Author of the new Why Atheism? (2000), George Smith (1949-) is an independent scholar who has written perceptively about libertarian philosophy and free thought. His other books include Atheism: The Case Against God (1979) and Atheism, Ayn Rand, and other Heresies (1991). He contributed an introduction for The Lysander Spooner Reader (1992). He wrote many scripts for Knowledge Products which issued the highest quality audio recordings about liberty (Ideas of Liberty, Overview of American History. He has been a senior research fellow at the Institute for Humane Studies.
George H. Smith is an independent scholar and a weekly columnist at the Cato Institute's Libertarianism.org. He is the author of Atheism: The Case Against God (1974), Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies (1991), Why Atheism (2000). He is also the author of the audio series on 'Great Political Thinkers,' 'The Meaning of the Constitution,' and 'The Ideas of Liberty.'
[Monticello.org] states, "... Thomas Jefferson was almost certainly influenced by George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights ...' ... George H. Smith, an authority on such matters, is skeptical ... Smith offers an entirely plausible and satisfying explanation for Jefferson's omission of property: " ... At that time 'property' could refer to the moral power of dominion over one's body, labor, actions, conscience, and so forth; or it could refer to external objects ... Thus for Jefferson to have included property in his partial list of inalienable rights would have been highly ambiguous, at best."
If memory serves me rightly ... on the day in 1975 when I first met Sam, I also met another libertarian luminary of the time, Williamson M. "Bill" Evers. One autumn day in Los Angeles I had stopped by George Smith's apartment on my way home from a bookbuying trip and found that he had two guests whom I had never met before. George introduced me to both of them, and, later, when they had left and I was still around, he commented: "You know how some people are strict Randians? Well, Bill is perhaps the best example you could find of a strict Rothbardian."
Free in the social, or political, sense is what you are when others abstain from interfering with your activities. This is what is meant by "negative" freedom or rights. Our obligations are negative rather than positive with respect to this freedom. As George H. Smith discusses in his new book, The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism, the difference between negative and positive freedom is a big part of the divide between the "old liberals," such as Herbert Spencer, and the "new liberals," such as T.H. Green.
Ayn Rand on Aristotle, 4 Mar 2016
Examines Rand's appreciative view of Aristotle based on his epistemological theories while disregarding his comments on slavery, racism and coercive government laws
According to Aristotle, 'there are certain people who are free and certain who are slaves by nature, and it is both to their advantage, and just, for them to be slaves.' As David Brion Davis, a leading historian of slavery, noted in Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and fall of Slavery in the New World ..., this conclusion by Aristotle would have an 'immeasurable influence in Western culture.' ... Is there a logical relationship between the epistemological theories of a philosopher and his political theories? Although this connection may be plausible in some cases, ... any such relationship must be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Richard Cantillon, born in County Kerry in Ireland and lived a substantial portion of his life in France, was regarded by many historians of economic thought as one of the truly great early economists. He has been praised in the highest terms: ... F. A. Hayek wrote of him that he contributed more 'really original insights of permanent value' to economics than any other writer before 1776. ... Among Cantillon’s many contributions to economic theory, three should be mentioned ... These ... helped lay the foundation of modern economics and have ensured Cantillon's place as a theorist of the first rank.
The Case Against God Sequel, 31 Jul 1999
Speech given at the Freedom From Religion Foundation mini-convention in San Francisco; based on excerpts from then to be published Why Atheism?
In 1623, the Friar Mersenne declared that there were 50,000 atheists in Paris alone. Yet just two years later ... Father Garasse, could count only five atheists in all of Europe ... How can we explain this discrepancy? Either thousands of atheists had suddenly converted ... or these Catholic observers had radically different things in mind ... Taking our cue from Thomas Aquinas, we may say that the perfect joke supplements, or perfects, our natural sense of humor. Thus, however much the Christian may fail to understand the humor of the perfect joke, he must place trust in God and laugh on faith.
