Curtis Dahlgren
Freedom's tipping points (a must-read); thoughts on the GSA, the NBA, and the BSA, too
By Curtis Dahlgren
April 26, 2012

"Zeitgeist, n. German, the general trend of thought and feeling of an era" [rationales plus emotions (literally "Age-spirit")]

GLOBAL WARMING? BAH HUMBUG! I woke up Friday morning to a winter wonderland. On "Earth Day" (Lenin's birthday), we had a quarter inch of ice on Fido's water dish (New York and Pennsylvania got snowbound). But the birds are tweeting, and this young man's thoughts turn to politics in spring (at least gender politics). The good news is there is no "AGW" but the bad news is we have bigger problems. Last year I asked a young man what he thought about America's future, and he said:

"I try not to think about it."

WELL, I'm not paid to think, but here's my 2-cents' worth. I'm just an old tree surgeon, but seriously, you can get stuff from this column one wouldn't get in four years at Harvard. I overheard more history in a 1-room school in 8 years than most college grads hear in a lifetime.


To put it in the form of a riddle, what do the years 1689, 1789, and 1989 have in common? These were historical "turning points" in time. Each was a "fork in the road to Freedom" (it didn't "evolve"; it took effort — blood, sweat, and tears)!

The subject was brought to mind by the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic, that ship that "even God couldn't sink." Some kids thought it was just fiction, and I didn't see the movie, but my parents were about 12 years old when it sank. The idea that it was unsinkable is what led to the shortage of lifeboats. There must be a lesson in there somewhere ("GOT LIFEBOAT"?).

To the crux of today's topic: To understand the Story of Freedom, you have to go to English history. While some writers in the Roman and Greek world sowed the seeds of Freedom, and the "Middle Ages" weren't all 'DARK,' a lot of things started to happen in England after the year 1215. Ask any American public school classroom "What was the Magna Carta?" and see how many blank stares you get. You may know what I'm talking about, but if not, look it up.

In 1215, Freedom was like a newborn being slapped on the butt by the doctor. It wasn't the end of slavery, but it was a beginning. It was an agreement in which the king literally gave up some of his ("divine") rights to the protesting nobility. Later, along comes English translations of the Bible, the printing press, the Reformation, and the spread of lliteracy (nothing happens in a vacuum, nor "over-night").

In 1689, Freedom began to try to take its baby-steps! That was the year William and Mary ascended to the throne. To quote from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition (1912):

"The revolution, as it was called, was more than a mere change of sovereigns. It finally transferred the ultimate decision in the state from the king to the parliament. What parliament had been in the 15th century with the House of Lords predominating, that parliament was to be again in the end of the 17th century with the House of Commons predominating . . .

"The House drew its strength from its position as a true representative of the effective strength of the nation [the landowners, etc]."

Freedom was going from walking to trying to run, like a 2-year-old. The "Commons" wasn't the commoners yet, but Freedom was on the move!


"No less important was the almost absolute independence of the judges, begun at the beginning of the reign [1689], by the grant of office to them during good behavior instead of during the king's pleasure . . . Such an improvement, however, finds its full counterpart in another great step already taken. The more representative a government becomes, the more necessary it is for the well-being of the nation that the expression of individual thought should be free . . " [ibid. throughout]


"It was fortunate that, just at the moment when parliamentary control was established over the state, circumstances should have arisen which made the majority ready to restore to the individual conscience [my emphasis] that supremacy over religion which the midieval ecclesiastics had claimed for the corporation of the universal church."

The Britannica here makes mention of contributions in thought made by writers such as Sir Thomas More, Francis Bacon, and others. It goes on with story of progress:

"Hence the Toleration Act, which guaranteed the right of separate assemblies for worship outside the pale of the church . . [embodying] the principles of Cromwell and Milton . . .

"The choice was one which posterity can heartily approve. However wide the limits of toleration are drawn, there will always be those who will be left who are without.

"From the moment of the passing of the Toleration Act, no Protestant in England performed any act of worship except by his own free and deliberate choice."

[This essentially means that even other churches, whether Roman or English or whatever, were better off filled with voluntary willing worshippers than by bullied ones.]

