This past week or so, law blogger Eugene Volokh wrote two pieces about the word freedom, and how we use that word, and its synonyms, differently: Freedom and Hypocrisy, on December 28, and “We All Declare for Liberty.”
The point of Volokh’s first piece is that calling each other hypocrites when we are really just using different definitions is polarizing rather than helpful. And that is worth considering. He followed up with a reminder of a similar discussion by Lincoln in 1864:
|Volokh shared this image in his piece,|
from the Library of Congress
The world has never had a good definition of liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in need of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.
With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names—liberty and tyranny.
The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty.— Abraham Lincoln, in his Address at a Sanitary Fair, Baltimore, Apr. 18, 1864
One thing about truth is that it is timeless. Lincoln’s words could have just been spoken.
Volokh’s pieces got me thinking, because I use freedom (and liberty, as a synonym) as one of the three main things we’re trying to restore and retain in the Spherical Model—freedom, prosperity, and civilization. So I thought it might be worth defining the way I use the term, plus maybe some related terms. I’m combining my favorite 30-year-old Webster’s dictionary with my own words.
Freedom: absence of hindrance, restraint, confinement, repression. In the political sense, it is ownership of one’s own life and the production of wealth and property that results from one’s use of life and effort. A government should protect the freedoms of life, liberty, and property; it does not grant these things, but protects them from infringement. A government that takes life, liberty, or property unjustly—when the person has not unlawfully infringed on those rights of another person—that is a tyrannical government, which is the opposite of freedom.
Political freedom means living in a society in which our God-given rights are protected rather than infringed. These would include freedoms of belief and expression, such as freedom of religion and freedom of the press, as well as freedoms of property and security, such as freedom from illegal searches and seizures and the right to bear arms.
Liberty: synonym of freedom. It is ownership of one’s own life, to pursue as one chooses, and to enjoy the fruits of one’s efforts. No person or government or other entity owns a person or controls how the person pursues happiness.
Libertine: originally from Roman society, a libertine meant a freed slave, but in our day it is a person who leads an unrestrained, sexually immoral life.
License: implies violating the usual rules, laws, or practices—taking some privilege not generally allowed because of its possible harm to other individuals or the entire society. Some licenses are legal—such as a driver’s license. A person becomes free to drive with the license, or permission, after proving ability or qualification.
Licentious: disregarding accepted rules and standards, morally unrestrained, lascivious.
I don’t use freedom to refer to doing whatever one wants without suffering the consequences; that is licentiousness. That is what a libertine does, rather than a lover of liberty.
When I use freedom, it is in relation to the God-given rights—those things we are born with, granted by God, not by some government or other entity. I do not include things that are nice to have, but not naturally given, such as freedom from want, or entitlement to have food, clothing, shelter, education, and other things that must be provided to a child by someone else, preferably parents, until the child becomes capable of self-providing those things.
If someone is entitled to those things, then someone else is required—enslaved—to provide them. If the parents provide these things, that is part of the agreement taken on when the couple choose to conceive a child to bring into the world; they choose to provide, so they are not enslaved. But the neighbor down the street didn’t bring that child into the world and isn’t required to use up his life in providing that child’s comfort.
What happens when parents cannot, or do not, provide? Shouldn’t the larger society step in and provide those things? In a civilized society, yes, people voluntarily provide for the needy, when they can. That is charity, or philanthropy. When government forces the confiscation and redistribution, even to those needy that we would sympathetically choose to help, that government is not being charitable, but tyrannical.
|The Political Sphere|
When government uses force to “do good” that is not government’s limited role of protecting life, liberty, and property, there will be unintended consequences, usually exactly the opposite of the stated “good.”
In the summary to the political sphere section of the Spherical Model, “The Political World Is Round,” I ask several questions to determine whether a considered policy will lead toward freedom or toward tyranny. One of these is to make use of the Bill of Rights:
Does the policy infringe in any way on the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights? Does the policy infringe on the free exercise of religion or try to establish a particular sect as a state religion? Is political speech hindered? Does the policy infringe on the right of citizens to bear arms? Does the policy constitute an illegal search or seizure? Does the policy deprive a person of life, liberty, or property when the person has not committed a crime for which that deprivation is the just sentence? Does the policy try to claim for government a power that was not specifically granted in the Constitution? etc. If the policy infringes on the God-given rights, then government cannot take that power without usurping power from the people.
We get the most freedom, prosperity, and civilization when we live the principles in all three spheres simultaneously. We limit government to protecting our God-given rights of life, liberty, and property. We exchange the results of our labor freely, within a free market economy that includes voluntary charity. We grow civilization when a critical mass of us worship God, who gave us our rights, and we value family, life, property, and truth—values you might recognize from the Ten Commandments.