Just as a sample, consider how you would conduct a secret ballot while ensuring that only those who are eligible actually voted. What is required? Here is my starter list (Note that there are peripheral technologies I am not listing):
- You need writing implements, say a pencil or a pen;
- you need inexpensive widely available paper;
- you need a building in which to hold the election, or at least a tent to protect the ballots from inclement weather. Buildings require a host of technologies and trade knowlege, ranging from foundations to masonry, woodworking, plumbing, heating, windowmaking and others;
- you need tables, and probably chairs, too. These require a whole host of wood and metal working technologies, including but not limited to board making and smoothing, drilling, sawing, gluing and fastening, etc., etc.;
- a flat floor is pretty nice to have, so your tables don't rock; this could be brick, concrete, or plank floors, either split and adzed or sawn lumber. You also need a means to determine whether the floor is flat or level. This means a long straight edge, or the ability to make string, and a bubble level, engineer's level or plumb bob and square;
- You need universal or near universal literacy, at least among the voters, if the ballots are written. This takes books, (printing, cheap paper again and binding technologies,) teachers, librarians, and a way to teach people to read and write;
- You need printing, to produce identical ballots in quantity, or a lot of scribes and someone to check the work being done by the scribes;
- You need a list of who is eligible, from records of who has registered to vote. This means technologies for record-keeping and record FINDING and organization, among others.
- We need people who are wealthy enough to have the time to spend to go and vote.
- The culture needs to be well-ordered and peaceful enough for people to be able to leave home long enough to get to the polls and back with little concern for the safety of themselves and their possessions;
- Voters have to have transportation to get to the polls.
- Lastly, there needs to be a certain level of trust and honesty in the culture, as well as mechanisms to verify that the voting process has been carried out impartially. There has to be confidence that the system is more or less accurately reporting the results of the vote.
So, with the above example in mind, what developments are required to support individual liberty? While many of the prerequisites are intellectual, some are also technological.
Well, first off, there has to be recognition of the existence of individuals. Ayn Rand examined this in detail in her novella "Anthem." There needs to be a concept of what liberty is, and what individual rights are. Property rights especially, the right to personal property is the foundation of civilization, in many respects. There is a technological piece to this, too; the individual needs to have weapons that allow him to defend those rights.
The Welsh longbow was one of the seminal technologies that promoted the growth of liberty in England, for the longbow, relatively inexpensive, could defeat medieval armor and skewer an abusive aristocrat from a long distance. The modern equivalent is the magazine fed self-loading rifle, which allows a trained individual to deliver a lethal blow up to 500 yards or more away.
But without the will to fight, possessing the means is useless. The first battle in the American revolution was won by Thomas Paine, when he published "Common Sense" in January of 1776. Until that point, despite the battles in Massachusetts in 1775, most colonists considered themselves Englishmen, who were being abused by a corrupt Parliament. Paine's pamphlet, which printed over 100,000 copies in the first year (some estimates go as high as 500,000 copies over 25 editions) in a total population of about 2.4 million, of whom about 400-500 thousand were slaves.
Before "Common Sense," the vast majority of Americans were aggrieved English colonials, interested mainly in getting the English government to treat them as Englishmen ought to be treated. Afterwards, about a third of the colonial population favored separation from England. Without Thomas Paine helping to win the war of ideas, the subsequent military victories would not have happened. The population would not have supported these actions.
QED, universal literacy and developing the ability to acquire knowledge outside of one's immediate environment is, if not essential to Liberty, very highly desireable. Communication technologies are critical as well, to develop and promote individual rights and freedoms, and to engage in intellectual discourse and debate nationwide. It is no accident that the invention of the printing press toward the tail end of the Renaissance preceded the Enlightenment. Increased literacy resulting from the Renaissance created a demand for improved bookmaking technology. Once printing made books affordable, then literacy increased further, leading among other things, to postal services. Having common people able to read, understand complex issues and correspond with others outside of their city or village fertilized the development of the Enlightenment, which in turn fostered more and better means to write and record ideas, witness the computer I am using this moment to write this post.
So what else is essential to liberty? I would argue that a culture that promotes individual self-reliance and hardihood is critical. Entitlement culture breeds slaves, not free men. American independence did not spring newborn from the soil of the New World; American independence was the child of English freedom, which in turn had its roots in Viking tradition, among other origins. Planted in the New World, the rights of Englishmen, under the rule of a far-distant king, flowered into something new and different, something altogether American. While Tom Paine's "Common Sense" sparked the Revolution, that spark would in turn not have burst into flame if it had not landed in tinder created by 200 years of English law and tradition transported to a remote land that required colonial people to develop their own traditions of self-rule.
Part of creating such a culture is allowing people the freedom to fail; probably the most devastating blow struck by the forces of tyranny against American culture is the creation of the Entitlement culture, and placing the yoke of supporting it over the shoulders of the productive minority. Reality can teach valuable lessons, if it is allowed to do so; the longer these lessons are avoided, the more painful they will be when they can no longer be dodged.
But that is another article for another day; this has gone on longer than I originally contemplated, but I wanted to record my thoughts and see what comments you, O gentle reader, might come up with in response.
To be continued-
With regard to all who seek the Light.