"The literary spokesman of the new system was [John] Locke. His Letters concerning Toleration laid down the principle which had been laid down by Cromwell, with a wider application than was possible in days when the state was in the hands of a mere minority only able to maintain itself in power by constant and suspicious [use of power]."


"The complement to the Toleration Act was the abolition of the censorship of the press (1695) . . . The attempt to fix certain opinions on the nation which were pleasing to those in power was abandoned by king and parliament alike. The nation, or at least so much as it cared to read books or pamphlets on political subjects, was acknowledged to be the supreme judge, which must therefore be allowed to listen to what counsellors it pleased.

"The new position of the nation made itself felt in various ways. It was William's merit that, fond as he was of power, he recognized the fact that he could not rule except so far as he carried the good will of the nation with him."

[With freedom of religion first and freedom of press following, mankind had made one small step, but a giant leap forward.]


It's a biblical principle, 100-year cycles. Every 50th year was a Jubilee Year (you can look it up), and two 50-year cycles make a 100-year centennial. We now come to the riddle I asked at the outset:

William and Mary ascended in 1689, George Washington was inaugurated in 1789, and in 1989 — the Berlin Wall fell, which opened the floodgates of Freedom to more of the globe, thanks to the English-speaking peoples.

The American Revolution was about independence from Britain, but not a revolt against the heritage of English thinkers such as John Locke. In the story of mankind, the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were more like a feet-to-feet forward flip than a mere "leap." Now representative republicanism was taking its baby steps, bringing the "common" people into the equation. Spirtual liberty and political liberty became the identical twin gramdsons of English thinkers, to the great benefit of most countries on earth.

Not that the "process" of Liberty's advance had been completed at Yorktown or Philadelphia. The education we geezers got never over-glorified the colonial achievement, but the Founders were definitely given honor. Although forced to choose between settling the slavery question immediately or focusing on Independence from the King, they chose the latter so as to bring all 13 colonies together. Even Martin Luther King, Jr. understood that while the Founders sowed the seeds, the seedlings of Liberty still needed cultivating.


It was about 100 years from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. It was 200 years from the War of 1812 and the first hints of a coming worldwide war (WWI), and in 1912, one of the men on Mount Rushmore lost an election.

It was about 50 years from the Russian hippie-nihilists to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The Nihilists assassinated the Tsar in March 1881, and Ronald Reagan was shot in March of 1981! Today's "nihilists," the Occupy bunch, wants to riot on May Day 2012. The year 2012 marks the end of a "cycle" on some Mayan calendars. If the year should end badly, what does this portend for 2017 — a second Bolshevik revolution?


I don't know, but I know that there's something called Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Age. In a word, the spirit of our age can be described as "fierce" (it's biblical; look it up). The spirit of viciousness is even affecting our sports. From the New Orleans Saints to the L.A. Lakers, you'd think they were all playing HOCKEY, eh?

American culture is right on the bubble, teetering on the brink, at a fork in the road, etc etc etc. On one hand there is the encouragement of Reason; on the other hand there's raw emotion and the antithesis of Reason. The latter would redefine Freedom from liberty of individual conscience — and a well-informed citizenry — to what Ann Coulter calls the demonic "ideas" of the mob. The Mob would change the definition of Freedom. If you look it up in a Thesaurus, here are some definitions of the "NEW freedom":

- free love

- license

- abandonment

- laxity

- lattitude

- uninhibited

- loose

P.S. I'll need to finish this column next time, but I asked the question, "Do you have a lifeboat in case we sink?" If your hope is in a lifeboat made of stocks, gold, or government — THINK ABOUT IT. It was significant that in England religious freedom preceeded other freedoms, as it did in colonial America. But the Boy Scouts have been overshadowed by gangs. Religion is openly ostrasized, especially in Academia. And corruption has almost taken over the government already.

In the absence of other reasons for optimism, I want to close with a prayer by the man who refused to be king (a slogan of the Founders was "No king but King Jesus." President Washington prayed:

"I make it my earnest prayer that God would have the United States in his Holy protection, that He would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field.

"And finally that He would dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble immitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation."



© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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