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Highlander and his Books


The Scottish Invention of America, Democracy and Human Rights

By Alexander Leslie Klieforth and Robert John Munro

A Book Review by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA

This is a book about the birth and history of liberty and freedom from a Scottish viewpoint. Without blowing bagpipes or waving their tartans, the authors set out to prove that democracy and human rights had their roots in Scotland. The case is well made. The authors Klieforth and Munro exhaustively review the impact of the Scots in these two areas. The book begins in 1300 BC and brings us up to 2004 AD. 

The authors present strong and compelling proof that the roots of liberty and the struggles for freedom, for individuals and nations, date back to ancient Celts, followed by the Scottish struggle for independence. This radical political thought had only been hinted at until the Scots were willing to walk the talk. Less talk, more walk is what you get in The Scottish Invention of America.

Most notably, you will learn there was a lot more to John Duns Scotus than theological papers. In my opinion, he is the backbone for this book, and it would benefit all interested Scots to re-read Scotus or, for the majority of us, to read him for the first time. He was, as the authors so ably point out, “one of the two foremost moral philosophers of the European Middle Ages”. The other? Thomas Aquinas. John Duns Scotus championed human rights, individual freedom and basically a government that exists only with the consent of the people, or as we know it today in America, “of the people, by the people, for the people”.

In Latin, Scotus means “the Scot”. Born near Stirling Castle in Duns, Berwickshire, he was known as the Subtle Doctor. Scotus “left behind a monumental work in the field of metaphysics…” at Oxford. Sent to Paris to continue his studies, he was expelled from France in 1303 for siding with the Pope in a dispute with Philip the Fair. Allowed to return to Paris in 1305, Scotus went on to earn his Doctorate in Theology and began his professorship. His “academic and scholarly career led to his international reputation as one of the foremost medieval scholastics”.

He found himself involved in another brouhaha about his then radical view of the Immaculate Conception. Ironically, the Roman Catholic Church universally accepts his view today. Forced to leave France again, he found his way to Cologne, Germany where he continued to lecture until his premature death at the age of 43. Buried in Cologne, there is this inscription I borrowed from Duncan Bruce’s The Scottish 100:

Scotia me genuit, (Scotland begot me)
Anglia me suscepit, (England reared me)
Gallia me docuit, (France taught me)
Colonia me tenet. (Cologne holds me)

And I would add, the freedom loving countries of this world thank you.

The book does not end with John Duns Scotus. There is much more that deals with new insights regarding The Scottish Invention of America (Part Two) and The Age of Rights of Mankind (Part Three). Space, unfortunately, does not permit further discussion, but any lover of Scottish books will want a copy of this unique book for their library. Any lover of freedom will find this a “must have” book. It is refreshing writing that offers new insights regarding our freedom - as individuals and as a nation. Any serious Scottish student will have a wonderful time with this book. The authors have done all of us a favor by writing it, so do yourself one and purchase it! Klieforth and Munro have included a masterful fifty-page chronology of Celtic, Scottish, and American events. That in itself is worth the price of a good book, and this one fits that description. You will spend many enjoyable hours with this publication. Please note: ISBN 0-7618-2791-9; published by the University Press of America. For a 15% discount, please go to www.univpress.com.  (FRS: 11-08-2004)