Liberty and Freedom embody two similar but also different concepts. The English language is unique among European languages in having two words that mean almost the same thing, but still, Liberty Trumps Freedom.
Liberty is a natural right that allows humans to act affirmatively to do what is in their best interest as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.
The United States government was designed by the founders to safeguard Liberty. Government has no other legitimate purpose.
If a government fails in its responsibility to protect Liberty, citizens have a duty to alter that government, or abolish it altogether.
Freedoms are created rights, some of which are defined in the Constitution. Freedoms may be added or subtracted. If freedoms are insufficient for our needs to pursue our happiness, we have the Liberty to pursue change, whether by changing the social structure, changing our physical circumstances, or both.
There is a danger that a free people by way of their ability to vote and elect their government will seek freedoms that are not compatible with Liberty because they infringe on the rights of others. Socialism tries to create freedom from poverty, illness, or want, and attempts to create equality of outcomes, but it places a burden on Liberty by interfering with the rights of others.
Liberty is what allows us to pursue everything we want or need, including freedom(s).
Liberty Trumps Freedom
English is Unique among European Languages
The English language is unique among European languages by having two words that mean almost the same thing: Liberty and Freedom. It is obvious how this happened. We borrow words.
In 1066, William the Conqueror, invaded England and defeated King Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. Along with his soldiers, noble men, and assorted followers from Normandy, William also brought the Norman language, a dialect that evolved from the old Lingua Romana that eventually evolved into modern French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. More than just a primitive dialect, it was a language with an extensive literature.
The common people of England continued to speak various dialects of Old English for about 100 years after the conquest of 1066. The nobility spoke Norman for a long time but as the size of the upper classes grew, the written language began to incorporate more English words so by the 12th to 14th centuries the language of the nobility became Anglo-Norman. Anglo-Norman was the literary language of the nobility and the courts but instead of just incorporating English words and becoming the surviving language, Anglo-Norman was incorporated into English, and English was the survivor.
Modern English has abundant synonyms that mean almost the same thing but can express slight differences. Liberty and Freedom are two such words.
Etymology of Liberty and Freedom
From the Latin root, (liber ‘free’) via Norman (liberte), we got Liberty. Languages derived from Latin use “Liber” as their root for Liberté (FR), Libertad (SP), Liberdade (PT), and Libertà (IT). Latin got the root for liber from the ancient Greek word elitheros. Its Aeolic form was eliferos The root lifer- became liber. They all related to the concept of being free. In ancient times being free meant not being a slave.
We also kept our Old English word, freodom, which means almost the same thing as Liberty but comes from a surprising source.
Northern European languages derived their word for freedom from the same root as friend, a Proto-Indo-European word (priHós), an adjective that meant “dear” or “beloved,” and secondarily “happy” and “free.” You don’t enslave the dear members of your clan or family.
The Proto-Indo-European word, priHós, became frēodōm in Old English (ca.500 CE) and then fredom in Middle English (ca. 1000 CE). Other Northern European languages followed a similar path: Proto-Germanic *frijadōmaz, North Frisian fridoem, Dutch vrijdom , Low German frīdom , Middle High German vrîtuom and vrîheit , Norwegian fridom , and in modern German they kept the suffex “heit” to make the German word for freedom: Freiheit. The Germans don’t think of Freiheit as coming from a word that means friend. Unlike English that picked up Liberty from the Normans, the rest northern Europe had little linguistic influence from Latin.
The conclusion to this tedious journey through etymology is that we have two nouns in English, Liberty that comes from Latin and means “”a free person; children of a family,” and Freedom that means a state of free will and emancipation; we will not enslave those who are near and dear to us.
It is doubtful that these subtle ancient meanings carried too much weight when modern writers, such as Hamilton, Madison, and Jay thought and wrote about the differences between liberty and freedom as they had evolved since those early times. In the Federalist Papers, Liberty is seen as a republican (small r) virtue along with independence. Freedom and defending ones land are considered republican ideals. An ideal is a principle that one pursues as a goal, while a virtue is a trait or quality that is the foundation of basic principles. Liberty is a virtue you have; freedom is goal.
Liberty in the Declaration of Independence
Thomas Jefferson is credited with writing the Declaration of Independence. In reality it was a cooperative effort, although Jefferson is clearly the genius behind the draft that served as the template that became the Declaration of Independence. It was he who presented the final draft to Congress.
