The TV in the UK is usually a pretty boring wasteland, with anodyne news coverage, game shows, reality TV and soap operas dominant. But don’t despair, liberty lover! The British Broadcasting Corporation is running a season of documentaries on the themes of liberty and democracy. Naturally democracy is assumed to be the prerequisite to liberty.

Usually if you’re going to make a documentary on concepts like this it would be just nifty to have a nice ‘lifespan of liberty’ timeline. That is what I propose, not a timeline of democracy. Democracy either means decentralised power or a political state in which all citizens participate by voting. The former definition has arisen here and there on in descriptions of economic phenomena like falling prices over time or the introduction of delightful new technologies. Liberty, the complete dominion of every human being over themselves and thus over all external stuff they own, is the goal of the libertarian. We can call a society of interacting people all living in liberty a free society.

What, then, are some easy to recall key moments in the history of liberty as we understand it today?



Pretty much everybody knows that this did happen, and that it was a big deal, because it set a precedent that would haunt subsequent kings repeatedly for centuries until the the execution of Charles I. OK this was an important moment but to imagine that anyone at the time was idealising liberty would be a horrible self-delusion.



This episode got onto the history syllabus of the secondary school (high school minus 11th and 12th grade) I attended. The Black Death had finished its work in Europe. The peasants, whose subservient position in society was violently enforced by the Barons though terror and the Magistrates of the realm through writ of law, were revolting. The King caved in to their demands on the day, but after they’d scattered he reneged on every part of the agreement. Elements of it did become law, however, in subsequent years as the population increased back to pre-plague levels over the next Century or so.



This Henry, the second ruler of the Tudor dynasty, got through a lot of wives, and had to break with Rome in the process. Creating the present-day Church of England along confused part-Catholic, part-Protestant lines, he was able to appoint its leaders and so assure he didn’t have any more trouble with pesky threats of excommunication. This Henry pulled a real trick by introducing a Holy Synod, whose members were appointed by himself, as Tsar Peter the Great of Russia would do some 200-odd years later.



The middle of the 17th Century was a riotous mess of civil wars, brief republicanism, dictatorship and of  the idea of liberty, finally distilled into a recognisably contemporary form as something to which every human by birth was entitled. Let us not forget that a right and an entitlement are two different terms for basically the same thing. First the English had the temerity to not only rebel against, but convict and execute their king. Big deal at the time.



Here would be a lot of fun. James II died without issue, and was briefly succeeded by Anne, who promptly croaked herself, leaving the throne empty. Parliament hit upon a brilliant and cheeky solution; bring in a foreigner with no previous regal ambition! And so William of Orange was invited to toddle over from The Netherlands to take the throne. And there was a wonderful consequence to this ‘glorious revolution of 1688’ the very next year, the so-called English Bill of Rights.

This bill provided for a wide selection of freedoms that became known subsequently as ‘the rights of Englishmen’ and took in such things as habeas corpus and the right to keep and bear arms. A very big deal, this.



In the mid 19th Century a slew of silly regulations remained or had been reinforced since the intellectual decline of overt mercantilism in the previous Century. You can thank William Gladstone’s Liberal Party for repealing the Corn Laws. Late in the Gladstonian Era the government took over education by provided tax-funded, ‘free’ schools.

Also, the General Medical Council, created in 185?, had a government monopoly on the licensing of doctors, while the British Medical Association became the monopoly trades union of the profession. But apart from this, the military, the courts, and the central-banked gold standard, the government generally stayed out of people’s lives.



The spirit of Gladstone seems to have dimmed at the outset of he 20th Century, with government welfare in the form of unemployment insurance and a state pension. Then of course World War One kicked off and halfway through the European belligerents abandoned the Gold Standard, leading to the crash of 1929, massive housing regulation in 1933, and the post-WW2 welfare state.

The Lost Century also saw the revocation of Britons’ right to self defence, first by gradually banning guns, then by making it an offence to carry anything that could injure, then by actually criminalising harm done to attackers. Now only agents of the state can inflict bodily harm in defence of themselves or others. Everybody else has to just stand still and take what they get.

So the fiat regime that has inflated houses into financial blimps holding aloft an economy of theft began in the 20th Century and has thwarted possibly as much as nine-tenths of the wealth creation we might have otherwise enjoyed. That would have meant the end of invluntary poverty, everybody living in 3 bedroom houses and apartments and owning whatever vehicles they wanted, and being able to afford to travel widely without stretching their wallets. Government! Free evil!