“If you're worried about the loss of freedom at home, and the attacks on Israel abroad, this important book should only reaffirm our commitment to stand tall.” —Glenn Beck
"How unusual is it, really, in the history of all known human experience, to enjoy the blessing of living free?"
The answer may surprise you. In The Miracle of Freedom, Chris and Ted Stewart make a strong case that fewer than 5 percent of all people who have ever lived on the earth have lived under conditions that we could consider “free.” So where did freedom come from, and how are we fortunate enough to experience it in our day?
“A deeper look at the human record,” write the authors, “reveals a series of critical events, obvious forks in the road leading to very different outcomes, that resulted in this extraordinary period in which we live.” They identify and discuss seven decisive tipping points:
- The defeat of the Assyrians in their quest to destroy the kingdom of Judah
- The victory of the Greeks over the Persians at Thermopylae and Salamis
- Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity
- The defeat of the armies of Islam at Poitiers
- The failure of the Mongols in their effort to conquer Europe
- The discovery of the New World
- The Battle of Britain in World War II
The journey to freedom has been thousands of years long. Now that it has found its place in the world, the question for those of us who experience its benefits is simply this: Will we work to preserve the miracle of freedom that we enjoy today?
- Two Gods at War
- How the Greeks Saved the West
- Miracle at the Bridge
- The Battle That Preserved a Christian Europe
- The Mongol Horde Turns Back
- How the New World Saved the Old
- The Battle of Britain Conclusion
- Pages: 320
- Size: 6x9
- Published: May 2011
- Book on CD: Unabridged
- Running Time: Approx. 10.5 hrs.
- Number of Discs: 8
About the AuthorsChris Stewart is a New York Times bestselling author who has published more than a dozen books, has been selected by the Book of the Month Club, and has released titles in multiple languages in seven countries. He has also been a guest editorialist for the Detroit News, among other publications, commenting on matters of military readiness and national security concerns. He is a world-record-setting Air Force pilot (fastest nonstop flight around the world) and president and CEO of The Shipley Group, a nationally recognized consulting and training company.Ted Stewart was appointed as a United States District Court Judge in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff to Governor Michael O. Leavitt, as executive director of the State Department of Natural Resources, as a member and chairman of the Public Service Commission, and as chief of staff to Congressman Jim Hansen. He has been a visiting professor at two state universities, teaching courses in law and public policy. He is the New York Times bestselling author of The Miracle of Freedom: 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World.
Along the Southern Nile River
AKHENATEN AMSU WAS A strong man. At more than six feet and two hundred pounds, with the sharp face of his Philistine fathers and the olive skin of a mother whose ancestors had been lost in a thousand years of time, he stood above the other slaves in many uncomfortable ways. With the average Egyptian being just more than 150 pounds, it was obvious that Akhenaten Amsu had been taken care of, at least in the early part of his life, for he was not only tall but broad. And though the last few years had been terribly debilitating, he was still strong.
As he toiled, his back to the sun, the day passed exactly as the day before had passed. And though he didn’t realize it, this day was his seventeenth birthday. Had he remembered, he might have taken a moment to consider the life that lay ahead. Nothing but toil and work and death. A million tons of rock to cut and shape and move. Sometime around the age of thirty, he would almost certainly be dead.
Like a calf that had been fattened at the troughs of the king before being led to the slaughter, Akhenaten Amsu had spent his youth away from his family, fed and trained and strengthened in order to prepare him to spend his life as a quarry master, extracting and shaping stone. And that was all he would do now. It was backbreaking work, as crushing as the weight of the rock around him. Eighteen hours a day. Seven days a week. The heat of the Egyptian summer. The unrelenting whip of his taskmaster—a fellow slave who had murdered and extorted his way to the coveted position of overseeing his lesser brothers.
That was all that was expected of him now: ten or fifteen years of cruel labor. Cut the stone. Build the temple. Sacrifice his body to the pharaoh and his gods.
The irony wasn’t lost on Akhenaten Amsu, for he was not a stupid man. Tens of thousands of his fellow slaves would work until they died, all to build nothing but a temple in which they would bury another man.
And the reward for all his efforts? Life. Food. A little water every hour. Straw to make a bed when he was exhausted. A sparse whip if he was dedicated. A sharp-tongued crack if he was slow. Because he was strong, he would be forced to father children, all of whom would be committed to the same fate as his. All of his children and grandchildren would be born into a life of slavery and broken dreams.
