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    Former Guinness World Record Holder for largest book signing ever, Orrin Woodward is a NY Times bestselling author of And Justice For All along with RESOLVED & coauthor of LeaderShift and Launching a Leadership Revolution. His books have sold over one million copies in the financial, leadership and liberty fields. RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions For LIFE made the Top 100 All-Time Best Leadership Books and the 13 Resolutions are the framework for the top selling Mental Fitness Challenge personal development program.

    Orrin made the Top 20 Inc. Magazine Leadership list & has co-founded two multi-million dollar leadership companies. Currently, he serves as the Chairman of the Board of the LIFE. He has a B.S. degree from GMI-EMI (now Kettering University) in manufacturing systems engineering. He holds four U.S. patents, and won an exclusive National Technical Benchmarking Award.

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Western Civilization – The Idea of Liberty

Posted by Orrin Woodward on March 11, 2009

Today, I am going to share a portion of an article by one of my favorite thinkers of all time.  Ludwig Von Mises is one of the clearest thinkers on economics and human action that has ever lived.  He also was principle centered enough to go against the grain.  It takes guts to follow your principles when everyone else is abandoning them, but that is exactly what Mr. Von Mises did.  The world was plunging into socialism and one lone voice predicted the demise of this unworkable economic scheme.  There has been a rebirth of interest in this great man’s work as so much of what he stated has turned out to be true.  This article is a fascinating look at the world as a struggle for liberty against coercion. Enjoy the article and remember that ideas have consequences.  Keep reading and learning so that you can defend liberty against coercion!  God Bless, Orrin Woodward

 

The history of civilization is the record of a ceaseless struggle for liberty.

 

Social cooperation under the division of labor is the ultimate and sole source of man’s success in his struggle for survival and his endeavors to improve as much as possible the material conditions of his well-being. But as human nature is, society cannot exist if there is no provision for preventing unruly people from actions incompatible with community life. In order to preserve peaceful cooperation, one must be ready to resort to violent suppression of those disturbing the peace. Society cannot do without a social apparatus of coercion and compulsion, i.e., without state and government. Then a further problem emerges: to restrain the men who are in charge of the governmental functions lest they abuse their power and convert all other people into virtual slaves. The aim of all struggles for liberty is to keep in bounds the armed defenders of peace, the governors and their constables. Freedom always means: freedom from arbitrary action on the part of the police power.

 

The idea of liberty is and has always been peculiar to the West. What separates East and West is first of all the fact that the peoples of the East never conceived the idea of liberty. The imperishable glory of the ancient Greeks was that they were the first to grasp the meaning and significance of institutions warranting liberty. Recent historical research has traced back to Oriental sources the origin of some of the scientific achievements previously credited to the Hellenes. But nobody has ever contested that the idea of liberty was created in the cities of ancient Greece. The writings of Greek philosophers and historians transmitted it to the Romans and later to modern Europe and America. It became the essential concern of all Western plans for the establishment of the good society. It begot the laissez-faire philosophy to which mankind owes all the unprecedented achievements of the age of capitalism.

 

The meaning of all modern political and judicial institutions is to safeguard the individuals’ freedom against encroachments on the part of the government. Representative government and the rule of law, the independence of courts and tribunals from interference on the part of administrative agencies, habeas corpus, judicial examination and redress of acts of the administration, freedom of speech and the press, separation of state and church, and many other institutions aimed at one end only: to restrain the discretion of the officeholders and to render the individuals free from their arbitrariness.

 

The age of capitalism has abolished all vestiges of slavery and serfdom. It has put an end to cruel punishments and has reduced the penalty for crimes to the minimum indispensable for discouraging offenders. It has done away with torture and other objectionable methods of dealing with suspects and lawbreakers. It has repealed all privileges and promulgated equality of all men under the law. It has transformed the subjects of tyranny into free citizens.

 

The material improvements were the fruit of these reforms and innovations in the conduct of government affairs. As all privileges disappeared and everybody was granted the right to challenge the vested interests of all other people, a free hand was given to those who had the ingenuity to develop all the new industries which today render the material conditions of people more satisfactory. Population figures multiplied and yet the increased population could enjoy a better life than their ancestors.

