A Nice Discovery

Posted on April 4, 2014 by


To take just a slight break from contemporary political and economic events and issues, I discovered a “new” book last night which I would recommend to all freedom-loving and responsible people.  Actually, it was published first in 1873, with a second edition the following year.  The author was the now obscure James Fitzjames Stephen, and Englishman, and the title is Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. That isn’t a very catchy title, I know, especially for someone no one reads much.  But it captures very well three concepts that even today are just as relevant or more relevant than they were 140 years ago.  The book is sort of an extended critique of John Stuart Mill’s much more famous On Liberty, published in 1859.  As some may recall Mill was all about liberty, as if it were unlimited and without responsibility.  Though of course he wouldn’t have gone that far, he did certainly leave that impression and later readers would take it that way.  And Mill most certainly wanted more, not less, liberty.  Stephen aimed to correct and qualify Mill and to provide further explanation of what he believed to be the responsible limits of freedom as well as the dangers of the wrong kind of equality (equality of outcome enforced by the state).  

If that isn’t relevant, I don’t know what is.  I will leave it to the reader to delve into the details.  But I would heartily recommend the book to readers.  Just as a note, it isn’t long, about 225 pages, and it is fairly easy to read.  The reprint is from Liberty Fund, so it is cheap and also of good quality.  

Indulge yourself with a gem from the past that is written in the old and grand manner. But do so not just for enjoyment but especially for the valuable argument that rings especially true in these days.