The Ethics of Voting: Part I [PDF], The Voluntaryist, Oct 1982
Examines libertarian and anarchist theory to provide a critique of electoral voting, i.e., voting for government officials
A detailed libertarian critique of electoral voting is long overdue. Political libertarians (i.e., those who support the effort to elect libertarians to political office) are usually silent on the moral implications of electoral voting. When challenged, they typically dismiss moral objections out of hand, as if the voluntaryist (i.e., anti-voting) case deserved nothing more than a cursory reply. ... Anarchists of all persuasions have traditionally rejected electoral politics, and with good reason. This seems, after all, to be an essential part of what anarchism means.
The Ethics of Voting: Part Three [PDF], The Voluntaryist, Apr 1983
Examines, among other things, whether a libertarian can be employed by or hold office in a State entity
In Part Two of this article I sketched a theory of institutional analysis whereby individuals, filling institutional roles, contribute unintentionally to the goals of an association (i.e., a designed institution). Institutional analysis does not violate the principles of methodological individualism. On the contrary, anarchist theory relies on institutional analysis for its coherence. ... The libertarian politician, brimming with good intentions, believes that he will use the State to further his ends. The sad truth is that the State will use the libertarian politician to further its ends.
I have argued that institutional analysis is essential not only to the voluntaryist critique of electoral voting, but to anarchist theory generally. Anarchism combines the nonaggression principle with an institutional view of the State, resulting in the principled rejection of the State on libertarian grounds. ... And so our political anarchist. He gets a job with a political power factory and expects to produce freedom. He may even claim to be a clever saboteur ... He goes to work, does political things (votes, etc.), receives a State salary, and even swears allegiance to the State.
Herbert Spencer's Theory of Causation, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1981
Discusses Spencer's epistemology, his views on causation and how it affects social interactions, concluding with his ethical theory and concept of justice
In An Autobiography Herbert Spencer recalls that he 'early became possessed by the idea of causation.' His father taught him that 'whatever occurred had its assignable cause of a comprehensible kind,' and that there is 'natural causation everywhere operating.' ... So fundamental is the conduct/consequence doctrine that it provides the basis for both the 'survival of the fittest' principle (in biology) and the 'law of equal freedom' (in political theory). ... my purpose has been to show how causation plays a fundamental role in Spencer's ethics and theory of justice.
Thomas Hodgskin was one of the most original libertarian theorists in Victorian England. His first major work was Travels in the North of Germany (1820). This two-volume travelogue, which is interspersed with political commentary on 'the much governed countries of Germany,' frequently discusses the inefficiency and waste of governmental projects. ... In 1846, Hodgskin became senior editor for The Economist ... It was during his tenure with this influential publication that Hodgskin befriended Herbert Spencer, then a junior editor on the magazine.
Francis Hutcheson is considered a major figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. Born in Ireland, he spent the last 17 years of his life as a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow. Through his books and teaching at Glasgow, he exerted considerable influence on Adam Smith, David Hume, and other 18th-century moral philosophers. ... Hutcheson was charged by the Presbytery of Glasgow with teaching the heretical doctrine that one can possess knowledge of good and evil without knowledge of, or belief in, God. His argument ... was an important step in the movement for religious toleration.
Bernard Mandeville, a Dutch physician who settled in London shortly after earning his degree in medicine at the University of Leyden, is best known as the controversial author of The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits (6th ed., 1729). ... Less popular was Mandeville’s psychological egoism ... It was largely owing to this thesis that Mandeville (like Thomas Hobbes before him) was widely condemned as an enemy of morality. Mandeville responded to these charges by claiming that he was observing human behavior as it really is, not prescribing how it should be.
Many philosophers have challenged religion's virtual monopoly on ethics, but few of them have influenced popular culture. Ayn Rand is a striking exception. Her readers number in the millions, making her one of the most influential atheistic philosophers of this century. ... Rand's philosophy is just that—a philosophy, not a religion. She labored hard on her theories; and if they sometimes become entangled in rhetoric and prejudice, then surely the reader can exert a little labor to untangle them. Critics who fail to do this call her dogmatic; admirers who fail to do this succumb to religiosity.
