Arizona State University: The Liberal Idea

Voltaire, Nicolas de Largillière

School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership: “The Liberal Idea, Not Capital or Exploitation, Enriched the World”


The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, a JMC partner program, and the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty will host Deirdre Nansen McCloskey for a lecture examining the role of classical liberalism in economic and societal development.

Ideas, not capital or slavery or institutions, made the modern world. The mother of all ideas was liberalism, the idea of Voltaire and Smith and Wollstonecraft that best society has no masters, whether a slave owner or a tyrannical taxman. It inspired people in Holland, England, and then the wider world to venture, willing as the British say to “have go.” And go they did, achieving since 1800 the startling array of new ways of doing things that raised income per person by 3,000 percent. Liberty can enrich and educate everyone on the planet, and in the next fifty years, if we keep it, it will.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020 • 4:30 PM
Memorial Union 202, Alumni Lounge • Arizona State University, Tempe

Free and open to the public

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Deirdre Nansen McCloskey is Distinguished Professor Emerita of Economics and of History, and Professor Emerita of English and of Communication, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. An economist, historian and public intellectual, she has written 20 books and 400 scholarly pieces on topics ranging from technical economics and statistics to the ethics of the bourgeois virtues. Her recent book, Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World (University of Chicago Press, 2016), is the third in a trilogy and identifies the egalitarian liberalism of Voltaire, Smith, and Mill as the cause of the explosion of commercially tested betterment after 1800, and the cultural enrichment of the world. In 2019, Yale University Press published her acclaimed Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Richer World for All, which applies her scientific findings to politics.

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The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University seeks to introduce a new level of debate over the large questions of life that always arise. These are questions of value: What is the best form of government? The most efficient and just economy? The good life for an individual? And also basic questions of fact and concept: Is science the only kind of knowledge? Does history have a direction and purpose? Is moral choice a fact or delusion? These questions do not have easy answers, and indeed the questions have always been clearer than the answers. As a learning community of faculty and students, the school approaches them in two ways. One way is to look beyond the time and borders of our present society to the great thinkers who have contended for the high status of teachers of humanity, such as Homer, Dante and Shakespeare. The other way of studying the fundamental questions is to look within to American leaders, both intellectual and political, who have inspired us.

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