The History of Liberty
By Reed Benson
Are you concerned about the diminishing of liberty in the United States of America? Does the steady drip-drip-drip of the encroaching nanny state, like the slow but permanent growth of a stalactite's concretions, worry you? It should. Liberty is a fragile flower that has bloomed from time to time among God's people but is by no means in constant bloom. From whence comes the political liberty that we Americans both treasure and yet too often take for granted? Its origins spring from the fountainhead of our ethnic, Israelite heritage—a dual inheritance of both Jehovah's covenant graces and the righteousness of our forebears, who wisely honored the terms of that covenant in their personal lives.
Liberty is a heritage of one race on planet Earth. It is only among the Caucasian nations, the people who are the direct genetic descendants of the ancient Israelites, that one will find political liberty as a cherished and desired condition of life. In vain will one search the non-White nations of the world to find a tradition of liberty. Where among the African Negroes will you find it? Where will it be found among the races of Asia? Can we find it in the Indian subcontinent? Was there ever any tradition of political liberty among the Pre-Columbian people of North and South America? The answer is that there is no tradition of political liberty among any of these non-Israelite nations or peoples. Wait! What about Japan, with the stable democratic government that it has enjoyed since 1945? What about South Korea? How about India? Wait indeed! Who gave them their present governmental structures? The answer in Japan is that it was imposed upon them by the United States of America after they were crushed in World War II. The same is true for South Korea. What little liberty exists in India was a direct bequest by Great Britain. Besides, what is seventy years? Nothing. A tradition of liberty that emanates from the fabric of the people is measured in centuries, even millennia. The long-standing traditions of Japan, Korea, and India do not run in the direction of freedom, but cruel oppression by tyrants who rule with harshness over a mass of inhabitants who accept such circumstances as normal.
So, let us go back in time to the origins of political liberty and trace forward its progression over thousands of years. We will see that it emerges, disappears for a time, then rises again, but always in the midst and at the insistence of one race of people—the Israelites. As we follow their migrations around the world, we will follow the light of liberty.
The Ancient World
A survey of ancient history finds a remarkable absence of nations or empires that displayed any measure of political liberty. This paucity is because that long-ago world was almost universally dominated by pagan religious systems that neither recognized Jehovah as their Creator nor gave any acknowledgement to His Law-code. You have probably heard of these nations separated from us by such an expanse of time: the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Hittites, and the Assyrians. These peoples created societies of strict order based on force, power, sheer terror, and slavery. We may visit monuments they left behind and admire the massive scope, the workmanship, and the enduring nature of their stonework; but make no mistake: there is little exaggeration if it be said that blood was used for mortar and the bones of the enslaved became the foundation for their temples.
Slavery was as common in the ancient world as water, and every bit as necessary for the maintenance of civilization, or so it was assumed. Slaves were the machinery of the social order that performed nearly all the laborious tasks that thus enabled a thin veneer of nobility at the top to engage in other matters. A steady supply of fresh slaves was considered an absolute requirement. Breeding them in sufficient numbers was a risky proposition since that required the development of stable family units. Therefore, the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and all of the others preferred conquest. Homegrown slaves knew the language, the land, and the innate weaknesses of their masters; but newly conquered slaves arrived physically exhausted, utterly bewildered in a strange land, and emotionally overwhelmed by recent personal losses. Thus, they were ripe for their new submissive role.
The Origin of Liberty
Your Israelite ancestors, acting in faith as they followed the instructions of Jehovah, challenged and broke this seemingly tried and true system. In the land of Egypt, where the children of Israel dwelled and served Pharaoh, a crisis developed: "Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land, Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens . . . And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour; And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field . . ." (Exodus 1:8-14). The Egyptian fear of rebellion was so acute that Pharaoh even adopted the extreme measure of genocide: "When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then shall ye kill him . . ." (Exodus 1:16). When the midwives did not cooperate, "Pharaoh charged all his people saying, Every son that is born shall ye cast into the river . . ." (Exodus 1:22).
The story is well known. God provided a uniquely groomed prophet to lead the children of Israel in the most providentially guided revolution in history. Plagued by divine disasters of epic proportion, Pharaoh, the most powerful man on the planet, finally told the Prophet Moses to take his people and go! They were free!
But would they be able to maintain their liberty? In a region of pitiless desert climates, surrounded by formidable nations ruled by cruel, malevolent tyrants, would the children of Israel be able to come up to speed and develop the qualities necessary to conquer a new homeland and keep it? After generations of being told what to do, could they become a people of initiative and ambition?
