30 January 2011
How does freedom come about?

There was a comment on this posting by Brian Micklethwait that annoyed me.

Ian B had written:

...you rarely get liberty at the point of a bayonet.

To which Alisdair had replied:

Magna Carta - signed cuz of good-will on King John;’s part ? Or at the pointy end of bayonet-equivalents ?

US getting out from under Lord North’s Privy Council ? Generosity on Lord North’s part ? Or at the pointy end of colonists’ weaponry (and rented mercenaries)?

Israeli democracy - Allah being the Compassionate and the Merciful ? Or at the pointy end of Irgun and Hagganah and other probably not kosher ‘persuaders’ ? (Numerous times since (and including) 1948)

European democracy post 1939 - inevitable voluntary stepping-down by Herr Schicklgruber ? Or at the pointy end of actual bayonets and other less-than-gentle persuasions ?

Are you detecting a pattern, yet ?

You see I ask the question how did particular freedoms come about?  For instance, how did freedom of speech come about in England?  Or, how did slavery end, again, in England?  Or the end of serfdom? Or freedom of religion?

The answer is that all these things came about slowly over a very long period of time.  Warfare had little to do with it.  I am not denying that warfare can be essential in defending an existing freedom but it seems to me that rarely does it extend them.

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  1. This book suggests that the general ownership of weapons, and prevalence of the skill to use them, amongst the English population had something to do with the development of freedom. It’s an interesting idea to consider.

    Posted by knirirr on 30 January 2011 at 02:03am

  2. I think defensive military action can resist tyranny, and occasionally overthrow it for something better, but the pattern is not straightforward, by any means.

    Posted by Johnathan Pearce on 01 February 2011 at 05:01pm

  3. Well you might get negative liberty ("freedom from...") at the point of a bayonet, but perhaps much less in the way of positive liberties ("freedom to...").

    I agree with Jonathan that it isn’t straightforward, but it seems to me that positive liberties are dependent upon some prior degree of negative liberty, i.e. that you can’t get the former unless you already have the latter.

    Posted by mike on 02 February 2011 at 11:29am

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