Richard Norton-Taylor

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties”, John Milton in his speech, Areopagitica, to Parliament in 1644.

More than a hundred years later French Republicans adopted as their motto, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – Liberty first.

Unfortunately, far too many parliamentarians, on both sides of the Channel, now pay little more than lip service to Liberty, the concept of Liberty, in all its forms and contexts.

Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty, as many have said. Liberty needs to be protected by a constant struggle.

The Italian philosopher, Benedetto Croce, put it this way in his History as the Story of Liberty, published in 1938, when totalitarianism was flourishing: "If anyone needs persuading that liberty cannot exist differently from the way it has lived and always will live in history, a perilous and fighting life, let him for a moment consider a world of liberty without obstacles, without menaces and without oppressions of any kind; immediately he will look away from this picture with horror as something worse than death, an infinite boredom”.

"Having said this, what is then the anguish that men feel for liberty that has been lost, the invocation, the lost hopes, the words of love and anger which come from the hearts of men in certain moments and in certain ages of history?”

The anguish, the struggle, continues. There is no danger of boredom... There certainly shouldn't be.


Richard Norton-Taylor joined the Guardian in 1973 and was security and defence editor at the paper from 1998 to 2011. His books include ‘Whose Land Is It Anyway?’, an investigation into land ownership; ‘Blacklist, The Inside Story of Political Vetting’, ‘In Defence of the Realm ? The case for Accountable Security and Intelligence Services’ (Civil Liberties Trust, 1990); ‘A Conflict of Loyalties, GCHQ, 1984-1991’; and ‘Truth is A Difficult Concept: Inside the Scott Inquiry’.
His award-winning plays, most of which have been broadcast by the BBC, include ‘Half the Picture’, (1994) ‘Nuremberg’ (1946); ‘The Colour of Justice’ (1999); ‘Justifying War’ (2004); ‘Bloody Sunday’ (2005); ‘Called to Account’ (2007), a hearing on the circumstances of Tony Blair’s action in leading Britain into the Iraq war; and ‘Tactical Questioning’ (2011).


While government watches you, who watches the government?