“The Miracle of Freedom” by Chris Stewart and Ted Stewart

For most of human history, tyranny and oppression have been the norm; freedom is rare, relatively new, and not guaranteed for future generations.

“The Miracle of Freedom: 7 Tipping Points That Saved the World” (2011) by author Chris Stewart and professor and former district court judge Ted Stewart examines some of the most important events in the history of the world that were “indispensable stepping-stones toward the miracle of expanded freedom and democracy in this day” (page v). Freedom is seen as a process, an evolution away from humankind’s instinctive rule by force.

They identify five principles of freedom: self-government, fundamental rights, equality, commitment to justice, and commitment to the rule of law; as well as a sixth principle, economic freedom.

The seven historical tipping points they choose to highlight are not individuals, inventions, or philosophies, but decisive events and decisions in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.

1. The defeat of the Assyrians in their quest to destroy the Kingdom of Judah(701 BC). After conquering 46 walled cities and numerous villages in Judah, the Assyrians were on the verge of destroying Jerusalem when, because of plague or savvy negotiations, the Assyrian King Sennacherib recalled his army. Though eventually defeated, the Jewish community and faith remained intact and later gave rise to Christianity and Islam.

2. The victory of the Greeks over the Persians at Thermopylae and Salamis(480 BC). Against a massive Persian army, King Leonidas and his men made their last stand at the Thermopylae Pass; and Themistocles routed the Persian navy in the Gulf of Malis, aided by storms, and later at Salamis. The Greeks went on to establish the concepts of individual rights, personal liberty, and self-government.

3. Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity (AD 312). Putting his faith in an omen, a symbol of Christ, and a sacred vow, Constantine defeated a rival emperor at the Milvian Bridge and converted to Christianity. The spread of Christianity led to the growth of capitalism, an emphasis on reason and logic, the university system, charitable work, the sciences, literacy, the rule of law, challenges to slavery, and the sanctity of human life and marriage.

4. The defeat of the armies of Islam at Poitiers (AD 732). After conquering the Iberian Peninsula, the battle-hardened Arab armies faced fragmented French kingdoms when they met Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne, at a little-known battle at Poitiers. The Arab armies retreated after the death of their great general Abd al-Rahman, paving the way for Charlemagne’s renaissance and the forging of a common European identity.

5. The failure of the Mongols in their effort to conquer Europe (AD 1241). Just emerging from the Dark Ages, Europe faced the brutal Mongol horde – until the death of the Great Khan Ogodei recalled the Mongol armies for a khuriltai (election), allowing the embryonic ideas of individual freedom and representative government to grow into the Age of Reason.

6. The discovery of the New World (1492). At a time when the Christian Church was corrupt and Europe was exhausted by wars, when learning was in decline, lawlessness was on the rise, and the Inquisition had started, Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World led to an influx of wealth, economic vitality, and a renewed sense of optimism in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution.

7. The Battle of Britain in World War II (1940). During the rise of the Reich under Adolf Hitler, in the midst of strong anti-war fervor in Britain and a desperate Royal Air Force (RAF), the mistaken German bombing of a London neighborhood led to a last-ditch RAF defense effort in the first battle waged entirely by air forces. The Germans and turned their attention to the Soviet Union, prolonging the war until the Americans were roused by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hitler was prevented from ruling all of Europe.

“The Miracle of Freedom” is both celebratory and sobering, with descriptive, dramatic, engaging historical narrative of figures great and small. The book makes history interesting, posing “what if” scenarios. There is an unapologetic “American Exceptionalism,” pro-Christian, and Euro-centric slant. “Freedom exists because Christian Europe created an environment where an incredibly rare combination of values – commitment to reason, personal accountability, individual freedom, equality, rule of law, the right of self-government – provided a philosophical nursery that allowed these ideas to take root and then to flourish” (pages 279-280).

The most thought-provoking assertion is that Westerners see a conflict between liberty and tyranny, while Muslims see a conflict between tyranny and justice (page 146). The most controversial tipping point, in my opinion, is the “discovery” of the New World; the authors make no moral judgments about the colonization and exploitation of the land, natural resources, and peoples of the New World.

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