Hearing sudden grunts of pain, Akhenaten Amsu lifted his eyes to see his master beating another slave. Taking advantage of the moment, he stood and stretched, twisting to lessen some of the ache in the muscle that wrapped around his spine. Looking at his hands, as rough as leather, and hearing the crack of joints up and down his back, he felt the early signs of aging. It made him cringe, seeing his body so abused.
Glancing quickly to the south, he saw a line of dust that followed the dirt road that led from the quarry to the site of the new temple, an unknown number of miles away. He hadn’t seen it, and he never would, but he had heard of its magnificence, a pyramid of carefully cut rock rising over the river. Between the quarry and the temple there was nothing but sand baking in the desert heat. Closer in, if he squinted, he could just make out the wadi where they threw the bodies of his fellow slaves when they were done, the heat and desert quickly stripping them to nothing but leather and bone. Looking west, he could see that the sun was just setting. Soon the torches that would allow them to continue their endless work would be passed around and lit.
Why? Akhenaten Amsu wondered for at least the thousandth time. Why have I been robbed of any hope?
He looked at the setting sun again. His masters worshipped many gods, but none more than the gods of the sky, and so they had become some of the greatest astronomers the world had ever seen. Having been taught a little from the masters, Akhenaten Amsu had a sense of space and time, a sense of his place in the world. And one thing was always certain. He would die a slave.
Yet sometimes he had to wonder.
Would men always live in such a world?
He turned back to his work, never knowing that more than fifteen hundred years later, on the other side of the world, a child would ask the same question as he did.Hangchow, China
Just before the reign of Emperor Shih Huang Ti
ZHU RAUN SUNG WAS only twelve, but he already understood the most important lessons that life had to teach. He knew how to work. He knew how to get by on nothing but a daily bowl of rice with an occasional chicken foot or rat bone for sustenance. He knew when to talk and when to be silent, when to bow and when to run. He knew he would honor his father and their ancestors until the day that he died, just as his children would honor him even in his old age. He knew that in four years he would marry a girl he might care for or maybe not, the primary purpose of the marriage being to produce children who could labor alongside him on the ragged piece of land that they were tasked to work. He knew he would never own his own home or even an animal except for maybe a rabbit or a dog. Every piece of ground, every hut, every building, city wall, shop, water hole, and piece of furniture or food belonged to the royal family and no one else.
Most important, he knew that he and his family would always live to serve the royals and their warriors, surrendering everything they had, even providing their children as a human sacrifice if the occasion presented itself.
Had Zhu Raun been born in a more forgiving time, he might have risen to a position of favor or power, for he was handsome and intelligent and willing to take a chance. But that wasn’t to be. And Zhu Raun knew it. His expectations had been adjusted to the realities of his day.
Lying on the dirt floor, a cushion of cottonwood leaves for his bed, Zhu Raun looked around the one-room shack in the early morning light. His mother and father slept beside him, his younger brother and two sisters balled together at his feet. A couple of pigs had slipped through the open door and were sleeping in the slant of sunlight shining through the cracks in the thatch roof. The shack was situated in one of a dozen small villages half a day’s walk from the Great City’s outer wall. Three hundred thousand people lived inside the city, a number Zhu Raun couldn’t begin to comprehend, but he was not one of them. Indeed, he had been inside the city only a few times in his life. But having been inside the city, he knew that the nobles lived a life of luxury that was beyond his dreams.
Turning his head, Zhu Raun looked at the glistening goblets his father had created in the kiln that he and a hundred other farmers shared beside the communal well. His eyes grew wide as he stared at the beautiful creations. They were quite simply the most wonderful things he had ever seen. Brilliant, with red swans and purple wildflowers, the gifts represented at least a quarter of his family’s total wealth.
And today they would be given to the royal family and buried with the king.
The tradition went back an unknown number of generations. When a king died, hundreds—or, if he had been particularly powerful, thousands—of slaves and peasants were sacrificed and buried with him, along with the most valuable treasures the empire’s peasants could produce.
Today, along with their beautiful gifts, the village would offer up a child to be sacrificed to the king.
And though he didn’t know it yet, Zhu Raun was going to be that sacrifice.
Three hours later, his head bowed, his heart racing so hard he thought it might explode, Zhu Raun had a rope tightened around his neck and was led away.
