Orrin Woodward LIFE Leadership Team

Winner of the 2011 Independent Association of Business Top Leader Award; Orrin Woodward shares his leadership secrets.

Philosophy of Freedom: Jacob Burckhardt

Posted by Orrin Woodward on November 16, 2011

Historian Jacob Burckhardt is one of the best thinkers and historians of all-time. I love reading his thoughts on the historical process and the necessity for free people to create freedom loving cultures. This is what the LIFE business is all about. We teach people how to be free on the inside so they can help build a culture of freedom on the outside. Here are just a couple of segments (from Alberto Coll’s introduction) of Burckhardt’s book Judgments on History and Historians. Enjoy. Sincerely, Orrin Woodward

The long-term trends and powerful impersonal forces all count, but so does the lonely genius—such as Luther or Michelangelo—striving to affirm his inner vision. History is full of broken trends that at one point seemed to stretch infinitely into the future but then moved in radically new and unexpected directions; many of these great historical surprises have occurred because of the force of human personality. In other words, there is freedom in the midst of necessity. Secondly, Burckhardt affirmed that the highest form of freedom is inward—that is, the freedom to maintain one’s soul and mind sufficiently detached from and independent of the ruling passions and conventional wisdom of the moment. Therefore, a society that aspires to be called free must defend those institutions, such as independent wealth and centers of economic and social power free from the state, that facilitate intellectual, artistic, and spiritual freedom. This view distinguished Burckhardt from the socialists, with their hankering after centralization, as well as from the liberal egalitarians, with their obsessive desire to destroy every vestige of privilege and inequality. Lastly, Burckhardt believed that a free society needs to guard against the demagogue—the “great man”—who in the name of the people would increase his own power and that of the state, and impose uniformity

Burckhardt found his ideal political community in the small city- states of Athens and Florence, where with varying degrees of success freedom had flourished together with high culture (literature, music, and the fine arts). The modern world, with its relentless march toward gargantuan cities in which human beings lead an alienated, lonely, stupefied existence anchored in triviality, vulgarity, and material satiety, frightened him. Yet he was too much of a skeptic to believe that there is a solution to this problem in the form of either a political ideology or a “great man” who could bring about a new renaissance. If there was a renaissance ahead, it would come about, Burckhardt surmised, as the unexpected fruit of the human spirit and the quiet work of a few individuals—“secular monks,” he called them—who did not care about power but cherished the characteristics of the culture of “old Europe,” foremost among these being the love of freedom and beauty. In the annals of Western historiography, few voices can match Burckhardt’s in his affirmation of the grandeur of the human spirit or his insistence on the irreducible nature of freedom as an end in itself.

12 Responses to “Philosophy of Freedom: Jacob Burckhardt”

  1. Luv it Orrin!
    This is certainly the time in history where we as freedom fighters MUST STEP UP AND TELL THE TRUTH.
    I know you’ve been doing it for a while and so have I blogged about it since my first blog 3 years ago.
    Thanks for leading brother.

  2. David Gibbons said

    You forgot this paragraph found between the two quoted. Also, I think it’s important to note that these excerpts are from the Forward written by Alberto Coll about Burckhardt:

    “As uneasy as Burckhardt was with the forces shaping Western civilization in his lifetime, he was far from ready to renounce the West’s heritage or be ashamed of it. He marvelled at the achievements of Western civilization, and particularly at the spiritual and artistic ones, which he believed were far more significant than the material and technological ones. Deeply aware of the multicultural richness of his own world, he believed it was incumbent on the heirs of Western civilization to know well their own particular cultural inheritance. There was no better place to start than the culture and heritage of classical Athens, where the idea of freedom first had flowered alongside some of the most sublime artistic and literary works in all of history. (It would have been better for all humankind, he noted, if Athens, not Sparta, had been victorious in the Peloponnesian War.) Burckhardt had one name for those not interested in their past: “barbarians.” He was quick to judge Americans for their plutocratic ways, but he judged them even more harshly because he thought they did not believe they had much of value to gain from studying history. Indeed, in his opinion, Americans took pride in being “new,” that is, in having no history.”


    • David, I actually could post the whole chapter. It really was that good! I took these off my e-reader notes that I captured from the book. So for whatever reason, I didn’t highlight the paragraph you posted, but it’s excellent! thanks, Orrin

    • David, thanks, I added Alberto as author for introduction. Orrin

      • robbyandemily said

        Wow! You take criticism so well too! Fantastic insight to the LIFE BUSINESS, and the institutions we are not only “supporting” but we are creating. Well… The founders are creating, an the rest of us are following. 🙂

  3. Maribel Damphousse said

    Hi Orrin,
    Ever since the Oliver DeMille talk in Columbus, OH, I have challenged myself to develop my thinking and read the different blogs (yours, the PCs and the RTs) and comment on them to start my own thinking running. It will be a stretch for my brain but it’s not there for nothing:). I actually read the whole page even the missed one! It’s true that the highest form of freedom is inward and the challenge for us is to express that freedom in the world we live in today. I am so grateful to be associated with the TEAM and having the opportunity to build a LIFE business. These two are perfect environments for expressing, developing, learning, growing, changing and creating a freedom-loving culture that the world seems to be deviating away from. Once again thank you helping us re-focus on the vision of the founding fathers for this generation and the future ones. God bless!

  4. Rob Crichlow said

    You can never learn enough about historical perspective in relation to current situations. Freedom is founded in historical ideas that if not continually highlighted will fade in the hectic world where people loose site of the reasons they give them the freedom they take for granted. Thanks for highlighting this.

    Thanks Orrin.

  5. state of mind it is

  6. Can’t wait to read that book. By the way, great job on your newest book “13 Resolutions”! It cut deep, but with surgical precision.

  7. Mary Hermsen said

    The more I learn, the more hopeful I become. Thanks for another great blog entry!!

  8. joe maz said

    Leaders leaders leaders, there r those that work and those that network!! I can’t wait to have life- building opens, events and seminars in north indianapolis indiana!! let’s help indiana boom!! sincerely,……. batman

  9. Tim McNeil said

    Thank you for at last showing a new hope to America and the free world! A way in which like minded folks can lead our Nation(s) in love to a new prosperity and back to the basics that made us a free people.

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