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Celebrate Liberty

04 Jul 2011

In the United States we celebrate our national independence on the 4th of July. The full justification for the revolutionary war is a complex topic for a single post. In today's riff I'll briefly discuss the essential causes for the revolutionary war, and wrap up with far out thoughts on a form of democracy we may see emerge around the world in the coming decades.

One of the most well known reasons for the American Revolution is taxation without representation. In short the colonies were taxed without political representation in England. The rationale for revolution was based on heavy handed legislation from England without sufficient local autonomy for the colonies. The bloody outcome is the birth of the US as a nation1.

The Essential Elements of Liberty

The ideological movement known as the American Enlightenment was a critical precursor to the American Revolution. Chief among the ideas of the American Enlightenment were the concepts of liberalism, democracy, republicanism, and religious tolerance. Collectively, the belief in these concepts by a growing number of American colonists began to foster an intellectual environment which would lead to a new sense of political and social identity.

John Locke's (1632–1704) ideas on liberty greatly influenced the political thinking behind the revolution. John Locke's Two Treatises of Government, published in 1689, influenced American thinking. Locke convinced many of the Founders that among the "natural rights" of man was the right of the people to overthrow their leaders, should those leaders betray the historic rights of Englishmen.[5][6] In terms of writing state and national constitutions, the Americans relied on Montesquieu's promotion of the "balanced" British Constitution.
(source)

To read more from John Locke see The Second Treatise on Government, the readable format looks great in Instapaper, or a Mobi format for Kindle.

While the seeds of liberty have been harvested centuries ago, how far does the independence earned back then extend to modern personal freedoms?

The clash between rules of society and essential freedoms

The following question struck me as one we may learn the answer to in my lifetime as other nations and to a lesser extent our own, serve as evolutionary experiments of governing systems:

Would an alternative form of democracy exasperate or ameliorate the friction between individuals and government authority? Are legislative representatives necessary in times of modern widespread digital infrastructure?

An extreme form of democracy has no limit to its size or scope. In this notional political system elections occur fluidly, sparked by informed citizens and cover all aspects of distributed decision making. Yet this form of headless leadership is vulnerable to group ignorance and poor consistency2. In addition there's a necessity for slow decisions to allow a quorum of voters time to understand the details of each election. The real challenge we have yet to see met, can digital network voting outpace congress and outdated election systems?

Notes:

  1. On a lighter note, US federal and state income taxes today are lower than equivalent English levels (30-40% in the US vs 40-50% in UK ), although the UK has nationalized healthcare.
  2. Republicanism is a core principle of the US government because the founding father's feared mob rule