As he walked, his hands bound, the biting rope making it difficult to breathe, he built the courage to glance back at his family. His mother was on her knees, weeping into her palms. His father stood beside her, one hand on her shoulder, his chest trembling with rage. His younger brother and little sisters had already been led away, protected from the terrifying scene by the kindness of friends.
As Zhu Raun nodded to his father, a sudden thought raced through his mind. Will it always be this way? he wondered in fear and grief.
Then the rope was tugged and he was mercilessly pulled away.
And because the world wasn’t ready yet, another eighteen hundred years would pass away.
Czech State (Bohemia)
Winter, AD 1696
THE JEWISH FATHER PULLED his son close as they huddled against the misty rain. The river was calm, as if it had stopped flowing altogether, pellets of rain creating a million tiny ripples to break the water’s surface. It was cold, the early winter deep and chill, and the young boy leaned into his father, feeling for the warmth of his coat.
They stared sadly at the statue that stood over the Charles Bridge, a beautiful Gothic overpass that spanned the Old Town and Mala Stran. The great king Charles, a powerful leader who had gone on to become the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, had commissioned the bridge almost three hundred years before. Guarded on both ends by thick stone towers, the Kamenn most, or Stone Bridge, as it had originally been called, was one of the great architectural achievements in the entire Bohemian kingdom, which had reached its crest of power now.
The father looked at the statue of the Christian god and thought of the events of the last few weeks. A leader of the Jewish neighborhood, he had been accused of blasphemy against the Holy Christ. As punishment, he had been forced to create a ring of gold-plated Hebrew letters and place them around the statue’s neck. Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts, the sign read.
The sacred words, taken from the book of Isaiah, were part of a blessed Jewish prayer.
His son, he knew, shared in his humiliation. He felt the shame of his people, their history, their culture, even now their great Jehovah. The sacred words were intended for the Messiah only, not for the Christian god.
The father looked down at his son, reading the look in his eyes. “God exempts the man who is constrained,” he said in a quiet voice.
The son pressed his lips together.
They had all heard the Hebrew saying far too many times before. This wasn’t the first time their people had been forced to denigrate their faith.
The father shook his head, then glanced down at the crimson badge his people were forced to wear. The first Jewish ghetto had sprung up in Spain about three hundred years before, but the idea had been embraced until ghettos were common throughout all of Europe now: Madrid, Barcelona, Venice, Rome, and Prague. He thought of the accusations all of them endured. Blood Libels, they were called. Jews had been accused of ritual killings since the height of the Crusades, when all the heretics (Jews, Muslims, and suspicious Christians) had been forced to hide or flee. Some of his own -ancestors had been accused of killing Christian children and using their blood to make unleavened bread for the Passover.
Pulling his coat against the humid chill, the father looked east, knowing the hatred from his fellow citizens was not the most dangerous of his concerns.
He thought of the brutal Cossack army that had swept through the heart of Eastern Europe not too many years before, massacring the Poles and Jews as if they were rats or wolves. Even now, he knew that nothing stood between the deadly Cossacks and the place that he called home. Nothing stood between the Jewish ghettos and the evil governments and institutions that had sent his people here. Nothing stood between the Jewish people and the superstitious hatred that had been growing for five hundred years.
His people were alone. No one would stand up to defend them. No state, no nation, no religious institution or act of man, nothing could protect them from their enemies, even if they had wanted to.
Looking at his child, he prayed for words that might give his son a little hope. Having none, he held his tongue and pulled his son close.
Office of Information
Omsk, Siberia, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
THE RUSSIAN INVESTIGATOR stared at the papers scattered across his desk, then leaned back and closed his eyes, unconsciously holding his breath.
It was too much. It simply couldn’t be! The numbers didn’t make any sense!
He stared at the water-stained ceiling and exhaled, then closed his eyes again.
Forty million people in the first generation. Maybe ten or twenty million after that.
Leaning forward, he let his breath escape, then picked up a yellow page from the top of the pile and read some of the numbers that he had just compiled.
Sixty million people!
And we did this to ourselves!
Gulag. Glavnoye Upravlyeniye
At one time, there had been at least five hundred separate labor, penal, or “reeducation” camps scattered throughout the Communist nation, a vast majority of them concentrated in the northern tiers, each of them containing tens of thousands of the dying and condemned. Indeed, some of the major industrial cities in northern Russia had been built entirely upon the back of prison labor. More than fourteen million people passed through the gulag in a span of only twenty years. During this same time, another six to seven million were exiled to various “unofficial” Siberian labor and reeducation camps, where they were essentially worked to death.
