Freedom: Overarching Trends--Thematic Topics

Figure 1.-- The Judeo-Christain tradition is the primary religious movement in the West. It is no accident that democracy is a Western creation. The Jewish convenent with God was the beginning of the idea of a contract or constitution between rulers and the ruled. An idea fostered by law, an important concept with both Jews and Romans. Both Jusiasm and the classical tradition recognized the importance of life and the value of the individual.

Our assssment of the history of freddom is primarily a saga that plays out chronolologically. There are, however, some overarching threads that are at play throughout the history of the West. These are religion, the Judeo Christian tradition, and the development of law, and the invention of science. We thus intend to create separate sections specifically on these important threads in which readers can follow development over time. The Judeo-Christain tradition is the primary religious movement in the West. It is no accident that democracy is a Western creation. The Jewish convenent with God was the beginning of the idea of a contract or constitution between rulers and the ruled. An idea fostered by law, an important concept with both Jews and Romans. Both Jusiasm and the classical tradition recognized the importance of life and the value of the individual. Although Cristianity was spread, first to Latin America and then to Sub-Saharan Africa as well as other areas of the world, especially Oceania. Law is another major thread. Of course law is not unique to the West. The Judeo-Chritian tradition has an extrmely strong law component, stronger than in amy other area. Law that promotes democracy and free market capitalism, essentially modernity, is a very different matter. This is largely a unique development in the West and those countries that have developed democracies and successfule economies (like the Asian Tigers) have developed Western legal systems. Another creation of the West was science. Secular critics stress Catholic resistance to science, but rarely that science was invented in the Christian West. Many sociries (China, India, the Caliphate) made important technolnolgical achievements--but all failed to invent science. Slavery is another topic that needs to be considered in any history of freedom.

Judeo-Christian Tradition

The modern secular media and much of academia has fostred the notion tht Christianity has stifeled freedom. Now it is true that the Christian Church, once establshed as the Roman Empire state religion, did begin to supress the pagan religions and mystery cults(4th century AD). At firt they coexisted with Jews but gradually became increasingly reprssive. And this continued for more than a millenia, especially an agressive Islam launched repeated attacks on Christian states (7th century). Often ignored is the larger role of Christianity, here a continuaion of the Jewish tradition. The Judeo-Christian tradition is the primary religious movement in the West. It is no accident that democracy is a Western creation. The Jewish convenent with God was the beginning of the idea of a contract or constitution between rulers and the ruled. An idea fostered by law, an important concept with both Jews and Romans. Both Jusiasm and the classical tradition recognized the impartance of life and the value of the individual. Christianity confered a value on human life lacking in the classical tradition. Valuing human life was a crucial step in the developing Western concept of freedom. Another important characteristic of Christianity that promoted the development of freedom, both political freedom (democracy) and economic freedom (capitalism). This huge contribution is commonly missed because the dominant view of the media and academia is that Christianity and rationalism or opposite, often opposng forces. Actually, important elements of Christianity actually gave rise to an outlook that fostered reason and progress, This first came to fruition during the Renaissance when Christendom began to make great cultural advances and important ahievement in learning. This is in sharp contrast to Islam which kept Muslims and Musiim states in a nedieval time warp. The Arab countries which the European coutries encountered (19th and 20th century), were incrdibly little change from the 14th century or even earler. Yoou can see that in the early photographs taken in the region. One historian contends that that Christianity is a forward-looking religion, developing a vision of progress and allowing in afherents to adhust its understanding of God over time. [Stark] This future-based rational theology has permitted technical and organizational advances. This included the monastic movement, universities, and legal limits on political authoritie during the medieval era. And with the Renaissance you begin to see the develoment of the basis for modern science. W also se th trasformation medieval political philosophy and economics. The first floweung was in nortern Italy so that democracy developed and thrived in those states, such as northern Italy, but eventually moved north. This states less affected by these currents like Spain and Potugal, sespite the riches flowing from the America wererventually overwealmedby the counties that were transformed. And this is an on going story in our modern world. Christianity continues to spread in places like Africa, China and Latin America because of its inherent faith in progress, rational theology, and its emphasis on moral equality. [Stark]


The history of law is essentially the history of civilization. Even primitive socities have law, although they are not written down. They may be largely traditions. As more sphisticated socities developed with the advent of agriculture, an actual legal code was required to resolve complicated legal questions concerning business and property. The Babylonian king Hamarabi finally made the first step toward a written code. This was a huge step as law based on a written code was less arbitrary and more fair to all concerned. One of the great gifts of Rome was that of law. Roman law played a major role in the eventual emergence of the West. The classical tradition was lost for centuries after the fall of Rome. The Islamic legal system or shria based on the Koran was in the 7th century a progressuve development. The problem with Islamic Law is that Muslims see the Koran as God's final relevation to man and beyond question. Thus with a medieval foundation that can not be questioned are amended, there is an inflexibility in Islamic law making adjustment to the modern world difficult if not impossible. . Emerging from the European Medieval era was English common law, England's great gift to America and its other colonies. English common law was a necessary comcomitant of capitalism which allowed the West to create the modern world. France had nothing like English common law. Louis XIV famously said, "I am the state". Napoleon is one of the great military geniueses of all time and committed to autocracy, but his great achievement was the Code Napoleon which for the first time presented France with a modern legal system. The importance of law is often forgotten in our modern world, but there is a strong correlation between economic prosperity and the ruke of law.


