Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Liberty vs. Freedom

Ever wondered what the difference between liberty and freedom is? Today's post sheds some light on the difference between these two typically synonymous terms.

One of the things that makes the United States a great nation is the gift of liberty she so liberally allots to her citizens. The Founders of our Republic, working in concert with regular, albeit noble, regular citizens, purchased this liberty with countless quantities of “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” expended during the Revolutionary War and subsequent conflicts. [1] Liberty has always been precious to American patriots. In the words of Patrick Henry:
"Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"[2]
Since her earliest days, America has proven to be the world’s greatest gateway to liberty.

For over four centuries, people from all corners of the globe have immigrated to the “New World” in hopes of securing the opportunities that only liberty could grant. The United States of America has been, and to a large extent still is, the world’s great Gateway to Liberty.

Moreover, in the modern world’s darkest hours of world war, when freedom and democracy were threatened by monarchy and oligarchy, and later fascism and genocide, the U.S. stepped up, and stepped in, to provide the necessary money, resources, firepower, soldiers, work force, leadership, and resolve to see the Allies through to victory—not once, but twice!

No song ever sounded our resolve with more confidence and patriotism than the words of George M. Cohan’s popular song, Over There. Written in 1917, shortly after America’s entrance into the First World War, the leadership of Cohan’s lyrical pen sounded the clarion call around the world.

We did go “over there,” and we didn’t come back till Allied forces had won both wars and, in the words of President Woodrow Wilson, made the world “Safe for democracy.” The stirring lyrics of Cohan’s famous song sends chills from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, not because they represent clever lyrics or good poetry, but because they were backed up by COURAGE & ACTION—two of the most important characteristics that made America great, yet are increasingly elusive commodities in our postmodern world where preaching is prodigious and practice is pathetic—if not absent entirely. Thank God for the goodness and greatness of the United States of America. Without her, the world—and liberty—would be in far worse shape than they already are.


If America—and nations like her—provides gateways to personal liberties, Self-Action Leadership provides gateways to personal freedom. Liberty and freedom are interrelated concepts, but they are not the same thing. Consider the differences in the dictionary definitions of these two words:

Liberty: The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.

Freedom: The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.[3]

This book highlights, and then further clarifies, these important differences, to specifically define liberty and freedom as follows:


Your God given right to life and the pursuit of happiness, as well as the freedom to choose what you think about, say, and do. Also, State-granted rights such as freedoms of speech, religion, the right to bear arms, etc. 


Personal liberties and opportunities earned as a result of expending effort over time in humble submission to True Principles.

Liberty is your right to choose without the threat of an external enforcer precluding that right. Freedom, on the other hand, refers to your capacity to select your thoughts, speech, and actions according to consciously chosen values and decisions—as opposed to merely responding to your present mood, natural inclination, or external condition.[4] Liberty is the collective gift we all enjoy as a result of life itself and those who have sacrificed so much on the battlefield and beyond. Freedom is the reward that individuals earn when they pay the price of Existential Growth by aligning their thoughts, speech, and behavior with the True Principles that accompany Universal Laws.

In addressing these two related, but not synonymous, subjects, it is vital to note that the liberty to choose must precede the freedom to accomplish. You must first possess the liberty to choose your thoughts, speech, and actions, before you can effectively direct your thoughts, speech, and actions to increase your capacity, achievement, and personal freedom. Therefore, without liberty—the right to act and not to be acted upon—there can be no true freedom. Your potential for earning existential freedom as a self-action leader is therefore made possible by the liberty you possess to choose your thoughts, speech, and actions. Such liberty comes from life itself, and is further expanded by the liberties granted you freely by your Country—the United States of America—as established in the Constitution. One teacher and leader explained the important ordering of these two vital subjects thus:
"A man is [at liberty] first when he belongs to a society which permits him the full development of his talents. If society deprives him of that development, he is to that extent [bereft of liberty]. Second, he is free when his own conduct permits the development of his talents. And, if he indulges in any conduct which places an obstacle in his own path, to that extent he is depriving himself of freedom. And you may look about you in this great country of ours and find that the populace is increasingly enslaving itself on the basis of personal conduct.” [5]
Exercising your personal liberty to be proactive rather than reactive is the personification of personal power, and leads directly to an expansion of personal freedom. It also largely determines the long-term extent of your influence on others.

