Front Page Titles (by Subject) Interest and Ambition - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1
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Interest and Ambition - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Interest and Ambition
“Liberty in Classical Antiquity.” Aspects of American Liberty. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1977: 8–15.
The partisan, confused, and inconsistent usage of classical Greek and Roman examples of “liberty” by America's Founding Fathers should arouse a sobering distrust about apostles of “liberty” in any age.
Richard M. Gummere, The American Colonial Mind and the Classical Tradition (Cambridge, Mass., 1963) and Meyer Reinhold ed., The Classick Pages (University Park, Pa., 1975) have documented the powerful influence of classical ideas on eighteenth century Americans. Ancient notions of liberty, in particular, fanned the ideological passions for independence from Great Britain. But the sad history of the Greek and Roman political abuse of that term cautions us to be suspicious in accepting at face value any political appeals to liberty.
For example, early fifth century B.C. Athens, after Cleistenes' experiment with “free” political institutions, embarrasses students with its many illiberal inconsistencies. Athenian isonomia (the notion of “Liberty and Order” or equality before the laws) opposed arbitrary power, but in oligarchic fashion it did not extend political equality to all the demos or common people (not to mention the women and slaves). This old order sought to curb the rule of the demos but had to yield, because of imperial ambition, to democracy. Athenian imperialism with its need for military manpower compelled the oligarchs, by 462 B.C., to recognize both the military and political sovereignty of the popular assembly.
In Rome, neither democracy nor equality ever held sway. A senatorial aristocracy dominated politics and the people throughout the Republic. Hypocritically, libertas was the political slogan of this privileged nobility. As a legal term, libertas could honorably denote a citizen's free status and his juridical guarantees against the arbitrary rule of magistrates. But libertas soon became an abused term. It had the emotional connotations of the prerogatives and dominion of the oligarchic ruling class. Libertas could even signify Rome's imperial dominion over its subjugated provinces. Imperialism undercut the old order. Rome's world empire fostered individual power and ambitious generals who ultimately toppled the senatorial ruling class from their hegemony. Still the senate's partisans defended their lost privileges in the name of “liberty and the laws.” The new autocrats, the Caesars, responded in kind with empty claims to being restorers of lost “libertas.“
The ancient republics of Greece and Rome and a very restricted and circumscribed notion of political liberty. The modern liberal movements stripped away most of those limits on liberty. The Declaration of Independence declared that “all men were created ‘equal’ with certain inalienable rights.” Yet “liberty” continued as an ambivalent term since it could be applauded by slaveholders. The American Founding Fathers were aware of the ambiguities of political slogans and the deceits of ethical and emotional terminology and how easily it could be debased.