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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Liberty vs. Freedom by Chuck McGlawn


You may be asking yourself where is he going with this. Well, let me tell you. I see Liberty and Freedom as very different. Let me list some of the subtle distinctions

Freedom is created. It is likened to an invention like the telephone. Liberty is discovered. I liken it to a discovery like the discovery of the law of gravity. Freedom must be constructed, as with the written Constitution, or years of tradition. Liberty is described, like with the Declaration of Independence.

Freedom is subjective. That is why the freedom movement is always splintered by disagreement and constant infighting over the boundaries, and what . Liberty is objective. Everyone knows what it is, and if not, a one-sentence description and on goes the light.

In my view, freedom is a positive thing. It must be constructed and once it is constructed it has boundaries. Liberty is a negative thing. It is just there, and it has always been there waiting to be discovered. It does not require construction and has no boundaries. The boundaries of Freedoms have been constructed by very smart people to be sure. And its goal and boundaries are worthy. Freedom is deemed worthy and valuable by additional smart people. The distinction that sets freedom apart from liberty is that, freedom has subjective rules, and liberty has unchangeable objective law.

Freedom has goals it wants progress and improvement. Its advocates think and want more for next year and even more for the year after. And it wants to broaden its base, by instilling the quest for Freedom into more people, then more people. Liberty is passive, but it allows limitless growth and improvement, for a limitless number of people, and it does this by just being there.

When I got to this point in my writing, I had more to say, however, I thought I should Google the subject. Of the many hits I got, three articles at least touched on the concepts that I was expanding.

Paul V. Hartman in "Freedom" and "Liberty" Are Not the Same Thing” confirms what I am saying when he wrote,Freedoms end when they encounter a contrary freedom of another person. You are free to smoke, until you encounter my freedom not to inhale your smoke. Liberty lacks that distinction: my liberty never contradicts or limits yours. In other words, freedoms have boundaries, because they are active or positive. Liberty does not because they are passive and negative.

Geoffrey Nunberg put a historical spin on the subject, and in the process he suggests that Liberty is of a higher order than Freedom. In the Nation article Freedom vs. Liberty; More Than Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose Published: March 23, 2003 wrote, “For the founders of the nation, liberty was the fundamental American value.” Nunberg added, Echoing John Locke, the Declaration of Independence speaks of ''life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'' The text doesn't mention freedom at all. It was liberty that Patrick Henry declared himself willing to die for, and liberty that the ringing bell in Philadelphia proclaimed on July 8, 1776.
Liberty remained the dominant patriotic theme for the following 150 years, even if freedom played an important role, particularly in the debates over slavery. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address began by invoking a nation ''conceived in liberty,'' but went on to resolve that it should have a ''new birth of freedom.''
Never the less, in the early 1870, just five years or so after the (so called) Civil War France began the construction of the Statue of Liberty.
That makes me ask did Lincoln have some insights into the differences before any one began writing about it. Additionally, Nunberg observed, “But ''freedom'' didn't really come into its own until the New Deal period, when the defining American values were augmented to include the economic and social justice that permitted people free development as human beings. Of Roosevelt's Four Freedoms -- of speech, of religion, from want and from fear -- only the first two might have been expressed using ''liberty.'
The civil rights movement made ''freedom now'' its rallying cry. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used ''freedom'' 19 times in his ''I Have a Dream'' speech, and liberty only twice. Feminists extended freedom to cover reproductive rights, while Timothy Leary spoke of the ''fifth freedom . . . the freedom to expand your own consciousness.''
More recently in The Calling of Cultural Liberty · Thursday November 06, 2008 by Crosbie Fitch
We may express a desire to have the freedom to park our car on our neighbour’s drive, but the mere citing of an aspiration of ‘freedom’ cannot invoke a right, as if that invocation could then trump our neighbour’s natural right to privacy.
Then in three profound statements he rendered almost useless the need for me to continue. What he said was,
Freedom is a lack of constraint. It is neither intrinsically noble nor inherently ethical.
Ethical freedom is a lack of unethical constraint, and is more succinctly termed ‘liberty’.
We do not have a right to freedom. We have a right to liberty – freedom constrained only by the equal rights of others.

Paraphrasing Fitch We have a right to liberty, and liberty is freedom constrained only by the equal rights of others” reminds me of the oft times admonition that we can have liberty only if we are willing to share is with everyone. And correct me if I am wrong, but is that not just another way of saying, no one has the right to initiate force on another.

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