07/01/2013 06:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Revisiting Liberty on the Steps of the Roman Capitol

I recently had the chance to meet up with Friedrich Hayek and John Stuart Mills in on the steps to the capitol in Rome.

In the winter of 1854 and the spring of 1855 John Stuart Mill -- the leading advocate of individual liberty of the 19th century -- set off on a tour of Greece and Italy. We are lucky to have record of these famous travels through Mills' daily letter home, to his wife Harriet Taylor.

Standing on the steps of the capitol in Rome, he had a sudden inspiration: to write his classic On Liberty, which he completed in 1859. Written when Mills was 53 years old, this book was dedicated to his wife who had just died. In it, Mills outlines the philosophical arguments for allowing each individual to be free of coercion. The basic rights that form the backbone to this argument are the following: freedom of speech, freedom of press, voting for all and the right to own property -- all masterfully explained in this classic work. Much of the modern entrepreneurial education movement for youth is philosophically based on John Stuart Mills' call for the empowerment of all people.

F. A Hayek, the economist and political theorist who won the Nobel Prize in 1974, was deeply influenced by Mills. Reading this correspondence to his wife while he edited a book on Mills, Hayek decided to retrace his exact travels in Greece and Italy in the winter of 1954 and the spring of 1955. One hundred years to the date of Mills trip, the Guggenheim Foundation gave Hayek a significant grant to finance his adventure. After several months Hayek and his wife Helene arrived in Rome and on the exact same day 100 years later Hayek went to stand on the steps of the capital where Mills had his inspiration to write the legendary On Liberty. Although Hayek did not have an epiphany like Mills had, later in his trip he had the insight for his book The Constitution of Liberty.

Arriving back in the states in the summer of 1955, Hayek went back to teach at the Committee of Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He also began to write The Constitution of Liberty taking three years to get a good draft and then the last year to do the final draft, finally finishing on his birthday, May 8th, 1959. In fact, Hayek delivered it to his publisher on that very same day and it was published in February of 1960.

Re-reading both On Liberty and The Constitution of Liberty, this past spring I also came across Hayek's description of this trip and decided I would use my own time in Europe to visit the steps of the Roman capitol in the hopes that I would have an inspiration like Mills.

And I did -- an insight of importance in the field of youth entrepreneurship education and which I shall write about in my next article on disruption and entrepreneurship.


Jack, Beth and Steve Mariotti on the steps of the capital of Italy in Rome.