The History of Freedom

Posted: January 21, 2012 in Economics, Freedom
Tags: , , , , , , ,

freedomAs I’m usually doing these days, I was listening to a CD from the LIFE Freedom Pack called ‘History of Freedom’ by Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady. These are two gentlemen who have studied so much history, and understand what it means to be free. More importantly, they understand where freedom comes from. It’s important to understand the history of freedom, because without it, we don’t truly understand what it means to be free. There is truth to the saying that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, however I don’t believe that you need to lose something; you just need to know what it is to not have it. If you can picture it in your mind, it can be almost as real as having it happen.

Hopefully, by summarizing the CD here, you can get a better idea of what it means, and a better understanding of how to keep your freedoms. Most of this is from the CD, except where I bring in a Canadian perspective, or use ‘I’.

As Chris Brady starts off,

Freedom is something around which all of us should be able to rally. Freedom is something that ought to be a universal agreement by individuals everywhere that freedom is a shared, sacred ideal. Something that is valuable, and, as a matter of fact invaluable in the lives of people. But yet freedom doesn’t seem to be understood. It seems to be misunderstood. It seems to get mistreated, shoved in the back corner, abused, tortured and even water boarded.


When looking at what is going on today, I can’t help but see the truth of this. In both Canada and the US, there is no political party, at least none people really know about, that doesn’t want to take away our freedoms. On the conservative/republican side, they want to take away personal freedoms, and want to dictate how you should run your lives instead of leaving the choice up to you. On the Liberal/NDP/Democratic side, they want to decide how you should spend your money. Yes, both sides tend to do both, but those are where their efforts are usually focused.

I think one of the biggest misconceptions on the issue of freedom is where it comes from. For a long period of time, all the way back to when kings ruled over people, people have believed that freedom was something granted by others. Kings were able to do to almost anything they wanted because people believed that it was their right, and that they should be happy with whatever freedoms the monarchy granted. Freedom is not something that is granted, but something that can be taken away. For it to be granted, it first had to be taken from you to begin with. Governments do not grant us freedoms – all they can do is either protect them, or take them away.

There are 3 types of freedom. Political freedom is where you are free to do what you want, and go where you want. Economic freedom is where you are free to spend your money on what you value most. The last one is Spiritual freedom, where you are free to believe what you want. The only way to be truly free is to have all 3. I will concentrate mainly on the political side of the talk, touching a little on the economic side.

Freedoms rise and fall everywhere, but we will concentrate on the history of the English as that is where most of the information was available to Orrin and Chris.

It starts by looking at the British Isles, before they were the British Isles, when it was settled by the Saxons, Angles and Britons. After the fall of Rome, Britannia was now full of free people in a bunch of little kingdom states. Orrin summarizes what happened,

William the Conqueror from French Normandy in 1066 invaded England, Angoland as they called it back then, and defeated King Harold. [He] took over control of England. Not only did he defeat the military, he literally took the land from the nobles that fought for King Harold and gave it to his nobles and lords. Each of the people on the land became serfs and were literally property of that lord. Up to 25% of their produce was taken. Thomas Macaulay, the great Whig historian said that “never has there been such an oppression of the people where up to 25% of their produce was taxed. How could they be free with 25%?”

25%. Makes me kind of jealous. I believe most of us these days are paying close to 50% when you take all taxes and fees into account. Orrin Continues talking about what was written in the 1860s,

In the Norman Conquest, there were no people at any time that people were more oppressed, where the people had literally surrendered their freedoms. They could be killed by the lord, the lord could decide your guilty without any trial…You could not own any property, you could only work the land you were assigned, and they [the lords] got a percentage of your produce. They said never in the time of English speaking [society], even in the time of the Angles and Saxons, was there less freedom than at the time of the Norman Conquest.

I had always believed that the kings of old always had total power, but this is not true. Things changed a little when King John (known as Lachland due to not inheriting land) was in power in England after Richard (Lionheart) died. Because of his wars with France, he was taxing his nobles too much. The nobles decided it wasn’t right that John should just come in and keep taxing them (remember, John had no lands of his own to tax) to fight his war with France. The nobles basically told King John they were not going to let him be king if he didn’t agree to certain rules and responsibilities, or they would pick someone else to be king. At Runnymede in 1215, the Magna Carta was born. Orrin explains how it listed out all the nobles’ demands.

Some of them were things like “You can’t throw any of us in jail without due cause, and if you do throw any of us in jail we have a right to a trial by our peers. You can’t tax us without calling the nobles together and us agreeing to it.

