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Freedom: A History

Donald W. Treadgold
Copyright Date: 1990
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 472
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    Book Description:

    A worldwide trend toward democracy is surely one of the more remarkable phenomena of our times, even if the movement twoard that goal may often be haphazard and elusive. Past history will provide a healthy skepticism concerning the likelihood of democracy being reached in the near future in many parts of the world, as well as a preparedness for the possibility that many countries apparently close to the "institutional divide" are going to slip back rather than cross it soon. Nevertheless, the past 2600 years, or even 5000, yield the reassuring message that during that long period freedom has improved its extent significantly, with respect both to geographical breadth and institutional depth.This book is the first to attempt to describe the history of the growth of freedom on a world scale within one single set of covers. It sets out not to redefine freedom nor to discvoer freedom where no one else has, nor to argue that freedom is the proud possession of one country or tradition or people. Its purpose instead is to show how certain elements of free society made their appearance in an amazing variety of places, from ancient Sumeria and China to medieval Japan, modern Czechoslovakia and Costa Rica, in areas both inside and outside of the Western European and North American tradition that will probably be familiar to most readers of the English language edition of this book.The whole story, with its fits and starts, triumphs and tragedies, deserves the thoughtful reflection of everyone who in the wish to establish and protect freedom would avoid needless disappointment and despair and desires to act intelligently to attain the attainable. But even for the quietest, the person who has no faith in human action to improve man's lot, the story is worth pondering, for along with failure and misery it holds much that is noble and uplifting, tells of much gain for humanity through patient suffering and self-sacrifice, and catches a vision of liberty for all in the present an dpossible future that was inconceivable at the dawn of history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8449-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
    Donald W. Treadgold
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1988 Secretary of State George Shultz wrote, “Not so many years ago, democratic nations were thought to be a dwindling and embattled minority; today the idea of democracy is among the most important political forces of our time.”¹ The phenomenon concerned is one for which Shultz’s political party and the president whom he served claimed much credit, and no doubt both may justifiably be assigned a share. More significant, however, is surely the apparent reversal of the intellectual and territorial expansion of Marxism, seemingly unstoppable in the 1970s, and its replacement by the spread of the ideas of political...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Ancestry of Freedom in the Mediterranean: The Jews
    (pp. 11-33)

    The earliest recorded account of an exercise of human freedom to which more than casual significance is attached may be the story of Adam as given in Genesis. Adam must have had the capacity to obey or disobey God’s injunction not to eat the fruit of the tree, or his disobedience was an act without meaning. In eating it, Adam is depicted as having accomplished the Fall of Man or, more broadly interpreted, as having affected the predisposition of all subsequent members of the human race to err, to disobey, to separate themselves from the divine. Separation of oneself from...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Ancestry of Freedom in the Mediterranean: The Greeks
    (pp. 34-51)

    If the earliest high cultures, in Mesopotamia and Egypt, were connected with man’s mastery of irrigation agriculture, in the course of the third millennium b.c. civilization was ready to advance into nearby regions of rainfall agriculture.¹ One such area was the southern islands of Greece. By about 2100 b.c., the Minoan civilization, named for the legendary King Minos of Knossos, had made its appearance in Crete. Its main architectural feature was a series of palaces, large and small, which possessed in each case halls used for religious ceremonies of some sort. Thus Minoan society has been thought, on the basis...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Rome and the Hellenistic Mediterranean
    (pp. 52-74)

    When Alexander the Great died, his generals and officials immediately began a series of struggles that continued for decades. Ptolemy was installed in Egypt from the first; Seleucus became established in Babylonia. Antigonus the One-Eyed attempted to unify the empire left by Alexander; he failed and was killed, but his descendants came to rule Macedonia.

    In Egypt the Ptolemies applied Greek management to the old Egyptian despotism. The new Greek officialdom was assiduous in keeping records of every sort: at one time the great library at Alexandria possessed seven hundred thousand rolls of papyrus.¹ The most important of the several...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Beginnings of European Freedom, 350–1050
    (pp. 75-100)

    The emperor became Christian with Constantine I; the empire, officially, with Theodosius I, even though pagans remained and even gained high office long afterward. When the Western Empire came to an end, several of the Teutonic peoples were Arian Christians. The first barbarians to embrace orthodox Christianity in the West were the pagan Franks; the Arian tribes followed suit not long afterward. Other Germanic peoples remained to be converted over a vast area of northern Europe, and it was the eleventh century before they were Christianized (with a few exceptions still, the Lithuanians chief among them). Christianity was to have...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The High Middle Ages: The West, Byzantium, and Islam, 1050–1350
    (pp. 101-136)

    In the eleventh century, Byzantium passed in a short time from the heights of successful military and civil achievement to the depths of crisis. In 1025 the Macedonian dynasty ended with the death of Basil II; in 1071 the Seljuqs destroyed the Byzantine army at Manzikert, and during the following decade they advanced through Asia Minor to Nicaea while the Byzantines squabbled and did nothing to stop them.

