"Virtue is unafraid of daylight, never suspicious of enlightenment and least of all fears any setbacks when that is allowed to prevail."


The World's First Freedom of Information Act

Anders Chydenius' Legacy Today

Anders Chydenius Foundation
Publications 2
Edited by Juha Mustonen
103 pages
ISBN 952-99519-2-2
ISBN 952-99519-3-0 (PDF)
ISSN 1795-5297
Art-Print Ltd: Kokkola 2006
Release Date: 1 December 2006

240 years ago the world's first Freedom of Information Act took effect in Sweden-Finland. The Finnish enlightenment thinker and politician Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) played a crucial role in creating the new law in 1766. It abolished political censorship and gave the public access to government documents. Chydenius' legacy remains topical in the world 240 years later. This anniversary publication contains a translation of the 1766 Act, an article of its origins as well as several articles on the contemporary challenges of Freedom of Information:

Introduction: Anders Chydenius’ Legacy Today
Gustav Björkstrand & Juha Mustonen

His Majesty’s Gracious Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press
Translated by Peter Hogg

Anders Chydenius and the Origins of World’s First Freedom of Information Act
Juha Manninen

Transparency at the Core of Democracy
Leena Luhtanen

Openness and Access to Information in Finland
Olli Mäenpää

Access to Documents in the EU – Freedom of Information “Could Fuel Public Discussion”
Tony Bunyan

The Global Openness Movement in 2006: 240 Years after the First Freedom of Information Law, Access to Government Information Now Seen as a Human Right

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Shared freedom

Anders Chydenius' thoughts in the present world

With English Summary

Anders Chydenius Foundation
Publications 1
238 pages
ISSN 1795-5297
ISBN 952-99519-0-6
ISBN 952-99519-1-4 (PDF)
Art-Print Oy: Kokkola 2005
Release date: April the 7th 2005

The year 2003 marked the 200th anniversary of the death of the pioneer of democracy in Finland, Anders Chydenius (1729-1803). This volume contains a selection of commemorative articles and speeches produced during that year.

Anders Björk: Anders Chydenius and the open society

Chydenius Seminar, Stockholm, 26.11.2003

Anders Björk, governor of the province of Uppsala in Sweden, speculates on what Chydenius would think of present-day life and how he would act under modern conditions. He sought above all to influence public opinion. He was not interested in short-term political gains but boldly stated his views on the fundamental questions facing the society of his day, and achieved results by doing so. One of his most radical actions was his stand in favour of the freedom of household servants to conclude their own working contracts, and it is quite possible that nowadays he might have championed the cause of immigrants and their need for adaptation, education and fair treatment. He would not trust in the transient goodwill of those holding political power, but he would be inclined to create an economic structure which would favour equal opportunities for economic growth for all those who trusted in their own powers of achieving this. Chydenius’ goal was an open society in which people would be free but also prepared to accept their responsibilities.

Gustav Björkstrand: Openness and freedom

Chydenius Seminar, Stockholm, 26.11.2003

Prof. Gustav Björkstrand, Rector of Åbo Akademi University, asks how it is possible that the remote region of Ostrobothnia could have given birth to an innovative spirit of the calibre of Chydenius. The explanation lies in his capacity for open, critical evaluation of his environment combined with the philosophy of his day and efficient, eclectic use of information available from literature. Björkstrand concentrates on the part played by Chydenius in the 1781 statute on religious freedom. Although this statute was somewhat limited in its effect, it does represent a major breakthrough in the attitudes of the state church. It is also clear that Chydenius was acting on his own initiative and according to his own convictions in this matter, and not in an opportunistic vein, seeking personal advantage, as some scholars have claimed. His thinking was evidently influenced greatly by the events of the 1730s in his home district of Kokkola, when the Eriksson brothers and their supporters were driven into exile on account of their religious beliefs.

Tarja Halonen: Speech at the main celebration of the Anders Chydenius Jubilee Year

Kokkola, 1.3.2003

The President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, points to the efficiency of a market economy combined with social justice as the underlying force behind our Nordic welfare society, and sees it as grounded in the fundamentally radical principles of freedom, equality and collective responsibility that were advocated at an early stage by Anders Chydenius. He attached importance to looking at things from the “ordinary person’s” point of view. When we are analysing the effects of globalization or thinking how we can cope with it, we would be well advised to adopt a human-centred perspective of this kind. When liberalizing the economy, we have to ensure that it exists for the benefit of the people and not the other way round.

