the main cause of war, suffering and misfortune.3


  • 2 Burke wrote: “the cause of artificial society is more defenceless even than that of artificial religion … the design [of this work] was to show that, without the exertion of any considerable forces, the same engines which were employed for the destruction of religion might be employed with equal success for the subversion of government. … If you say that natural religion is a sufficient guide without the foreign aid or revelation, on what principle should political laws become necessary? Is not the same reason available in theology and in politics? If the laws of nature are the laws of God, is it consistent with the divine wisdom to prescribe rules to us, and leave the enforcement of them to the folly of human institutions? Will you follow truth but to a certain point?” (Edmund Burke, A Vindication of Natural Society: Or a View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind from every Species of Artificial Society. In a Letter to Lord — by a late Nobel Writer, in The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke[1756; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1906–1907], 1:53, 4, 53).
  • 3 For the view that Burke’s Vindication of Natural Society was not written as a satire, as is commonly believed, see Murray N. Rothbard, “A Note on Burke’s Vindication of Natural Society,” Journal of the History of Ideas (1958), pp. 114–18; Elie Halevy, The Growth of Philosophical Radicalism (London: Faber and Faber, 1952); and Isaac Kram­nick, “Vindicating Burke’s Vindication,” The Rage of Edmund Burke: Portrait of an Ambivalent Conservative (New York: Basic Books, 1977), pp. 88–93. The internal evidence suggests that Burke did not believe that he was able to state his real opinions openly because of the dangers faced by radical political theorists and other dissenting authors. I have defended natural religion against a confederacy of atheists and divines. I now plead for natural society against politicians, and for natural reason against all three. When the world is in a fitter temper than it is at present to hear truth, or when I shall be inore indif­ferent about its temper, my thoughts may become more public. In the meantime, let them repose in my own bosom, and in the bosoms of such men as are fit to be initiated in the sober mysteries of truth and reason. … A man is allowed sufficient freedom of thought, provided he knows how to choose his subject properly. You may criticize freely upon the Chinese constitution, and observe with as much severity as you please upon the absurd tricks or destructive bigotry of the bonzees. But the scene is changed as you come home­ward, and atheism or treason may be the names given in Britain to what would be reason and truth if asserted of China” (Burke, A Vindication of Natural Society, pp. 37, 40–41).


Gustave de Molinari and The Anti-statist Liberal Tradition, Part 2


Molinari Institute

Search for other Parts


Comments are closed.