By the early 1960s, the Soviet government had officially disbanded the gulag camps. Or at least they had on paper. In reality, the prisons continued operating in newly renamed “colonies.” For a man who had, as a Communist party member, committed his life to furthering the Stalinist cause, it was devastating for the investigator to realize how many of his countrymen the party had killed. Millions of Soviet citizens! Many guilty of nothing more than being orphans or not having a place to live. There were stories of starving children sent away for stealing bread. Political prisoners who let slip the wrong word or phrase. Women who had done nothing more than ask the local party leader when they could expect to get some firewood. Millions of innocent victims, condemned by a government that craved tyranny and power.
The official records indicated that only a million prisoners had died in reeducation and labor camps. The Russian scoffed. It was a joke. He knew that the common practice was to release prisoners a few days before they died, removing them from any official government list of the dead.
And though some of the gulag inmates were not political prisoners, he knew that many of them were. He glanced to a green binder on the floor. Demetrius Kosack. Age -twenty-two. Married. Father of two. The young man’s father had been a colonel in the Russian army during World War II. He was a loyal party member himself. It didn’t matter. One morning he had whispered an antigovernment joke. He had been reported before noon, arrested before his shift was over, and on his way to a Siberian camp before the sun had set. No trial. No defense. No appeal. Sentenced to fourteen years of hard labor. Dead of tuberculosis halfway through his sentence. Buried in the Siberian snow.
And there were vaults the size of football fields with green folders just like this one.
He took another long breath and closed his eyes. Depressing as it was, he felt a shiver of relief.
Things were changing. He could feel it.
And he was right.
The Age of Freedom was finally near.
From the most ancient civilizations to modern times, across every continent and culture, from generations and kingdoms lost in the fog of history to the well-documented atrocities of modern day, stories such as those just related represent how most members of the human family have lived. As foreign as such accounts may be to our experience, and as dispiriting as they may seem, they might be told more than a hundred billion times, for they represent the vast majority of the human experience.
Indeed, these examples illustrate the common hopelessness that was pervasive in the day-to-day lives of most of the men and women who have been born into this world. Such were the only expectations they ever had for their lives. Scraping out a meager existence, many times on the brink of starvation or death. Fear. Nowhere to turn for justice. No police or local magistrates to protect them. Government the source of oppression rather than protection. No voice ever raised to protect the young, the weak, the women, those who could not protect themselves. Control the only thing that mattered. Power. Strength. The sword.
Liberty Is Not the Norm
For those of us living in the United States, a nation that has experienced more than two hundred years of unparalleled liberty, it is easy to take for granted the extraordinary gifts we have been given. And for most of us, it is much easier to become lackadaisical about these gifts than it is for the inhabitants of other nations who are forced to struggle every day in their battle for liberty. In fact, unless we are serious students of world history, or have traveled extensively, we might not recognize how unique the blessings of liberty actually are.
Throughout the age of human experience, most people have never been afforded the simple right of the freedom to choose. The great exception to this truth is the modern age—by which we mean the years since the United States of America has been in existence—and even in this modern age, with the exception of the United States, freedom and democracy are not universal and have not been of a long duration. These gifts are limited to those countries that we refer to as the West, meaning Europe and the United States of America, and those few nations scattered around the world that have emulated the Western form of political philosophy and government.
In the Beginning
As illustrated in the personal narratives above, individual freedom is an idea that has been barely recognized for most of human history. True, there are a few examples of rare cultures or extraordinary leaders who at least tried to understand the value of freedom and justice, but they are few and far between. One example would be the ancient Babylonian king Hammurabi, who in 1790 BC put forward a code that would assure “that the strong should not harm the weak.”1 In the Jewish law, as found in Leviticus 19:15, Jehovah tells the people, “Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor.”
Scattered examples of justice and acknowledgment of individual dignity aside, the fact remains that the majority of human beings have never even thought about the possibility of living under the protection of a government that would honor their individual rights or grant them freedom.
Which then raises a certain question: Are oppression, tyranny, and fear the natural order of things?
Looking over the span of human history, the answer would seem to be -undeniably yes.
Nineteenth-century French philosopher Frederic Bastiat argued in his short but powerful work The Law that “it is injustice, instead of justice, that has an existence of its own. Justice is achieved only when injustice is absent.”2
In Bastiat’s view, injustice is the norm, the instinctive way of man. He claims that, in order for justice to prevail, injustice must first be eliminated, a difficult and extraordinarily rare thing to do.