At this point in our tale, the key to maintaining political liberty becomes apparent. This is a universal necessity that was required for the Hebrews of old, but is equally needed in every other epoch if liberty is to be enjoyed. What is that universal necessity? Personal responsibility: I will take care of my own needs, maintaining a strong moral profile, and will not impinge on the privileges of others around me! Self-government! Breaking this down further, it requires a humble acknowledgment that I have obligations to God, Who created me, as well as obligations toward my neighbor. The Israelites of Exodus entered a covenant that codified this personal responsibility: the Ten Commandments.
The Fragile Nature of Liberty
God called the Israelites to conquer the land of Canaan. Although the first generation refused to act in faith, their children accomplished the task. Inured to hardship in the desert and under the capable leadership of Joshua, the land was cleared of the great majority of the heathen, and the Israelite commonwealth was established about 1400 B.C.
They had an utterly unique political arrangement: they had no king! It was unheard of in the ancient world to forge a political system without a king. Who would lead? The answer was that every tribe, every clan, and every family exercised personal responsibility and followed the commandments of God. Without a king, without a capital city, without a standing army, and with no central administrative bureaucracy, this people prospered. The liberties they enjoyed were immense.
Yet, as the decades slipped by and subsequent generations followed, the fragile nature of their liberty was revealed. Intermittently unable to keep their commitment to obey God's commandments that both honored Him and did not encroach upon one's neighbor, the Israelites episodically fell under the yoke of neighboring kingdoms. As they continued to flounder to regain their commitment to God and their liberties, more and more of them began to long for a king. A king, they assumed, would provide the structure and security they craved, lifting the daily burden of living responsibly from their individual shoulders. They were warned that an established monarchy would severely undercut their personal liberties. This admonition was so prescient in its forecast that it is worth reviewing: "This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day" (1 Samuel 8:11-18).
Thus, after some four hundred years of experimentation in the ability of the people to live responsibly without a master watching over them, a monarchy was established, and the liberties of the people were curtailed. Now, this monarchy was not in the fashion of the eastern despots that surrounded them, such as in Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria. It was limited in its scope and power—what today we would call a constitutional monarchy. Yet the time of freebooting was over. By 1050 B.C., the experiment in self-government had failed.
The unified monarchy only lasted through three kings, and even then it was hardly tranquil for several bitter civil insurrections had to be quelled. Finally, after the death of Solomon, the nation was permanently split into two kingdoms and two dynastic monarchies. In the northern kingdom, political turmoil was the norm for the next two centuries as the population drifted further and further from Jehovah, His covenant law, and any semblance of responsible self-government. At long last, the nation collapsed and was carried into exile. The northern kingdom had come full circle: their ancestors had begun as slaves in Egypt. Some seven hundred years later, to slavery they returned, carried away into Assyria in 721 B.C. In the south, their brothers fared only slightly better. Although there were a few insightful and godly kings, in general a similar pattern developed, and the southern kingdom lasted just a bit longer. They ended up slaves also, in Babylon, taken captive in 586 B.C.
Although the flame of liberty had burned brightly for a time in the land of Israel, it flickered, it fluttered, and at length, it was extinguished.
Subsequent Glimmers of Light in the Ancient World
Seventy years later, a clutch of Israelites living in Babylon returned to the land of their fathers. There they attempted to re-establish their commonwealth. It was a noble effort, but they remained a vassal state in the Persian Empire. When it fell, they came under the dominion of Greek kings. Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning that a small flame of liberty sputtered in that dark, cruel world for a time as these Judeans Israelites applied the law of God to the extent they were able in their delicate little nation. Four centuries later, it was in this country that Jesus our Savior was born.
Meanwhile, a thousand miles to the east, in the heart of Persia, Israelites who remained in the East were struggling mightily for mere survival. Esther is a tale of their precarious existence and God's blessing on them as they clung to God's laws and their own identity as a people.
Almost simultaneous to these two periods was yet another experiment in liberty, one that is well documented in secular history. This was in Greece, in the period when their city-states were small and before that brilliant man of prideful hubris, Alexander, compelled the Greeks to destroy the Persians. It is less well known, but most assuredly a fact, that these very Greeks were Israelites. (For evidence of this, please write to Watchman Outreach Ministries.) Several, but by no means all, of the politically distinct Greek cities experimented with sundry ideas of divided government, voting, and representative government. Athens was the most successful, enjoying a period stretching from Solon's reforms in the sixth century about 150 years until the climax of Greek liberty under Pericles in the fifth century and its subsequent rapid decline in the catastrophic Peloponnesian War.
