The Classical Liberal Institute

The Classical Liberal Institute (CLI), founded in 2013, pursues, through a modern lens and multiple disciplines, the central question of classical political theory: How does a theory of human nature inform us about (1) the social and legal norms that should govern ordinary interactions between private individuals and (2) the formation and maintenance of the system of limited government needed to protect individual rights?

The classical liberal perspective envisions a society of interacting individuals based on private property rights, voluntary contractual relations with protections against force and fraud, and government provision of important public goods, including infrastructure and common defense, in areas where the private sector is inadequate.

The classical liberal position sharply diverges from modern progressive and social welfare conceptions that envision the subservience of private individuals, social institutions, and firms to a large, complex state characterized by an extensive and powerful administrative apparatus that is powered by so-called neutral experts.

The debate between these two approaches dominated much of American constitutional and political thought in the first third of the twentieth century, and it has made a marked come-back in the United States in the past decade in areas such as health care and financial regulation.

Classical liberalism traces its origins to Aristotle and Cicero, and to writers as diverse as Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Blackstone, Hume, Smith, Madison, Bentham, Mill, Spencer, Hayek, North, and Coase. Much of the key work in the classical liberal tradition took place before many modern intellectual developments such as individual and social psychology, game theory, public choice, transactions-cost economics, rational-choice institutional economics, and the devastating economic critique of central planning.

Using modern insights and conceptual tools, CLI will explore many of today’s most pressing problems:

  • The organization and regulation of business, financial, information and labor markets
  • The development of systems of private and common property
  • The constitutional articulation of government structures and individual rights
  • The emergence of social norms and intermediate institutions
  • The roles and limits of positive rights and entitlement programs
  • The frayed social safety net, the breakdown of health care services, and the stagnation of income and wealth

CLI supports junior fellows and faculty members in generating research on these topics and collaborates with NYU student journals, organizations, and other academic centers. Through conferences and workshops in New York and elsewhere, we intend to promote discussion and advance knowledge by bringing together leading scholars, government officials and other business and public leaders.