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I have no use for freedom. I care about liberty. So? I am wondering if anyone understands the difference between the two.

TrevinKovahl58 6 Dec 8

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Liberty is derived from the Latin word, liber, meaning freedom. I see the words as synonyms. They mean pretty much the same thing. However, there is a sometimes negative connotation of liberty meaning beyond the bounds of propriety. A lot of the meaning of words is in how it is used.


To my understanding word liberty is a core concept of the political religion, namely liberalism. Originally a belief system that humans have been oppressed by the previous forms of society, mostly from western Europian perspective. So the tyrants would take form as kings and the church. And the argument was that people are not reaching their full potential because they are under rule of kings and popes, and therefore there should be new religion where we can liberate people from the old regimes.... and this became known as liberalism with the word liberty at the core of it. It is strictly political term, intertwined with the political religion of liberalism.

The word freedom is abstract and predates word liberty, but to give it some meaning we can also look at it in the context of politics and sociaty.

Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D. University of Oklahoma (1945 – 2012) was an American historian, scholar, educator, and author writing on the subjects of Ancient history, The History of Liberty, and classical studies. He is best known for his many lectures for the Teaching Company.

His view on the term freedom in the political context was as follows:

The three forms of freedom—national freedom, political freedom, and individual freedom—have achieved a unique balance in the United States.

The American ideal of freedom is the product of a confluence of five currents of thought stemming from the Old Testament, ancient Greece and Rome, Christianity, England, and the American frontier.

Each of these historical currents has added fundamental elements to the American ideals of national, political, and individual freedom. The result is a balance in which a strong national freedom is deeply rooted in constitutional liberty and the inalienable rights of the individual. History teaches that America has a unique legacy of freedom and one that may not be easily transplanted to other parts of the world, including the Middle East.

Is freedom a universal value?

Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, major decisions have been made and great wars fought in the belief that freedom is desired by people in all places and all times (discussed in The Teaching Company course A History of Freedom). World War I was fought to make the world safe for democracy. World War II was a struggle of democracy against fascism. The Cold War tried to prevent the spread of totalitarian Communism.

Freedom takes three forms: national freedom, political freedom, and individual freedom.

  • National freedom is the freedom of an entity—a nation, even a tribe—to be independent of foreign control.

  • Political freedom includes the right to vote, to participate in the assembly, and to have a fair trial.

  • Individual freedom, the freedom to live as you choose as long as you harm no one else, includes freedom of thought and speech, as well as economic and religious freedom.

The United States has achieved a remarkable intermingling of national, political, and individual freedom. We have never known foreign conquest. We take political freedom for granted—even during the Civil War, in 1864, we had an election. We have individual freedom to a degree seldom equaled in history.

These types of freedom are not mutually inclusive. For example, North Korea has national freedom but no political or individual freedom. The same was true for Hitler’s Third Reich. The Roman Empire had no national or political freedom but had enormous individual freedom. Throughout history, nations have been willing to give up political and individual freedom to protect themselves against foreign intrusion or invasion.

Ancient civilizations had no clear concept of political or individual freedom. Ancient Egyptians did not have a word for freedom. Mesopotamia had a word for it, but it meant the gift of a sovereign, such as the privilege of not paying taxes for a specified period.

The unique evolution of freedom in the United States has given it the illusion that the rest of the world also desires our kind of freedom. History shows that many civilizations have chosen otherwise.

China had a concept of national independence early on, but it never developed the idea of freedom. The Analects of Confucius talks of order, not freedom (discussed in The Teaching Company course Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life).

The Chinese chose to accept the benefits of order and authoritarian rule over the awesome responsibility of self-government. In China, order flows from the leader, who sets a model of dutiful obedience for the people. China has flourished without an idea of freedom.

The early civilization that arose in the Indus Valley did not develop national or political freedom. Instead, it turned to the writings of Buddha, which emphasize spiritual freedom. The individual search for salvation was most significant.

The spread of democracy in the 20th century is largely attributable to the example of the United States. We made political freedom a founding principle in the Declaration of Independence with the famous words:

"all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Five currents of thought stemming from the Old Testament, ancient Greece and Rome, Christianity, Britain, and the American frontier have shaped the American view of freedom.

From the Christian Bible: The Old Testament is the most noble example to come down to us from the ancient Near East of an idea of freedom—essentially national freedom. In the book of Exodus, God calls Moses to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt to receive the Ten Commandments, a set of laws. The Old Testament is largely the story of how Israel reached greatness—and national freedom—because it followed the laws of God, then collapsed because it deviated from that path.

From the Old Testament, Americans inherited the idea of themselves as a chosen people, given freedom so that they can bear a special mission to the world. The Old Testament was important for the Founders of our country, in particular James Madison. Sermons played a key role in motivating the American people during the American Revolution. From ancient Greece and Rome, we derive two crucial features of the American ideal of freedom: political freedom and natural law.

In ancient Greece and Rome, political freedom was essential to one’s duties as a citizen. Freedom—to vote, to serve in the army, to hold office—was a responsibility. However, individual freedom was limited. Pericles defended the right of individuals to live as they chose as long as they didn’t harm others. Nonetheless, Socrates was put to death for blasphemy and for corrupting the youth of Athens because he did not worship the Athenian gods and, thus, did not fulfill his duties as a citizen.

