Category Archives: Philosophy

Liberty + Freedom = Independence

Once upon a time I went to a church that made a big deal about homeschooling your kids, and one of the things they recommended was the use of Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language. That works, to a point – right up until you say one thing and the person you’re talking to thinks you mean another. Languages change; ‘faggot’ used to mean a bundle of sticks, not a derogatory term for a homosexual.

Anyway, I digress. Consider how Noah defines Liberty and Freedom:

Liberty: Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind.
Freedom: A state of exemption from the power or control of another; liberty; exemption from slavery, servitude or confinement.

Now, I know things were different back then, but when I went to school I would have gotten points off for using only the inverse to define a word pair like that. I think a better definition could be summed up thusly: Liberty is the lack of restraint, freedom is the capacity to act. Put another way, if the law changes and I am at liberty to distill my own alcohol without having to beg permission from the government, I am still not free to do so until I have a still and the necessary ingredients – and the will to act.

“So what?” I can hear someone say. “They mean the same thing.” No, not really. They describe two different things. Liberty concerns what others do (or don’t do) to you, Freedom concerns only yourself and your possessions. You can be free but not at liberty; you can be at liberty but not free. You can be at liberty to do something and willing to do it, or you can be prohibited from something by your fellow man and not be willing to break that law.

So what do you call it when you are both at liberty to do something and free to do it? Independence:

A state of being not dependent; complete exemption from control, or the power of others; as the independence of the Supreme Being.

This has tremendous ability to explain large chunks of our current political system. Many people on the left are concerned with “social justice”, but that often just boils down to making sure everyone has the same tools so that they can be free (rewrite that)

We value independence in this country, and for good reasons. But there are times when a measure of less independence is appropriate. The first example I can think of is marriage – I don’t want to be independent of my wife, so I voluntarily accept a measure of less freedom. Likewise, she took the same oath to forsake all others until death. But as a corollary, if such an agreement isn’t entered into voluntarily, all you’re dealing with is the forceful loss of freedom – a state of slavery.