After the destruction of the Judean nation in A.D. 70, the steadiest glow from the lamp of liberty came not from the Mediterranean world at all, but from the regions to the north. It was out of the shady, forested lands of central and northern Europe that we find evidence of a deep and abiding tradition of self-sufficiency, personal responsibility within one's community, and laws that allow freedom hitherto unknown in the ancient world, with the singular and notable exception of the old Hebrew commonwealth. Indeed, it is from this Germanic, Teutonic north that the world freedom comes, and along with it an entire packet of allied concepts.
It is a fact that Teutonic peoples of northern Europe enjoyed many legal traditions that were identical to those of Hebrews in the Old Testament era. Among the Hebrews, slavery was an institution not admired and was generally of a temporary nature (Deuteronomy 15:12-18). The same was true of Germanic people of northern Europe. Among the Hebrews, women could own land (Numbers 36:1-13). So it was among the Germanic people to the north. Among the Hebrews, usury was considered theft (Exodus 22:25-27, Deuteronomy 23:19-20). The same attitude prevailed widely among the Teutonic race in northern Europe. Again among the Hebrews, adultery was a capital crime for the male as well as the female (Leviticus 20:10). The Germanic race to the north practiced this identical rule. There are other legal traditions that the ancient Hebrews held in common with the Germanic tribal nations of northern Europe, but what is even more remarkable is that none of the Middle Eastern nations and cultures in that epoch exercised these precepts. Is it a mere coincidence that the Old Testament’s legal principles were found among the nations of northern Europe and nowhere else? Is it a mere coincidence that these precepts each provide for greater personal responsibility and thereby greater liberty?
Indeed not, for we know that the torch of liberty was passed directly from the flagging Hebrew nation to the Teutonic people of the north because they were one and the same people. That is, the Caucasian Germanic people of northern Europe are the direct and literal descendants of the Israelites of the Old Testament period. It is a riveting story how the Israelites, having been taken under the bitter yoke of Assyrian bondage, escaped a century later, fleeing across the lofty and frozen Caucasus Mountains in a desperate race for the freedom of the wild lands of eastern and northern Europe. (For proof of this genetic connection and the associated tale please write to Watchman Outreach Ministries and request the book The Anglo-Israel Thesis.)
The independent spirit of self-reliance and personal self-control within one's community proved to be a force that even the mighty Roman legions could not break. These Israelitish people of the north owned their own land, worked it personally, and enjoyed the fruits thereof. Repeated attempts to compel these Germanic Teutons into the folds of the Roman state were unsuccessful, several times resulting in spectacular military calamities at the hands of this Nordic race. By the second century A.D., the Roman emperors gave up, allowing the "barbarians" of the north to settle back into their own affairs. Admittedly, the "barbarians" built no temples or coliseums on the back of slave labor, nor did they leave a wide body of literature behind; however, they did preserve a spirit of liberty, giving us the new parallel word that described the normal condition of one of their people, freedom, a cognate of freeman, a man who has no master.
After the breakup of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, it took some time for Europe to develop new political units. During this period, a rude form of Roman law emerged known as feudalism. While effective for the times, it held the potential for abuse by the great landholding lords to whom loyalty was owed. In theory, this fealty was to be a guarantee of protection. So numerous are the examples of failure on the part of the kings and other great lords to follow through on this security arrangement that to enumerate them would be a lengthy task indeed. Instead, intermittent, small-scale wars became as common as hailstorms in Kansas, usually as kings and great lords sought to secure what they believed were lands that belonged to them by right of inheritance, marriage, or treaty.
The medieval concept of personal identity was entirely feudal. That is, a man did not think of himself as French, English, or German, but rather as a vassal of the Duke of Normandy, or a sworn servant to the Earl of Essex, and so forth. This man would work the land of his master and was to enjoy his master's protective embrace. Under this system, the old Germanic-Teutonic concept of free men owning and working their own land became a nearly extinct condition. It survived this period of serfdom in the English word yeoman. Regretfully, by the thirteenth century (the high water mark of European feudalism), there were very few yeoman left in England or anywhere else in Europe.
This nadir of liberty did have a few notable exceptions. A handful of "free cities" were emerging who engaged in trade and manufacturing, using their wealth to protect their independence. But the real breakthrough came in an unlikely corner of Europe: the chilly land of Scotland, where the ancient Israelite longing for freedom burst forth and could not be repressed, not even by the most effective feudal king in all of Europe, Edward I of England.