Orrin explains how this was the beginning of parliament, and how it was the cornerstone of the freedom of the English speaking people. The idea of ‘no taxation without representation’ was born. He continues,

The goal was to check the arbitrary power of the government. Because if the sovereign has arbitrary power, that means that you never know what the rules are. You lose your freedoms because at any moment you can have an army march onto your property and say we want 50% of what you own. The whole idea of the Magna Carta was to put down some rules of the game. It’s hard to play a game if you don’t know the rules.

Chris explains how the Magna Carta was only to check the arbitrary power of the king over the richest people in the land, a small percentage of the population. It was a first step, “an early step in the march of freedom” as he put it. Later on in time, we come to Charles I of England. He was in the middle of many religious problems, and tried to tax his nobles. Orrin explains,

Many of the nobles were puritans who said “No you can’t do that because the bible says here ‘thou shall not steal’ and you can’t just come in here and take someone else’s property. If you want taxes, remember what the Magna Carta said? It said you have to call the parliament.” So what Charles did, is he shut down the parliament for 12 years. He started coming up with creative ways to tax, and the people were outraged. They said ‘if the king ever calls parliament again, we are going to get him.

Well, the king decided he was never going to call parliament again, and started throwing people in jail that had money and let them out if they paid him. You had to bribe your way to freedom. England had star chambers, which the king used to work directly for him. He would throw people in jail and send them to the star chamber which passed on his judgments that would fine people.

So the King meddled in the people’s political freedoms, economic freedoms, and then their spiritual freedom. He was forcing people to only worship with a prayer-book that he approved with Archbishop Laud, forcing his views on the country. Orrin and Chris explains what happened next,

The Scottish had enough. The Scottish said they were a Presbyterian organization. They said ‘you are not going to make us worship with that prayer-book’. They rose up in self defense and invaded England. Guess what the king had to do when he had a military force invade his country? He had to call parliament because he needed money, and he needed to control the army. He said “uh oh, I can’t tax and oppress people enough to get enough money; I need to raise an army.” Finally he was forced to call his 3rd parliament (the first two parliaments only lasting a couple days before he rescinded them). The first thing that the parliamentarians did was say “were not even going to consider raising an army or giving you money until you give us The Petition of Right“. What was inherent but not spelled out in the Magna Carta, was now spelled out.

Nearly all the civil rights we have today, including Habeas corpus, can be traced back to the Petition of Right.

In the end, Charles I lost his head because he was a traitor to the English people. He no longer had arbitrary power, and was held to the same rules as his subjects. After Charles’ death, Oliver Cromwell became lord protector of England for a time, but after his death, they brought back another king, thinking everyones learned their lesson. After all, they now had the Petition of Right. Well, Charles II was now in power, and after him came his brother James. King James II decided he now had divine right, and the laws did not apply to him. He shut down parliament, opened up the star chambers and here we go again.

Power can very easily corrupt an individual. It’s amazing how many kings in the past, and dictators today, believe that what they are doing is just. As Orrin says, this person will get to the point of saying,

If you give any one person the position to have 100% sovereignty, very quickly they’re going [get to] where they are not going to want to follow rights and law. They are going to want to make their own rights and their own laws and say ‘you don’t have rights; I’m giving you rights as a benevolent dictator, a benevolent king. I’m bestowing these upon you and therefore you owe me something in return. You owe me loyal obedience to whatever laws I want to make.

King James II was doing the same thing that Charles I did, until finally parliament had enough. They went to William III of Orange and told him if he wanted to come to England, they wouldn’t resist, and that they would let him be king as long as he agreed to a list of rights. It went back to the Petition of Right, but in even greater detail now. It put a guarantee of parliament and a succession plan. It insured that the king’s power would be held in check by the House of Lords and the House of Commons. This ended up being called the Glorious Revolution, and it spelled out a constitution for England (although in multiple documents).

England now had a system of checks and balances through the House of Commons, House of Lords, and the king. If any one of these parts got too strong, the other two can team up and put a check on that, insuring the others followed the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta. With these checks in place, freedom had arrived. The less the government can force you to do something against your will, the more freedom you have.

The way has now been paved for the biggest steps yet in the name of freedom. With freedoms now more firmly in place by law, people were now able to write on subjects that were very controversial, and risky, previously punishable by imprisonment or even death. From these freedoms came books like ‘The Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith. This book put forth different ideas. The less the king gives away monopoly statuses and the more you allow free enterprise, the more prosperous you will be. The more you allow the right to own your own property the more prosperous you will be. The more you allow the right to invest your money where you want, getting a return based on your willingness to risk, the more prosperous you will be.

