What is the true definition of liberty?

by | November 2, 2017 7:44 am

Language of Liberty – By By Mark Herr, CSG President

As a young person, my first encounter with the word LIBERTY came from the verse “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is Liberty”. Naturally inquisitive, I wondered, “So then, what is LIBERTY?” because “wherever the Spirit of the Lord is” there IT is…right?

Another encounter I had with this word came from the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…that we are endowed by our creator with Life, LIBERTY, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” At the time, I thought to myself, “it’s easy to know what Life and Pursuit of Happiness are, but again, what is LIBERTY?”

In an 1819 letter, Thomas Jefferson was asked to define Liberty. He said “[Liberty] is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful Liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”

He seemingly links his definition of liberty with the modern definition of unobstructed and confined freedom. I am not sure I agree with Jefferson, that Liberty or Rightful Liberty is as he defines it. As a matter of fact, I believe, on his journey to discover Liberty, he was actually defining Freedom, not Liberty.

Think of it, we all want to be left alone, to have our unobstructed freedom to worship (or in some states, smoke pot if we please). Yet, we also realize that we must draw limits around that freedom because we, unfortunately, do not live alone on Tom Hank’s castaway island.

We are all born into a nonstop, lifelong, tug-of-war between unobstructed and confined freedom.

My baby girl, Eliza, loves her unobstructed freedom to be naked. But unfortunately, mom and dad must confine her to that pesky diaper! Mom and Dad want their unobstructed freedom to study State constitutions and save the republic, but baby Eliza confines them to her immediate needs – and lets them know it!

Even though this is our life’s work and struggle, Liberty’s definition is still elusive to us.

I believe Liberty is a fruit: a fruit that is potentially borne in the soil of our unobstructed and confined freedoms. Have you ever heard that “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”?

Every fruit starts with a seed. The conditions must be just right, for a seed to take root. And possibly, just maybe, that sprout might grow into a fruit producing tree.

The seed of Liberty starts with the words we sow. We all know that we reap what we sow.

William Bradford fled religious persecution in 1620, was the primary party to the Charter of 1629, and yet, the people of Massachusetts reaped religious persecution in the Salem witch trials in the 1690s.

Will the words we sow into Liberty’s Constitution repeat the tug-of-war of freedom or bear the fruit of Liberty?

The roots of Liberty are hidden within each of us, in our hearts. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Some seeds were devoured, and some were scorched and withered because they had no root.

How deep will the roots of Liberty sink into the soil of our unobstructed freedom of western culture, and the newly confined freedom in the State of Liberty?

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time

with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

Growing the Tree of Liberty is just as much a toil and labor for us today, as it was for those who came before us.

When two or more people come into contact with other, the tug-of-war of freedom begins. In every case throughout history, chaos and oppression were its fruits. If a farmer sows apples, that farmer expects to grow apples. ‘By their fruits you shall know them’

So, then what is the fruit of liberty? What does ‘A state of Liberty’ look like? For ourselves, for our families, for our communities, for ‘THE State of Liberty’?

For ourselves, it is it when we personally embrace the tug-of-war of freedom.

For our families and our communities, it is seeing each other as separate and equal human beings, not as superior and inferior resources.

For the State of Liberty, it is seeing Government as an object, not as a beast to be used to oppress or create chaos in the lives of others.

If we want to make THE State of Liberty A state of liberty within ourselves:

  • Maintaining the meaning of words is what maintains our ability to bear the fruit of liberty. Liberty is all about words: ‘In the beginning was the word’.
  • This requires us to sacrifice our time; or ‘redeem the time’.
  • Be willing to have this struggle with our fellow human beings.
  • Be willing to spend the time navigating the meaning of words – just like the meaning of the word Liberty.

Chaos and oppression must be cleared out of the soil of freedom; like removing weeds that sap water and nutrients from the soil, allowing the roots of Liberty to grow deeper and stronger.

Maybe we don’t merely need to refresh the Tree of Liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants. Maybe speaking the language of Liberty is the very water that refreshes the Tree of Liberty.

Together, let’s create an orchard of Liberty in the soil of Freedom. Let’s mutually pledge to each other, through our labor of love with one another, to enjoy the fruitful harvest we will reap together from our Land of Liberty.

The Language of Liberty series is a collaborative effort of the Center for Self Governance (CSG) Administrative Team. CSG is a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization, dedicated to training citizens in applied civics. The authors include administrative staff, selected students, and guest columnists. The views expressed by the authors are their own and may not reflect the views of CSG. Contact them at CenterForSelfGovernance.com

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