IS LIBERTY PRACTICAL? Charles Sprading 1913
"The history of civilized man is the history of the incessant conflict between liberty and authority. Each victory for liberty marked a new step in the world's progress."
The first great struggle for liberty was in the realm of thought. The libertarians reasoned that freedom of thought would be good for mankind. It would promote knowledge and advance civilization. But the authoritarians protested that free thought would be dangerous. People would think wrong. A few were divinely appointed to think for the people. They had books which contained the whole truth. Further search was unnecessary and forbidden. The powers of Church and State were arrayed against the libertarians. But after the sacrifice of many great men, freedom of thought was won.
The second momentous contest was for the liberty to speak. The enemies of liberty, those possessing power and privilege, opposed freedom of speech, just as they had opposed free thought. The Church said it was perilous to permit people to speak their minds, they might speak the truth. The State said free speech was dangerous. It was not the duty of citizens to think and speak, but to obey. After much persecution, the libertarians were victorious. But even though such authoritarian institutions as the Catholic Church and the Russian states do not concede the freedom of thought and speech.
The third contest was for liberty of the press. The same old enemies who had so much to conceal opposed it. Their repressive measures added a long list of martyrs to the cause of freedom. Like free though and speech, a free press has proven to be a powerful factor in human progress.
The fourth struggle was for the liberty of assembly. Here again the libertarians met the same old enemies using the same old arguments. The people could not be permitted to assemble freely, because they might plan treason or revolution against authority. But again liberty was victorious and free assembly has been found to be beneficial to the people.
The fifth important contest for liberty was the field of religion. Man could worship at any shrine he pleased, or at no shrine. Man should worship as his reason and conscience dictated, or even not worship at all. A succession of conflicts opened the gates of religious liberty. In these five important spheres of human action there have been, against a sea of ignorance and tradition five great victories for freedom. Liberty, wherever applied, had proved a benefit to the race. The most important steps in human progress would have been impossible without it. If civilization is to advance, that advance can come only as a result of broader and more complex freedom in ALL human relations.
A principle that has proved its workability in five such important and vital phases of social evolution should prove desirable IN ALL AFFAIRS OF MEN.
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