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Classical Liberal Reading Group

“If God show you a way in which you may lawfully get more than in another way (without wrong to your soul or to any other), if you refuse this, and choose the less gainful way, you cross one of the ends of your calling, and you refuse to be God's steward, and at accept His gifts…” – Richard Baxter, 1673

The Timbro classical liberal reading group has been active since 2015 and is an appreciated part of Timbro’s educational program. This December/January the reading group is arranged in collaboration with Svensk Tidskrift and will focus on religious and theological changes 1500-1750 that affected understandings of work, money-making and industry. To earn an honest income became a praisworthy way of life.

God and Honest Income, 1500-1750

Discussion leaders: Daniel Klein and Björn Hasselgren

Meetings: In-person at Timbro but also Zoom, so hybrid.

The main theme of the reading group is that, from 1500 to 1750, religious and theological changes affected understandings of work, money-making, and industry: God was increasingly understood as approving of the pursuit of honest income. Honest income increasingly became innocent, even praiseworthy. Some even taught that, when the opportunity presented itself, it was a duty to realize honest income. The theory was that honest income generally corresponds to the good of the whole (‘invisible hand’). The changes gave rise to a new spirit of enterprise in commerce and industry, and led up to Adam Smith’s moral authorization of the pursuit of honest income and to what Deirdre McCloskey calls the Great Enrichment. This course is about the lead-up to Adam Smith and the Great Enrichment.

The reading will be a selection of original writings from the period 1500–1750, all Protestant. Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism looms in the background of the reading group, but it will not be read.

Besides looking at theological writings about honest income, we look at understandings of honest income. The moral authorization of something can occur only if people share an idea of what’s being morally authorized. The clarification of honest income comes from authors like Grotius, in jurisprudence. The clarification of honest income made interpretations of God’s approving of it viable.

Pdfs of the readings are linked directly in the reading plan below. Meeting days to be published shortly.

Session 1: Dec 12, 17.30 – 19.00 (CET) New date!

  • Martin Luther, “Fifth Sermon for Christmas,” in  Martin Luther’s House-Postils(Columbus, Ohio: J.A. Schulze, 1884). Link
  • John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter 10: “How to Use the Present Life, and the Comforts of It.” Link
  • Selections from William Perkins, Glorifying God in Our Jobs, ed. T.B. McMahon (Puritan Publications, 2015). Link
  • Selections from Richard Baxter, Christian Directory (1673). This selection contains the passage that Max Weber quotes. Link

Session 2: Dec 19, 17.30 – 19.00 (CET)

  • Selections from Richard Steele, A Tradesman’s Calling: Being a Discourse Concerning the Nature, Necessity, Choice &c. of a Calling in General: And Directions for the Right Managing of the Tradesman’s Calling in Particular (London: Samuel Sprint, 1684). Link
  • Selections from Erin Mackie (ed.), [Addison and Steele:] The Commerce of Everyday Life: Selections from The Tatler and the Spectator (Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 1998). Link
  • Selections from Daniel Defoe, The Complete English Tradesman (London: Charles Rivington, 1726). Link

Session 3: Jan 12 2023, 17.30 – 19.00 (CET)

  • Selections from Joseph Butler, Fifteen Sermons Preached at Rolls Chapel: To Which Is Added Six Sermons Preached on Publick Occasions (London: J & P Knapton, 1749). Link
  • Selections from Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) two extracts in one pdf from the first volume of Hutcheson’s posthumously published System of Moral Philosophy (1755). Link
  • Selections from Josiah Tucker (1713–1799), the preliminary remarks from his Elements of Commerce and Theory of Taxes, which was never published during his lifetime, but circulated widely among his friends and contemporaries. Link

Background bibliography:

Primary sources

Baxter, Richard, Christian Directory (1673).

Baxter, Richard, How to Do Good to the Many or, The Publick Good is the Christians Life.

Directions and Motives to it (London: R. Gibs, 1682).

Bentely, Richard, A Confutation of Atheism from the Original Frame of the World, Part I (London: H. Mortlock, 1692).

Butler, Joseph, Fifteen Sermons Preached at Rolls Chapel: To Which Is Added Six Sermons

Preached on Public Occasions (London: J. & P. Knapton, 1749).

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter 10: “How to Use the Present Life, and the Comforts of It.”

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter 16: “The World Created by

God, Still Cherished and Protected by Him, Each and all of its Parts Governed by His Providence.”

Calvin, John, “De Usuris Responsum” [“Letter of Advice on Usury”]

Chalcraft, D., Harrington, A., & Shields, M (eds.), The Protestant Ethic Debate: Weber’s


If you are interested in participating write an email to Björn Hasselgren bjorn.hasselgren@timbro.se. Shortly describe your background and tell why you would like to take part of the exercise. Apply by December 1 2022. Also contact Björn if you have any other questions about the reading group, +46-70-7623316.

Professor Daniel Klein, who will lead the Reading Group, is also available by email dklein@gmu.edu

The Reading Group is held at Timbro Kungsgatan 60, Stockholm 2nd floor and is also possible to follow online. Links will be distributed.