Liberty Explained: What is Liberty?

What is Liberty?

  • Liberty is the freedom to choose to do or not do a thing without interference from outside forces. 
  • The less outside interference in a decision, the freer we are. 
  • The most common form of interference being threats of violence or force if the wrong choice is made. 
  • Liberty is often associated with the idea of free will, which is defined by Wikipedia as “the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.” 

So What is the difference between Freedom vs. Liberty?

They are often considered synonyms that mean the same thing. Let’s look at the definitions of the words thanks to Wikipedia:

Freedom:

  • Freedom, generally, is having the ability to act or change without constraint. In philosophical discourse, freedom is discussed in the context of free will and self-determination, balanced by moral responsibility. (Wikipedia)

Liberty:

  • Broadly speaking, liberty is the ability to do as one pleases. It is a synonym for the word freedom. 
  • In modern politics, liberty is the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behaviour, or political views. 
  • Sometimes liberty is differentiated from freedom by using the word “freedom” primarily, if not exclusively, to mean the ability to do as one wills and what one has the power to do; and using the word “liberty” to mean the absence of arbitrary restraints, taking into account the rights of all involved. 
  • In this sense, the exercise of liberty is subject to capability and limited by the rights of others. Thus liberty entails the responsible use of freedom under the rule of law without depriving anyone else of their freedom. 
  • Freedom is more broad in that it represents a total lack of restraint or the unrestrained ability to fulfill one’s desires. For example, a person can have the freedom to murder, but not have the liberty to murder, as the latter example deprives others of their right not to be harmed. Liberty can be taken away as a form of punishment. In many countries, people can be deprived of their liberty if they are convicted of criminal acts.

There’s a third word we’d add to this mix, and it is “autonomy.” From Merriam-Webster.com:

Definition of autonomy

  • 1: the quality or state of being self-governing
  • 2: self-directing freedom and especially moral independence
  • 3: a self-governing state

Ok. Enough philosophizing. What does this actually mean to you? Liberty and Freedom are the goal for libertarians. Individuals should be able to govern themselves because the individual knows how to plan their life in coordination with others better than one person could govern another. We reject the idea that one person can constrain another’s free will without their consent. Currently, the governments that we live under limit our ability to be truly free. 

This does not mean that one can do whatever they wish. There will still be laws and consequences in a truly free society. The difference is that each person actively participates in the crafting of those rules. Murder, fraud, theft and other crimes would still carry penalties as they violate the free will of others.

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