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Difference Between Liberty and Freedom

Liberty vs Freedom

There are too many words in the English language. In fact, two or more words may mean the same thing, and one can be used in place of the other. Sometimes it can get confusing, and people find it hard to decide which word to use as in the case of the words “freedom” and “liberty”.

“Liberty” is defined as “the right and the power to believe, act, and express oneself as one chooses, of being free from restriction, and having the freedom of choice. It is the condition of having the power to act and speak without restraints.”

Liberty is the condition wherein individuals behave according to their will and govern themselves, taking responsibility for their actions and behaviors. Having liberty does not necessarily mean going against ethics and moral values. It is classified into: positive liberty wherein individuals act on their own will without being influenced by social restrictions and taboos, and negative liberty wherein individuals act without being influenced or coerced by other people.

The word “liberty” comes from the Latin word “libertatem” which means “freedom” or “condition of a freeman.” It came into the English language through the Old French word “liberte” which means “freedom.”

“Freedom,” on the other hand, is defined as “the state of being free to enjoy political, social, and civil liberties. It is the power to decide one’s actions, and the state of being free from restraints or confinement. It is synonymous to the words liberty, privilege, deliverance, and independence.”

It is also referred to as “free will.” The ability of each individual to make choices that are free from coercion or restriction. Even if an individual has free will or freedom, he is still bound to conform to religious and ethical doctrines because he is accountable for all his actions.

Freedom is enjoyed by all individuals except those who are in prison. People who have been coerced into doing something because they have conflicting ideas about it, although it is what they themselves desired to do, are also said to have exercised their freedom.

The word “freedom” comes from the Old English word “freodom” which means “state of free will, charter, or deliverance.” It in turn came from the Indo-European word “priyos” which means “dear” or “one’s own.” The word “freedom” is more concrete than the word “liberty” which is more associated with the notion of liberty in connection with the state. Freedom usually pertains to a person’s choices in everything that he does.

Summary:

1. “Liberty” is the power to act and express oneself according to one’s will while “freedom” is the power to decide one’s actions.
2. “Freedom” is a more concrete concept than “liberty” which is more associated with an individual’s connection with the state rather than with other individuals and circumstances.
3. “Liberty” comes from the Latin word “libertatem” which means “condition of a freeman” while “freedom” comes from the English word “freodom” which means “state of free will.”
4. Although an individual has freedom or liberty, he must still conform to what is morally right and ethical.


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3 Comments

  1. Liberty comes from the Latin word libertas, which means “unbounded, unrestricted or released from constraint.” Libertas even contains the idea of being separate and independent.

    The English word Freedom can trace its roots to the Germanic or Norse word Frei, describing someone who belongs to a tribe and has the rights and protections that go with belonging. Besides freedom the root frei becomes the English word friend.

    To have liberty is to be unencumbered.

    To have freedom is to have the aggregate benefits and protections provided by society.

    As citizens we give up some of our liberty in exchange for freedom. This is the social contract. It allows us to enjoy our liberty far more than we otherwise could. (Being unencumbered isn’t much fun in a lawless place like Sudan)

    Freedom is given by society to its constituents. For example, our society provides medicine, education and rule of law (among many other things). Any one of these would be far less valuable without any other. Therefore the aggregate is more than the sum of its part, so the word “freedom” has its own unique meaning.

    There is no other word for this concept, and by forgetting the meaning of “freedom” we have lost some of our appreciation that which unites us.

    • Give up liberty in exchange for freedom?
      Where in the world did you get that absurd notion?

      The difference between these two synonymous words is etymology. Freedom has a Germanic root and liberty has a Romance root. The words are often used in some contexts and not others, but this a cultural characteristic and not mainstream enough that you can make the affirmative claims you’ve been making.

      • Um… I think Stuart is much closer to the mark than you are, Pete! (I have studied politics at Oxford, so am not entirely ignorant in this field.)

        It is utterly ridiculous to claim “The difference between these two synonymous words is [simply] etymology.” “Freedom” and “liberty” are not precise synonyms.

        The English language actually has extremely few true synonyms (the statement at the beginning of this piece, “There are too many words in the English language. In fact, two or more words may mean the same thing, and one can be used in place of the other” is ludicrous and speaks more to the lack of fluency by the author).

        The reason for the multitude shades of grey in the English language is etymology across the Middle Ages: originally the tension between Old English and Old Norse which were closely related and had many apparent synonyms, and then subsequently between English and French. But unusually, the result is that pairs of words that originally had identical meanings have become subtly differentiated. The distinctions are much stronger in Queen’s English than American English: throughout the Commonwealth, for example, “enquiry” and “inquiry” have subtly different meanings, although they derive from the same word and in the US they are treated as synonymous. Similarly “liberty” and “freedom” have become distinct concepts.

        Pete: I suggest you read the essays of John Stuart Mill, the 19th Century author of liberalism in political philosophy, in particular his essay “On Liberty”. For that matter read Hobbes’ Leviathan, which has been around since the 17th Century. These are not only “mainstream” but canonical.

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