HERE is a good link to that fascinating history.
Regardless of the several contributors to the final draft, Jefferson’s clarity of thought survives as the eloquence and efficiency of the document increased with each succeeding draft.
Rough Draft – Four Mentions of Liberty
- We hold these truths to be self-evident;1 that all men are created equal & independent; that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable,1 among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness…
- he (King George III) has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights 2of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him…
- he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them…
- future ages will scarce believe that the hardiness of one man, adventured within the short compass of twelve years only, on so many acts of tyranny without a mask, over a people fostered & fixed in principles2 of liberty.
An interim draft contained 3 mentions of liberty.
Final Draft Presented to Congress – One Mention of Liberty
- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable 1 Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
Jefferson provided a good definition of what he meant by Liberty in a letter he wrote to Isaac H. Tiffany in April, 1819. “Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.”
To Jefferson the questions of natural rights and equal rights of all persons were more than abstract philosophical theories. He and his fellow founders placed their lives and the lives of their countrymen in jeopardy when they formulated the plan to create a new government based on the real world around them. They reasoned that some rights like equal rights and liberty are a natural consequence of existence.
“Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others.” –Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791.
How Do a Few Others Define Liberty?
Cato’s Letters comprise a series of 138 letters published in England between 1720 and 1723 and written under the pseudonym “Cato.” The letters condemned the corruption of the English political system at that time. The Founders were well aware of the theoretical discussions about Liberty contained in the letters. Benjamin Franklin quoted the following under his pen name Silence Dogood published in the New-England Courant, a newspaper founded and published by his brother James.
He wrote. ” I prefer the following Abstract from the London Journal to any Thing of my own…”
“Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it, he does not hurt or controul the Right of another: And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know.
“This sacred Privilege is so essential to free Governments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech; a Thing terrible to Publick Traytors.” (Silence Dogood, No. 8, Printed in The New-England Courant, July 9, 1722.)
Franklin accepted that the Security of Property and Freedom of Speech were inseparable, both being essential to Public Liberty.
Isaiah Berlin in his 1958 lecture “Two Concepts of Liberty” introduced his ideas of positive and negative liberty. Berlin specifically states that he uses the terms liberty and freedom interchangeably. He was fluent in Russian, German, French, and English. Speaking to a world-wide audience, he would have been aware that his work would be translated into multiple languages. It would not make sense for him to define liberty and freedom as individually distinct. But he could explain that there are there are different kinds of liberty.
Berlin also recognized the difficulty in defining common concepts that that are subject to widely different definitions. He states, “Almost every moralist in human history has praised freedom. Like happiness and goodness, like nature and reality, the meaning of this term is so porous that there is little interpretation that it seems able to resist.”
By dividing freedom/liberty into the concepts of positive and negative liberty, he clearly echoes Jefferson’s notion that positive liberty correlates with Jefferson’s use of the word Liberty and negative liberty means freedom from interference.
Berlin continues, “The first of these political senses of freedom or liberty (I shall use both words to mean the same), which (following much precedent) I shall call the `negative’ sense, is involved in the answer to the question `What is the area within which the subject–a person or group of persons–is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?’ The second, which I shall call the positive sense, is involved in the answer to the question `What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?’ The two questions are clearly different, even though the answers to them may overlap.”
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good discussion of these two terms that you can access HERE.
Hanna Fenichel Pitkin
Hanna Pitkin is a political theorist who stands out among other political theorists in claiming that liberty and freedoms are not the same. Most political theorists use the two terms interchangeably, the choice of one or the other based on stylistic considerations.
Pitkin draws a distinction between liberty and freedom, relating liberty to being free from oppression, while freedom has to do with the possibility of participating in public affairs. For her, the meaning of the term liberty is associated with the idea of legal rights that assure individuals that they will not suffer interference; accordingly, it is closer to the term right. (Are freedom and liberty twins? In: Political Theory. Vol. 6, Nr 04, p. 523-552.-(1988))
Pitkin makes a compelling case that language shapes our ideas, and ideas shape our behavior. This is a rational observation. A further exploration of her work reveals that her concepts of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness do not follow the less nuanced ideas of the Founders. She claims that indifference to to the distinction between liberty and freedom is symptomatic of social structures that have become so large that they may be beyond our abilities to keep in check. Her work on representative government is important. Perhaps others can pick up on her work to help us deal with huge entrenched bureaucracies and perpetual representatives intent on maintaining their positions and power.
