Liberty: did we ever have it, and need to regain it, or ought we to fight for it A Priori?


David Davis

The following piece in red was harvested off a comment thread on Samizdata, all reacting to whether we here achieved and enjoyed actual liberty, or whether we never really had it. This is in reaction to our esteemed occasional commentator Ian B’s elevation to the Peerage, by being given a Samizdata Quote of the Day award….

I would not presume to judge the British people, whom I greatly admire, but I do question the premise of the statement.

In human history, freedom is the anomaly.

Living in a condition of generalized liberty,

able to move about with few restrictions,

able to speak freely, read books and view a wide range of videos, both fictional and documentary,

stand at an intersection with a different house of worship on each corner and decide for oneself which one to attend,

open a little shop and try to make a living,

attend a world renowned university, even though your father and mother were farmers or factory workers,

live in a little cottage that belongs to you and your family, and which the highest magistrate in the land has said even the monarch cannot enter without your permission.

In defense of these utterly pedestrian (to us) aspects of your lives, the British people and their allies have stood against some of the most ferocious and deadly threats to the future well-being of humanity since Attilla, or the Saracens at Tours, or, indeed, the Black Death.

You may find yourselves dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in your society, as I and others are with conditions here ocross the Atlantic, but that is not a cause for despair.

If it were not so ingrained in you, as Britons, to expect to live as free men and women, as it is in those of us who have derived our system of rights and liberties from your example, this question would never even arise.

All across the world, in socieities ancient and modern, on all the continents that your own explorers first contacted centuries ago, the concept that each human being is unique, sovereign, and possesses natural rights that cannot be abridged at the whim of another, has resonated and reverberated.

Of course there have been setbacks. Of course there are enormous and complex challenges to overcome to maintain and expand this extraordinary birthright.

Those born as British citizens have been bequeathed the pearl of great price, paid for with blood and anguish, courage and fortitude, beyond anything most of us are ever asked to demonstrate.

Our task is to gather the courage and determination to fight and win the myriad lesser battles, in the local school committees, local elections, the classroom debates, the neighborhood meetings, up to the great national policy debates that may steer a nation onto the rocks, or back on a true course.

The letter says that of the great virtues, that of faith, hope and charity, the greatest is charity. It is wrong.

Hope, hope, and endless, indefatigable hope is the bedrock upon which all else is built.

For free men and women to lose heart, surrender, concede the field to the collective, secular or religious, is to condemn future generations of people all across the globe to a life of darkness and bitter despair, denied the very essence of that which makes them human.

For millenia, humans survived from day to day, living in an uncertain world in which violence was the only arbiter.

For a short time, in these last few centuries, we have been priviledged to participate in a radically different vision of humanity, based on values which recognized an innate dignity in each human life, something that should not be trampled upon by church or state.

We are now challenged by both of those ancient enemies. One believes in the sword, the other in magic.

Both fear the only true human weapon—the rational mind which will not surrender its committment to its own integrity and rational purpose.

The needed response to the many difficulties and challenges we face, in your society and mine, is an implacable determination to pass the greatest of all treasures on to our children, and their children in turn:

The knowledge that to be truly human is to be free in mind and spirit, and that nothing else is more worthy of our devotion, and our lives.


Posted by veryretired at
August 17, 2009 05:35 AM

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4 responses to “Liberty: did we ever have it, and need to regain it, or ought we to fight for it A Priori?

  1. As long as the way you say something is more important than what you are saying I don’t see much hope. Rearranging deckchairs , etc. Well. Enjoy.
    Charity without wisdom is not charity.
    The biggest magick at the moment is to believe order ocurred spontaneously in randomness.
    Yes, courage is valuable. But courage without wisdom is blind stupidity.
    So is arrogance.

  2. Ummmm…not sure what yr point is there, G M?

  3. The point is everyone should appreciate the liberty and freedom he/she is experiencing now. Every individual is entitled for their own liberty.

  4. My point would be that it sometimes seems that contributors to your extremely valuable pages are actually more interested in kicking problems around, tasting them, biting them and savouring bits from time to time, rather than actually see profoundly simple solutions.
    Nothing wrong with that but then your identification should possibly be gramsco/fascist/nazi analysis, rather than libertarian?
    Whatever, it is all exceedingly good. Perhaps one needs to keep an eye on what one truly esteems?