Freedom in a Historical Perspective Dr. Tom G. Palmer Cato Institute Research Seminar

Freedom in a Historical
Dr. Tom G. Palmer
Cato Institute Research Seminar
September 29, 2008
History’s Highest Function…
My purpose is not to
relate at length every
motion, but only such as
were conspicuous for
excellence or notorious
for infamy. This I regard
as history’s highest
function, to let no worthy
action be uncommemorated, and to hold out the
reprobation of posterity
as a terror to evil words
and deeds. ―Tacitus,
The Annals (3.65)
Law and Freedom
• “[W]here there is no Law, there is no
Freedom. For Liberty is to be free from
restraint and violence from others which
cannot be, where there is no Law: But
Freedom is not, as we are told, A Liberty
for every Man to do what he lists: (For who
could be free, when every other Man’s
Humour might domineer over him?) But a
Liberty to dispose, and order, as he lists, his
Persons, Actions, Possessions, and his
whole Property, within the Allowance of
those Laws under which he is; and therein
not to be subject to the arbitrary Will of
another, but freely follow his own.”
– John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Chap. VI, §57
The Emergence of Checks on
Epic of Gilgamesh
2,800 – 2,500 B.C.E.
“Powerful, superb,
knowledgeable and
expert, Gilgamesh
would not leave the
young girls alone, the
daughters of warriors,
the brides of young
men. The gods often
heard their
Enkidu Comes Forth to Challenge
Powerful Gilgamesh
“And for Godlike
Gilgamesh an equal
match was found.
Enkidu blocked his
access at the door of
the father-in-law’s
house, He would not
allow Gilgamesh to
Together, they leave the city and accomplish
many heroic feats...the city flourishes
“After they had slain
the Bull of Heaven,
they bore its heart
aloft and set it before
Reforms of Urukagina of Lagash
ca. 2378-2371 B.C.E.
Urukagina “established
the freedom” of the
citizens of Lagash; he
freed the markets,
eliminated the taxes,
and respected
The People of Israel Demand a
King....and Are Warned....
“This will be the manner of the king that
shall reign over you: He will take your
sons, and appoint them for himself, for his
chariots, and to be his horsemen; and
some shall run before his chariots.”
--I Samuel 8
Rise of Greek Civilization
 Ca. 500 B.C.E.
Athens reaches
a high level of
wealth and
through trade....
Persian Invasions of Greece
 First Invasion – under
Darius – and Battle of
Marathon, 490 B.C.E.
 Second Invasion –
under Xerxes – and
Battle of Thermopylae,
480 B.C.E.
War Between Sparta and Athens
431 – 404 B.C.E.
“Each one of our
citizens, in all the
manifold aspects of
life, is able to show
himself the rightful
lord and owner of his
own person....”
Pericles, Funeral
Oration, 430 B.C.E.
Rise of the Roman Republic
 ca. 510-509 B.C.E., Monarchy
overthrown and Republic established
 Ca. 367 B.C.E., reforms instituted to
diminish hereditary privilege
 326 B.C.E. debt slavery eliminated for
The Republic is Destroyed: Suicide
of Cato the Younger, Last Free and
Independent Man in Rome
46 B.C.E., after his
defeat by Julius
Caesar at the Battle
of Thapsus, Cato
commits suicide and
becomes an
inspiration to
defenders of
Murder of Marcus Tullius Cicero
43 B.C.E., Cicero is
murdered, his head
and his hands cut off
and displayed in the
Forum, and a pin
pushed through his
Cicero’s Legacy to the World
 “We
are all constrained by one and
the same law of nature; and if that
is true, then we are certainly
forbidden by the law of nature
from acting violently against
another person.”
De Officiis, III, 26-27
The Ideas of Freedom Grow in China
“The more prohibitions there are,
The poorer the people will be.
The more edicts are promulgated,
The more thieves and bandits there will be.
Therefore a sage has said:
So long as I ‘do nothing’ the people will of
themselves be transformed.
So long as I love quietude, the people will of
themselves go straight.
So long as I act only by inactivity the people
will of themselves become prosperous.”
Lao Tse, ca. 500 B.C.E.
China under the Sung Dynasties Becomes
a World Leader in Art, Science, and
Chinese Trade Expands
“Profits from maritime
commerce are very
great. If properly
managed, they can
amount to millions [of
strings of coins]. Is this
not better than taxing the
Emperor Zao Gong
Southern Sung Dynasty
China Develops An Advanced Commercial
“Vegetables from
the east, water from
the west, wood
from the south, and
rice from the north.”