Living in a representative federal republic makes her ideas about representation and justice important for us to debate. Although she has correctly identified problems that confront all of humanity, solutions to those problems that preserve our concepts of Liberty may be harder to identify. How do we prevent the continued escalation of the nanny state?
“With respect to a community, this use of “constitution” suggests a characteristic way of life, the national character of a people, their ethos or fundamental nature as a people, a product of their particular history and social conditions. In this sense, our constitution is less something we have than something we are.”
(“The Idea of the Constitution” – a paper Professor Pitkin presented at a meeting of the Association of American Law Schools in Los Angeles, January 1987)
Freedoms and Rights
The Founders of our Republic did not always agree on everything. When they crafted the type of government we now have, there were many compromises. In the end they seem to have gotten it about right because it has survived for a long time and has adapted to many changes since the Constitution was ratified in 1788.
One of the things about which they agreed was the concept of Liberty that was a legacy of thinkers before them including John Locke, Thomas Hobbs, and David Hume. The Founders’ writings demonstrate that they shared Jefferson’s notion that Liberty was “..unobstructed action according to our will within limits…” Yet with all the discussions about Liberty generally, when it came time to discuss specific freedoms and rights, they felt it necessary to spell out many of them in the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights originally spelled our Rights that the new Federal Government could not infringe. Over the years most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights have been ruled to apply to the States and local governments also. (THIS article discusses the Incorporation Doctrine)
- The freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and petition (1st Amendment)
- The right to bear arms (2nd Amendment)
- The freedom from quartering of troops (3rd Amendment)
- The freedom from search or seizure (4th Amendment)
- The freedom from self-incrimination, and the right of due process (5th Amendment)
- The right to a prompt, public, trial by jury, and right to legal counsel (6th Amendment)
- The right to a civil trial by jury (7th Amendment)
- The freedom from excessive bail or cruel punishment (8th Amendment)
- Other freedoms that are not specifically enumerated may not be infringed. (9th Amendment)
- The powers not delegated to the federal government, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
What about those other freedoms mentioned in the 9th Amendment?
When Judge Robert Bork was being examined by the Senate for possible elevation to the Supreme court, Senator Dennis DeConcini (D. AZ) asked the judge about the meaning of the the 9th Amendment. Judge Bork replied that he did not know within the context of the Constitution. After Bork was turned down by the Senate, he wrote a book where he expanded on his thoughts about the 9th Amendment. He said, “We don’t have much evidence about what the Founders meant; they may have been trying to protect state-constitutional rights; we have good reason to doubt they meant the amendment to magnify the power of the courts to overturn laws.”
States and local governments have wide latitude to create rights and then leave it to the courts to decide if they violate the Constitution.
The Declaration of Independence is not a philosophical treatise; it was a declaration of the Colonies’ intention to divorce themselves from England with the inevitable consequence of starting a war and incurring the real danger of being shot or hanged. But it is also a concise declaration of a few natural rights – Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Other rights not delineated in the Declaration of Independence were subsequently outlined in the Constitution as discussed above, including the right to self-defense. The U.S. Constitution does not mention “unalienable” or “natural rights.”
“Resistance to sudden violence, for the preservation not only of my person, my limbs and life, but of my property, is an indisputable right of nature which I have never surrendered to the public by the compact of society, and which perhaps, I could not surrender if I would.” — John Adams, BOSTON GAZETTE, September 5, 1763, The Works of John Adams, p.438 (Charles F. Adams ed., 1851).
John Locke defined the three natural rights as life, liberty, and property. Jefferson’s pursuit of happiness hinges on the word “pursuit” implying that people naturally have freedom to act in their own best interest, which includes ownership of property. The Founders were brilliant in their thinking about Life, Liberty, and specific ideas about Freedom, but they knew very little about economics. Adam Smith and others were thinking about economics but the founders had their hands full with starting a new nation and defining the rights and responsibilities of the parties. Intellectually they knew that slavery was incompatible with Liberty but as revolutionaries starting a new country that required great upheaval and changes, they had to fight a war and compromise on issues that were too divisive to handle at that time.
Legal rights created by government are necessary to protect and facilitate the free exercise of natural rights. Laws that protect the rights of minorities affirm that everyone’s freedom to act according to his will is bounded by the equal rights of others. The electoral college was specifically devised to protect minority rights.
