This is the essay for the 8th week of the 9th Grade Tom Woods Homeschool. It’s an answer to one question, it’s about the differences between the modern concept of liberty and what the Greeks called liberty.
What is the difference between the liberty of the ancients and the liberty of the moderns? What would moderns find lacking in ancient liberty?
The liberty of the ancients is the liberty that the Greeks thought as liberty. This liberty was focused more on the liberty of a city. The liberty of the moderns, which is the liberty that we today recognize as liberty, is more focused more on the liberty of the individual.
What is the liberty of the ancients?
The ancients thought liberty as being involved in collective rights and accomplishing various ends. This meant being able to take place in the assembly and having a vote in, basically anything that had to do with the city’s government. For example being able to vote on new laws, forming foreign alliances, making decisions about war and peace, etc.
The reason that the city Greeks believed in liberty of the ancients, is because there weren’t a few people in the government who were making these decisions, like what we have now. This would be very difficult to have in the modern world, because instead of a few thousand citizens in one city, now we have thousands and millions of citizens in cities, states, and countries. Because there were so few citizens in the city-states your vote on the matter at hand actually mattered, while right now it would be almost worthless. As the population of Greece grew this liberty started becoming less and less important and the liberty of the moderns started forming.
What are the differences between the liberty of the ancients and the moderns?
As I said earlier, the biggest difference between the two liberties is that the liberty of the ancients is focused on the liberty of the cities and the liberty of the moderns is focused on the liberty of the individual. An individual in Greece was basically a slave in his private life. He was allowed to have a say in what the government, but in his own life, he was controlled by the government. One of the consequences of this was that, Ostracism. What this means that if enough people voted for you then you are exiled from the city. You didn’t even have to have committed a crime for this to happen. All that had to happen was that people suspected that you would do something wrong in the future. While in the liberty of the moderns it states that you’re not allowed to be forced to leave a city unless you commit a crime. This one thing causes many other differences and violations of the liberty of the moderns. For example, by exiling a person you’re also taking away his private property.
What would moderns find lacking in ancient liberty?
Moderns would find practically everything about ancient liberty lacking. The liberty of the individual is thrown out of the window and replaced by the liberty of the city. They are basically complete opposites. For example, people who believe in the liberty of the moderns would find it very appalling that a person could just be removed from his family, property and everything else.