The 17th century English pamphleteer Cato ranked among the great enemies of Kings and champions of the common people. Like Algernon Sidney, John Trenchard, Thomas Paine, Sam Adams, and John Dickinson, he advocated an end to the Divine Right of Kings, and a beginning for the Rights of Men. They were the talk radio of their respective eras and helped fashion the 17th century Glorious Revolution in England and the even more glorious Revolution in America in the following century.
It is impressive to consider the lengthy time periods that were required to throw off the shackles of aristocratic authority from the shoulders of the common people. The Magna Carta had been signed by King John in 1215, six to seven hundred years before these more final revolutions occurred in England and the American colonies. The ordinary citizens had been striving for that long to make headway. And even the Glorious Revolution of the 1680’s didn’t grant enough rights to dissuade millions of Englishmen from leaving their homes and going to the New World.
It is even more humbling to recognize that that slow centuries long process of gaining freedom for a majority of English speaking citizens was the best there ever had been–anywhere on earth. England’s democritization was painfully slow, but at least it happened–and led to America’s full blown freedoms. Aside from a few other European nations, there was no movement to free individuals anywhere else on the Globe!
Now there had been antecedents in a few isolated outposts where there was no aristocracy or autocrats to tyrannize the people. Phoenicia, Greece, Rome, Venice, Holland, Iceland, and the Hanseatic cities had flourished while they remained free and open societies, but that’s only about a fraction of 1% of the world’s population! However, if you look at each of those rare free societies, even though they all Rose for a while to great affluence, sooner or later they all matured, withered, and Declined to obscurity.
The Riddle of History is Why, when these nations were small and isolated, with limited resources, poor school systems, struggling to grow food and manufacture tools and equipment, they somehow did all that, gained prosperity, and yet later, with better schools, a growing elite intellectual class, and expanded governmental systems in place, they commenced a Decline? Did adversity make the people work harder at first? What happened to end the upward progress of these successful enclaves?
And why was the existence of free societies restricted to this tiny handful of the world’s people? What was unique to those few “laboratories of history” that showed the way to personal liberty and affluence. The Radzewicz Rule suggests that it was economic freedom and an empowering Faith that allowed the common genius of a citizenry to flourish. But those conditions were extremely rare throughout history for all people. If you had been born somewhere at random on earth during the period from 3,000 BC to 1,775 AD, your odds or chance of gaining personal freedom would be akin to winning the Massachusetts mega jackpot! That is why the pamphleteers for liberty were so praiseworthy–where they were allowed to speak and write they demanded freedom.
Those scribblers, sneered at by the great Philosophers, wrote simply. They laid out the case for liberty in brief essays that were widely read by common people.. There was no need for academics to explain what they wrote. They knew of the actual cases in history where people had gained freedom and they called for more of the same.
Cato wrote, “The People, when they are not misled or corrupted, generally make a sound Judgment of Things. They have natural Qualifications equal to those of their Superiors; and there is oftener found a great Genius carrying a Pitchfork, than carrying a White Staff.”
In those two sentences, Cato attests to the fact that common people are often wiser than their intellectual and over-educated betters. However, Cato went on to make a key point about the Rise and Fall of Nations; he echoed the Radzewicz Rule axiom that successful societies were created by common folk only when they were free and unburdened by intellectuals.
Cato wrote: “Besides, there are not such mighty Talents requisite for Government, as some, who pretend to them without possessing them, would make us believe; Honest affections, and common Qualifications are sufficient; and the Administration has always been best executed, and the Publick Liberty best preserved, near the Origin and Rise of States, when plain Honesty and common Sense alone governed the public Affairs and the Morals of Men.”
There, in Cato’s fine words, is the answer to the Riddle– Young, vibrant societies are not burdened by non-productive elites that advise and consult but do no real work. They are unregulated, unrestricted, and the citizenry are forced to innovate and free to produce. Only after those ordinary people have created abundance can their society have the where-withall to support parasitic classes–mostly academics, utopianists, government employees, foundation employees and special interest groups.
All those new elites that emerge in successful nations are parasites–they were not present in the building–but now they have to carve out a comfortable niche for themselves. Since they are by definition non-productive, their only role can be found in directing the efforts of the remaining productive citizenry. Since they bring an inexperienced vision to the task, tainted with utopian abstractions, the resulting direction will always be counter-productive. This process continues and escalates over time. One mistaken policy requires another worse policy to correct the results of the last failure –and Decline sets in.
The amswer to the Riddle is counter-intuitive. But only if you have an undue respect for the intellectual elites that presume to control the nation from lofty non-productive perches on high. Remember that it was the Honest Affections of the common people at the beginning that made for Efficiency and the maintenance of Publick Liberty. And, sadly, it is the complex ideologies of the new elites that undermine the sturdy foundation built by those honest and simple people.