Other learned opinions—as well as historical evidence that we will discuss later—seem to agree with this view. For example, projecting what a future historian might say about our day, one distinguished American, Dr. Walter Williams, made the following observation:
Mankind’s history is one of systematic, arbitrary abuse and control by the elite. . . . It is a tragic history where hundreds of millions of unfortunate souls have been slaughtered, mostly by their own government. A historian writing 200 or 300 years from now might view the liberties that existed for a tiny portion of mankind’s population, mostly in the western world, for only a tiny portion of its history, the last century or two, as a historical curiosity that defies explanation. That historian might also observe that the curiosity was only a temporary phenomenon and mankind reverted back to the traditional state of affairs—-arbitrary control and abuse.3
Williams’s point is hard to dismiss. This modern day we live in, with the unimaginable blessings of freedom and liberty, is the aberration, not the norm. Further, simply because freedom exists today does not guarantee this gift will survive for future generations.
The Few We Are
How unusual is it, really, in the history of all known human experience, to enjoy the blessings of living free? What are the odds of being born in such a day?
The best estimates of how many people have ever lived on the earth range from 100 to 110 billion. Freedom House estimates that approximately three billion of the earth’s current population live in “free” nations.4 Most of this is due to the fact that the number of free nations has almost doubled in the last generation.5
It has also been estimated that 554 million people have lived under freedom in the United States since 1780.6 We can also postulate that perhaps another billion, or fewer, have lived under freedom in the other European nations that evolved, in fits and spurts, into free nations during the twentieth century.
Even being generous in our estimates, it seems clear that fewer than five billion of the earth’s total inhabitants have ever lived under conditions that we could consider free. This would be something like 4.5 percent of people who have ever lived. And these are generous estimates. The actual numbers might be much lower than this.
Which is, as Dr. Williams said, truly a “tiny portion of mankind’s population.”
Even more surprising is the fact that freedom is a relatively unstable marvel. For example, in a recent work, Yale professor Robert Dahl could identify only twenty-two nations with a democracy older than fifty years. Think about that! Even now, when most of us consider free will and self-government as the norm, there are only twenty-two nations that have lived under a democratic form of government for even a single lifetime. (Most of the nations Dahl identified were European or English speaking, with Costa Rica being the only Latin American country, Israel the only nation in the Middle East, and Japan the only nation in Asia.)7
What Do We Mean By “Democracy”
Any analysis of the rarity of freedom and democracy8 is complicated by the fact that the very definition of freedom is subjective and that the term democracy has many meanings.9
So how do we define those salient terms?
Perhaps we ought to start at the beginning, that is, with what our Founding Fathers considered the fundamental truths that justified their rebellion, those principles of government that, if denied, gave just cause to sever ties to their mother land and go to war:
We hold these truths to be self–evident, That all men are created equal, That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
That among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,
Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.10
Considering these inspired words, our own understanding of history and political philosophy, as well as the practical need to encompass a number of political values into shorthand terms, we are led to suggest definitions of freedom and democracy that include the following five characteristics:
1. Self-government. The right of the people to govern themselves, and the right of the people to form the type of government that they choose. This includes an acknowledgment that those who govern do so only by the consent of the governed. It means the right of the people to choose those who will make and enforce the laws and the right of the people to refuse to be governed by those that are not so chosen.
2. Fundamental rights. All people are born with certain fundamental rights. It is understood that those rights include the right to life and personal liberty, and the right to keep one’s property and the fruits of one’s labor. These personal liberties would include freedom of speech, religion, thought, the press, and movement, among others. We believe it is understood that these rights, or liberties, are inherent and unalienable and do not come from a constitution or laws or any government, but from God.
3. All are created equal. A belief in the equality of all at birth, including the belief that a major role of government is to assure that everyone, regardless of status, is treated equally by the law and that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed or fail.
4. Commitment to justice. By justice we mean that condition wherein each man or woman is rendered that to which they are entitled; that is, they should receive their earned rewards or punishments regardless of how rich or powerful they are or what class or race they may belong to.
5. Commitment to the rule of law. All people are subject to the same law—be they president or common citizen. This means that no man or woman can ignore the rightful laws of the land without being punished.
These five principles, values, or characteristics are what we mean when we make reference to democracy and freedom throughout this book.
