January 7, 2006 16:16 | Political / Social

freedom vs. liberty

Dictionary definitions of these two terms, just to make something clear:

the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint : we do have some freedom of choice | he talks of revoking some of the freedoms. See note at liberty .
• absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government : he was a champion of Irish freedom.
• the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved : the shark thrashed its way to freedom.
• the state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily : the shorts have a side split for freedom of movement.
• ( freedom from) the state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing) : government policies to achieve freedom from want.
• the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity.
• unrestricted use of something : the dog is happy having the freedom of the house when we are out.

1 the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views : compulsory retirement would interfere with individual liberty.
• (usu. liberties) an instance of this; a right or privilege, esp. a statutory one : the Bill of Rights was intended to secure basic civil liberties.
• the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved : people who have lost property or liberty without due process.
2 the power or scope to act as one pleases : individuals should enjoy the liberty to pursue their own interests and preferences.
• Philosophy a person's freedom from control by fate or necessity.

freedom, independence, liberty
The Fourth of July is the day on which Americans commemorate their nation's independence, a word that implies the ability to stand alone, without being sustained by anything else.
While independence is usually associated with countries or nations, freedom and liberty more often apply to people. But unlike freedom, which implies an absence of restraint or compulsion (: the freedom to speak openly), liberty implies the power to choose among alternatives rather than merely being unrestrained ( | the liberty to select their own form of government). Freedom can also apply to many different types of oppressive influences ( | freedom from interruption; freedom to leave the room at any time), while liberty often connotes deliverance or release ( | he gave the slaves their liberty).

Notice how the two definitions are very different except for in one instance; both include "the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved". Somewhere along the line, this convergence of definition allowed for a flip in the popular culture to occur, where simplistic freedom replaced the far more sinewed--and thus complicated--liberty in the public discourse. This is a tragedy.

Freedom and liberty are NOT the same thing. Freedom is devoid of responsibility ("nothing left to lose"?) and awareness for it's environment, people and society included...

"My freedom ends where yours begins"

This maxim speaks directly of the true nature of what it means to live in a group (which connotes a society, which connotes all sorts of things like laws and politics.) If "freedom ends", then it is not by definition freedom, for freedom has no limits. If I accept that there is a self and an other, and that we have met, then it is with liberty that we must live together. I am free to kill you, but living in a group it goes further than mere freedom, for I have the liberty to choose to do so and suffer the responsibility such an act entails.


Interesting point : I don't see any equivalent in french. English/French dictionnaries translate both liberty & freedom to "liberté".

Even if I look at a french dictionnary or a french synonym dict, there's nothing that allows to clearly differentiate the 2 concepts of liberty and freedom.

No matter which word we use, it's hard to be univocal.

Not even in German there is a division between freedom and liberty - an this language really has many semantic specifications for such stuff. Simply: FREIHEIT