What Does it Mean, This Word, “Liberty”?

LIBERTY:  autonomy: immunity from arbitrary exercise of authority: political independence, freedom of choice; to think or feel or do just as one pleases; personal freedom from servitude or confinement or oppression.

That’s what the dictionary calls liberty, and it’s a good definition.  However in practical use, liberty has a far deeper meaning, and at one time, was ingrained in the majority of Americans’ beliefs, and ideas.  Our forefathers forged ahead with a resolve to better themselves, their families, their communities, and their nation.  They were largely left alone by the government and exercised their will to do what they wanted with their lives, their money and their property.  They were secure in their belief that they could live without fear of government infringement on their constitutionally protected right of life, liberty and property. 

People today still believe they enjoy the same liberty and self-determination of our forefathers.  But we really don’t, not to the degree of our ancestors.  People believe we still enjoy our protected right of property, but that can’t be true when we are forced to pay a tax on that property – essentially a rent payment to the government, which if not paid could result in seizure of property – so who really owns it?  Apathy and complacence seem to have crept in and replaced the ideals of individual liberty and self-determination.  These would seem to be largely lost in today's society.  Most are happy to go on blindly as long as their basic wants and needs are fulfilled – as long as they remain pacified.  People would rather “go with the flow”, or not “rock the boat”.  Nobody ever, ever, wants to offend or be disliked.  This apathetic, complacent, people-pleasing ethos results in a dumbed-down, uninformed populace easily manipulated by the media and special interests.  It encourages dishonest political correctness, and passive-aggressive attitudes that ignore real issues and continue to program a generation of mindless followers, and very few leaders.

Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.  –Thomas Jefferson

As a result of these contrary attitudes of subservience, political correctness, and dependence on the government, people have abandoned individual liberty and responsibility and grabbed on to group mentalities like freedom of choice, and equal rights.  However, in these arguments, the individual rarely gets to decide what his “choices” are.  Cases of legal action for a group’s “equal rights” tend to grant greater rights for the group demanding them, at the expense, and loss of rights to the people supposedly causing the inequity.  Individual liberty and self-determination, when properly protected by adherence to the Constitution, tend to render a group’s argument for the protection of freedom of choice or equal rights moot.  For if individual liberty were truly protected, everybody would be seen as equal in the eye of the law – regardless of sex, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.  In the words of Martin Luther King, people would be judged by the “content of their character”.

As long as my actions don't violate the rights of another, I may enjoy freedom and liberty to do as I please without government imposition, restraints, or controls.  – Libertarian Belief

The clincher for most people is that individual liberty carries with it personal responsibility they’re not ready or willing to accept.  The prospect of self-determination scares a lot of people because true liberty comes without the government’s safety net, and consequences of one’s actions can be painful or costly.  A person bears the sole responsibility of his own actions in a truly free society, and must answer for his actions if they violate the right of another person.  The only real safety net that comes with Liberty, and self-determination, is personal integrity, honesty, family, faith, and respect for one’s fellows, among others.  One must assume these ideals for himself – they can be taught, but the individual must choose to accept them.  Sadly, and not surprisingly, there is a decided LACK of these traits in our modern society today.

Most people don't know the true meaning of the word, liberty, and would not know what to do with it would they have it.  To most, the word is something they heard in school when they were learning about America’s first revolution.  To others, it’s an SUV made by JEEP.  “LIBERTY” is emblazoned on all U.S. coins, but sadly has lost its meaning, every bit as much as another phrase on our money, “In God We Trust.”  It’s almost as if liberty has been removed from our national psyche.

“We have lots of freedom in America.  It’s the job of the government to give us our freedom, and protect us when things go wrong.  They know what’s best for us, and pass laws for our own good.  The government has my best interests at heart.  – Typical American Attitude

Apathy, complacence, subservience – these seem to be the general attitude of most, and result from sustained conditioning.  Most of us have grown up and live in a welfare, entitlement rich, state.  People have come to expect the government to come to the rescue for everything, from forest fires to housing slumps, to education and the airlines.  We The People have learned to cry for rescue, and shrink from adversity, instead of standing up and taking action on our own.  Little by little, we’ve relinquished our liberty and freedom in favor of trusting our government rather than trusting ourselves, our God, and our fellows.

Anywhere the government favors are accepted, individual liberty is sold.

The fact that must be presented to people when discussing freedom, liberty, and the roll of our government is this:  The job of our government is to PROTECT individual liberty, NOT grant it.  Our rights are endowed by our creator – they are inalienable, and they are protected by the Constitution.  America’s republican form of government is revolutionary in its own right.  Ideally, our government is constructed to operate under the control of We The People, by our authority through our representatives, and in our interest …quot; not the other way around.  We were never meant to be under control of the government; never meant to live and work to support government for government’s sake.  That is tyranny – that is fascism.

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.  – Thomas Jefferson

The constitution was purposefully written in such a way to protect individual liberty, guarantee states’ rights, grant control of currency to congress, preventing the formation of a central bank, and to restrain the government from overtaxing, and abusing authority.  But those things are largely ignored today by we the citizens, those we elect, our courts, and sadly, by our current president – a man sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States.

“…it’s just a goddamn piece of paper.”  – George W. Bush referring to the Constitution in 2005

Is this the nation we want leave to our children and grand children?  Where our highest ranking officials harbor disdain for our founding documents and beliefs?  What can we as citizens of The United State, the last best hope for freedom in the world, do to ensure our nation is free and prosperous for future generations?  The answer is simple, and passed down from our Founders:

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”  – Declaration of Independence, 1776

Learn the meaning of Liberty and Self-Determination.  Research what our Founding Fathers intended for their new nation and take from the wisdom they’ve passed down to us.  Pass on what you learn to your families and friends, and encourage them to learn as you have.  Begin to sew the seeds of a new revolution in America, today.  A revolution to retake the freedoms we’ve allowed to be lost through apathy, complacency, and ignorance.  Shake off your sheep mentality and start to think as an individual.  Get politically active and start a movement for change in your community.  That is where it has to start – at the grassroots.

Permission to copy with attribution granted.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author/contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nolan Chart or its ownership


  1. Terryeo says

    I like the article but feel a very obvious and most important element has been given too little exposure. When our country was founded there were vast tracts of land that were free. Liberty included the liberty to move onto land, to settle and develop that land and to build toward a community’s future and that included settler’s children’s future.

    Whereas today the word Liberty does not include those features because nearly all easily settled and developed land has been settled and used and is being used today. Perhaps the largest single difference between America of 250 years ago and America today is this lack of free land where a family can move to and develop as they see fit for their own reaped rewards. And so then, today’s Liberty does not carry that one, particular freedom the Liberty of 250 years ago held.

  2. Mark Vogl says

    Excellent article. Concur completely with your thoughts. Wish you had identified the source of Liberty, God. It was God who gave Adam and Eve choice, or liberty. And when they were put out of the Garden that liberty was NOT taken away, rather it was inherent to the human character and an inalienable right. But man in his evil, through the Supreme Court placed a woman’s convenience above the right to life…and thus women have the liberty to take life!

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