The Importance of Economic Freedom
In addition to the freedoms listed above, our Founding Fathers clearly understood the importance of, and sought for the protection of, our economic freedom. One of the foundational freedoms mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is the right to the “pursuit of happiness,” which would include the right to receive the reward of our work or actions. Our Constitution also guarantees the right of private property.
Recently it has become fashionable to demonize successful individuals, as if their accomplishments were attributable to nothing more than being the lucky winners on an uneven playing field. In fact, some national leaders have become so critical of wealth and success that they actually seek to implement policies that would lead to overall decreases in wealth and technology.11 But there is no doubt that economic freedom has led to the greater common good, including less poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, and oppression of the defenseless.
Recent studies also show that many leading measures of environmental quality are closely tied to improvements in national incomes.12 For example, twenty-three of the top twenty-five most polluted sites in the world are found in current or former Communist nations—governments that, by definition, do not honor economic freedom.13
Recent studies by the National Bureau of Economic Research also indicate a strong correlation between economic freedom and the significant decrease in world poverty that has taken place over the past forty years.14 Other well-respected studies show a strong link between a country’s wealth and other significant measures of well-being, including innovation and expanded economic opportunities.15
Considering the benefits that are attributable to economic freedom, is it any wonder that it is one of the first of our freedoms that our enemies seek to destroy?
Why Did Freedom Happen?
Why has the West produced such a rare, and historically counterintuitive, commitment to democracy and freedom? What extraordinary events in history worked in concert to create circumstances in which we—a fraction of the people who have lived on the earth—could enjoy self-government, belief in the equality of man, the rule of law, pursuit of justice, and a focus on personal liberty? How are we so lucky? To what do we owe this great blessing?
Many scholars confidently assert that it was the Greeks who gave birth to these beliefs, which were then nourished by Christianity in such a way as to make possible modern-day concepts of freedom and democracy. Rodney Stark, one of the most notable authorities of the impact of Christianity upon Western thinking, has written extensively on the subject. In one of his several books on the subject, he explains:
While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth. Christian faith in reason was influenced by Greek philosophy. . . . But from the early days, the church fathers taught that reason was the supreme gift from God. . . . Faith in the power of reason infused Western culture, stimulating the pursuit of science and the evolution of democratic theory and practice. The rise of capitalism was also a victory for church-inspired reason.16
Throughout his works, Stark argues persuasively that the rise
of Western thought in Europe, based upon reason, faith in progress, personal freedom, and capitalism, was the direct result of Christian theology.17
Without doubt, the greatest achievement of Western thought was the birth of the United States of America. The United States is the cradle of self-government, freedom, and liberty. From its inception, it has provided the best evidence that democracy and freedom can not only work but prosper.
The values of equality and justice clearly flourished in this land. Belief in the rule of law was first proven to succeed in America and, for more than two hundred years, this nation has been the primary example of—and inspiration for—these values throughout the world.
How Did It Happen?
It seems that misery wasn’t the outcome that God intended for this world, for over millennia of time a miracle took place. It happened so slowly and so sporadically that in most cases the progress went completely unnoticed, so much so that even with the benefit of hindsight some of these steps of progress are difficult to identify and understand. But they did take place. Over centuries of human development, things changed.
A deeper look at the human record reveals a series of critical events, obvious forks in the road leading to very different outcomes, that resulted in this extraordinary period in which we live. These tipping points—foundational events that allowed for the marriage of Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian theology—laid the bedrock for democracy and freedom in our modern age.
Seven of the most important of these historical tipping points would be:
1. The defeat of the Assyrians in their quest to destroy the kingdom of Judah
As recorded in the Old Testament (as well as in -non-biblical sources), after the Assyrian army had defeated the kingdom of Israel and dispersed the Ten Tribes “to the north,” the Assyrian king sought to do the same thing to the kingdom of Judah. Suddenly, and uncharacteristically, the king changed his mind, deciding not to annihilate the kingdom of Judah—including the capital city of Jerusalem—but instead turning his armies and leaving the city in peace. The result was critical to the development of the modern world, for had Assyria succeeded in destroying Judah and Jerusalem, its population would have been “lost,” as were the Ten Tribes before. Had this happened, there would have been no Jewish state in which to plant Christianity.
