Biographical Sketches: The Thinkers (
Now Available)

To Plato, there was no natural sense on how men ought to live, education was to be the key to the construction of a better society; from the “educated” would arise the elite to rule society. Plato thought it essential that a strict threefold class division be maintained. In addition to the rulers, the Philosopher-kings, there were to be “Auxiliaries” (soldiers, police and civil servants) and the “Workers” (the rest of us).
Machiavelli’s goal was to bring to the attention of the leaders of Italy, Italy’s condition; and how Italy’s unity was essential; and how this unity might be achieved. As for the northern barbarians, well, there was only one way to defeat barbarians — and that was by the use of barbarian tricks.
The most important aspect of Copernicus’ work is that it forever changed the place of man in the cosmos; no longer could man legitimately think his significance greater than his fellow creatures; with Copernicus’ work, man could now take his place among that which exists all about him, and not of necessity take that premier position which had been assigned immodestly to him by the theologians.
“Francis Bacon”
Bacon argued that the only knowledge of importance to man was empirically rooted in the natural world; and that a clear system of scientific inquiry would assure man’s mastery over the world. He was the originator of the expression, “Knowledge is Power.” He was very impressed by the “materialist” theories and the resultant discoveries of both Copernicus and Galileo. Bacon, along with Galileo are known in the literature as “the great anti-Aristotelians who created the ‘modern scientific’ view of Nature.”
“Thomas Hobbes”
Hobbes’ interest in science, particularly that of Euclidian geometry, led him to conclude that it should be possible “to extend such deductive certainty to a comprehensive science of man and society.” With this objective in mind, Hobbes set to work and wrote a book which became the “greatest, perhaps the sole, masterpiece of political philosophy in the English language”: Leviathan.
“John Locke”
The core of Locke’s beliefs are to be found in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. It is with this book that there was established the principles of modern Empiricism (the human mind begins as a tabula rasa and we learn through experience). It is in this book, Human Understanding, that we see Locke attacking the rationalist doctrine of innate ideas. His other work naturally followed: Two Treatises of Government. Locke’s Treatises were written in defense of the Glorious Revolution: that government rests on popular consent and rebellion is permissible when government subverts the ends for which it is established —- the protection of life, liberty, and property.
“Benedict de Spinoza”
As a pantheistic monist, Spinoza was of the belief that there is no dualism between God and the world. We need not go beyond the immediate present experience to seek for a being outside of it. God moves and lives in nature. The whole of it, the entire universe is God. Nature, or God, is Its own cause and is self-sufficient. (Because of his view of God, Spinoza during his lifetime and for a century after his death was known as a man of appalling wickedness.) In his egotistical way, man has imagined God to be like him, to be anthropomorphic in character. Further, man imagines that this God (created in the imagination of man) has a special interest in, and concern for man. The Spinozistic God does not love nor hate. The totality of existence, Nature, God, is far above us and is indifferent to our desires and aspirations — gone is the notion of a personal God.
“Isaac Newton”
Newton had a bad start with his schooling; he has been described as having been one of the poorest performing students in the grammar school in which his grandmother had placed him. The story is that the boy suffered from a blow delivered by a schoolyard bully, or was it that he was struck on the head by an apple, whatever it was, an event occurred whereby “the hard shell which imprisoned his genius was cracked wide open.”
“Jean Jacques Rousseau”
“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains” — Man must “be forced to be free.” These were the notions of Rousseau and those who followed him. With the cry of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” the French mobs hit the bloody barricades. The French Revolution, in addition to the immediate blood and damage, left a train of tattered notions in its long comet-like tail in which we still exist.
“David Hume”
David Hume was an empiricist from the school of John Locke. For empiricists, knowledge comes to a person exclusively through experience. What is true — is that which is experienced by the senses and which at the same time is consistent and coherent with past experiences. (It was upon this basis that natural physical laws, such as Newtonian laws, were developed.) We all take our cue from the customary or habitual succession of events. We judge that there is a causal relationship, and that the probabilities are that in the future a similar sequence of events will take place. Things, however, do not take place as a matter of necessity; things are not predetermined.
“Adam Smith”
If one is interested in the study of economics — and one should certainly be if they are at all interested in governmental policy, then one should begin with a good dictionary and a copy of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. This is likely all that one needs to do. This is indeed fortunate, for to go beyond Adam Smith is to go beyond into the writings of the thousands of economists who have written since. To go into a thicket full of obscure and for the most part meaningless terms.
