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Freedom, state and “national unity” in Lord Acton’s thought

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Chapter Summary

After a brief introduction of Lord Acton's role himself, this chapter focuses on Acton's theory and history of liberty, and finally on an exposition of ?national liberty' and the patterns of ?national unity'. Acton traced the origins of liberty in Western Civilisation to ancient Israel. The Israelites received divine law through Moses and the prophets, thus, for the first time in history, recognising the supremacy of law over the will of authorities and establishing a limited government. Acton found that the process of the development of freedom in Western Civilisation was halted and reversed in early modern Europe. ?National liberty' develops when a state is composed of different ethnic nationalities, each of which enjoys freedom and participates in the government. Finally, radical national thought rejected the republican political tradition of the Commonwealth by stressing the importance of strong government, centralisation, administrative and cultural unification, and the eradication of regional loyalties.

Keywords: ancient Israel; commonwealth; early modern Europe; Lord Acton's theory; national liberty; national unity; western civilisation

10.1163/ej.9789004169838.i-311.33
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