By Steven Clyde
Murray Rothbard gave us some of the most profound insights in history, economics, sociology, etc., yet if you get to a point where you feel like he’s taught you everything you could possibly know, he surprises you once more. We often wonder where the roots of our libertarian philosophy come from, and not just from the perspective of the more recent centuries, but in regard to the progression of philosophical thought which led to the creation of economics.
While modern libertarianism was certainly founded in Murray’s living room, there is a lot more to the story.
In Economic Thought Before Adam Smith: Vol 1, a clear and concise analysis is given on the development of economic thought, in which most of the initial philosophical insights that led to the development of Western civilization over time came from the ancient cities of Greece.
There was the poet Hesiod who gave us some of the first insights into scarcity and how this relates to the plight of man. Democritus (c.460-c.370 BC), who gave us the idea of subjective value theory and was in favor of private property over communal property, noted that:
‘The same thing may be good and true for all men, but the pleasant differs from one and another’ . 
Plato (c.428-c.374 BC) had many statist tendencies which he outlined in The Republic and The Laws, which described his idea of a Greek polis (city) where philosophers and soldiers would rule over the labourers, peasants, and merchants. Somehow, Plato still managed to understand the role of the division of labor, despite the fact that he wanted a static economy with little to no innovation. Xenophon (430-354 BC), a follower of Plato, still managed to distinguish that in large cities people were often able to get by on a single trade, while those living in smaller towns relied on being a “jack of all trades” to get by; this showed his consciousness of supply and demand, which Plato lacked with his ideas of communalism.
Aristotle (384-322), a great proponent of private property, disagreed with his teacher Plato on the idea of communal property. Instead he argued that private property is interwoven into our human nature and therefore gives us the ability to act morally and compassionately, versus being coerced. Though he was not in favor of limiting a person’s private property per se, he stressed the idea of reciprocity in any exchange. To him, it was unjust for any person to get the short end of the stick in a transaction, which led to his overall confusion on money (e.g. Shoes traded for a house must be based on a builder to shoemaker ratio). Later libertarian theorists like Rothbard corrected this idea, because in order for an exchange to take place at all, one must value their current possession less than what they’re receiving in return. It wouldn’t make sense to trade $5, for $5, yet Aristotle’s contradiction went unnoticed for centuries to come. Continue reading “Taoists: The World’s First Libertarians”