Liberty is a noun defined as: the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.
Freedom is a noun defined as: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
The two words are used interchangeably. Go all the way back to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary and Liberty is used in Freedom’s definition.
But are they full-on synonyms? I posit no.
Liberty is external. It is the relationship between a person and the society in which they live. The rules, laws, punishments and expectations handed down from the political or social governing institutions delimit liberties. If you are in prison, your physical liberty is profoundly curtailed. Screw up in prison and you are off to solitary confinement and deeper restrictions on your physical liberty.
Until recently, women in Saudi Arabia were not at liberty to drive. As in, it was illegal to get behind the wheel if you sport a vagina.
We hold Freedom of Speech as a key constitutional right in the U.S.
What this freedom prescribes is the liberty to speak openly without fear of being whisked off in the foggy bottoms of the dark night never to be heard from should you disagree with the powers in charge.
The reality of liberty v. freedom is this: you are free to choose the degree of liberties, and lack thereof, by which you will abide. Liberties are prescribed. Freedom is a state of being.
Victor Frankl gave intense examples of freedom v. liberty in his accounts from the Nazi Concentration Camps during his internment in World War II. Hoarding food or sharing food were both considered violations. Caught engaging in either behavior risked severe punishment. People frequently did both.
Frankl’s observation of the hoarding v. sharing behavior is a beautiful parallel to liberty v. freedom.
Hear me out…
Hoarding scraps of bread reflected loss and scarcity. Fear and desperation that each so-called meal might in fact, be the last. Because sometimes it was. Sometimes days would go by between provisions. The hiders and hoarders were prisoners to their bones. This is not a dispersion. I can see myself there. Their personal liberties shattered; they also lost their freedom.
The sharers would often give their meager portions to sick friends, sneak their own bread to bunk mates who had been denied food in punishment, or shared their portion with a fellow prisoner who’s suffering was observed to be far deeper than their own. The sharers were just as imprisoned as the hoarders. Their circumstances no better, their futures equally as bleak and their liberty equally withheld. Yet somewhere deep in the sharer’s mental road map, they knew in their bones they were free to do as they chose. Not without great risk of course, they weren’t delusional. They just felt they could make the choice and could act on the choice. Their liberties shattered, they held on to their personal agency. Their freedom.
Liberty is externally dictated. And across the planet most of humanity is experiencing curtailed liberties in an effort to stem the rate of infection during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Your freedom; however, that is up to you. How much you abide by the orders given by your government, how you choose to engage your state of confinement during the Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders is up to you.
If you 100% quarantine you have chosen to inhibit your liberty. Your government did not force you to do so.
*from The Ballad of Serenity by Sonny Rhodes