AskDefine | Define liberty

Dictionary Definition

liberty

Noun

1 immunity from arbitrary exercise of authority: political independence [syn: autonomy]
2 freedom of choice; "liberty of opinion"; "liberty of worship"; "liberty--perfect liberty--to think or feel or do just as one pleases"; "at liberty to choose whatever occupation one wishes"
3 personal freedom from servitude or confinement or oppression
4 leave granted to a sailor or naval officer [syn: shore leave]
5 an act of undue intimacy [syn: familiarity, impropriety, indecorum]

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Pronunciation

  • /ˈlɪbərti/ (US)

Noun

  1. The condition of being free from control or restrictions.
    The army is here, your liberty is assured.
  2. The condition of being free from imprisonment, slavery or forced labour.
    The prisoners gained their liberty from an underground tunnel.
  3. The condition of being free to act, believe or express oneself as one chooses.
    The prisoners were at liberty to speak freely with their lawyers.
  4. Freedom from excess government control.
  5. A short period when a sailor is allowed ashore.
    We're going on a three-day liberty as soon as we dock.
  6. A breach of social convention (often liberties).
    You needn't take such liberties.

Synonyms

Translations

condition of being free
  • Crimean Tatar: azatlıq
  • Czech: svoboda
  • Dutch: vrijheid
  • French: liberté
  • German: Freiheit
  • Hindi: आज़ादी
  • Hungarian: szabadság
  • Icelandic: frelsi
  • Italian: libertà
  • Latin: libertas
  • Persian: آزادی
  • Romanian: libertate
  • Spanish: libertad
  • Turkish: hürriyet
  • Urdu: آزادی

Extensive Definition

Liberty, in modern time, is generally considered a concept of political philosophy and identifies the condition in which an individual has the ability to act according to his or her own will.
Individualist and liberal conceptions of liberty relate to the freedom of the individual from outside compulsion or coercion; A socialist perspective, on the other hand, associates liberty with equality in wealth. As such, a socialist redefines liberty as being entitlements and connects liberty (i.e. freedom) to the equal distribution of wealth, arguing that liberty without equal ownership amounts to the domination by the wealthy. Thus, freedom and material equality are seen as intrinsically connected. On the other hand, the individualist argues that wealth cannot be evenly distributed without force being used against individuals which reduces individual liberty.
John Stuart Mill, in his work, On Liberty, was the first to recognize the difference between liberty as the freedom to act and liberty as the absence of coercion. In his book, Two Concepts of Liberty, Isaiah Berlin formally framed the differences between these two perspectives as the distinction between two opposite concepts of liberty: positive liberty and negative liberty. The latter designates a negative condition in which an individual is protected from tyranny and the arbitrary exercise of authority, while the former refers to having the means or opportunity, rather than the lack of restraint, to do things.
Mill offered insight into the notions of soft tyranny and mutual liberty with his harm principle. Overall, it is important to understand these concepts when discussing liberty since they all represent little pieces of the greater puzzle known as freedom. In a philosophical sense, morality must supersede tyranny in any legitimate form of government. Otherwise, people are left with a societal system rooted in backwardness, disorder, and regression.

Philosophy

Opinions on what constitute liberty can vary widely, but can be generally classified as positive liberty and negative liberty. Positive liberty asserts that freedom is the ability of society to achieve an end. For example, Puritans such as Cotton Mather often referred to liberty in their writings, but focused on the liberty from sin (e.g. sexual urges) even at the expense of liberty from the government. However, in modern time, liberty is generally considered to be the concept of negative liberty. This refers to an individual's liberty from being subjected to the authority of others. In this negative sense, one is considered free to the extent to which no person interferes with his or her activity. According to Thomas Hobbes, for example, "a free man is he that... is not hindered to do what he hath the will to doe." The concept of negative liberty has several noteworthy aspects. First, negative liberty defines a realm or "zone" of freedom (in the "silence of law"). In Berlin's words, "liberty in the negative sense involves an answer to the question 'What is the area within which the subject -- a person or group of persons -- is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons." Some philosophers have disagreed on the extent of this realm while accepting the main point that liberty defines that realm in which one may act unobstructed by others. Second, the restriction (on the freedom to act) implicit in negative liberty is imposed by a person or persons and not due to causes such as nature, lack, or incapacity. Helvetius expresses this point clearly: "The free man is the man who is not in irons, nor imprisoned in a gaol (jail), nor terrorized like a slave by the fear of punishment... it is not lack of freedom not to fly like an eagle or swim like a whale."
The dichotomy of positive and negative liberty is considered specious by political philosophers in traditions such as socialism, social democracy, libertarian socialism, and Marxism. Some of them argue that positive and negative liberty are indistinguishable in practice, while others claim that one kind of liberty cannot exist independently of the other. A common argument is that the preservation of negative liberty requires positive action on the part of the government or society to prevent some individuals from taking away the liberty of others.

Freedom as a triadic relation

In 1967, Gerald MacCallum argued that proponents of positive and negative liberty converge on a single definition of liberty, but simply have different approaches in establishing it. According to McCallum, freedom is a triadic relationship: "x is/is not free from y to do/not to do or become/not become z". In this way, rather than defining liberty in terms of two separate paradigms, positive and negative liberty, he defined liberty as a single, complete formula.
The question is whether this formula fully captures what positive liberty means. Positive liberty, understood as "internal forces which determine how a person shall act" is saying more than 'x is free to do z.' One is free when one becomes the ideal of oneself, which includes MacCallum's triadic relation; but the latter alone is insufficient to fully capture what positive liberty means.

