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From Ammo.com: The distinction between freedom and liberty

I aim to get back here tomorrow or Monday with some seriously random thoughts. But this has been a go-go-go sort of week, with little time to stop and cogitate, let alone write.

So I’ll leave the thinking to someone else today. Here’s another of those in-depth and thoughtful articles from Ammo.com, this one on the distinction between freedom and liberty — and how those differences shaped history. A sample:

To better understand what freedom and liberty mean, it’s helpful to look at the respective etymologies of these words, digging into their histories and how they developed.

Freedom comes from Old English, meaning “power of self-determination, state of free will; emancipation from slavery, deliverance.” There were similar variants in Old Frisian such as “fridom,” the Dutch “vrijdom,” and Middle Low German “vridom.”

Liberty comes from the Latin “libertatem” (nominative libertas), which means “civil or political freedom, condition of a free man; absence of restraint, permission.” It’s important to note that the Old French variant liberte, “free will,” has also shaped liberty’s meaning. In fact, William R. Greg’s essay France in January 1852 notes that the French notion of liberty is political equality, whereas the English notion is rooted in personal independence.

In an interview with Lew Rockwell, Professor Butler Shaffer makes some interesting distinctions between freedom and liberty. Shaffer argues that freedom is the “condition that exists within your mind, within my mind. It’s that inner sense of integrity. It’s an inner sense of living without conflict, without contradiction, without various divisions and so forth.”

This point of view is in line with the philosophy of the Stoics. They believed that a person’s body can be physically imprisoned, but not his mind (much like Viktor Frankl famously said in his Man’s Search for Meaning).

12 Comments

  1. Comrade X
    Comrade X May 4, 2019 3:32 pm

    IMHO the drive towards equality we see today, if realized, will only end in slavery.

  2. StevefromMA
    StevefromMA May 4, 2019 4:34 pm

    I never thought about the difference, interesting.

  3. Pat
    Pat May 5, 2019 4:26 am

    All of which – this essay, Butler Shaffer’s comment, and the Stoics’ philosophy – brings to mind the spirit of William Wallace’s cry of “FREEE-DOM!” Which to me encompassed both freedom and liberty.

  4. david
    david May 5, 2019 6:35 am

    Based on the definitions, i’ll take Freedom. At least it doesn’t include the word ‘Permission’. If you have permission you can lose it too. Then you’re not free.

  5. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal May 5, 2019 8:48 am

    To me, “freedom” just means doing whatever you want to do, without regard for whether or not you have the right to do it or what impact it would have on others. It can be good, neutral, or bad. You are free to run over the kid standing in the street, but it’s probably not right to do so. You can be too free.

    “Liberty”, to me, is the freedom to do everything you have a right to do; whatever doesn’t violate anyone else’s equal and identical rights. You can never have “too much liberty” because liberty is self-limiting– limited by what you have the right to do. Or, as Thomas Jefferson described it: “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.

    But, whatever you call it, as long as you act according to that second paragraph, the word you use to describe the concept isn’t that important.

  6. larryarnold
    larryarnold May 5, 2019 12:34 pm

    You can be too free.

    Nope. I think that’s where the folks who want to depend on government get hung up. “If people are free, they’ll run over kids in the street.” They see two options. Either government is powerful and everybody toes the line and the raised nail gets hammered down; or individuals will run amuck in anarchy.

    What they miss is that free people, even if they don’t agree on every issue, can and do work together for common ends. Freedom must always be balanced with responsibility. In Texas Hunter Ed we quote Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife management: “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching—even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”

    Yes, I could run over one of the kids that live across the street. But it would make me very unpopular among the other people on the block, and even if there were no law would certainly incite reprisals from the kid’s parents. OTOH, if I wave, and smile, and stop for a chat, and I’m willing to do a favor when someone needs a hand, we all get along and the neighborhood is better off for it.

    Claire often writes about the network she has in her community, neighbors, vets, handy workers, and others. Left unsaid is that that network wouldn’t be there if Claire didn’t pull her part of the load.

    The key concept is that, as a free person, I know that the best way for me to protect my liberty, is for me to protect your liberty.

  7. Pat
    Pat May 5, 2019 2:07 pm

    Well said, larryarnold.

    I’ve been trying to think how to respond to “You can be too free.” – but you said it correctly.

    “Freedom must always be balanced with responsibility….

    The key concept is that, as a free person, I know that the best way for me to protect my liberty, is for me to protect your liberty.”

    And together that network builds itself.

  8. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal May 6, 2019 6:44 am

    “Freedom must always be balanced with responsibility….”
    Yes, and then it is what I call liberty.

  9. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge May 6, 2019 10:13 am

    “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching—even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”

    EXCELLENT quote, Mr. Arnold!

  10. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge May 6, 2019 10:16 am

    “The key concept is that, as a free person, I know that the best way for me to protect my liberty, is for me to protect your liberty.”

    The only problem with that, Pat, is as Machiavelli I believe said, the only thing more dangerous than trying to enslave people who want to be free, is trying to free people that want to be enslaved. After 34 years of working in a government school I’m beginning to believe it.

  11. Pat
    Pat May 6, 2019 11:46 am

    “…, the only thing more dangerous than trying to enslave people who want to be free, is trying to free people that want to be enslaved.”

    Understood – within the educational system (or the political arena) where everyone is forced to do or not do something, and where the majority (enslaved) rules.

    But “protecting liberty” in the context of larryarnold’s quote is a conscious, *individual* act, it doesn’t “force” liberty on anyone, it simply keeps individuals alert to methods within themselves to act appropriately to achieve freedom and to keep the atmosphere free from coercion.

    Some may choose to coerce others, or wish to be enslaved, and they may do so if they can get away with it. But the free man, in keeping his own space free and helping others who wish to be free, can demonstrate the advantages of both freedom for self and liberty for the society in which he lives.

    (In fact, I would say this is what many of us do when we talk to others about any relevant subject – libertarianism, gulching and/or prepping for survival, gun rights, refusing to give in to political correctness, the meaning and purpose of non-voting, etc.)

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