Raija Julkunen: Liberalism in our times

written for this volume

Raija Julkunen, a research fellow of the Academy of Finland, notes that where Chydenius and the other liberal economists of the 18th century were prepared to impose a set of moral and social norms on the economy, the subsequent triumphal advance of liberalism has turned the situation upside down, to the point where the whole of society is governed by “pure” economics that is devoid of any morality or values. Increasingly more sectors of society are tending to serve the needs of competition alone and not the common good, and the concept of equality is being altered from one that emphasizes equal advantages to one that stresses equal opportunities. People are required to be capable of constant renewal in order to stay in the labour market, at the same time as work is increasingly losing is rationale, the contact with its own products.

Pauli Kettunen: Society, directed and directing – a historical perspective

Chydenius Seminar, Helsinki, 13.10.2003

Pauli Kettunen, professor of political history at the University of Helsinki, points out that Chydenius’ ideas have been alluded to in support of a wide variety of ideologies, from neo-liberalism to socialism. His work can be looked on as a part of the formation of our modern concept of a “society”, in which the central notion has been – as seen with Chydenius – that society should be viewed as an entity subject to its own laws, independent of the aspirations of its members. It has traditionally be looked on in the Nordic countries as an agent for promoting the common good, in the framework of which it was possible to ensure that economic growth, the levelling of social inequalities and the extension of democracy would advance hand in hand. Globalization has nevertheless meant a shift in the emphasis within society from promotion of the common good to the maintenance of competitive potential.

Juha Manninen: The open society – a modern-day legacy from the Enlightenment philosopher Anders Chydenius

written for this volume

Juha Manninen, professor of the history of science and ideas at the University of Oulu, provides an account of the passing of the statute on the freedom of the press (Tryckfrihetsförordning) in Sweden in 1766, and above all of the leading part played by Anders Chydenius in this process. In the background was the influence of the Enlightenment in Europe, which in the Swedish context gained its most radical manifestations in the eastern part of the kingdom, present-day Finland. The statute removed censorship prior to publication and guaranteed a substantial measure of freedom of expression. The most revolutionary thing about this legislation, however, was that it marked the first implementation of the principle of public disclosure in the world, in that the majority of administrative documents were declared open to the public. Chydenius believed that openness and publicity were essentials for a free and happy society. Although increasing numbers of states in the world have a Freedom of Information Act in their legislation, the challenge of openness in government has not lost its meaning in our present-day global world, but rather power appears to be drifting ever further away from the grasp of ordinary citizens. Manninen maintains that the best way of honouring the memory of Anders Chydenius, father of the principle of public disclosure, would be to publish a scholarly edition of his works translated into several languages.

Ilkka Niiniluoto: Liberty, fraternity and equality

Chydenius Seminar, Helsinki, 13.10.2003

Ilkka Nininiluoto, Rector of the University of Helsinki, reminds us that Anders Chydenius belonged to the great tradition of social thinking that became encapsulated in the motto of the French Revolution, “Liberté, fraternité, égalité”. These are still key concepts nowadays, and no one of them can be excluded without detracting from the others. Equality in terms of basic human rights and freedoms is a prerequisite for a stable society, although it should be supplemented with John Rawls’ principle, which accepts differences in society provided that they are to the benefit of those who are less well off.

John Vikström: Freedom and responsibility. Anders Chydenius’ philosophy in our day and age

Speech at the Anders Chydenius celebration in Kokkola, 1.3.2003

Archbishop Emeritus John Vikström points out that Chydenius was above all a man of action. He did not attempt to construct a system, but to search for material in the writings of the philosophers that seemed to be applicable in practice. The Enlightenment belief in the rationality of the world emerges in a very pure form in his person, just as his religious views combine orthodox Lutheranism with a Pietism that emphasizes the practical aspects of the faith. Chydenius was so firmly integrated into the Modern era that Postmdernism would undoubtedly have disturbed him greatly. In spite of everything, freedom has not brought happiness for everyone, and the Enlightenment belief in the power of reason has gradually waned.

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Anders Chydenius

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