Magazine December 17, 2020, Issue

David Hume’s Classical Liberalism

David Hume (Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
His Essays teach us to put ‘all the circumstances in the scale’

Does David Hume, a classic proponent of classical liberalism, still have something to say to us? Today classical liberalism is (along with its more ideological relative, libertarianism) out of fashion among progressives but also some prominent parts of the Right. On the left, socialism and Black Lives Matter are on the upswing. For some on the right, libertarianism is to blame for hollowing out the working class and privileging an utterly sovereign self, untrammeled by considerations of the common good in sexual or economic matters. Whatever has been said about libertarianism in recent years, however, these criticisms miss the mark

This article appears as “‘All the Circumstances in the Scale’” in the December 17, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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Thomas W. Merrill — Mr. Merrill is the author of Hume and the Politics of Enlightenment and the director of the Lincoln Scholars Certificate Program at American University.

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