Later in our history other rights have been defined, many to address the natural rights of the minority. The War Between the States beginning in 1861 was fought to resolve economic and states’ rights issues that the nation was unable to solve through compromise and legislation. It is true that slavery was abolished at that time, but the war did not totally solve slavery’s affront to Liberty. The legacy of slavery is still with us.
The evolution of legal rights made a great stride forward when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on August 26, 1920. Now it is difficult to believe that women were ever denied full participation in the political life of the country. Yet it required an amendment to the Constitution to force some states to extend the voting franchise to women. (HERE is an interesting story about the final individual vote for ratification of the 19th amendment)
Regulations Incompatible with Liberty
Laws and regulations designed to prevent people from stupidly hurting themselves are an are area where governments infringe on Liberty: helmet and seat-belt laws, mandatory public education, drug and alcohol laws, victimless crime prosecutions, gambling, bans on smoking, bans on sugared drinks, strict gun laws, strict building codes, vocational licensing, professional licensing, and the list goes on… The argument of course is that some of these things protect citizens from each other, and others may prevent a person from becoming a burden on taxpayers.
Is healthcare paid for from the public treasury a right? Many voters believe it is.
The fact is that a large number of people receive healthcare paid for by the government and consequently by the taxpayer. And it is also a fact that when people do stupid things that result in injury or illness and they are unable to pay for their own care, the taxpayer usually pays the bill.
These are small things compared to the potentially catastrophic expansion of so-called freedoms being promoted by the radical Left in our country. None is more insidious than the drumbeat of socialism. Socialism is nothing new, dating in modern times from the writings of Karl Marx in reaction to early capitalist injustice in Europe.
Karl Marx Leaves a Legacy that Won’t Go Away
Marx trained at the university as a philosopher. In the mid 1800s, economics was not a separate academic discipline. At the time he wrote his famous Das Kapital outlining his theory of the capitalist system, capitalism was struggling to find a balance between the rights of workers and the rights of employers and the capital that financed business. His ideas were theories, untested in the crucible of evolving economies. Later political actors who successfully seized on his ideas did so not because of any high regard for liberty or human rights, but because they saw it as a way to amass political power. The Soviet Union and Mao Zedong”s China are examples of countries that promoted Marx’s ideas of a transition period from democracy to communism that required a dictatorship of the proletariat. The phrase Dictatorship of the Proletariat (“Die Diktatur des Proletariats”) was coined by Marx’s friend Joseph Weydemeyer, not for some far away audience in Prussia but for German speaking Americans in New York who read the New York Turn-Zeitung in January of 1852. Both Marx, and his friend Friedrich Engels, spoke not of a dictatorship but simply as a “rule of the working class,” after the people became accustomed to the idea of democracy, which they did not enjoy under the monarchs of Europe.
Marxist dogma, like all ideas, has undergone revisions and evolution as later thinkers expand on his ideas. There are growing numbers of philosophical adherents to Marxism in America who are critical of the federal republic that our Founders created for us. They avoid the pejorative label of Marxism by using the term democratic socialists. Rather than advocating a revolutionary change from capitalism to socialism, democratic socialists seek a peaceful transition. For the most part. they are benevolent in their outlook concerning the existence of human beings. They feel that society should function as a single organism, that individuals are cogs in a larger machine that physically sustains the race of homo sapiens. They are so benevolent in their outlook that they overlook the tendency of humans to assume power over their fellow beings to create what becomes a dictatorship, not necessarily of a single person or party, but in our case an entrenched bureaucracy of such a size that common people can no longer contain it.
“Socialism is the fantastical younger brother of the almost defunct despotism which it aims to succeed; its aspirations are therefore in the deepest sense reactionary. For it strives after a degree of political power such as no despotism has ever wielded; yea, it exceeds anything in the past by aiming at the complete extinction of the individual, who appears as an unwarranted luxury of nature, and who is to be transformed by it into a useful organ of the commonwealth.” ( Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, 1878)
In its simplest form as it potentially relates to the United States, socialism means taxing one class of people and their business operations to benefit another class of people. To a large extent we are already doing this.There is little danger that we will experiment with Venezuela’s “Third Way” and confiscate a major industry to support welfare benefits. Our way is to just take it from taxpayer or borrow money from China. Of course this must be corrected eventually but when a majority of the populace is enjoying benefits from the public treasury, there will be opportunistic politicians who pander to their electorate and resist needed reforms. Reforms may come by necessity and will undoubtedly be painful.
