A frequent lament of civil libertarians is the lack of familiarity with the idea of liberty in the western intellectual tradition. Ask people about that history, and you begin to get an almost surreal feeling that "history" is what has happened over the past ten…
frequent lament of civil libertarians is the lack of familiarity with the idea of liberty in the western intellectual tradition. Ask people about that history, and you begin to get an almost surreal feeling that "history" is what has happened over the past ten or fifteen years. Before that–it was the dark ages, baby.
So I was pleased to discover that a group based right here in Indiana–in Hagerstown, of all places– has devised a unique and powerful way to bring the history of liberty to the attention of students and others. Called "The Remnant Trust," it takes its name from the biblical concept of the "saving remnant"–the relative handful who, throughout history, keep core traditions of a civilization alive. What the Remnant Trust proposes to keep alive is the idea of limited government and individual freedom.
The Trust has accumulated rare editions of seminal works–from the first English translations of Aristotle’s Politiques and Plato’s Republic to the works of Hobbes, Locke, Mill, Adam Smith, and Orwell, through The Federalist and Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. There are original printings of the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, and much more. But it is not the acquisition of these works that is noteworthy; the world has many collectors. The value of this particular collection is in its accessibility.
Those who founded the Remnant Trust did so in the belief that today’s students should have responsible access to these priceless works. There is something awe-inspiring about actually holding a first imprint of the proposed Bill of Rights (and seeing, by the way, that the original consisted of twelve amendments, not ten). There is an immediacy and an authenticity that cannot be duplicated by reading through excerpts in a "Survey of Government" textbook. The collection is currently working its way through college campuses around the country, where today’s students can examine the intellectual product of those who are long dead, but whose ideas have shaped the world we inhabit today.
It wouldn’t hurt some of our contemporary officeholders to review those original texts before rushing to enact more and more laws that circumscribe our liberties–all for our own good, of course. (Put that baby in the back seat! You can’t sell that without a license! If your teenager is out past eleven, you can pick him up at juvenile! Rent that video and we’ll get you for obscenity!) One wonders what Locke would have thought of the modern administrative state; what Adam Smith would have made of current economic regulations; or how Plato might have rated our elected leaders.
For many hundreds of years, wise and thoughtful people have worked to define the proper role of the state, and the limits that can morally be placed on personal liberty. Their works constitute a great legacy to us. Disregarding that legacy makes about as much sense as gambling away the money grandpa left.