“Edmund Burke”
Burke was for liberty, but “a liberty connected with order.” Tranquility was the greatest state for man, one which according to Burke was a normal state, which was to be preserved. Having a profound veneration for the accumulated wisdom of centuries of experience, Burke held that the bounds of liberty should be enlarged with great caution and very gradually. Burke was especially concerned with the political movements of his day, the king’s party (Tory) or the people’s party (Whig). The one attacking liberty, the other attacking order.
“Jeremy Bentham”
The story is that Jeremy Bentham was obliged to seek a date to meet with the Master in Chancery. Presumably Bentham got what he was looking for, or not (likely not). However, the point is that Bentham came away from one of his first court appearances with the view that it took three times the trouble and three times the money that it should. The law in Bentham’s view was in dire need of revision and he set out, in his life’s work, to reform it.
“William Godwin”
Public opinion from these times onward was to be moulded by what was written in the public press. Thus, a new authority, public opinion, was trenching upon the old. It went hand and hand with the growth of literacy and the ease by which political writers could get their pamphlets abroad. Though the old political guard were slow to recognize it, public opinion, right or wrong, was what was to rule. The plutocratic could rule but only through the shaping of public opinion.
“Thomas Robert Malthus”
The most grating conclusion of the several which Malthus came to in his Essay is not that eventually population left unchecked will outstrip man’s ability to live on this planet (as true a proposition to-day as it was in 1798); or that war, pestilence, and alike were natural checks against population (they are); but rather that we are all left with a Hobson’s choice, with nature being the stable keeper. Or, if one likes, two choices with no difference in the result; either leave the old checks in place (as if we could remove them) or suffer the consequences of overpopulation.
“Frédéric Bastiat”
It was not the concept of monarchial rule that brought France into revolutionary times; it was the abuses of the monarchial rule that had then existed in France for some period of time, or, more particularly, the spending habits of Louis XV and XVI, and the resulting tax load that the ordinary people of France were forced to bear. Mobs of people do not respond to fine arguments about human rights as may be developed by learned men. They respond to demagogues who are put in a position to point to obvious examples of a disrupted economy, to point to the few that have leisure and who conspicuously consume so much of the nation’s wealth, to point to those who create the nation’s wealth and who have, what little they have, taxed away to support but those who assist, countenance and back the corrupt régime.
“John Stuart Mill”
To gain an appreciation of Mill’s philosophy it will be necessary to be acquainted with a school of philosophy known as positivism. The French philosopher, Auguste Comte (1798-1857), is considered to be its founder. No one will question the laudable goals of those who subscribe to positivism, including the “social scientists” of today. It is just that the premises on which these people proceed are wrong. Human beings are individuals and a collection of them is but just that, a collection of individuals. The collection will not take on a different life of its own. Society is not an independent creature with a separate set of governing laws.
“Charles Darwin”
The theory of evolution is no longer just a theory. An overwhelming amount evidence has accumulated since Darwin. Darwin’s theory has never been successfully refuted. Darwin discovered a law just as surely as Copernicus, Galileo and Newton discovered laws: natural laws. Just as the earth is in orbit and has come to be and is depended on the force of gravity, a natural law; so life has come into being and exists and is depended on the force of natural selection. One need not necessarily understand the why or the how of it, but a natural law such as gravitation or selection nonetheless exists, whether a particular puny human being, or group of them believe it or not.
“Sigmund Freud”
From Freud’s teachings sprang a whole industry which has milked, and which continues to milk most all of western society as a sizable portion of the population goes about psychoanalyzing their fellows. This intrusive Freudian exercise, I might add, is carried out mainly at the expense of the hard working portion of the population who would hardly think they have any need for psychoanalysis themselves; nor, if they knew something of the subject, would they consider that anyone else needs it either, and certainly not at their expense.
“John Maynard Keynes”
With the world wide slump, post 1929, Keynes set himself to the task of explaining and of coming up with new methods to control trade-cycles. In the result two books were spawned: A Treatice on Money (1930) and The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936). In these books Keynes pronounced that there should be both national and international programs that would lead to a unified monetary policy. Further, Keynes came to the view that a national budget was to serve not only the purpose of good financial planning for government revenues and expenditures, but that it ought to be used as a major instrument in the planning of the national economy.
“Karl Popper”
Popper, in his philosophy, offers a solution to Hume’s problem, the problem of induction. Popper concluded that all we know is but “a woven web of guesses,” that while empirical generalizations may not be verifiable, they are, at least, falsifiable. It was through this process that Einstein turned Newtonian physics on its ear.

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Peter Landry