2. The victory of the Greeks over the Persians at Thermopylae and Salamis
Had the Persians succeeded in defeating the Greek city-states, Greek philosophy, with its emphasis on individual rights and its experimentation with democracy, as well as Greek advances in science and culture, would not have survived. If that had happened, there would have been no Alexander the Great to spread the Greek culture throughout the Middle and Near East (generally those nations between the Mediterranean Sea and present-day Iran). Without the Greek influence bestowed by Alexander, Rome would have been a very different type of empire. Without the overwhelming influence of Rome, Europe would have evolved into a different place, far more the product of Eastern culture than those Western principles steeped in Greek philosophy and beliefs.
3. Roman Emperor Constantine’s
conversion to Christianity
For both good and bad, the early history of Christianity was intimately tied to the Roman Empire. For several hundred years after the death of Christ, Christianity was deemed to be subversive, the Christians persecuted to the point of death. However, the conversion of Constantine to Christianity (in about AD 312) and his subsequent adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire allowed that religion not just to survive but to flourish and spread until it became the dominant religion of Europe. Had Christianity not survived, Europe, and then America, would have developed with very different attitudes about self-government, free will, and human rights.
4. The defeat of the armies of Islam at Poitiers
In AD 732, Charles Martel defeated a powerful and seemingly unstoppable Islamic army in what was to become known as the Battle of Poitiers. This battle, which the Arab people refer to as ma‘arakat Balâ ash-Shuhadâ or the Battle of the Court of the Martyrs, took place in central France and is considered by many historians as the turning point in the defense of Christianity in Europe. Though the fight to keep Islamic armies from conquering Europe continued intermittently for another nine hundred years, the Battle of Poitiers was unquestionably the high point in the Muslim conquest of Western Europe. Had the Franks not succeeded there, the armies of Islam would have continued their impassioned effort to conquer the world in the name of Muhammad. Had that been the case, respect for religious freedom, minority rights, women’s rights, and governments based on reason and democracy would surely not exist.
5. The failure of the Mongols in their effort to conquer Europe in AD 1241
After sweeping through Asia, the savage and uncivilized Mongols were poised to overcome the weakened, corrupt, and disorganized European states. Then, just as the Mongols arrived at the gates of Vienna, they suffered the death of their great leader. As a result, the Mongols withdrew their attack, never to return—allowing Europe to continue its development unhindered by the brutal and destructive Mongol hordes.
6. The discovery of the New World
With its wealth in gold, silver, and other natural resources, along with new food sources and its ability to fire the imagination and thirst to explore, the discovery of the New World ushered in a new and golden era throughout Europe. The great wealth that was created with the discovery of the Americas gave rise to European nations with sufficient power to defeat the repressive and brutal Islamic army that was again knocking on the doors of European capitals. The discovery of the New World also spawned critical developments in science, navigation, architecture, military tactics, weapons, and human resources, all of which secured the future of Europe as the rising empire in the world. Most important, it allowed Europe to evolve into the home of Western political philosophy and thought.
7. The Battle of Britain in World War II
In May 1940, the pagan and tyrannical government of Nazi Germany threatened to bring all of Europe under its dark rule. Britain was the last free European government that stood in its way. Though they faced what seemed to be certain annihilation, the British mustered the courage to make a final stand against the overwhelming power of the Third Reich. Winston Churchill and the people of Great Britain refused to surrender—thereby preserving democracy and freedom for generations yet to come.
All of these critical events in history will be explored in the following chapters.
It is important to understand that, in and of themselves, none of these events created the gift of freedom that we enjoy today. However, each of them proved to be a critical tipping point in which the future of the world was altered, creating the cradle in which the gift of democracy could be born and flourish in our day. (And yes, there are many other events that would make this story more complete, but time and space must limit our effort to just these seven.)
- Simply put, the case that we intend to make is this:
Freedom and democracy are extraordinarily rare events in human history. Indeed, only a tiny fraction of humans have been given the opportunity of living in a free land.
Throughout history, critical tipping points have occurred upon which the foundational elements of democracy and free governments have been laid. Many of these critical forks in the road occurred thousands of years before the event would bear the fruit of freedom. Some have happened in modern day. All of them were necessary for the world to enjoy the sudden expansion of free governments that we see today.
It wasn’t inevitable that the Free Age would evolve as it did. The outcomes that generated this wave of freedom were never assured, and world history would have been dramatically altered if any one of these events had turned out differently, making the golden age of freedom impossible in our day.