Liberty and political thought

Meaning of Liberty

The first known use of the word freedom in a political context dates back to the 24th century BC, in a text describing the restoration of social and economic liberty in Lagash, a Sumerian city-state. Urukagina, the king of Lagash, established the first known legal code to protect citizens from the rich and powerful. Known as a great reformer, Urukagina established laws that forbade compelling the sale of property and required the charges against the accused to be stated before any man accused of a crime could be punished. This is the first known example of any form of due process in the history of humanity.
Like Urukagina, most ancient freedoms focused on negative liberty, protecting the less fortunate from harassment or imposition. Other ancient legal codes, such as the Code of Hammurabi, similarly forbade compulsion in economic matters, like the sale of land, and made it clear that when a rich man murders a poor one, it is still murder. Still, these codes relied on a certain virtuousness of kings and ministers, which was far from reliable.
In the Persian Empire, citizens of all religions and ethnic groups were given the same rights and had the same freedom of religion, women had the same rights as men, and slavery was abolished. All the palaces of the kings of Persia were built by paid workers in an era where slaves typically did such work. The Cyrus cylinder of Cyrus the Great documents the protection of the rights to liberty and security, freedom of movement, the right of property, and economic and social rights.
In the Maurya Empire of ancient India, citizens of all religions and ethnic groups had rights to freedom, tolerance, and equality. The need for tolerance on an egalitarian basis can be found in the Edicts of Ashoka the Great, which emphasize the importance of tolerance in public policy by the government. The slaughter or capture of prisoners of war was also condemned by Ashoka. Slavery was also non-existent in ancient India.
Roman law also embraced certain limited forms of liberty, even under the rule of the Roman Emperors. However, these liberties were accorded only to Roman citizens. Still, the Roman citizen enjoyed a combination of positive liberty (the right to freely enter contracts, the right to a legal marriage) and negative liberty (the right to a trial, a right to appeal and the right to not be tortured). Many of the liberties enjoyed under Roman law endured through the Middle Ages, but were enjoyed solely by the nobility, never by the common man. The idea of unalienable and universal liberties had to wait until the Age of Enlightenment.

Social contract

The social contract theory, invented by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, were among the first to provide a political classification of rights, in particular through the notion of sovereignty and of natural rights. 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 divine right of kings was thus opposed to the sovereign's unchecked auctoritas. This conception of law would find its culmination in Montesquieu's thought. 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 such as socialism articulated themselves in the course of the French Revolution and in the 19th century.

Modern perspectives

The modern conceptions of democracy, whether representative democracies or other types of democracies, are all found on the Rousseauist idea of popular sovereignty . However, liberalism distinguishes itself from socialism and communism in that it advocates for a form of representative democracy, while socialism claims to work for a direct democracy.
Liberalism is a political current embracing several historical and present-day ideologies that claim defence of individual liberty as the purpose of government. Two main strands are apparent, although both are founded on an individualist ideology. In continental Europe the term usually refers to economic liberalism, that is the right of individual to contract, trade and operate in a market free of constraint. In the United States it often refers to social liberalism, including the right to dissent from orthodox tenets or established authorities in political or religious matters. Both are core political issues, and highly contentious.
A school of thought popular among US 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.
Anarcho-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 (as in socialist thought) would need to be abolished to foster liberty. Some in the US see protecting the ideal of liberty as a conservative policy, because this would conform to the spirit of individual liberty that they consider is at the heart of the American constitution. Some think liberty is almost synonymous with democracy, at least in one sense of that word, while others see conflicts or even opposition between the two concepts, with democracy being nothing more than the tyranny of the majority.

References

liberty in Persian: آزادی
liberty in French: Liberté (philosophie politique)
liberty in Hebrew: חירות האדם
liberty in Malay (macrolanguage): Kebebasan
liberty in Thai: เสรีภาพ
liberty in Vietnamese: Quyền tự do

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Lehrfreiheit, OK, a leg up, academic freedom, admission, allowance, assumption, at liberty, authorization, autonomy, blank check, brevet, carte blanche, chance, charter, clear stage, concession, consent, constitutional freedom, copyright, delivery, diploma, diplomatic immunity, discharge, dispensation, emancipation, enfranchisement, exception, exemption, fair field, fair game, familiarity, favor, franchise, free, freedom, freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of worship, furlough, grant, holiday, hubris, immunity, imposition, independence, indulgence, initiative, lawlessness, leave, leave of absence, legislative immunity, letters patent, liberated, liberation, liberties, liberty abused, license, licentiousness, loose, occasion, okay, opening, opportunism, opportunity, paid holiday, paid vacation, patent, permission, permission to enter, place, prerogative, presumption, presumptuousness, privilege, release, right, room, royal grant, run, sabbatical, sabbatical leave, sabbatical year, scope, self-determination, self-direction, self-government, shore leave, sovereignty, special favor, special permission, stepping-stone, the Four Freedoms, the run of, ticket, ticket of admission, time, time off, unconstrained, undue liberty, unfettered, uninhibited, unrestrained, unrestricted, vacation, vouchsafement, waiver, warrant, weekend
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