Freedom + Morality = Liberty
In the years leading up to the Declaration of Independence, the British colonies in America were engaged in a deep and spirited debate. The need for independence peeked around history’s corner, and inklings of the coming separation from Britain whispered gently to the minds of great colonial patriots. A resident fear lurked in the discussion: were the American people sufficiently moral and virtuous—dedicated to living by the standards of right and wrong that protect all people—to warrant independence? Only after prolonged public debate did the great patriots believe it was safe to move forward with a freedom initiative.
These great men knew that Freedom and Liberty are not the same thing. While the colonies could declare freedom, they must have liberty in order to succeed as a new and independent nation. They understood that while freedom is the child, liberty is the seasoned adult. Their goal, given the pathway to reality in 1787 in the U.S. Constitution, was liberty.
Today we mistakenly confuse the two, thinking they are synonyms; that freedom is the end goal. Freedom—the right to choose—is an inalienable right, meaning God gave it to us, beginning in the Garden of Eden. Some believe we are free to do whatever we want. While technically this is true, practically and morally it is not. With it comes a duty; we must use our freedom so we don’t injure others.
Our inalienable rights include all we need to live well: the right to select our leaders, earn and keep property, move about freely, protect ourselves and be protected by law, and speak freely, to name a few. Most of us use these rights well and society runs smoothly. However, if we are allowed to earn and keep our property, we must allow others to do so; if we can move about freely we must allow others the same, unless their unwise actions demand confinement. If we want law to protect us, it must protect all of us. These are our duties.
Liberty is the natural result of using freedom wisely—the appropriate exercise of the duty and right together. Liberty is freedom wisely used. Like sourdough, freedom is the starter for liberty, and is used to create it.
It is not freedom, but liberty—the two combined—that gives us the ability to appropriately govern ourselves. When the vast majority of us join these two “twin sisters”, as founding father James Wilson named them, we can be trusted to govern ourselves; we deserve trust. When freedom is used unwisely, to hurt others or only for our own wants, liberty always dies. Then we require masters.
A few people will always misuse their rights. The challenge is to correct the misuse while we protect the right. Too often, in a knee-jerk reaction to individual incidents, we take away the right of personal choice from all of us. For example, with an estimated 270 million firearms in the U.S.—89 guns for every 100 people—we have only a handful of gun incidents or accidents daily. Despite millions of Americans who, day after day wisely handle guns, government threatens us with losing our right to own weapons of protection.
If liberty is available only when freedom is perfectly applied, it will never survive. From the beginning of time there have been tragic accidents and reprobates; everybody never does everything right. Our American rule of law is by the majority, not the fractional minority. Taking guns from all because a few misuse them is not rational.
Liberty is our goal. With it all else falls into place.