The History of Freedom: Types of Freedom

Figure 1.--This Vietnamese boy was photographed by a French photographer, we think about 1970. The press in Europe and America focued on the American use of force and the caualties resulting from the fighting. Communists were incredibly portrayed as freedom fighters in the struggle. After the American withdrawl and Communist victory (1965), the sane jiurnalisrs who depicted the Communists a freedom fighters rarely covered the widespread execultions, brutal reducucation camps, and totalitarian suppresion of basic liberties such as freedom of the press that led to the humanitarian tragedy of the Boat People. Caualties in the War were head-lin news, casualties resulting from Communist supression of freedom rarely even made the newspapers abd TV news.

There are many differt types of freedom. And over time freedom has not been a unitary experience. Each of thes different types of freedom have had their own often decrete and dacinating history. While each has a descrete histiry, they are not entirely separate and they often overlap. Various authors have descibed a range of the most commonly discussed types of freedom and liberty. The concept of freedom has varied over time and in differnt socities. Here we have a basic list that covers most of the various concept. Actually there is no way to create a dis rete list of freedoms. There is a substantial ovrlap between the various forms of freedom, no matter how the list is constructed. The Greeks had a high degree of political freedom, but very resticted national freedom. The Romans had litle political freedom, but a high dgree of national freedom. And concepts of fredom have varies. The Soviets and Chinese had and th Cubans today have no political freedom, but they claim that they have freedom because most people were ecomomiclly relatively equal meaning poor. While in America, freedom meant the ability to work and aqyure proerty and wealth (the pursuit of hapines). In such a system, differences in wealth within limits are not only inevyavle, but beneficial. The primary freedom is political freedom, because without political freedom and a bill or guarantee of fughts, there is no guarantee of any other rights. But even political freedom is no garantee of othr freedoms. The Greeks has political and a high degree of economic freedom, but with it slavery and no religious freedom. And many Muslims today while advocating political freedom and democracy do so with the idea that they can deny political and religious freedom to minorities.

Political Freedom

It was political freedom that the ncient Greeks who essentially invented freedom believed to be central in the very idea of freedom. All other freedom essentilly flowed from political freedom. That is not to say tht this occurred in the Greek city states. There were limits on both expression and especually religious freedom, but this was because the Greek city states through their political system placed limits on freedom. With the dusapoearnce of the Roman Republic, the idea of political freedom dusappeared, although other form of freedom such as religious and economic freedom flourishd. And these would eventually pkay into the revirth of political feedom. The fall of the Western Empire to Germanic barbarians, created a curious split. The Western Church deceloped as the only continuing Roman impeial institution. And it would be independent of the new states that crytalized throughout Europe after the collaose of the imperial political structure. The conflict between church abd state (pope and emperor) would be a factor in the rebith of political freedom. Another factor was in the feudal system. This entailed duties nd resoobsibilities. As monarchies developed, the king and emperors wanted absolute control. The nobility resisted, most famously with the Magna Carta in Englnd (1215). The rights cinferred were to the powerful varons, but it established the principle of limits on arbitrary rule and royal absolutism. This process took different paths througout Europe. Eventually city burgers also began demanding rights. Parliments devloped throughout Europe. Utimately the American Revolution led ton thecfurst important republic since Rome in wgich citizes nd not subjects controlled the governmnt and were guranteed political rights by arittn constitution. And unlike ancint Greece, there were limits placed on the rule of the majority. It is notable that it is Western Europe that the idea of political fredim w born and it is obly in Western Europe and is North American colonies, esentially Western grustendo, that the idea of political freedom was reborn. There was no similar development any where else in the world. There were of course importnt cultural achievements in non-Wetern cultures, but political freedom was not one if them. Ironically the burst of creativity generated by fredom in th West gveEuropeans th military power to dominaae the rest of the world. Just as Arb power erlier made the Afrucan (indin Ocean nd Saharan) slave trade possible. European power opened up the Atlantic slave trade. thee were the two most egregious violations of human freedom in history. Ultimately Westrn political freedom would end slavery in the form of the British RoyalNavy and the Americn Federar Army during the Amrican Civil War. It would be the British Royal Navy that would supress slavery in the Arab world. Unlike the Christian West, the Muslim world never generated its own Abolitionist Movement.

