Liberalism and libertarianism have deep roots in Western thought. A central feature of the religious and intellectual traditions of ancient Israel and ancient Greece was the idea of a higher moral law that applied universally and that constrained the powers of even kings and governments. Christian theologians, including Tertullian in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, stressed the moral worth of the individual and the division of the world into two realms, one of which was the province of God and thus beyond the power of the state to control. Libertarianism also was influenced by debates within Scholasticism on slavery and private property. Scholastic thinkers such as Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria, and Bartolomé de Las Casas developed the concept of “self-mastery” (dominium)—later called “self-propriety,” “property in one’s person,” or “self-ownership”—and showed how it could be the foundation of a system of individual rights (see belowLibertarian philosophy). In response to the growth of royal absolutism in early modern Europe, early libertarians, particularly those in the Netherlands and England, defended, developed, and radicalized existing notions of the rule of law, representative assemblies, and the rights of the people. In the mid-16th century, for example, the merchants of Antwerp successfully resisted the attempt by the Holy Roman emperor Charles V to introduce the Inquisition in their city, maintaining that it would contravene their traditional privileges and ruin their prosperity (and hence diminish the emperor’s tax income). Through the Petition of Right (1628) the English Parliament opposed efforts by King Charles I to impose taxes and compel loans from private citizens, to imprison subjects without due process of law, and to require subjects to quarter the king’s soldiers (see petition of right). The first well-developed statement of libertarianism, An Agreement of the People (1647), was produced by the radical republican Levelermovement during the English Civil Wars (1642–51). Presented to Parliament in 1649, it included the ideas of self-ownership, private property, legal equality, religious toleration, and limited, representative government. In the late 17th century, liberalism was given a sophisticated philosophical foundation in Locke’s theories of natural rights, including the right to private property and to government by consent. In the 18th century, Smith’s studies of the economic effects of free markets greatly advanced the liberal theory of “spontaneous order,” according to which some forms of order in society arise naturally and spontaneously, without central direction, from the independent activities of large numbers of individuals. The theory of spontaneous order is a central feature of libertarian social and economic thinking (see below Spontaneous order). The American Revolution (1775–83) was a watershed for liberalism. In the Declaration of Independence(1776), Jefferson enunciated many liberal and libertarian ideas, including the belief in “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” and the belief in the “right” and “duty” of citizens to “throw off such Government” that violates these rights. Indeed, during and after the American Revolution, according to the American historian Bernard Bailyn, “the major themes of eighteenth-century libertarianism were brought to realization” in written constitutions, bills of rights, and limits on executive and legislative powers, especially the power to wage war. Such values have remained at the core of American political thought ever since. During the 19th century, governments based on traditional liberal principles emerged in England and the United States and to a smaller extent in continental Europe. The rise of liberalism resulted in rapid technological development and a general increase in living standards, though large segments of the population remained...
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