Review: Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty

I have an addiction to voluminous history books and Conceived in Liberty promised to scratch that itch from the very start. The five volumes span American history from the first colonial times to the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War.

Conceived in Liberty has the distinction of being much more detailed than a similarly sized historical survey of general American history, and a little less detailed than one would expect from a highly topical work (e.g. Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin biography in three volumes).

Combine this with Rothbard’s revisionist approach to American history, and Conceived in Liberty is interesting.

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Reflections on Aphorisms #52

In honor of the Fourth of July, I felt it appropriate to look at America’s most famous early aphorist, Benjamin Franklin, and respond to a couple of his sayings.

Aphorism 84

If you were a servant would you not be ashamed that a good master should catch you idle? Then if you are your own master be ashamed to catch yourself idle.

Benjamin Franklin


There are fewer people who are self-employed than there have been historically, but I think that there’s also a trend toward self-management in the workplace that makes this an important idea.

One of the most important things we can do in our life is to find something that we can do that has a meaning outside the service it provides to us. I’ve found that as a teacher and as a writer. What I do isn’t just providing entertainment or occupying people for a time; if it is successful I initiate people into the secrets of the universe that I have discovered and which have been revealed to me by the intersection of my predecessors and my experiences.

I think that there’s something to be said for being ashamed of oneself. Obviously this shouldn’t be the main experience in one’s life: some confidence and self-validation is healthy, and extreme negative self-concept is a risk to both function and health.

The important thing here is to accept that one is capable of folly, and to constantly work away from that folly.

I’ve got a real problem with video games. I love them, and they don’t always reciprocate in a way that’s helpful for me. I like to think that I’m pretty much a self-starter: I’ve gotten to the point where I’m writing between two and three thousand words on a typical day to keep up with my blogging (here and for Loreshaper Games), and then there’s correspondence and work on other projects that I add to that.

If I don’t keep myself busy, I’ll basically work on each thing I do for an hour or two and then be done for the day; I’m something of a “visionary” in a non-boastful sense of the word. My mind works by occasionally having an idea, and then I’m able to bring it into fruition incredibly quickly, but I also have a fairly limited idea-having bandwidth.

This is generally down to individual concepts and ideas, so having a variety of focuses means that I also wind up with a variety of ideas, while having a single focus means stagnation.

I’m getting into the groove of freelancing, personal projects, and networking that means that I’m spending something that more closely approximates an eight-hour workday actually on work without any structure.

Some of that’s coming down to scheduling; I have a fairly solid rotation of waking up in the morning, doing chores, getting a little writing done on whatever the most pressing thing is, giving myself a break, doing my Loreshaper Games writing, doing my mainstream writing here, and then at the end of my day doing these aphorism reflections. I’ve been doing more drawing recently (all technical/diagram stuff for games, so nothing artistically beautiful, but still satisfying in a “I got this done” sense), which also is just immensely time consuming.

I’ve been trying to punctuate that with productive things; business stuff and also reading or listening to audio books, getting some exercise, and so forth.

This lifestyle’s only for now, since adding coursework when I officially start school again will be difficult, and then I’ll go back to my professional life, but I think that being able to master my time when there aren’t as many pressing factors will be something that helps me when things get rough later.


Make time work for you, not the other way around.

Push to the limits of industry: make the pushes beyond necessity what you enjoy doing, and make them your duty. This brings fulfillment.

You will regret what you don’t do more than what you do.

Aphorism 85

Wink at small faults; remember thou hast great ones.

Benjamin Franklin


This is an interpretation, I believe, of the Golden Rule. Franklin doesn’t go into too much detail about how exactly we’re supposed to take this: we could say wink at small faults in others or wink at small faults in yourself, but either way still has the same broad lesson and it’s the specifics that detail.

One of the greatest things that I’ve learned in my life is to overcome my neuroses. With the exception of obsessive cleanliness (which I can overcome when needed) and a couple minor phobias (which have also diminished), I’ve learned not to let my own personal foibles get in the way of my daily life and perception of the world.

This is something that was fairly painful, and a lesson I learned from counter-example. I’m not perfect at it, but I’ve learned to identify when I get more emotional about something than makes sense, and then I sort of work down from there in a process.

The thing that I’ve learned is that everyone has these same tendencies; not necessarily manifest in the same way, but certainly tendencies that possess the same inexorable force for them that my own tendencies have on me. Of course one can try to pull against the trend, but the fact is that there are things that will always to some degree yield influence over me, even if that influence is simply met with a conscious response that counters it.

One of the things to do here also is to just learn what matters in oneself and forget the things that don’t matter. Part of my obsessive cleanliness is that I like to shower before bed and before leaving the house in the morning: I can tolerate skipping an evening shower in rare circumstances, but never skipping a morning shower (even if I showered at 2 AM after getting home from work, then woke up at 7 AM for the next day, a scenario that happened occasionally in my college days).

That’s something you can wink at. It’s not a moral failing (I shower quickly and with military precision, lest I be accused of waste), and it may even have its own virtues, even if it’s a little weird and probably not the best use of time and effort.

However, something like my relationship with video games is not a flaw I can wink at. I need to be cautious and aware of it, and make sure that I am disciplined and keep an eye open for how much time I’ve actually spent on leisure: I find I appreciate luxury more when I measure it, but there’s also an element of just letting time slip by that needs to be avoided here as well.

That’s not the most hideous failing (at least, so long as I can afford to keep the lights on), but it is something that should be worked on.

Of course, every person has deeper things that they have to work on as well, the moral flaws of character that keep us from perfection. All other problems are merely symptoms of some development which we could pursue, if only we knew what virtues we truly lacked.


Find the virtues I lack.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Overlook small flaws in others, and pray they reciprocate.