Voters who tend toward socialism do so from ignorance. None wants to be like Venezuela; they want to be like Sweden, but nobody really knows much about Sweden either. Legalize marijuana, pay off my student loan, pay for my college, and I will give you my vote.
The Electoral College Protects Liberty
The founders created the electoral college to protect the rights of the minority and the interests of smaller states when the President and Vice President are elected. The Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution improved the the way the original Article II, Section 1, Clause 3, of the Constitution functioned. It has been working well for 200 years.
Democratic socialists seek to abolish the electoral college, which would require a constitutional amendment. Amendments are historically difficult to pass. It requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate and the ratification of three-fourths of the 50 states, either by their legislatures or state ratifying conventions.
As unlikely as it is, socialists could conceivably accomplish their goal within the framework of our federal republic if enough socialist representatives were elected first in the Congress of the United States, and then in at least 3/4 of the state legislatures. Recent polls claim that 4 out of 10 Americans prefer socialism to capitalism. This preference may be due to ignorance of social theory and history or just mindless selfishness. Whatever the cause, apathy by the current majority might be a bigger danger to Liberty.
In the Federalist Papers, James Madison argued for representative democracy over direct democracy in order to protect individual Liberty from what Edmund Burke (1729-1797) called the “swinish multitude:” The danger we may face, despite the safeguards in our Constitution against direct democracy, is in the implementation of technology that allows everyone’s voice to be instantly heard, tallied, and acted upon, as if that voice were interested in the common good rather than each person’s narrow self-interest.
A Few Other Affronts to Liberty
In the western democracies there has been a lot of discussion about hate speech, defined by the American Bar Association as, “is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” While the Europeans are devising ways to punish people for speaking ill of their fellow-persons (fellowmen is sexist), our protected right of free speech has prevented speaking our minds from becoming a crime.
The radical Left is constantly pushing to redefine freedom in ways that violate other people’s right to unobstructed action according to their will within limits drawn around them by the equal rights of others.
Gender Neutral Language
The gender equality movement seeks to force the use specific gender neutral language, some would say in direct violation to freedom of speech if everyone were coerced to use such language. They attempt, with some success, to sanction students and professors in some universities who fail to use what they consider correct language.The LGBT Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin (among other schools) has been promoting the use of gender neutral pronouns. Language is a major way we relate to our environment and they seek to change the way LGBT people are treated by changing the language.
Major changes in language can seldom be dictated but occasionally logical changes can be quickly implemented. An example is the Novo Acordo Ortográfico (New Spelling Agreement) signed in Brazil in 1969 and phased in over a number of years with 2016 being the final year for complete implementation. In reality everybody adopted it quickly because it made spelling simpler. Dictionaries were quick to adopt the new changes. New generations of students learned to spell according to the new agreement. It was not just a voluntary exercise; it was the law!
In Brazil biscoito and bolacha are legally synonyms. Because Brazil once again, since the Constitution of 1988, has “Freedom of Expression,” half of Brazil calls a biscuit an biscoito while the other half calls it a bolacha and nobody knows which type of dozens of cookies, crackers, or dog biscuits either term really means. Clearly Brazil left Portugal in the dust on that reform of language. (This discussion about word meaning is just a brief, light-hearted diversion from our more serious theme of Liberty and Freedom)
Exceptions to Freedom of Speech
We accept that freedom of speech is not absolute. There are exceptions. We all know we cannot yell “fire” in a theater. We cannot incite someone to commit suicide or harm others. But insulting someone or making them “feel” bad is still protected by the Constitution.
In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942), the Supreme Court held that speech is unprotected if it constitutes “fighting words.” Such fighting words have to be directed at the person or hearer in direct proximity. The court held that fighting words “by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”
Since that time courts have been inconsistent in their definition of fighting words. Given the bitter political divisions we are now witnessing, fighting words are more common and, as we witness live on television, they go unprosecuted and unpunished. In this regard freedom of speech may be winning but the boundaries are being redefined.
National Security State
Without alleging any conclusions about the Patriot Act and the National Security Agency, the words of Benjamin Franklin, taken totally out of context seem appropriate: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Assuming the NSA is staffed by patriots who care as much about the 4th and 5th Amendments as do ordinary citizens, we will be safe, until the staff of the NSA decide that they alone are the true patriots and we common people cannot be trusted. We suspect that we may have reached this point.