Franz Oppenheimer, a German sociologist, practiced as a physician in Berlin for many years, after which he took up the study of economics while supporting himself by writing articles. In 1909, he became a privatdozent (an unsalaried lecturer who received only students' fees) of economics at the University of Berlin. ... Some of Oppenheimer’s ideas were transmitted to libertarian thinkers through the work Albert J. Nock, especially his influential essay, Our Enemy, the State (1935). Nock embraced much of Oppenheimer's interpretation of politics in his own work and regarded him as one of the 'Galileos' who had deprived the state of all moral prestige.
Physiocracy, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Discusses the Physiocrats, focusing mostly on Quesnay and his Tableau
Physiocracy has reference to a school of economic thought that flourished in France during the second half of the 18th century. The physiocrats did not call themselves by this label, but referred to themselves simply as les économistes. However, as the term economist acquired a broader meaning in the 18th century, it became customary to distinguish these economists from others by dubbing them physiocrats. ... This organic conception of an interdependent market order—the physician Quesnay may have been influenced by William Harvey's writings on the circulation of blood—would become a mainstay of later economic thinking.
Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733), a Dutch physician who settled in London shortly after earning his degree in medicine at the University of Leyden, is best known as the author of The Fable of the Bees; or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits (6th ed., 1729), a work that provoked enormous controversy throughout the eighteenth century. ... Given the moral fanaticism that prevailed when Mandeville took up residence in London, we can appreciate why his argument that private vices may produce unintended public benefits evoked furious denunciations not only against Mandeville's ideas but also against him personally.
... it might be helpful to summarize a basic controversy ... is the desire of people to interact with other people (beyond the family unit) and to form enduring associations called 'society' a natural propensity of human beings? Or do people form societies only after utilitarian calculations reveal that such associations will advance the self-interested goals of the participants? ... It is consumer demand, not vices per se, that keeps the wheels of commerce turning. To attribute the benefits of commerce to private vices was merely a perverse and misleading way of saying the same thing.
Nassau William Senior was a noted economist who also held several government commissions. He was appointed to the first endowed chair of political economy at Oxford in 1825. After the first edition of An Outline of the Science of Political Economy was published in Encyclopedia Metropolitana in 1836, a revised and expanded edition appeared as a separate volume in 1850. ... Another important feature of Senior's work was his insistence that economics should be a value-free discipline—a point he emphasized not only in his book Political Economy, but also in his lecture on 'Statistic Science' ...
Although Herbert Spencer has been rightly regarded as the most influential libertarian theoretician of the 19th century, he was much more than that. He also was a founding father of modern sociology, a pioneer in the theory of evolution ... an important figure in progressive education ... and a philosopher of distinction whose work ... gained the respect of J. S. Mill and other notable contemporaries. ... A major function of sociology ... is to explain the evolution of this order that is the result of human action, but not of human design. The difficulty of this task is why Spencer displayed such contempt for social planners ...
Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies, Apr 1991
Partial contents: The Meaning of Heresy - My Path to Atheism - Atheism and the Virtue of Reasonableness - Defining Atheism - Atheism and Objectivism - Ayn Rand: Philosophy and Controversy - The Righteous Persecution of Drug Consumers and Other Heretics
The Lysander Spooner Reader
by George H. Smith (Introduction), Lysander Spooner, 1992
Contents: Editorial Preface (Jeffrey Tucker) - Foreword (Sheldon Richman) - Introduction (George H. Smith) - Our Nestor (Benjamin Tucker) - Natural Law - Vices Are Not Crimes - No Treason - Letter to Thomas F. Bayard - Trial by Jury
Why Atheism?, 2000
Partial contents: The Methodology of Atheism - Belief and Doubt - Belief and Knowledge - Belief and Free Will - Why Philosophy? - The Career of Reason - Theology and Metaphysics - The Roots of Modern Atheism - Some Irreverent Questions Concerning God
George H. Smith Gives Qualified Endorsement of Ron Paul 2008, 30 Dec 2007
Together with his dog Herbert (named of course after Spencer) who is a "political junkie", Smith says, in an analogy to sex education, "if you must vote, if you cannot control your political impulses, then by all means vote for Ron Paul"