Technology is virtully synonamous with the advent of humanity. Some animals use tools, but no animal fashioned and used tools to the samne extent of early man. And technology both made possible civilization, but was advanced by civilization. Technology is not, however, the same as science. While man made important technological advances, science is a much more rececenbt development. One notable question concerning the devlopment of modern science is why it di not iccur in China. Throughout the medievak era, China was the richest abd most technologically advanced society in the world. The extent of China's rches and technological advances were reported by Marco Polo. And one of the great the great goal of Western society was to open trade with the East, epcially China. Many of the technological disciveries which led to the creation of the modern world were made in China, such as gun powder and the iron plow. Even so, despite China's technological prowess, science was born in the West. And by science we are not taking simply about advanced technology, but the scirbtific method using experimentation that sought to elinate causual factors. The Greeks came up with importnt cientifc insights at an early point, but this was more philosophy than science. Modern science began with Galilleo an Newton. and almost ll of the great scientists were from the West. nd a key factor here was freedom, the freedom to tghink and experiment. Freedom and science are intrinsically linked. One historian points out how the American Revolution became not only a movement for politiucal and religious freedom, but for scientific independence as well. [Shachtman] For more than 400 years, science was largely a province of the West. China completely ignored it. The Japanese were the first non-Western country to even begin to persue science. Technology played a key role in both World War II and the Cold war. And it is no accident that it is the liberal democracies of the West that prevailed. And this despite a vast Soviet scientific establishment. Incredibly in our modern world, large areas of the world do not persue scince in any meaninful way. The most notable is the Muslim world, representing nearly aqyater of humanity. A factor here is economics. Modern science is expensive and many countries in the moder world can not finance scientific establishmebt. The Muslim world is different, it includes countries that for decades now have generated vast income from oil. Even so the Muslim world in terms of science continues to be a vast black hole. Muslim science is a telling story about the impact of curtailing freedom. Tiny Israel produces more science than the entire Muslim world combined. And of course the central reasom is freedom.


The issue of ancient slavery is ine that has to be addressed, bith in the ancient world and in modern history. Greece and Rome are often dispairaged as slave societies. And it is a histirical fact tghat slavery played an important role in both Greek and Roman society. Thge power generated by freedom enabled both socities to enslave others and this was especially true of Rome. There is often a mistaken comparison to other ancient societies, such as Egypt, Mesopotmia, and China. Information on the Indus Valley civilization is limited.) Slavery was not inlnown in these societies, but it is fair to say that it never rose to the level of the Clasical society (Greece nd Rome). What is rarely metioned, however, is thatr the great mass of the population of these ancient societies were peasants kept in a state of near slavery. The ruling glasses understoof that they were not large enough to rule over a slave population, but they could rule over a peaantry exploited by asocil and legl strture of near slavery. Only in Greece and Rome were a large part of the population accorded real rights and a role in controlinbg their societies. Modern slavery primarily revolved around the enslavement of cative Africans, possible because Africa lagged behind the rest of the world in culturl and technological development. The horrors of the Atlantic slave trade and resulting enslvement of Africans is real and well documented. We believe that this sad chapter in human history, despite emmense attention in recent years is perhaps the most poorly addressed topic in histoty, lrgely because of ideological corruption. Many basic topics are ignored or covered over, because of a fixatuin of many modern historians to demonize the West. 1) Early Christianity had great appeal among the slaves of the Roman Empire and as the Church emerged as the stte rlihion and subsequent moral force in Europe, it gradually ended slavery as an importnt institution. While this was occurring in the West, the rise of Islam, essentially legitimized slavety among Muslims. 2) The African slave trade was not exclusively a European Christian effort. There was also a major Islamic slave trade conducted primarily by the Arabs using Saharan and Indian Ocean routes. Arabs not only provided a market for slaves, but played a major role in capturing Africans and driving their capotives to the coasts for sale to Europeans. 3) The huge bulk of the Africans delivered to the Americans were brought to Brazil and the Caribbean. Only a small portion of the Africans tranported in the slave trade came to North America and once there, they not only had a much higher survival rate, but actully increased in population creating a sustainable population. 4) While it is true that Christianity was used to jusify slavery, it is also true that it was the Abolitionist Movement centered in the Christian churches of Britain and Anerica that played a major role in ending the slave trade abd then slavery itself. Notably the Abolitionist Movement never developed in Islam and slavery survived in Muslim society down to modern times. 4) It was in the United States the force of industrial free labor and Northern free market capitalism that destroyed the Southern slave system. 6) In the 20th century it was liberal democracy and free market capitalism that destroyed the totlitarian societies that murdered and enslaved large numbers of people in their terrifying grip.


Shachtman, Tom. Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries: The Founding Fathers in an Age of Enlightenment (2004), 288p.

Stark, Rodney. The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (2006).


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Created: 8:00 AM 8/23/2015
Last updated: 8:00 AM 8/23/2015