Watch Reason Magazine’s discussion of the NSA facility in Bluffdale, Utah. How does the government’s collection of data compare to Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon? We will not attempt to answer that question.
Ignorance of New Voters
Perhaps the greatest threat to Liberty is the phenomenal ignorance of many new voters who seldom take solid courses in American history, and especially constitutional history. They also fail to study the philosophers of the Enlightenment who inspired later generations of statesmen to explore ideas of self government, with checks and balances. New voters who do not know what the Greeks and Romans did with ideas of democracy are ill prepared to resist the rule of a mob.
Was the Constitution Founded on Judaeo-Christian Principles?
The short answer is, yes.
Of the estimated 2,500,000 people in the 13 colonies at the time of the revolution, an overwhelming majority were Protestant. Approximately 35,000 were Roman Catholic, and 2,500 were Jews.
Religion played a large role in colonial life. Nevertheless the Founders carefully excluded religion from the Constitution and made an equally great effort to ensure that religious freedom became the law of the land.
All of the founders undoubtedly recognized that the moral underpinnings of Christianity were already incorporated into English Common Law. Going way back to the time of Henry VI (1422 to 1461) , a Chief Justice in a blasphemy case ruled: “A tielr leis que ils de Seint Eglise ont en ancien scripture, covient a nous a doner credence; car ceo (est) common ley sur quel touts mans leis sont fondes. Et auxy, Sir, Nous sumus obliges de conutstre lour ley de St. Eglise et semblablement ils sont obliges de conustre nostre ley.” (Remember the Anglo-Norman Language?)
The man was convicted for blasphemy.
The last person to be convicted for blasphemy in the U.S. was Abner Kneeland in 1838 in Massachusetts. Although the Bill of Rights forbade such religious cases at the federal level, the Kneeland case preceded the ratification (1868) of the 14th Amendment, which incorporated most of the Bill of Rights at the state level.
Friedrich Nietzsche and No Religion
Friedrich Nietzsche was an atheist during his short adult life. His famous line “God is Dead” simply meant that he had observed that a belief in the Christian God had become unbelievable and everything built upon faith in God, including “the whole of our European morality”, was destined for “collapse.” He did not think this was a good thing. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzschi observed, “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”
Nietzsche foresaw a time when a religious basis for morality would be supplanted by a secular version. He was not very optimistic that a secular morality would easily emerge to replace the collapse of the European Christian morality.
Founding Fathers and Religion
The Founding Fathers held diverse views of religion. The largest group professed Christian loyalties but were influenced to varying degrees by Deism, which espouses ideas of nature and reason deriving from the ideas of the Enlightenment. John Adams (Unitarian) and George Washington (Episcopalian) were on the Conservative right; Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe had more skeptical views. Monroe maintained a lifelong affiliation with the Episcopal Church but his writing suggest that he was not deeply immersed in religion.
Thomas Paine learned through painful experience that expressing his doubts about organized religion was economically punishing. A truism commonly repeated in the military is, “to get along, go along.” Instead Thomas Paine, arguably one of the greatest geniuses of his time, wrote a book called The Age of Reason that turned him from an American hero into a villain.
Many of the Founders were Freemasons, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock. Terms such as “Great Architect of the Universe:” come from Freemasonry and not from the Bible.
The Calvinist president of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, asked Benjamin Franklin about his his beliefs. In 1790, Franklin wrote the following, six weeks before he died.
“Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho’ it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble. I see no harm however in its being believed, if that Belief has the good Consequence as probably it has, of making his Doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the Believers, in his Government of the World, with any particular Marks of his Displeasure. I shall only add respecting myself, that having experienced the Goodness of that Being, in conducting me prosperously thro’ a long Life, I have no doubt of its Continuance in the next, tho’ without the smallest Conceit of meriting such Goodness.”
The Bible on Liberty
The Bible in English (KJV) makes 28 references to liberty and 2 references to freedom, but always within the context of not being in bondage. Clearly our founding fathers got their ideas of liberty, freedom. and rights from some other source.
Even 2 Corinthians 4:17 (Now the Lord is that Spirit : and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.), often cited by Christian apologists to claim that Liberty comes from God, does little to bolster the notion that the Constitution is directly inspired by God.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by people from many countries with different legal and cultural backgrounds and offers an interesting glimpse into modern thinking about Liberty, Rights, and Freedoms. It mentions Liberty only once, in Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” The rest of the declaration defines rights and freedoms to which people are entitled.
