There is not an informed lover of liberty and progress who was not shaken by the life sentence handed down to Ross Ulbricht, visionary web developer and now martyr. The judge’s words were chilling in the extreme.

“The stated purpose [of the Silk Road] was to be beyond the law. In the world you created over time, democracy didn’t exist. You were captain of the ship, the Dread Pirate Roberts,” said Judge Katherine Forrest who has otherwise spent her career defending corporate moguls and their intellectual property rights. “Silk Road’s birth and presence asserted that its…creator was better than the laws of this country. This is deeply troubling, terribly misguided, and very dangerous.”

Why so dangerous? Most people on the Silk Road bought pot, before it became legal in many big cities. Others got medications that are legal in Canada and Mexico but not yet approved by the FDA, that decrepit bureaucracy controlled by big pharma. Others bought IDs to get around preposterous drinking laws that are tighter than any nation outside Saudi Arabia. For so many people, the service Ross created as a source for personal liberation from a deeply oppressive regime. Testimonials to this effect have been appearing all over the Internet.

But, no, said the judge, what Ross made possible was “terribly destructive to our social fabric.” Therefore, he must stand as an example to others. The state rules. Never doubt it. Never question it. The law of the land reigns supreme. If you think otherwise, you are the enemy to be destroyed.

We think we are enlightened. No we are not. We read about the trial of Socrates. Every school kid does. What were they thinking, killing such a great mind? And why? For corrupting the youth with dangerous ideas, and daring to question the state religion. Those ancients were so despotic, so disregarding of essential human rights. They thought that their laws trumped all truth. Therefore, they made Socrates drink poison!

But here we are, with a peaceful, brilliant, fascinating young man condemned to die in prison for being ahead of his time. We never learn. Or rather: the state never learns. In some ways, this institution is the same in all times and all places. It is not the light. It is the darkness, the unteachable, the inflexible, the ignorant, the past.

Socrates’s trial took place in the 4th century B.C., and it shook many generations of philosophers to rethink the relationship between the law, human rights, and freedom. But as much as people are shaken in one generation, the lesson never sticks. In Rome, 4 centuries later, Christians were being thrown to the lions for worshiping another god beside the state, just as the Christians’ prophet and leader was crucified for seeming to disagree with the prevailing ethos.

But moving forward, another 1,000 years, and Christians themselves got in on the act. Now in power, they moved against those out of power. Heretics, said the greatest philosopher of the middle ages, are justly burned. For spreading untruth, the heretics are leading people to an eternity in Hell. Surely that is deserving of death. And so they were killed in the fire so that others might avoid it.

Other victims were the “usurers,” innovators in the financial space who loaned money to those in need. This was deemed immoral and socially destructive, and so they were rounded up all over Europe, forced to convert (how convenient that the “usurers” were the Jews, who were also scapegoated for every pestilence) and often killed on the rack.

But it hardly stopped there. The witches were next, and burning was their punishment, by a direct Papal order. Innocent XIII discerned the cause and effect: by their “incantations, charms, and conjurings, and by other abominable superstitions and sortileges, offences, crimes, and misdeeds, [witches] ruin and cause to perish the offspring of women, the foal of animals, the products of the earth, the grapes of vines, and the fruits of trees, as well as men and women, cattle and flocks and herds and animals of every kind, vineyards also and orchards, meadows, pastures, harvests, grains and other fruits of the earth.”

And so, the witches — you know them when you see them, because they were women who threatened the social fabric — were burned, and this tendency lasted for another two-hundred plus years, in the old world and the new.

Then there were those who dared to assist in the freeing of slaves. This was considered, by federal law under the authority of the U.S. Constitution — the highest law in the land, a document so perfect that it might have come from God himself — as an accessory to theft, and so they too deserved death. Escaped slaves, when caught, were promptly killed, as an example to others. The penalty for whites who armed blacks was death. Those who plotted to free slaves served life in prison. This was 160 years ago — enlightened times, right? Times when challenging slavery was a threat to the “social fabric.”

In the late 19th century, England charged its most brilliant poet, playwright, and literary mind with indecency. They jailed him for 3 years, and then sent him into exile. The sentence killed him. He died in poverty, in Rome, a beggar. Today, Oscar Wilde is seen as a one of the greatest literary voices in the English language, inspiring millions all over the world. But at the time of his sentencing in 1895, he was seen as a filthy homosexual, a sexual predator, a dangerous purveyor of vice, a threat to the social fabric.

Then there was Prohibition. If you manufactured and sold liquor, you were the enemy. You could have your property taken, all of it. You could be killed on the spot. After all, look at all the victims this commercial activity created! So many families without at-home fathers, so many young men diverted from virtue, so many women led to lives of moral corruption. As Billy Sunday said in Chicago, preparing the way for a fundamental change in the U.S. Constitution, “There isn’t a man who votes for the saloon who doesn’t deserve to have his boy die a drunkard. He deserves to have his girl live out her life with a drunken husband.”

But as with every previous case, the law was changed. The state was on the wrong side of history. At each step, we gradually came to understand more, to know more, to favor freedom over power, one step at a time. But the progress was slow, and there were always exceptions, stage after stage. The state, in each case, presumed its own immutability and infallibility.

There was Martin Luther King. In his letter from the Birmingham jail, he wrote: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” This was clearly an enemy of the social fabric, a man who deserved to be investigated and smeared by the government. As his message intensified, and as he began to rally people against the Vietnam war, he was shot.

The enemies of the state exist in every age. There is no longer a hot war on philosophers, Christians, usurers, witches, abolitionists, homosexuals, liquor manufacturers, and race mixers. The war on pot, still raging when Ross opened his marketplace, is pretty well spent just a few years later. But we still have a war on underage drinkers, hackers, prostitutes, medicine distributors, narcotics manufacturers, and so on.

Look at the sweep of history, my friends. The jailers, the judges, the crusaders, the gendarmes, the mandarins, the sermonizing politicians, the slavers, the tormentors of the violators of the social fabric, these people have long been on the wrong side of the trajectory of progress. The regime can always find lackeys to do its work. When the paradigm begins to shift, they behave like cornered rodents: vicious, cruel, inhumane, irrational.

Ross Ulbricht did not follow a conventional route to martyrdom, but in his role as the chosen target of a regime that wants to maintain control, he follows in a long line. He is our Socrates, our Oscar Wilde, our Rosa Parks. Think of the bigger picture. Think of the long term. Despite ever appearance, the state does not rule. Progress has only been possible by renting its “social fabric” asunder, again and again in every age.

In our times, the paradigm is shifting. We have tools that leap beyond borders and beyond the physical realm itself, technology that fundamentally challenges the structure and character of how we are ruled or if we are ruled at all. This defines our times. Freedom will be ours. Let us never forget our rebels, our heroes, the men and women of courage and vision who made it possible.