    In the western regions of the empire other disasters occurred. “The one great general of the post-Macedonian era,” George Maniaces, was recalled from the struggle with the Normans in Sicily and executed;...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Renaissance and the Reformation, 1350–1650
    (pp. 137-185)

    In 1350 Byzantium had still a century of tenuous and truncated existence ahead, but the Ottoman Turks were poised to cross into Europe and might have taken the New Rome then if it had not been for the appearance behind them of a threat in the shape of the army of Tamerlane. When the Turks at length ended Byzantine history, a new Eastern Orthodox state was just gaining effective independence in the north: Muscovy.

    In the West the promising political developments of the High Middle Ages seemed temporarily interrupted or diverted: France and England fought a long if sporadic war;...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Birth of Constitutional Government, 1650–1800
    (pp. 186-229)

    Sometimes it is difficult to see in which directions ideas may lead. John Calvin declared that men had no right to rebel against even the “most iniquitous kings,” and yet the Dutch, led by their Calvinist majority, carried out the first modern revolution against the Spanish monarchs. In England the seventeenth century saw every variety of political doctrine thus far expressed. The unprecedentedly egalitarian Levelers and the communist Diggers passed from the scene without a trace; the temporarily ascendant Puritan and republican dictatorship vanished; and the relaxed, often corrupt, unsystematic monarchy of the restored Stuarts was the institution from which...

  12. CHAPTER 8 The Coming of Democracy, 1800–1990: Part One
    (pp. 230-269)

    The French Constitution of the Year VIII (the revolutionaries’ calendar started from the fall of the monarchy) was replaced in 1802 by the Constitution of the Year X, on the heels of the plebiscite that was declared to have given virtual unanimous consent of Frenchmen to Napoleon as Consul for life. The powers of the Senate were increased, but Napoleon was given the right to nominate the majority of senators, to summon the body and preside over it. He became in effect the head of a limited monarchy. A longish list of republics sprang up at his bidding in nearby...

  13. CHAPTER 9 The Coming of Democracy, 1800–1990: Part Two
    (pp. 270-306)

    If the seventeenth century was characterized by torture and killing for political reasons, attended by conspiracy and conflict, then the eighteenth century, writes J. H. Plumb, in its political structure “possesses adamantine strength and profound inertia.”¹ Muller puts it that throughout the eighteenth century “England remained the freest country in Europe, with the most vigorous press, the most open public debate, the most influential public opinion,”² But much of the population did not participate in all this. In the nineteenth century, however, Britain, emerging from the Napoleonic Wars victorious and more nearly master of the whole world than any power...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Coming of Democracy, 1800–1990: Part Three
    (pp. 307-341)

    The Constitution of 1791 had converted the elective monarchy into a hereditary one (note that an elective monarchy has seldom if ever been an example of a free polity), created a two-chamber legislature, and abolished the liberum veto—a noteworthy instance of how taking away the powers of a national assembly may under certain circumstances advance the cause of freedom. But the constitution did not last: it led to Russian manipulation that created the Confederation of Targowice, subsequent Russian and Prussian invasion, and the Second Partition, in turn provoking a revolution in 1794 that was put down and followed up...

  15. CHAPTER 11 India, China, and Japan
    (pp. 342-370)

    City life arose around 2000 b.c. in the Indus valley and during the first millennium b.c. in the valley of the Ganges, as the inhabitants learned how to control the great rivers sufficiently to begin irrigation agriculture. The Indus valley civilization disappeared; the reasons may be several but are certainly mysterious. Some time after 2000 b.c. the Aryans entered India from the northwest—it is not known where they began their migration. They came with cattle and “were first and foremost cattle-breeders and beef-eaters”; they raised some grain. Aryan society was comparable to Homeric Greece or the Celtic West, one...

  16. CHAPTER 12 Latin America
    (pp. 371-410)

    The pre-Columbian civilizations of the Western Hemisphere had no more free institutions than the empires of the ancient Orient.¹ As in the case of the latter, that did not mean an absence of cultural achievement. The Mayas, who before Christ were settled in the region from southern Mexico to Honduras, developed possibly the highest of the civilizations preceding Columbus’s voyages. Their mathematics and astronomy, as well as applications thereof in engineering, were impressive indeed. Pedro Carrasco writes that when the Mayan inscriptions are fully deciphered, the pictographs may come to be understood as a form of writing.² Nevertheless no true...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 411-416)

    Freedom—or pluralistic society, constitutional government, or democracy—is, to be sure, not the only value in the social or political context. It has not protected the societies of the West and Japan from the suffering and destruction of war, the misery and want of economic depression, the discrimination or oppression that has afflicted minorities—racial, ethnic, religious, or other—the miscarriage of justice for individuals or groups, the unjust deprivation of property or unreasonable restrictions on its use, the inefficiency and incompetence of bureaucracies, the lack of courage of public officials.

    Free societies have not eliminated individual or group...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 417-438)
  19. Index
    (pp. 439-460)
  20. About the Author
    (pp. 461-462)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 463-463)