Saying of the people of
Hangzhou, center of the
Sung Empire
Southern Sung Dynasty Conquered by
Mongols and Yuan Dynasty Established;
Later Replaced by Ming Reaction
Another Great Civilization
The Rise of Islamic Trade, Science, and Law
Al-jabr wa'l
by Muhammad ibn
Mūsā alKhwārizmī
Ibn Rushd
Tabula Rogeriana,
drawn by al-Idrisi
for Roger II of Sicily
in 1154,
Decline of Islamic Civilization through
Ideology and Conquest
al-Ghazali’s The
Incoherence of the
1258: Sack of Baghdad by Hulagu Khan
Gregorian Reformation – “Freedom
of the Church” Separates Church
from State
1073 – The German
monk Hildebrand
becomes Pope Gregory
1075 -- Gregory Issues
Dictates of the Pope
1077 – Emperor Henry IV
asks forgiveness at
Rediscovery of the Roman Law
(About 1080…)
Growth of Medieval “Communes” –
Independent Cities
“Stadtluft macht frei,
nach Ablaufe von Jahr
und Tag.”
“City air makes you
free, after the lapse
of a year and a day.”
Growth of Civil Society
 Latin – Civitas – gives us “civil,” as in a
mode of behavior
 German – Burg – gives us Pittsburgh,
Hillsborough, “bourgeois” (thanks to the
French), and the “House of Burgesses”
Written Charters of Privileges and
Magna Carta (1215): “No free
man shall be taken, imprisoned,
or disseized, outlawed, banished,
or in any way destroyed, nor will
We proceed against him or
prosecute him, except by the
lawful judgment of his peers or
by the law of the land.”
Golden Bull of Hungary (1222):
included the right of resistance
(ius resistendi)
Dominium and the Emergence of the
Modern Doctrine of Individual Rights
“I maintain, therefore,
that dominium,
possession, and
jurisdiction can belong
to infidels licitly and
without sin, for these
things were made not
only for the faithful, but
for every rational
creature as has been
Innocent IV, ca. 1250
Rights Recognized as Valid for All
"Inasmuch as he is a
person, every Indian has
free will, and,
consequently, is the
master of his actions";
"By natural law, every
man has the right to his
own life and to physical
and mental integrity."
Francisco de Vitoria,
Movement to Abolish Slavery
“Among our Indians ...
there are important
kingdoms, large numbers
of people who live settled
lives in a society, great
cities, kings, judges and
laws, persons who
engage in commerce,
buying, selling, lending,
and the other contracts of
the law of nations....”
Bartolomé de las
Casas, 1484-1566
The Rise of Absolutism in Europe
Russia: Ivan the Terrible
France: Louis XIV
Sweden: Charles XII
The Dutch Revolt Against the Spanish
and Establish a Free Republic, with
Toleration, Free Trade, and Low Taxes
 “The maintenance of the right by the little provinces
of Holland and Zealand in the sixteenth, by Holland
and England united in the seventeenth, and by the
United States of America in the eighteenth centuries,
forms but a single chapter in the great volume of
human fate; for the so-called revolutions of Holland,
England, and America, are all links of one chain.”
John Lathrop Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1855
The English Put Law Above King
‘‘If the king were without a
bridle, that is, the law,
they ought to put a bridle
upon him.’’
“When an act of
Parliament is against
common right and
reason, or repugnant, or
impossible to be
performed, the common
law will controul it, and
adjudge such Act to be
Sir Edward Coke, 1552–1634
The Levellers: the First Consistent
The Levellers
religious freedom,
elimination of
arbitrary power,
protection of
property, free
trade, trial by jury,
equal rights for
John Lilburne, 1615-1657
Lilburne died in the
arms of his wife
Elizabeth, also an
active Leveller, when
let out of prison: “I
shall leave this
Testimony behind me,
that I died for the
Laws and Liberties of
this Nation.”
Levellers in the Army refused to
invade Ireland
Levellers captured
and executed in the
churchyard of
Burford; in the church,
scratched on the
baptismal font, can be
read, “Anthony
Sedley, Prisoner,
John Locke and the Radical Whigs Carry Out
Much of the Leveller Programme
“Though the earth, and all
inferior creatures, be
common to all men, yet
every man has a property
in his own person: this no
body has any right to but
himself. The labour of his
body, and the work of his
hands, we may say, are
properly his.”
John Locke, 1632-1704
A Process that is Continued in the
Revolt of the American Colonies…..