Rome continued the Greek ideal of natural law, the belief in an absolute law based on universal justice and truth. Found in Socrates, this notion was carried into the world by the Roman Empire, whose written law stated that all men are created equal and are endowed with the right of liberty.

As we know, slavery was practiced in ancient Rome; thus, many of its people were denied liberty. But the idea of natural law would pass from Rome to Christianity. Christianity provided another ideal that is crucial to freedom, the limitation of government power. This concept, developed in the 4th and 5th centuries, holds that the world is divided into two separate spheres, the sphere of God and the sphere of man. The sphere of God is superior. Early Christianity asserted that people owed absolute obedience to their rulers, but that governments themselves were appointed by, and owed obedience to, God.

Throughout the Middle Ages, popes clashed with emperors and kings. Repeatedly, the pope triumphed because he possessed the keys to heaven and the ability to excommunicate rulers from the church. Even the powerful Holy Roman Emperor or the king of England could be barred from the sacraments of God and, hence, salvation. From these clashes came the idea of limiting the power of government.

Christianity enriched the heritage of the United States through the transmission of natural law, through its continuation of the idea of God’s choice, and through the proposition that government, just like the individual, comes under the law of God.

Protestant Christianity brought the idea of a chosen people elected by God to spread his word, as with the Puritans, who left England in search of religious freedom in the New World. This idea of individual choice, guided by God, led early Americans to assert that the king was violating their rights as British subjects.

The fourth current of thought came from Britain and the ideal of a government of laws. The concept of common law, law that is common to the realm, began with the Magna Charta in 1215. Throughout English history, kings tried to assert their personal authority, but the law of England took primacy.

The American Founders were convinced that the British Parliament could not violate their rights as Englishmen, including the rights to bear arms, meet in assemblies, and choose their own magistrates. Parliament, like the king, was not above the law.

The Declaration of Independence brought together two great currents of thought: natural law, which declared that all men are created equal and endowed with certain rights, and common law, which held that governments are instituted to secure the individual rights of the people.

When people judge that their government no longer secures their rights, they have the duty to overthrow that government and establish a new one. Thomas Jefferson listed the ways in which King George and Parliament had violated the colonists’ rights as Englishmen. He didn’t create new ideas but harmonized the general sentiments of the age. The fifth and final element of American freedom is the idea of the frontier. From Jamestown in 1607 into the 19th century, the American frontier has meant freedom, equality, and a chance to start anew.

In 1775, the year the Battle of Lexington was fought, Daniel Boone led the first group of settlers through the Cumberland Gap. The settlement they founded, which ultimately became part of Kentucky, was named Lexington, after the battle. Some of our greatest leaders, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, were raised on the frontier. The frontier gave people from the Old World a new identity.

The legacy of freedom in the United States is unique and precious, but it may not be easy to transplant to other parts of the world. For example, Russia was shaped by the same Old Testament background, deeply ingrained Christianity, and the traditions of Greece and Rome. What it lacks is the English tradition of limited government. Its frontier became a gulag instead of a place of freedom.

Essential Reading: Adler, The Idea of Freedom Fears, A History of Freedom, Lectures Fifteen through Twenty-Eight. Fears, “Freedom: The History of an Idea.”

Supplementary Reading: Kirk, Roots of American Order. Zacharia, The Future of Freedom.


The condition of being free from confinement, servitude, or forced labor.
The condition of being free from oppressive restriction or control by a government or other power.
A right to engage in certain actions without control or interference by a government or other power.

The condition of not being in prison or captivity.
The condition of being free of restraints, especially the ability to act without control or interference by another or by circumstance.
The condition of not being controlled by another nation or political power; political independence.

I guess you really cannot have one without the other.


I often use the words interchangeably, it depends on the context.
I would describe the difference like this:

Immediate Freedom is the latitude to move about or take actions that you want to take, as a matter of circumstance.
i.e., ...just because nothing is stopping you at the moment.

Liberty is effectively the same... but refers to an absolute freedom (within the relevant context) as a matter of right, not circumstance.
i.e., Nothing can stop you, not legitimately, without violating your rights.

When you can do something that you want to do, or even when you are compelled to do something that you don't want to do, the only question that matters is: who's discretion am I exercising?"
If it's your own discretion, you're free; or "liberated". You have Liberty.
If it's somebody else's... you're not, and you don't; whether you can do what you want to at the moment is irrelevant.


In short, the former is merely absence of subjection to domination or from tyrannical Government, whilst the latter is the actual state of being free within society from tyrannical and oppressive actions by those in positions of authority. Am I correct?

One of the questions I have been trying to resolve is. I am free to play my stereo as loud as I want to. That is freedom. But I have the responsibility not to infringe on my neighbors. And I keep thinking you have freedom. But liberty is a function of freedom mixed with responsibility But I just can not seem to suss it out. I just wanted ideas on it. Not about getting the answer right or wrong. Just trying to figure it out.

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