National Freedom

Individual Liiberty/Civil Liberties

The history of individualliberty is a long and complicated one. Often historians befin with thE american Revolution. This was a major step in the history of individul libergy, but hardly the beginning. One might think tht hunter gsthers had considerable liberties, but based on modern primitive people, pysical power and lineage often prevailed and there was no etablished law to prorect liberties. With the Neolitic/Agricultural Revolution this changed. With the organization needed for agriculture, powerful state and religious figures dominated the growing cities. Individuals lost land ownership. There was little or no prorection from law. This was the situation for millenia. The first known written law was Hammurabi's Code (1754 BC). Other codes followed such as Hittite Law. These laws provided a range of legal protections, but did not guarantee individual rights as we know them. Tbe primary right guaranteed ny these early codes was property rights. The peasantry, the vast proprtion of the populatin, has few rights to speak of, but they were not slaves. Every free born Egyptian for example had the right to appeal to the pharoah. Indidividual liberuties as we know them were born on the plains of Marathon (490 BC). Greek socierty was not perfect and there was not protecion from the tyranny of the majority. Slavery was endemic, but for the first time, ordinary people had the civil liberies we woukd admore today along with the right to own property. Such rights were a creation of the West. We see them in no other ancient society, Nor do we see them outside of Europe until modern times. Rome continued in this tradition, although with the advent of the primncipate (Empore), Romans lost political rights, but many other rights were protected by Roman law. Even Paul who was eventually executed in the anti-Christian percecutions was protected by Roman law. He could not be beaten and was behanded rather than crucified. Individual liberties in the West were lost with the fall of Rome. The conquering Germanic tribes were not without legal traditions protecting rights, but it wa very basic. All German freemen had the right to participate in a general assembly (things) and the king or chief was bound to uphold ancestral law, but as it was unwritten this was never asure guarntee and the chief could make new laws. The result was that in the ealky medieval era the kings amassed increasing power and were actually buttresse by tge traditin of Roman imperial absolutism. Commin people had little or no rights. This only gradually behan to change. One of the most important steps in the reappearance of individual liberties was English common law. And a critical moment was the Magna Carta which set thetradition of limits on ryal power and arbitary Government (1215). This question was finally settled with the English Civil War (1642-51). This was at the time that royal absolutism was becoming increasinly promounced on the Continent. The English Cicil war not only ensued the survival of individual liberty in England, but meant that the English colonies in North America would devlop with few riyal controls and become a hot-bed of Enlightenment thinking and natural rights. The American Revolution led to the first written guaranrrtte of individual liberties in history--the U.S. Constitution. The story of course does not end there. Sociallist thought in the 19th century led to the bloody totalitarian powers (Communist and Fascist) of the 20th century. And while individual liberties are enshrined in U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) there are stil authoritarian regimes and relgious leaders, mostly Islamic, that are intent on denying individual liberties to their peoples and others.

