In politics and philosophy liberty refers to the civil freedoms to which all people are entitled, in a state of nature it refers to total freedom. Given this we can say there are generally two types of liberty:
- Natural liberty: The complete freedom one has in a state of nature when not in a social compact with others.
- Civil liberty: Freedoms granted by the state, when one is in a social compact with others.
Liber in Latin means free, so Liberty broadly refers to the idea that all humans are born with inalienable rights (rather than these rights being bestowed upon them by a Government). The political philosophy born from the concept of liberty is “liberalism” (with conservatism being the push against this). See Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Burke, and Mill. The political philosophy that came after this addressed additional civil liberties necessary for a just state, and this is called social liberalism.
Although there is no agreement on the definition of Liberty (see nearly every political faction and war fought from 1688 on), we can broadly say liberty includes concepts such as: the social contract, freedom from kings, freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly, freedom of trade, and generally the freedom to consent to be governed. Or perhaps, in sum, simply the freedom to pursue happiness.
The Romanticist version sees all men as naturally good and applies liberty to emotions, libertines apply it to the freedom to enjoy life’s sensual pleasure, libertarians accept social injustice in exchange for individual liberty, social liberals say humans can’t have liberty if they live in squalor, some think democracy breeds liberty, others think it can only be obtained in a republic ruled by law, some even think Monarchy or Communism is the path toward liberty… some, to the frustration of most everyone else, use liberty as an excuse to push their own special interests (as what is natural liberty if not deregulatory?).
We all agree liberty is one of the most important underlying concepts of humanity, but rarely do we agree on its meaning or the mechanics that it takes to achieve it.
According to John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government:
- “In the state of nature, liberty consists of being free from any superior power on Earth. People are not under the will or lawmaking authority of others but have only the law of nature for their rule. In political society, liberty consists of being under no other lawmaking power except that established by consent in the commonwealth. People are free from the dominion of any will or legal restraint apart from that enacted by their own constituted lawmaking power according to the trust put in it. Thus, freedom is not as Sir Robert Filmer defines it: ‘A liberty for everyone to do what he likes, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws.’ Freedom is constrained by laws in both the state of nature and political society. Freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of nature. Freedom of people under government is to be under no restraint apart from standing rules to live by that are common to everyone in the society and made by the lawmaking power established in it. Persons have a right or liberty to (1) follow their own will in all things that the law has not prohibited and (2) not be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, and arbitrary wills of others.”
Or as Jefferson put it quoting Locke,
- “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
Of course this message isn’t much different than the one that Aristotle writes in his version of the Athenian Constitution (350 BC) where he quotes Solon (who lived in 600 BC). Or, that Aristotle himself writes in his masterwork Nicomachean Ethics.
- ‘The purpose of all human acts is to procure happiness’ – (rough translation) Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics book 1, section 7. A book on moral virtue as understood by Aristotle.
Factoids tagged with "Liberty"
What we call the political left and right are an outgrowth of liberty and the human condition. Once people are free to express themselves, they will create a left and right (because left and right are a reflection of human nature). This is essentially true for any issue or debate, be it national politics, a local community issue or even a family or other small group issue.
Hitler was a National Socialist (NAZI). National Socialism is a type of fascism. Although National Socialism had some socialist and left-wing planks, it is a unique authoritarian, militant, and nationalist ideology separate from socialism or liberalism that is generally considered “far-right.”
Although we can consider Jeremy Bentham the founder of modern Utilitarianism, and his successor John Stuart Mill the one who popularized it, early Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Aristippus and Epicurus presented the original Utilitarian / Consequentialist / Greatest Happiness theories.
The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate and hosts more prison inmates than all other developed nations combined.
The song “Hail, Columbia” is one of several songs once considered an unofficial national anthem of the United States.
While the term Columbia sometimes refers to the whole New World (all the Americas), historically the United States of America was referred to as Columbia.
Extreme equality and an extreme inequality are both equally as dangerous in a democratic society. In both cases it corrupts the government.
As James Madison said when discussing special interest factions and liberty in the Federalist #10, “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires”.
All collectives are comprised of individuals, and all individuals comprise collectives; thus we can never fully consider collectives without considering individuals, or vice versa.
Historically, Protestantism is like classical liberalism (individual liberties and rights) and Catholicism is like social liberalism (state enforced social justice).
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) can be read as a political metaphor where Dr. Frankenstein and his monster represent the philosophies and attitudes of the liberal revolutionaries, specifically those of the French Revolution and ensuing “Reign of Terror.”
Madison drafted both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but he wasn’t the sole author of either, both were debated and approved by committees.
Niccolò Machiavelli can be considered the father of modern political science, and his book The Prince one of the first works of modern political philosophy (if not just modern philosophy).
Thomas Jefferson never said, “every generation needs a new revolution”, but he did say, “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”
The point of the Second Amendment is to secure a free-state via a well-regulated state-run militia. Thus, people have the right to keep and bear arms.
The United States is both a Republic and a Democracy. Specifically, the United States is a Constitutional FederalRepublic with a strong Democratic tradition and many democratic elements especially on a local level. Despite the democratic elements and traditions, the U.S. is not however a “Direct Democracy” (where people vote on laws directly*).
Blog Posts tagged with "Liberty"
Social liberalism is the ideology of collective liberties and rights that favors social welfare and justice. It comes in a political and economic form.