This complex drama began in 1286 when the Scottish king Alexander III died without a clear heir. The Scottish lords invited Edward I, the most powerful monarch in Europe, to arbitrate between the claimants for the empty throne. However, to make a long story shorter, Edward I manipulated feudal law in such a manner as to lay claim to the throne himself. He even gained the legal blessing of the Roman Catholic Church to bolster his annexation of Scotland. Despite the fact that the Scots could not agree among themselves who was the rightful king, this was an injustice to which they would not submit, for they were in unanimity that Edward was a usurper. A long war followed, throughout most of which Edward's English feudal army held the upper hand. It appeared to culminate in 1296, when Edward took the famous Stone of Scone, that rectangular gray rock upon which all Scottish kings had been crowned and ancient tradition asserted was none other than the rocky pillow that Jacob used as a headrest when he dreamed of the ladder ascending to heaven in Genesis 28:10-22. To London went the stone, where Edward incorporated it into the throne chair of the English monarchs in the great nave of Westminster Abbey.
While many discouraging years followed for the Scots, heroes emerged to carry on the fight against the tyranny of Edward. First came William Wallace and later the man who eventually won the throne for himself, Robert Bruce. At length, Edward I died with the conflict still unresolved. His son, Edward II, proved far inferior to his father, and the Scottish cause gained hope. This optimism found its fulfillment in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn where Robert, "the Bruce," crushed Edward II's English army, and the Scots won back their freedom.
After twenty-eight years of continuous warfare, Scottish patriotism carried the day. The significance of the Scottish Wars of Independence, as the Scots call this period, is three-fold. First, it was the first time in hundreds of years that a "national" war had been fought, less for dynastic claims or to protect the inheritance of a great lord, but to preserve the identity of a people, the Scots. This was the birth of the modern nation-state, and it changed how men defined themselves. These men were first and foremost Scots—
not the vassal of Lord So-and-So. Second, it was the most powerful resurgence in some time of the ancient tradition of liberty that the Caucasian/Israelite race carries in its genetic package. This innate desire for independent action had been repressed for a long season, but no more. Third, it produced a remarkable document that stands today as compelling evidence that the Caucasian people of northern Europe are indeed true, genetic Israelites and that their thirst for liberty is inseparable from themselves.
This document is known as the Scottish Declaration of Independence or the Declaration of Arbroath. Produced in the 1320, it was addressed to the Pope to countermand Edward I's claim upon Scotland and thereby reverse papal support of England's war against them. Consider some of the more salient portions of this extraordinary political document: " . . . Most holy father and lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea to their home in the west where they still live today . . . The high qualities and deserts of these people, were they not otherwise manifest, gain glory enough from this: that the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Lord Jesus Christ, after his passion and resurrection, called them, even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to his most holy faith . . . Thus our nation did live in freedom and peace up to the time when that mighty prince the king of the English, Edward, the father of the one who reigns today, when our kingdom had no head and our people harbored no malice or treachery and were then unused to wars or invasions, came in the guise of a friend and ally to harass them as an enemy. The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, imprisoning prelates, robbing and killing monks and nuns, and yet other outrages without number which he committed against our people, sparing neither age nor sex, religion nor rank, no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes . . . But from these countless evils we have been set free . . . by our most tireless prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert. He, that his people and heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua, and bore them cheerfully . . . To him, by the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand . . . Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us and our kingdom subject to the king of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, neither will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom—for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."
The intense spirit of liberty that coursed through the veins of the Scots some seven centuries past is an innate quality found still among the Caucasian Israelites, and, as will be seen in the second portion of this article, manifested itself in the English people not long after their northern cousins so ably displayed their commitment to a life of freedom.
Its scarcity among the others races of the world must be duly noted, lest we falsely assume that liberty can be easily exported around the globe. Even today, in the early years of the twenty-first century we have numerous illustrations of the failure of other races fulfill in their own homelands the promise of liberty. How hard the United States tried to deliver liberty and representative government to the Iraqis, and all for nought! Our efforts to free the Afghans from tyranny and cruelty have been met with derision and failure. Why is it so difficult for the non-White people of the world to cultivate principles of freedom? It is because liberty is a heritage of the Israelites of old and it is a longing that burns within their genes alone. They do not always rise to high standard of personal responsibility to achieve that which they long for, but it is only among these Caucasian Israelites that such a hope is realized in its fullness. The story of liberty's path through history will be concluded in the Winter 2015 issue of The Watchman.