The following two quotes show a bridge between old-time classical liberals, represented by Adam Smith, the famous and 18th-century liberal economist, and Anthony de Jasay, the more radical liberal anarchist of our time.

The first quote comes from the manuscript of a lecture delivered by Smith (quoted after his death but later lost):

Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.

The second quote is from Anthony de Jasay’s book Social Contract, Free Ride, which I review in the forthcoming issue of Regulation on the 35th anniversary of its publication. De Jasay defines (classical) liberalism as

a broad presumption of deciding individually any matter whose structure lends itself, with roughly comparable convenience, to both individual and collective choice.

This bridge points to a common denominator between more moderate classical liberals and more radical libertarians: the ideal of a humble state. It is true that the correspondence is not perfect. Anthony de Jasay was more radical than his definition suggests. And other classical liberals—for example, Friedrich Hayek and James Buchanan—accepted a potentially larger role for the state than the two quotations above imply. Buy I think that de Jasay put his finger on a necessary (and perhaps sufficient) condition for liberalism or libertarianism: a general primacy of individual and private choices over collective and political choices.


To illustrate this post, I instructed ChatGPT 4 to “generate an image symbolizing the primacy of individual and private choices as opposed to collective and political choices, as it is viewed by classical liberals and libertarians.” The robot labored on that (although “he” seemed to have an idea of what classical liberalism and libertarianism are). I had to give other instructions, notably by evoking two individuals trading oranges and apples. Recall how James Buchanan used that image as a symbol of mutually beneficial exchange. The chatbot’s best or most striking image, which I use as this post’s featured image, is reproduced below.