Cover image for The triumph of liberty : a 2,000-year history, told through the lives of freedom's greatest champions
The triumph of liberty : a 2,000-year history, told through the lives of freedom's greatest champions
Powell, Jim, 1944-
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New York : Free Press, [2000]

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xvi, 574 pages ; 25 cm
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CT104 .P72 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A dramatic narrative history of liberty from ancient times to the present is told through the inspiring life stories of 65 heroes and heroines from the crisis of the Roman Republic to struggles for women's rights.l

Author Notes

Paul Johnson lives in London.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The stories we tell (or choose not to tell) constitute a vital element of any organization's (or nation's) culture. These books examine particular varieties of these stories. Two of the coeditors of Making Government Work are also codirectors of Temple University's Privatization Center. It should come as no surprise, then, that the essays they gather tell how current and former mayors and governors have restructured public functions and agencies. The governors--George Allen (VA), Terry Branstad (IA), Jeb Bush (FL), Arne Carlson (MN), John Engler (MI), Zell Miller (GA), Thomas Ridge (PA), and William Schaefer (MD)--cover a range of subjects, from education and welfare to privatizing a state-owned resort. The mayors--Archer of Detroit, Campbell of Atlanta, Daley of Chicago, Giuliani of New York, Golding of San Diego, Goldsmith of Indianapolis, McCrory of Charlotte, Morial of New Orleans, and Rendell of Philadelphia--discuss alternative policing, species conservation, and a variety of approaches to "managed competition." For those who see state and local government as the frontline in the struggle to reengineer government, these are reports from the trenches. Powell, a Cato Institute senior fellow, offers a libertarian history of freedom through the lives of 64 notables. He groups his "champions of freedom" by topic, such as, natural rights, toleration, peace, self-help, individualism, liberty, and breakthroughs. Section 1 includes Locke, Paine, Jefferson, Wollstonecraft, and Garrison, but also Cicero, Lysander Spooner, and Ayn Rand. The "Peace" section closes with Ronald Reagan; "Self-Help" with Maria Montessori; "Courage for Liberty" with Raoul Wallenberg and Martin Luther King Jr. There are more economists in Powell's list than most would include; they dominate not only "Economic Liberty" but also both "Dangers" and "Breakthroughs." Of some value to curious readers; libertarians can be expected to love it! Jensen, now an emeritus communications professor at Sonoma State University, founded Project Censored and has produced its annual summaries of the news stories most neglected by mainstream media. Here, he celebrates a century of American muckraking. After a brief historical introduction, Jensen offers readers the originals: Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, Margaret Sanger, George Seldes, John Steinbeck, Rachel Carson, J. William Fulbright, I. F. Stone, Edward R. Murrow, Jessica Mitford, Betty Friedan, Malcolm X, Michael Harrington, Paul Brodeur, Paul Ehrlich, Ralph Nader, Seymour Hersh, and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Some of these stories were best-sellers in their day; others drew a smaller audience; but all redefined our history. Jensen adds brief biographies, including sources. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Through 65 pithy, vivid biographical profiles, Powell traces the struggle for freedom from oppression, equality before the law, peace, social justice, toleration of thought, speech and individuality. Along with familiar figures such as Erasmus, Jefferson, Franklin, Locke, Tocqueville, Thoreau and Mencken, he presents liberty-lovers who deserve to be better known, including John Lilburne, an English pamphleteer who attacked taxes, censorship and the notorious Star Chamber; Hugo Grotius, a Dutch antiwar philosopher and father of international law; and Lysander Spooner, a maverick 19th-century American libertarian opponent of military conscription and intrusive big government. Powell, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and editor of Laissez-Faire Books, includes inspirational profiles of Raoul Wallenberg, Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Among his eclectic, sometimes debatable choices for this motley portrait gallery are psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, opponent of involuntary commitment of mental patients, and anticollectivist novelist Ayn Rand. Equally unpredictable is the roster of creative artists whose works reputedly spread ideals of liberty: Robert Heinlein, western novelist Louis L'Amour, comic-opera whiz William S. Gilbert, Goya, Rabelais, Victor Hugo, Beethoven, Schiller. On balance, though, this stimulating sourcebook is a rousing testament to the belief that one person can make a difference; hopefully, it will inspire readers to go back to the original writings of these trailblazers. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Introduction How did mankind ever come by the idea of liberty? What a grand thought it was! -- G. C. Lichtenberg (1799) Liberty is a rare and precious thing. For thousands of years, no one had ever heard of individual rights. According to historian Fernand Braudel, slavery was the norm -- "a universal phenomenon, affecting all primitive societies." In ancient Mesopotamia, prisoners of war and offenders undergoing punishment were slaves. So were children, whose destitute parents often sold them into slavery. Government officials and priests owned slaves who labored as household servants, artisans, and concubines. Egypt was substantially built on forced labor. Almost all agricultural land was tilled by serfs, usually condemned to be serfs for life. The government conscripted thousands for massive projects, and successful foreign military campaigns brought large numbers of slaves who performed a myriad of menial tasks. Government officials had households full of slaves who worked as cooks, seamstresses, and brewers. In China, slavery goes back at least to the Shang dynasty in the second millennium B.C., where it was commonplace. Slaves, typically captured during war, performed farm labor with leashes around their necks. There were slaves in ancient Crete and Greek city-states. Scholars estimate that over eighty thousand slaves lived in Athens during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Rome engaged in seemingly endless military campaigns, yielding hundreds of thousands of prisoners who became slaves. At the emporiums of Capua and Delos, some 20,000 slaves changed hands each day. By some estimates, three-quarters of the people living on the Italian peninsula were slaves. Nor were slaves unique to the ancient world. By the third century A.D., as more and more peasants abandoned their farmland and headed for cities where free food was distributed, the untended land lost value and didn't yield tax revenue. In 332 A.D., as a "temporary" measure to help maintain tax collections, Emperor Constantine declared that peasants must remain on the land. They were coloni. Constantine decreed, "As for the coloni who attempt to run away, it shall be allowed to load them with chains, in the manner of slaves." Thirty-nine years later, this policy had become permanent. In medieval Europe, most people were serfs, enslaved to the soil. They farmed land and performed other services for aristocratic landowners, who themselves owed military service as well as money to their kings. Serfs could not be sold apart from the land, nor could they legally leave the land. This was the era of feudalism. Forced labor aimed sometimes to mount a defense against barbarian invaders and sometimes to pillage more prosperous neighbors. The Catholic church promoted serfdom and slavery. In 1452 and 1453, Pope Nicholas IV officially approved Portugal's efforts to enslave heathens, and in 1493, Pope Alexander VI sanctioned Spanish slavery in the Americas. Since medieval monks were so successful at convincing lords they should bequeathe their estates to the Catholic church, it became the biggest landowner in Europe, with more serfs than anyone else. Church canon law had specific provisions against freeing slaves, and the church even profited from the death of serfs who belonged to nonchurch landlords: the lord had the right to seize a deceased serf's best farm animal, and the local priest could seize the second-best animal. There were few constraints on what feudal landowners could do. "The knight of the eleventh and twelfth centuries was no model of gentleness and refinement," reported medieval scholar Brian Tierney. "He drank himself into a stupor with considerable regularity. His castle was usually filled with prostitutes. If he got annoyed with his opponent during a chess game, he was inclined to brain him with one of the massive chessmen of the day. When a servant was slow in bringing his wine, he threw a javelin at him to speed his steps. If his wife annoyed him, he beat her savagely....While he was bound not to injure his lord, his lord's immediate family, his vassal, or his vassal's family, the feudal system left him entirely free in regard to all other persons." Slavery has continued throughout much of the world, right up to the twenty-first century. In Slavery, a World History, Milton Meltzer reported continuing slavery in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, India, Mauritania, Mozambique, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, among other places. Investigator Harry Wu exposed the laogai camps in China, where millions are enslaved. Worse than slavery has been government killing on an unimaginable scale. In 1221 A.D. Mongol Tului murdered some 700,000 people in Khorassan, north of Persia. The thirteenth-century sultan of Delhi, Kutb-d Din, reportedly murdered hundreds of thousands of Indians. The fourteenth-century Mongol conqueror Tamerlane murdered an estimated 100,000 prisoners near Delhi. Aztecs conducted human sacrifices, and a Spanish conquistador reported counting 125,000 skulls; the Spanish went on to slaughter the Aztecs. During the late fifteenth century, an estimated 125,000 people were murdered or died in prison because of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1572, the government of French king Charles IX authorized the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in which about 36,000 Protestants were murdered. About 7.5 million people were killed as European states fought for power during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). In America, at least 2 million Indians were massacred. Between 1740 and 1897, 230 European wars and revolutions resulted in the deaths of over 20 million people. During the fifteen-year Teiping Rebellion of the mid-nineteenth century, Chinese imperial forces killed all potential opponents, and the death toll reportedly hit 40 million. The twentieth century was drenched in blood. Adolf Hitler murdered an estimated 21 million Balts, Czechs, Frenchmen, gypsies, homosexuals, and Slavs as well as Jews. Communist China murdered an estimated 35.2 million of its people, and another 27 million starved to death in government-induced famines. The Soviet Union established its slave labor system, the gulag, which claimed an estimated 40 million lives. Soviet governments murdered another 20 million of their people. Soviet government murders alone were about triple the number of deaths that resulted from the African slave trade. Altogether, reported political science professor R. J. Rummel, "During the first eighty-eight years of this century, almost 170 million men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens or foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people. It is as though our species has been devastated by a modern Black Plague. And indeed it has, but a plague of Power, not germs." How, amid such recurring horrors, did some people manage to break free? What is the role of ideas in the history of liberty? What are the essential institutions of a free society? Why do some efforts to achieve a free society go wrong? How do people let their liberty slip away? How can we best help liberty to thrive? How much difference can one person make? These are just some of the questions I address here. The Triumph of Liberty seeks answers by exploring the lives of remarkable individuals who made crucial contributions to liberty during the past two thousand years. Although some were aristocrats, most were commoners. They include a failed corset maker, a former tanner, a disillusioned clergyman, an impoverished composer, a one-time printer's assistant, a medical doctor, an engineering draftsman, a professor, a housewife, a pencil maker's son, a handkerchief weaver's daughter, a wandering hobo, and a slave, among others. They made their mark as writers, editors, educators, political leaders, and, in a few cases, military leaders. They didn't always live up to their ideals, but their contributions were monumental, and I believe there has been more liberty because they lived. The stories are based on biographies supplemented with letters, diaries, and speeches as well as material relating to events of their time. Sometimes I was able to draw on unpublished material. I tapped library resources at Harvard University, the University of California (Berkeley, UCLA), the University of Chicago, Cornell University, Stanford University, Yale University, and the Library of Congress. I had the help of out-of-print booksellers on both sides of the Atlantic. To help trace the continuing influence of the people whose stories I tell, I interviewed dozens of scholarly specialists throughout North America and visited historic sites in Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and the United States. Stories appear in chronological order within thematic groupings. There is chronological overlap within and among groupings. This helps to underscore that liberty did not advance on a single track. Some societies embraced religious toleration before they understood the case for economic liberty. In many places, people thrived with economic liberty, although they didn't have political liberty. This book could not possibly cover all the different ways in which people have used the word liberty or freedom. I write here about only one tradition: freedom from fraud and coercion of every kind. In the history of liberty, this is the original tradition, the longest tradition, the tradition that has inspired millions to rebel against tyranny. The individuals chronicled here were key players in one of the most thrilling stories ever told. They changed history with their extraordinary vision, skill, courage, and love. They made it possible for millions of us to do what was unthinkable in ages past: enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.