Classical liberalism is the ideology of liberties, rights, individualism, reason, and tolerance that comes in a political and economic form.
Conservatism is the ideology of governmental, cultural, and economic order, tradition, hierarchy, and authority that generally comes in classical, social, and economic forms.
In his Republic, Plato examines how Democracy can lead to Tyranny in a republic. We explain Plato’s theory as it pertains to democracy and tyranny.
The problem with unsubstantiated information is that it is unverified as true, and often leaked by sources with plausible deniability, which is confusing.
On this page we discuss the concepts of fairness, justice, morality, and ethics as they relate to Utilitarianism.
Liberalism is the political ideology of liberty and equality, where classical liberalism emphasizes individual liberty and social liberalism emphasizes social equality.
We explain Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes Day, and the symbolism behind the the Guy Fawkes mask, the fifth of November, and the Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot.
“Civil Religion” is the civic “religion” of a nation. It doesn’t describe the theological religion of a nation, but rather a quasi-religious shared identity built around national symbolism and customs.
In modern history political factions have often been represented by a color, we look at political color to understand color politics.
We explain neoliberalism, globalization, nativism, and protectionism and the pros and cons of “neoliberal globalization” and “nativist protectionism.”
The Optimates like Pompey (aristocrats) and Populares like Julius Caesar (populists) were two opposing political factions at the onset of the fall of the Roman Republic.
The four “elements” (or “powers”) that form the foundation of government can roughly be expressed as: citizens, executive, legislative, and judicial.
We often attribute the origin of the state of nature argument to Hobbes, but it can be traced to thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, and the Sophists in the 300s BC, and is then mused on by other early philosophers.
Modern banking originated in Italy around 1150 as Jews fleeing persecution brought new practices, including “discounting”, to the merchant banks of the Italian piazzas.
The state of nature is the state humans lived in before forming the first societies. By examining the state of nature we can better understand the implicit and explicit social contracts which govern societies.
Different types of government can be said to be based on a number of attributes like power source, power structure, and economic system.
In practice, human action often has paradoxical or unintended effects. Sometimes effects or side effects even have the exact opposite effect as intended.
We examine the historical effects of social, political, and economic inequality on society to see how it has led to social unrest and events like revolutions and populist uprisings.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the General Will roughly means “that which is in the best interest of the people” or “the public good”, and not just popular consensus.
Naturally occurring social systems are systems that naturally arise when societies form, such as politics, economics, mathematics, and language.
We explain and list the types of governments. We cover the basic classical forms of government, the many types of governments that can be derived from the classical forms, and the actual forms of governments in practice.
Social Contract Theory is the theory of why people form governments based on how people lived in a State of Nature before government.
We explain liberalism and conservatism, including the different social and classical types of liberalism and conservatism.
Collectivism describes ideology (political or otherwise) that favors the collective, like-wise Individualism describes ideology that favors the individual.
We explain Adam Smith as a Moral Philosopher, and explore how his Theory of Moral Sentiments connects to his economic theory from The Wealth of Nations.
We explain populism, globalization, nativism, nationalism, neoliberalism, modernization, and other terms important for understanding modern world politics.
The Federalists and Anti-Federalists were the first political factions of the U.S.. They arose out of a debate over the ratification of the 1787 Constitution and went on to form the basis of our current two-party system.
We present a summary of the history of human rights documents including the Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, Declaration of Rights and Man, and English Bill of Rights.
The Constitution protects our Liberty, but the law has placed limits on this. Those limits are sometimes enforced with large legal fees. To what effect this promotes social justice, and to what effect this harms social justice by creating opposition is debated.
Classical liberalism arose in opposition to state-imposed religion and aristocracy in the 1600 – 1700’s during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and America.
On this page, we look at political parties from a historical perspective to better understand the underlying left-right politics all political parties are based on.
Most groups, bound by class, race, religion, socioeconomic status, or some other force have faced oppression with rebellion. Here are tips on avoiding common pitfalls.
We explain paradoxes related to tolerance and Politically Correctness (PC), including “the paradox of tolerance” and “tolerance as a form of intolerance.”
America’s founding fathers intended the U.S. to be a Republic (elected officials vote on laws), rather than a Direct Democracy (everyone votes on laws).
The United States is a Federal Republic with democratic values that some claim contains a growing oligarchy (or corporatocracy). We look at those claims.
Special interests describe interests that are not purely public interests. Factions (special interest groups) are groups formed around shared interests (special interests).
Political Correctness (politically correct or PC), describes how much tolerance, sensitivity, censorship, and freedom of expression “is correct” in a given setting.
A simple explanation of American politics including an overview of US history, the political parties, and the political system.
We explain economic inequality from a historical perspective, and then consider the effects of wealth inequality and income inequality in America today.
We present a discussion on “the meaning of life as happiness,”the Greatest Happiness Theory,” “the Good Life,”the Pursuit of Happiness,” and Virtue Theory.
We explain “the left-right political spectrum” by applying the terms “left” and “right” to a number of “left-right paradigms”.
Blog Posts tagged with "Liberty"
The Philosophy of Governments It can be very attractive to have a list of government types, but yet that list may teach a person very little. Here instead is a look at the philosophy behind the government types that create that list. For a simpler list and look, see our page on “the types of . . . read more
Book Reviews tagged with "Liberty"
Below is the Federalist #10, written by James Madison, and reprinted in full. We explain, annotate, and offer context on the Federalist #10.