 

Also in the countries of Western civilization there have always been advocates of tyranny — the absolute arbitrary rule of an autocrat or an aristocracy on the one hand and the subjection of all other people on the other hand. But in the Age of Enlightenment the voices of these opponents became thinner and thinner. The cause of liberty prevailed. In the first part of the nineteenth century the victorious advance of the principle of freedom seemed to be irresistible. The most eminent philosophers and historians got the conviction that historical evolution tends toward the establishment of institutions warranting freedom and that no intrigues and machinations on the part of the champions could stop the trend toward liberalism.

 

II

 

In dealing with the preponderance of the liberal social philosophy there is a disposition to overlook the power of an important factor that worked in favor of the idea of liberty, viz., the eminent role assigned to the literature of ancient Greece in the education of the elite. There were among the Greek authors also champions of government omnipotence, such as Plato. But the essential tenor of Greek ideology was the pursuit of liberty. Judged by the standards of modern liberal and democratic institutions, the Greek city-states must be called oligarchies. The liberty which the Greek statesmen, philosophers and historians glorified as the most precious good of man was a privilege reserved to a minority. In denying it to metics and slaves they virtually advocated the despotic rule of an hereditary caste of oligarchs. Yet it would be a grave error to dismiss their hymns to liberty as mendacious. They were no less sincere in their praise and quest of freedom than were, two thousand years later, the slaveholders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It was the political literature of the ancient Greeks that begot the ideas of the Monarchomachs, the philosophy of the Whigs, the doctrines of Althusius, Grotius, and John Locke, and the ideology of the fathers of modern constitutions and bills of rights. It was the classical studies, the essential feature of a liberal education, that kept awake the spirit of freedom in England of the Stuarts and George III, in France of the Bourbons, and in Italy, subject to the despotism of a galaxy of princes.

 

No less a man than Bismarck, among the nineteenth-century statesmen the foremost foe of liberty, bears witness to the fact that even in the Prussia of Frederick William III the Gymnasium was a stronghold of republicanism.[1] The passionate endeavors to eliminate the classical studies from the curriculum of the liberal education and thus virtually to destroy its very character were one of the major manifestations of the revival of the servile ideology.

 

It is a fact that a hundred years ago only a few people anticipated the overpowering momentum which the antiliberal ideas were destined to acquire in a very short time. The ideal of liberty seemed to be so firmly rooted that everybody thought that no reactionary movement could ever succeed in eradicating it. It is true, it would have been a hopeless venture to attack freedom openly and to advocate unfeignedly a return to subjection and bondage. But antiliberalism got hold of people’s minds camouflaged as superliberalism, as the fulfillment and consummation of the very ideas of freedom and liberty. It came disguised as socialism, communism, and planning.

 

No intelligent man could fail to recognize that what the socialists, communists, and planners were aiming at was the most radical abolition of the individual’s freedom and the establishment of government omnipotence. Yet the immense majority of the socialist intellectuals were convinced that in fighting for socialism they were fighting for freedom. They called themselves left-wingers and democrats, and nowadays they are even claiming for themselves the epithet liberals.

 

These intellectuals and the masses who followed their lead were in their subconsciousness fully aware of the fact that their failure to attain the far-flung goals which their ambition impelled them to aim at was due to deficiencies of their own. They were either not bright enough or not industrious enough. But they were eager not to avow their inferiority both to themselves and to their fellow men and to search for a scapegoat. They consoled themselves and tried to convince other people that the cause of their failure was not their own inferiority but the injustice of society’s economic organization. Under capitalism, they declared, self-realization is only possible for the few. “Liberty in a laissez-faire society is attainable only by those who have the wealth or opportunity to purchase it.”[2] Hence, they concluded, the state must interfere in order to realize “social justice.” What they really meant is, in order to give to the frustrated mediocrity “according to his needs.”

 

As long as the problems of socialism were merely a matter of debates people who lack clear judgment and understanding could fall prey to the illusion that freedom could be preserved even under a socialist regime. Such self-deceit can no longer be nurtured since the Soviet experience has shown to everybody what conditions are in a socialist commonwealth. Today the apologists of socialism are forced to distort facts and to misrepresent the manifest meaning of words when they want to make people believe in the compatibility of socialism and freedom.

2 Responses to “Western Civilization – The Idea of Liberty”

  1. […] Schiff is one of the best commentators on Austrian Economics, Political Liberties, and our Founding Fathers in America today.  In 2006, Peter debated the bulls at a […]

  2. Kristine Militello said

    I’ll take LIBERTY!
    Thank you for continuing the fight.

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