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Q: Freedom and Liberty ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Freedom and Liberty
Category: Relationships and Society > Politics
Asked by: nosecone1023-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 08 Oct 2006 00:10 PDT
Expires: 06 Nov 2006 23:10 PST
Question ID: 771652
In regard to the words "freedom" and "liberty," what is the difference
in their meanings?
Subject: Re: Freedom and Liberty
Answered By: justaskscott-ga on 08 Oct 2006 02:19 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello nosecone1023,

Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg suggests that many languages do not
distinguish between "liberty" and "freedom."  Nunberg concedes that
"even in English, the words can sometimes seem to be equivalent." 
However, Nunberg notes a distinction:

".... liberty implies a system of rules, a 'network of restraint and
order,' hence the word's close association with political life. 
Freedom has a more general meaning, which ranges from an opposition to
slavery to the absence of psychological or personal encumbrances ...."

Nunberg finds that "liberty" was the dominant American patriotic theme
for 150 years.  But he observes that, more recently, "freedom" has
gained prominence, first on the left of the political spectrum (during
the New Deal and the civil rights movement), and then on the right
(during the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations).  "Liberty" has
remained in use -- by the left and more recently the right -- but
"less as a rallying cry" and more for "legalistic niceties."

"Freedom: More Than Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose," by
Geoffrey Nunberg (March 24, 2003)
The New York Times

Historian David Hackett Fischer has written a book on the concepts of
"liberty" and "freedom" in America.  According to the publisher,
Fischer finds that

"the words themselves had differing origins: the Latinate 'liberty'
implied separation and independence.  The root meaning of 'freedom'
(akin to 'friend') connoted attachment: the rights of belonging in a
community of freepeople."

In his book, Fischer traces the differences and tensions throughout
American history.

"Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas"
Oxford University Press

For reviews of "Liberty and Freedom," including additional summaries
of Fischer's views, see:

"Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas"

"Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas"
Barnes &

"David Hackett Fischer: Exploration of Liberty and Freedom," by
Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe, 12/7/04
History News Network

You might also consider this detailed commentary by a French-American
blogger.  His definitions are:

"'Freedom' as an exemption from control by some other person, or from
arbitrary restriction of specific defined rights like Worship, or

"'Liberty' as the sum of the rights possessed in common by the people
of a community/state/nation as they apply to its government, and/or
the expectation that a nation's people have of exemption from control
by a foreign power."

"Reflection on the difference between 'Freedom' and 'Liberty'" (May 31, 2006)
The Joker to the Thief

In sum, the difference between "freedom" and "liberty" is a basic
question with an answer long enough to fill a book, or at least some
nuanced commentaries.  Essentially, it seems that freedom and liberty,
while sometimes treated as identical, currently tend to connote in the
US, respectively, a broad patriotic community value of not being
controlled and a narrower legalistic concept of independence from

(Note: This is a largely US-centered answer.  If you need a bit of
follow-up research on how these terms are used elsewhere -- say in the
UK -- please let me know.)

- justaskscott

Search strategy:

Searched, mostly on Google, for combinations of these terms:

"freedom more than just another word"
david hackett fischer
"liberty and freedom"
"four freedoms"
"liberty cabbage"
"freedom fries"
"freedom rider"
"freedom riders"
nosecone1023-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

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