And then there was the work of John Locke. He wrote about the importance of owning your own property. None of these works could have been done if not for the documents that were now in place. John Locke was saying that if you don’t own your own property, then you have no freedom. Today of course, no one owns their own property. If you don’t pay your property tax the government takes it away, so your only renting from the government. But that is a discussion for another time.

This is a HUGE topic, which people need to understand. Chris Brady puts it very simply,

If you don’t own the rights to your labor, you won’t labor as much. Where there is limited freedom, there is limited prosperity. When you start imposing laws, restrictions and taxes on people, you start to take away their incentive to perform, so they’ll stop performing. The greater the freedom, the greater the prosperity.

Looking at the American colonies, for a long time they were ignored by England, and yet they prospered. They didn’t thrive because of government; they thrived because of ‘salutary neglect‘ as Edmund Burke put it. The king was too busy with his own problems at home, and there was nothing worthwhile in America yet, nothing to tax. But through that neglect, the people were free to prosper. Then the king took notice, and said “hey, these people are doing so well, lets tax them”. The colonies pointed to the Petition of Right and said “hey, we are Englishman. It says right here no tax without representation. You want money; you have to go through our system.”

Once again, the British government was overstepping its power, trying to take what it wanted. It needed money to fund its wars. It also wanted to keep military bases in the colonies to keep the soldiers employed for political reasons. It passed laws taxing the colonies, and then the Declaratory Act which said the British Parliament could essentially pass laws that were binding to the colonies, even without representation. The colonies had gotten used to their freedom however, and were not so willing to give it up. This of course led to the Declaration of Independence and ultimately the Constitution of the United States of America.

The American Constitution was created to put checks on the government. It was to help serve as a watchdog to stop the government from being able to take away people’s freedoms as the British, from which it separated, had tried to do. Chris Brady gives a really good analogy describing the US constitution:

…to put chains on the power of the beast that is government. That beast is like the junkyard watchdog. It serves a purpose to an intruder, and keeps the intruder out. But that beast can also turn on the people in the junkyard that own that business, if the beast is not properly chained.

Freedom is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth through history between liberty and oppression. It has gone from checks being put on the government, to the checks being ignored. It went back to greater checks on the government, and then those started to be ignored. Today, and for the past 100 years or so, it has leaned more and more towards oppression, and always in the name of the public good.

“Every variety of tyranny rests upon the belief that some persons have a right—or even a duty—to impose their wills upon other people. Tyranny may be fastened upon others by the mere whim of one man, such as a king or dictator under various names. Or tyranny may be imposed upon a minority ‘for their own good’ by a democratically elected majority.” –Edmund Opitz

It all comes back to the idea that, the greater the freedom the greater the prosperity. The greater the government, the less freedom you have, as all the government does is impose its will on you. You can argue that some of it is needed, but really all that is necessary for the country to thrive is for the government to protect our freedoms. A limited government can do that. Anything more is no longer about protecting freedoms, but oppressing them.

I’ll finish with what Orrin says at the end of the talk. He started by talking about how almost all of history was a tale of despotism and bondage all over the world.

…Yet here on this little island, the people stood up and said “no, we have a right to be free” and they learned the principle of limited government. What I would say is, in order to have freedom; you need to have limited government. You have to have checks on the government in order to have freedom for the people. If you have no checks on the government, then you have no freedom for the people. What they guarded for so much over in England, and what they guarded for originally with the US constitution, was the power to tax. Because they understood that if you had unlimited power to tax, you also have unlimited power. Money and power are basically two sides of the same coin. We know that where the government has unlimited power, the people lose their freedoms.

Comments
  1. Lee, Fantastic summary! thanks, Orrin

    • Lee Weishar says:

      Thanks Orrin!

      I want to thank you for everything you’ve done, and taught me. I remember I commented on one of your blogs over a year ago in relation to tariffs, completely disagreeing with your perspective. But after going through much of the material you’ve suggested since then, I went back to see the comment I wrote and laugh, realizing how clueless I was. Thank you for helping me open my eyes, and helping others do the same!

      Lee

  2. Matt Mielke says:

    Lee, thanks for the summary. I was never a fan of history, politics, or, economics while growing up. Now, I am gobbling up as much as my capacity allows because I see the importance of those topics. Makes you wonder why the topics in your article are never approached in schools. Here we go again and perhaps we can change the timeline for this restoration that the oppression doesn’t last for hundreds of years. Thanks again. Matt Mielke

    • Lee Weishar says:

      I know what you mean. I felt the same way about the subjects, probably because of how schools taught it. In my classes, it was mostly about memorizing dates with no meaning behind it. I just found it all boring and useless. Thankfully Orrin and Chris have helped set me straight. Now, together, we can all do our little bit to help make things right!

      Thanks,
      Lee

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