The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The word liberty, when used alone, has several possible meanings in the English language. See Liberty (disambiguation) for other possible uses.

Liberty, or freedom, is a condition in which an individual has immunity from the arbitrary exercise of authority.

1 Political thought
2 Phrases
3 Statues and monuments
4 Naval
5 See also
6 External links


Western civilization

The thinkers of the Enlightenment reasoned the assertion that law governed both heavenly and human affairs, and that law gave the king his power, rather than the king's power giving force to law. The conception of law as a relationship between individuals, rather than families, came to the fore, and with it the increasing focus on individual liberty as a fundamental reality, given by "Nature and Nature's God", which, in the ideal state, would be as expansive as possible. The Enlightenment created then, among other ideas, liberty: that is, of a free individual being most free within the context of a state which provides stability of the laws. Later, more radical philosophies articulated themselves in the course of the French Revolution and in the Nineteenth Century.

The first half of the 19th century for Western civilization was marked by a series of turbulent wars and revolutions, which gradually formed into an idea and doctrine now identified as individual liberty. The chief philosophical ground for "Liberty" has been the idea of human rights and that human beings are too valuable to be in slavery (as well as the idea that human beings ought to control their own destiny). Much of this philosophy stems from religious views, although Christians, Jews and Muslims have all practiced slavery in the past.

Eastern civilization

The Chinese sage Confucius warned against over-reaching governments, in a way analogous to the development in the western world of post-Lockean ideas of negative liberty. He taught that government by example and "not doing" (w wi) was superior to government by law and discipline.

Middle Eastern civilization

The Jewish religious tradition features several revered individuals who stood up to statist power at crucial moments, including of course Moses, who demanded that the Pharaoh of Egypt "let my people go." Also, the Maccabees rebelled against mandatory assimilation to Greek culture and the Zealots (less successfully) rose against the Roman Empire.

Moslem jurists have long held that the legal tradition initiated by the Qur'an includes a principle of permissibility, or Ibahah, especially as applied to commercial transaction. "Nothing in them [voluntary transactions] is forbidden," said Ibn Taymiyyah, "unless God and His Messenger have decreed them to be forbidden." The idea is founded upon two verses in the Qur'an, 4:29 and 5:1.

Political thought

Liberalism is a political current embracing several historical and present-day ideologies that claim defence of individual liberty as the purpose of government. It typically favours the right to dissent from orthodox tenets or established authorities in political or religious matters. The word "liberal" derives from the Latin. Since the word "liberalism" ranges from being highly complimentary to a term of abuse, the connotations of the word in different languages can be starkly different.

One important schism that developed within liberalism early in the 20th century involved the relationship between expressive or life-style liberty on the one hand and commercial liberty (the right to buy, sell, and hold property) on the other. One school of thought holds that although the two sorts of liberty both, indeed, merit recognition as liberty, they are of differing levels of priority -- i.e. Tammy Faye Bakker's freedom of worship is much more important (on this view) than her right to sell her own line of cosmetics.

Another school of thought holds that expressive and commercial liberties are so different that they are at war, and the latter must be opposed in order to advance the former. Naturally, those who hold this view also deny that the liberty they oppose ought to be called liberty at all.

A third school of thought, popular among libertarians holds that there is no tenable distinction between the two sorts of liberty -- that they are, indeed, one and the same, to be protected (or opposed) together. In the context of U.S. constitutional law, for example, they point out that the constitution twice lists "life, liberty, and property" without making any distinctions within that troika.

Individualists, such as Max Stirner, demanded the utmost respect for the liberty of the individual. From a very similar perspective from North America, primitivists like John Zerzan proclaimed that civilization not just the state would need to be abolished to foster liberty. David Hume wrote "Of Civil Liberty", in his book "Essays Moral and Political" (first ed. 1741-2) Some see protecting the ideal of liberty as a conservative policy, because this would conform to the spirit of individual liberty that they consider at the American foundation.

See also: Libertarians, Positive liberty, Negative liberty


Liberty can refer to various concept of freedom.

Other notable phrases that include liberty are:

  • "In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas" — Rupertus Meldenius
  • "Give me liberty or give me death!" — Patrick Henry
  • "No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...." U.S. Constitution, Amendment V. "[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...." Id., Amendment XIV.
  • "Every law is an infringement upon liberty." Jeremy Bentham

Statues and monuments

The American concept of liberty has a female embodiment, which is the Statue of Liberty. The copper statue of the goddess of Liberty was a present by France, as a centennial gift to the US and a sign of friendship between the two nations. The pedestal was constructed by the United States. The Statue of Liberty is often used as a symbol that ideals of the United States. In a more general sense, the Statue of Liberty is used to represent liberty in general and is a favored symbol of libertarians.

The Liberty Memorial is dedicated to World War I and World War II victories for liberty against the Axis.


In navies, liberty can mean a "leave" from his post granted to a sailor, mariner, or naval officer.

See also

External links

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:00:58
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04