Friday, April 4, 2014

Roots of Freedom

Here is an excellent article on the traditions that we rely on for our freedoms. 
The English-speaking peoples didn’t invent democracy. The Athenians were casting pebbles into voting urns when the remote fathers of the English were grubbing about alongside their swine in the cold soil of northern Germany. Nor did they invent the concept of the law: the Egyptians, Sumerians and Babylonians had chambers full of legal scrolls even before Moses climbed down from the summit of Sinai. The Anglosphere miracle lies in something more specific and more transformative: the invention of constitutional freedom. Parliamentary government, in the common law tradition, is a guarantor of the rights of the individual, not a licence for the majority to override the minority. Power is divided, dispersed, delineated.

After spending the past few months reading Greek and Roman history, this is pretty clear.  Neither people had anything like the protections that we take for granted.  If a US citizen displeases the President, their life and liberty isn't at risk.  Well, for the sake of this observation, let's set aside the current question of the IRS targeting the President's opponents.  Or at least, let's say that if the worst is proved true and there was political power behind it, there would be outrage from both sides of the aisles.
This wasn't true in ancient Greece or Rome.  And to be honest, it wasn't always true in England either.  But it became more and more true there.  Over time they developed a theory of natural rights that were inviolate by those in power.  These were (partially) codified during the American revolution in the founding documents. 
We can look to Greece for the overall idea of democracy but for our freedoms, we need to look in a different spot.

1 comment: