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Kerby Anderson


by Kerby Anderson



Ask anyone who has seen the movie "Braveheart" how they would summarize the movie in one word. Nearly everyone would say "freedom."


In the movie, when William Wallace speaks to the Scottish army he says "they may take away our lives, but they'll never take OUR FREEDOM!"


So what exactly is freedom? What are the roots of freedom? Answering these questions is not as easy as it may seem. They require some thought and reflection, which for most of us, is a precious commodity.


Fortunately, some of the hard work has been done for us by professor John Danford in his book Roots of Freedom: A Primer on Modern Liberty. The material in this book was originally material that was broadcast on Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in the late 1980s. Only later did some suggest that the material should be published so that citizens in a free society could also benefit by his work in describing the roots of freedom.


So how does John Danford describe a free society? He says, "People would surely differ, but what is meant here is a society in which human beings are not 'born into' a place-a caste or an occupation, for example-but are free to own property, to raise children, to earn a living, to think, to worship, to express political views, and even to emigrate if desired, and to do so without seeking permission from a master."


Obviously we all have some constraints on us, but human freedom in a free society would certainly involve the freedom to be able to do the things mentioned above.


Once we define a free society, we can easily see something very disturbing. Danford says, "Free societies have been rare in human history. They also seem to be fragile-more fragile than were the dynasties or empires of the ancient world."


In the past, freedom was rare often because of economic necessity. There is little or no freedom for a person who must work every waking hour just to survive. In the ancient world, a free man was free because another was enslaved. A free man was free because he did not need to work for a living.


By the end of the eighteenth century, economic necessity ceased to be the main obstacle to freedom in many places. Yet there were still very few free societies, because political power was often concentrated in the hands of a king or dictator (or perhaps in the hands of a few in the ruling class).


Today we have few kings, but we still have many dictators. Free societies also still somewhat rare today. Consider that there are nearly 200 countries in the United Nations, and yet it is probably fair to say that fewer than 50 could truly be called free societies (with functioning democracies).


If nothing else, this study of the roots of freedom should make us thankful we live in a free country. Free societies are rare in history, and they are still somewhat rare today. We should never take for granted the political and economic freedom we enjoy.