What is Liberty?


By Bob Eschliman


Common Sense LogoSo, last time, we talked about the importance of Life, as our Founders and Framers saw it, and why it is still important to Americans yet today. This time, however, I’d like to focus on Liberty. After all, it did come next in Thomas Jefferson’s self-evident unalienable rights.

So what, exactly, is Liberty?

The word Liberty is derived from the Latin name “Libertas,” which was the Roman goddess who represented those who were unbound, unconstrained, and unrestricted. Later, it came to mean exactly that: to be unbound, unrestricted, and without constraint. It also happens to be the root for the French word “libertine,” which meant one who believed they should not be bound, restricted, or constrained by outside influences, including the Church or the government.

So, were the Founders really suggesting Americans should be able to do whatever they want?

No. Quite the opposite, as we noted last time. They firmly believed a free society could not function without the foundation of Natural Law — God’s Law — in everyone’s daily lives. The right to Liberty is instead the inviolable right to be unbound, unrestricted, and unconstrained by another’s will — what the Founders saw as tyranny.

While it may not necessarily be true of every American of the late 18th century, it can certainly be said the Founders were far more concerned about doing what was right than what made them feel good. Making something legal didn’t make it right, especially if it interfered with their pursuit of doing what they felt was right in the eyes of God (we’ll delve much more deeply into that next time).

Unfortunately, today, we live in an America our Founders would scarcely recognize. In fact, I humbly suggest many of them would have rejected it entirely (Ben Franklin even said so: “Where Liberty dwells, there is my country,” and, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Security deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”) because we’ve abandoned everything they fought — literally — so very hard to obtain for our benefit.

Most Americans believe in a frail, almost transparent-thin, facsimile of liberty (with a small “L”), as long as it won’t allow us to get hurt in the process. Government does have a responsibility to protect us from our enemies, both inside our borders and out, but we individually also have a large measure of personal responsibility when it comes to protection.

THAT is what the Second Amendment is all about (more on that in a later installment).

But it goes much farther than that. As long as we’re still able to say whatever we want, worship however we please, and get to vote every couple of years, we say we’re free — we have liberty. But we also expect the government to prevent us from screwing up, to bail us out when we make a mess of things, and to provide for us when we utterly fail.

That isn’t the America our Founders envisioned, or the one the Framers created. They wanted a limited government, constrained by the Constitution, to allow us all maximum liberty within the context of doing right by God, and in exchange accepted the consequence of living life without a safety net. This is what John Adams meant when he said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious … It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

This, of course, is a mindset that is completely foreign to most Americans, particularly our two major political parties, today.

Now, the Constitution — the very document meant to constrain government and protect liberty — has been rewritten, or simply violated (almost always with overwhelming public support), in order to create new departments, administrations, and other bureaucracies that both redefine and greatly expand government’s power over us. The Founders would have called that tyranny.

They hated tyranny, and I have to believe they wouldn’t have held today’s America in much high esteem, either.

It’s not too late, though. But we must begin taking back our liberty NOW if we ever hope to fully restore it. Liberty was very difficult to achieve in our great nation, it will be very difficult to restore, but impossible to regain once it is permanently lost.

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Bob Eschliman is editor and co-publisher of The Iowa Statesman. He is an award-winning journalist with 70 awards to his credit over a career that has spanned more than 16 years. He is a lifelong Iowan, and has been engaged in Iowa politics almost his entire adult life. He may be contacted at bob@theiowastatesman.com.