The first steps taken toward creating an environment where freedom and democracy could sprout took place more than 2,700 years ago. Two hundred years later, another step was taken. Eight hundred years after that, another step. The journey has been long and tiresome, the quiet march to freedom taking millennia to complete. Yet each of these steps has proven critical to the incalculable blessing of freedom that so many citizens of the world enjoy today.
A Final Word of Warning
It is important to note that democracy and freedom are very fleeting—they can be possessed and then lost. A nation might be democratic for a period of time and then, through spasms of internal strife or war, revert to despotism. Over the past 225 years this has been shown again and again to be true, the tides of democracy causing many nations to sample and then lose the great gifts of freedom and democracy. The experience of Germany prior to World War I, immediately thereafter, and then during the reign of Hitler is a graphic example of this truth.
In a recently published book entitled Democratization, the authors point out that from 1783 until 1828 the United States stood entirely alone—the only free republic in the world. Then, from 1828 to 1926, there was a move of freedom when a small number of nations in Western Europe joined the United States as democratic governments. But, like a wave receding upon the shore, many of these fledgling free nations stepped back into fascist and repressive regimes when a storm of antidemocratic forces permeated much of the world during the period from 1922 to 1942. Italy. Germany. Spain. Many nations turned away from freedom. The end of World War II brought on another wave of free republics that lasted until 1962, when a second wave of regression occurred, swallowing infant democracies once again. Beginning in 1974, a third surge of democracy and freedom took place.18
Is it possible that another reverse wave of tyranny and oppression may follow? Will some—or many—of the fledgling democracies that briefly tilted against the winds of the natural state of men fall back into repressive governments?
One would have to ignore the trends of history to assume it couldn’t be so.
In fact, it is arguable that we are already witnessing another wave of repression.
Many of the nations that took significant steps toward democracy after the fall of the Berlin Wall have reverted back to despotism. In a 2010 study, Freedom House determined that fourteen of the
twenty-nine countries from the former Soviet Union or Warsaw Pact saw their freedoms eroding.19 And they are not alone; upheavals throughout the Mediterranean, Iberian Peninsula, and Central America show that the fragility of democracy extends far beyond the former Soviet or Warsaw Pact nations.
Speaking on this loss of democracy, Freedom House reported what they called a “global political recession,” explaining that more nations are currently experiencing declines in freedom than there are nations that are experiencing gains.20 Even some stable and formerly friendly democracies have adopted a seemingly bitter view of the West, festering with
anti-Americanism that cracks at the partnerships that have defended democracies for the last sixty years. All this while powerful nations such as China, Russia, and Venezuela, along with aggressively repressive regimes like North Korea and Iran, seek to expand their influence.
Considering these troubling facts, is there any doubt that history is capable of repeating itself?
The rarity of freedom is matched only by its fragility, its ebbs and flows unpredictable and unsure. And though it is impossible to know the future, this one thing is certain: If we do not appreciate the delicate nature of those singular events that resulted in this enlightened and blessed sliver of world history, it is much more likely that the norm of tyranny will be reestablished.
It’s entirely possible that our children or grandchildren might once again live under the abusive hands of powerful and vicious tyrants.
If that were to happen, that precious thing we call liberty would become nothing but a memory.
Brings history to life
by William - reviewed on September 12, 2011
One of the best books I have ever read. I relearned history is a way I never would have imagined. Very easy to read and extremely hard to put down. It was in my hand every chance I got. I very highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of how these miracles helped to shape the freedom we enjoy now.
From What Events Was Freedom Developed
by Daniel - reviewed on February 27, 2012
Chris and Ted Stewart describe how freedom was shaped in “The Miracle of Freedom 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World”. History is told as a story of many different events and how each provided for freedoms to be had. I found this book an extremely powerful reminder of how many people have lived under tyranny and how we have been blessed by living under such freedoms whereas others haven’t had that opportunity. “The Miracle of Freedom 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World” states “A deeper look at the human record reveals a series of critical events, obvious forks in the road leading to very different outcomes, that resulted in this extraordinary period in which we live.” Freedom was gained by the outcomes of the seven different events discussed by the authors. In each case history is presented along with a small narration from people of that time. Near the end of each chapter the authors discuss “What If” things had gone differently. Through their discussions it is easy to see that each event is especially important and closely linked to freedom. It is clear to see that the authors have done research and as a result have a deep understanding of these events. The only thing that one would need to get used to is that they do jump back and forth between the narrative and history. They make sure to separate them so the reader can clearly distinguish between the two.