It is possible to enjoy liberty without freedom. For example, all Americans enjoy—at least in theory—the same basic liberties. Some Americans, however, enjoy much more freedom than others as a result of a strong work ethic, a good education, greater access to resources, a positive attitude, a personal dedication to discipline, integrity, self-reliance and True Principles, and a willingness to exercise humility before Universal Laws.

On the other hand, it is also possible to enjoy freedom without liberty. For example, American prisoners of war (POWs) in Vietnam had no liberty during their multi-year stints in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, yet many of these noble men achieved staggering feats of courage, acuity, resiliency, and education by exercising the mental, emotional, and spiritual freedoms the Viet Cong could not take away from them.[6] The “V”—as the POWs referred to their captors—could deprive them of liberties and torture their bodies.[7] They could attempt to brainwash their minds and break their spirits. But in the end, they could not control the wills and responses of those who refused to relinquish their inner freedom to resist.[8]

One famous prisoner of war, Victor Frankl, labored and suffered in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Despite his abject circumstances and crushing captivity, he enjoyed more freedom than many of his fellow prisoners, and in a sense even more than his German captors, because of the discipline he exercised over his mind and attitude, and the courage he showed under intense pressure and fatigue. Frankl understood the principle taught by the Scottish warrior William Wallace, who famously, albeit fictionally, cried to his men in rallying them to fight against their English foes: “They may take our lives (or liberty), but they’ll never take our freedom.[9]

“The secret to happiness is freedom. And the secret to freedom is courage.”
– Thucydides (460 - 395 B.C.)

There are many people who enjoy liberty, but are not free, having sacrificed their freedom on the altar of selfishness, hedonism, gluttony, addiction, irresponsibility, and nihilism. The cost of this poor use of liberty is that many tragically live out their lives in voluntary bondage, so that they come to say in the end, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”[10]

One of the great paradoxes of life is that personal freedom can only expand as individuals voluntarily submit their thoughts, speech, and behavior to the forces of Universal Laws. Freedom, therefore, can only come after we align our thoughts, speech, and actions with the edicts of True Principles. There is no other pathway to true freedom. You must pay its price, which is typically high, heavy, and hard. It takes much effort and enormous courage. But the rewards are bountiful and lavish; they include expanded personal freedom, prosperity, and perhaps best of all—peace of mind.

Know this that every soul is free, to choose his life, and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n: That God will force no man to heav’n.
– Anonymous

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[1] Titular phrase taken from Winston Churchill’s first speech to the House of Commons after becoming Prime Minister. Delivered on May 10, 1940.
[2] From Henry’s famous speech entitled, The War Inevitable, delivered March 23, 1775 before the 2nd Virginia Convention in St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia.
[3] New Oxford American Dictionary (Apple computer’s electronic version).
[4] Covey, S.R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, NY: Fireside. Page 71.
[5] Smith, J.S. Address on Freedom to students at Brigham Young University at unknown month and day in the year 1945 or 1946.
[6] According to POW Lee Ellis, “The lack of books or outside resources did not limit our continuous learning in the POW camps. We relied on recall of past education, and where there was a lack of clarity on a subject, we tried to get a consensus of the best minds” (p. 123). Everything from calculus and public speaking to history, politics, philosophy, science, and foreign languages were taught amongst the prison mates. In Ellis’ words: “It’s remarkable how much talent [and knowledge] resided in that group of military men” (p. 122). See Ellis, L. (2012). Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. FreedomStar Media.
[7] Shorthand for the Viet Cong. A nickname given to their captors by American POWs in in the Vietnam conflict. See Leading with Honor by Lee Ellis, Page 17.
[8] For a detailed description of the horrors faced and successes achieved by Vietnam POWs in the “Hanoi Hilton,” I highly recommend Lee Ellis’s 2012 book, Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. FreedomStar Media.
[9] From the movie, Braveheart, directed by and starred in by Mel Gibson (1995).
[10] Lewis, C.S. (1995). The Screwtape Letters. New York, NY: Bantam.

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