Working Paper #66

The Radical Libertarian Political Economy of 19th Century Preacher David Lipscomb


David Lipscomb (1831-1917) was an influential Tennessee preacher who edited a weekly paper from 1866-1917 and published a book Civil Government in 1889. Although few, if any, economists appear to be aware of David Lipscomb, Lipscomb’s writing includes many points that political economists, especially radical libertarian ones, are making today. This article highlights some of Lipscomb’s insights and relates them to arguments made by economists in the past three decades. Lipscomb argued that government is not created for the benefit of the public but for the benefit of the rulers. He believed that all governments, including democratic ones, are problematic. He argued that self-serving politicians actually create conflict and violence and that the public should withdraw support from government. He argued that moral people should not participate in politics, should not vote, and should not fight in wars. Modern libertarian economists make similar arguments that Lipscomb made more than a century in advance.
Edward P. Stringham is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute; President and Director of Research and Education at the American Institute for Economic Research; Kathryn Wasserman Davis Professor of Economic Organizations and Innovation and Deputy Director of the Shelby Cullom Davis Endowment, Trinity College; and editor of the Independent Institute book Anarchy and the Law: The Political Economy of Choice.