Freedom of religion is prominently mentioned. Article 18 – “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” This is important because in so many countries religion is not free and people are commonly killed because of religion.
Many other freedoms that we take for granted are also specified, such as freedom of assembly, speech, belief, equal protection, privacy (weak), right to marry and have a family, and a right to own property. Noticeably absent is the right to personal self defense. Presumably the state is responsible for “security of person”
We use the American spelling of defense, because the British spelling of defence is used only once in the context of being provided a proper defence when being brought up on criminal charges.
Otherwise there are many other rights that we fortunately do not mandate for ourselves The United Nations believes that, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
We also believe these things but we have a tradition of providing these things for ourselves, through our voluntary works of charity, and increasingly through governmentally directed welfare programs. The difference is this: the United Nations seems to imply that these are the duties of the state.
It is interesting to observe that in this politically correct world, the masculine pronouns, “him” and “his’ are used throughout the English version of the document as is our custom in English to signify any person of any gender, of ambiguous gender, or of no gender collectively with the masculine pronoun. Perhaps it should be changed as in this example of Article 10: ” Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of vis rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against ver.” Or we could discard the objective,and possessive cases altogether and use the single invented pronoun “zir” for both him and his. If this proves to be too difficult, one may use Google Translate to find the traditional meaning. If you tried it, you will see that Google is not up to speed on the translation of viz and ver.
With Such an Amazing Heritage, why Are We (U.S.) Not the Freest Country on the Earth?
Some citizens of the U.S. still believe that the United States is the freest country in the world. After all we have an amazing Constitution.
But so does Switzerland. As a matter of fact, they copied a lot of it from us. But they preserve and nurture theirs, while we have departed from very simple ideas and have created an unwieldy bureaucratic nightmare.
The Cato Institute publishes their annual review of personal, civil, and economic freedom. In 2017, the United States ranks number 17, after Switzerland (1), Hong Kong (2), New Zealand (3), Ireland (4), Australia (5), Finland (6), Norway (7) , Denmark (8), Netherlands (9), and the United Kingdom (also 9).
Click the Image to Download the Cato Report
Why Does Liberty Trump Freedom?
In short, our Liberty is what allows us to pursue everything we want or need, including freedom(s).
We have defined Liberty in the same way that Thomas Jefferson defined it: the ability to act in your own self interest bounded only by the equal rights of others.
Liberty is a natural consequence of existence – the fact that we were born and physically exist on the earth. We have Life; we have Liberty; and we have a portion of our physical existence, property, that makes it possible to pursue that elusive thing called happiness. Some claim to have happiness while in a state of poverty, but it is clearly easier to be happy with food in the belly and a roof overhead.
Freedoms are defined by governments of all kinds, including state governments, and vary from government to government. Freedoms are creatures of society.
People in Saudi Arabia do not have freedom of religion, speech, press, or assembly as we do in the United States, or despite what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says. Every person in Saudi Arabia has Liberty but must seek happiness within the context of limited freedoms as we define them. If one is a devout Muslim in Saudi Arabia, and a firm supporter of the Monarchy, what need is there for the freedom of religion? The choice has been made.
Other countries are similar to Saudi Arabia in allowing or preventing certain types of actions by citizens. Freedoms and rights are almost interchangeable. In the United States we have the freedom to defend ourselves from physical harm and in many states we have the right to carry a weapon on our persons to enforce that right if we are physically assaulted. Some states have chosen to limit that right under some circumstances. We are all equal but we do not have equal rights and freedom depending on where we physically live.
The United States is large and some states are as large and rich as many nations. Moving around for schools and jobs is an option. Liberty allows us to go to school to learn and lifelong learning is the easiest path to secure freedoms, freedom from want, freedom from fear.
Horace Greeley is credited with saying, “”Go West, young man.” The days of going west to find opportunity and freedom have passed. The western frontier is now California and Hawaii, states that rank near the bottom in personal and economic freedom, according to the Cato Report about freedom in the 50 States.
If we are unhappy with where we live, we have Liberty to act in our own best interest and move to another place where there may be more freedom or access to property. That is the Pursuit of Happiness, using our Liberty to make changes in the way we live.