Religious Freedom

Curiously the birthplace of the very concept of freedom, ancient Greece, was not a society that accepted the idea of religious freedom. Athens, the very center of the birth of freedom, did not extend the idea of religious freedom. The people of Athens were expected to veberate Athenia and the city gods. Socrates, one of the great teachers in world history, was executed for blasfemy and corrupting the young for his ideas. In contrast Persian, the embodiment of oriental despotism, tolerated diverse religious thought. The Persians when they added new territory to their empir, dis not impose their religion. The Roman Empire, despite its fiercereputation of relgious percecution, was actually a highly tolerant society. After Ceasar and Augustus and the foundation of the Empire, political freedom was extingushed, but not relgious freedom. Rome was a highly tolerant society in whivh a wide ramge of sects and religious thought flourished. Conquered people could retain their religion, although they had to sacrifice to the emperor as a religious duty. Jews abd Christians were a rare relgious sect that were persecuted, but only because they refused to sacrifice to the emperor. The Emperor Nero turned the full force of the Epire on the Christians in an effot to redicrect public feeling against him, a tactic that future tyrants would copy. Persecutions were often horific, but eposodic. And when under Constantine, Christianity became the state religion, his did not usher in an era of religious freedom. Rather the Church in league with the emperor persecuted other relgions. Judaism were the only other religion tolerated, and this toleration declined over time. The persecutiin of other religiins, including differing Christian views was a major factor in the explosive growth of Islam. For centuries the Muslim world would be more tolerant than Christendom. Sme states like al Andalus became a beacokn of relgious tlerance. The domination of the Church as least in Western Europe only began to change with the Raenaissance and Plague. People began to quesion the Church. This proved dangerous as Galilleo and others exerienced. Christendom was rocked by the Reformation. Ther Reformers did not, however, argue for religious freedom. they simply disagreed as to the dictrines which should be kimposed on the people, Protestant contained, however, a germ of tolerance that would eventually spread hroughout the Chrustian world. Kuther and other Protestants believed that people should read and study the Bible rather than rely on priests. And as the Catholic Church understodd, this would envitably lead to differing interpretations. And this is presicely what happened. A dizzeying list of new denominations spread throughout northern Europe. The religious wars which developed with the Reformation was not only a struggle between Catholics and Protetants, but among Prostestants as well. The religious based slaughter finally ended with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). After a cebtury of truggle, Catholics and Protestants finally agreed in one thing, they could not defeat theopposing religioud camp. Thus the temporary expedient of allowing each individual state to chose an established religion. This was the atmpsphere in which the English colonies in North merica were founded. The ensuing Enligtenment finally devloped the modern principle of relgious freedom and this would become a basic princple embedded in the Constitution of the new American Reublic (1789). It would take longer to be fully accepted in Europe. The Muslom world moved in the opposite diection, becoming increasinly intolerant of other religion. Other currents appeared in the 19th century with Marx coneming the very idea of religion which became a teenebt of socialist thought. Lenin condemned religion as the 'opiate of the masses' and launche he soviet atheism cmpaign intensufued by Stlin nd his NKVD. The result was the death of millions, mass killing on a scale unknown at the heightth of the 16th-17th century relgious wars. The assult in religion has not only occured in titalitarian sicuties. In liberal America, liberals have interpreted the precious guarantee of freedom of religion to mean the right to pursue a campaign mandating freedom from religion.

Economic Freedom

Economic conditions and living standards vary immensly around the world. Of course the destribution of resources vary. But one of the most prosperous countries in the world is Japan, a country virtually without resources. And Russia, a country with vast resources, has a virtually Third World economy. Prosperous countries are concentrated in Western Europe and North America. Here the Industrial Revolution and technology have transformed socities. And now there are also increasingly prosperous countries now found in Asia. Africa continues to be a weak spot as does the Middle East unless the country is lucky enough to have oil. The question arises as to why economic conditions are so varied around the world. The Communists claimed it was because evil capitalists were exploiting their own workers as well Third World countries. Many people bought this and other Socialist tenants, especially on the heels of the Great Depression. The only thing is that in the later part of the decade several surprising economic trends emerged which not only undermined, but disproved the Marrxist thesis. Others argued that natural resources were critical. Again we see countries disproving this thesis, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and other countries proved that suceesful ecomomies can be built by countries without notable resources if the country develops its human capital. Increasingly it is becoming obvious, much to the dismay of Socialist acolytes around the world is that the key to economic success is economic freedom. And to test out that theory, one has to compare indices of economic feeedom with actual economic conditions. The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation, a respected free market think tank, have tracked the economic freedom trends around the world with its Index of Economic Freedom. They define economic freedom as "the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself." You can go to their site to see the country rakings and a detailed duiscussion of conditions in each country. While one can debate the precise findings and individual country assessments, the basic findings are unmistakable. Countries high on the economic freedom list are successful countries with high living standards. Countries ranking low on the economic freedom list are countries with failed economies with a population condemned to poverty. What the index does not measure very well is the ability of countries with oil-based economies to avoid freeing their economies. A variety of cultural factors can also affect economic conditions.




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Created: 7:39 PM 8/18/2015
Last updated: 3:37 AM 10/7/2015