Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.
Recently, I was asked about my interpretation of the meaning of Liberty and Freedom. The first thing that came to mind was The Preamble to the US Constitution which reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”. Most important in that sentence, for me, is that all men are created equal. We can argue that ALL men weren’t what Jefferson meant. He certainly didn’t include his slaves of African descent. While we more modern folk interpret men to mean human, that wasn’t really the case for Jefferson either. Women’s rights weren’t on his mind. But still, these words have power far beyond our shores. They’ve inspired other nations to join us in Democracy.
Merriam-Webster defines Liberty thus, 1: the quality or state of being free: (such as) a: the power to do as one pleases; b: freedom from physical restraint; c: freedom from arbitrary or despotic control; d: the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges; e: the power of choice.
It also defines Freedom as the quality or state of being free, though with other examples. I think the two most pertinent are a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another.
What really surprised me was how these two words are really synonyms. We tend to think of them as separate, especially when viewed through a political lens. It also struck me that choice is prominent in both definitions, whether stated explicitly or implied.
So, what is my interpretation, my understanding? Equality and equity are tied directly to the notions of freedom and liberty for me. When we are constrained by economic, social, or political means, we are not truly free. That brings me to what I think is the most important meaning of liberty and freedom – the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges. Sounds a bit contradictory, no? Well, let me explain it thus. We can be held back by economic inequality, by social and political disenfranchisement. When those rights and privileges are restricted, we don’t enjoy the same freedoms as others. For example, if a BIPOC is treated in a prejudicial manner when applying for a home loan, they are having their liberty and freedoms violated. If a religious faith codifies their beliefs into federal or state law, then those who do not share those beliefs have their liberty and freedom restricted.
As human beings, we have chosen and been shaped by the decision to live in societies amongst our fellow man. Part of that social contract we’ve all implicitly signed onto is the requirement to live in peace. That’s why murder, rape, assault, and theft are all crimes. We jointly recognize that they are negative for the liberty and wellbeing of our fellow citizens. I would argue that part of the uniquely American social contract is being a participatory member of our democracy. Far too many of us can’t tolerate political discourse and have opted out. But part of the meaning of liberty that the Preamble grants us is the understanding that this liberty we hold dear comes with attendant rights and privileges. Those rights and privileges were won for us through the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.
Jefferson’s next line in the Preamble reads “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. In a participatory Democracy then, the right to vote is essential. It’s how we ensure that the government derives their powers from the consent of the governed, which is us. If we don’t participate, then we leave that power in hands of those who may then ignore our rights. It is our duty as Americans to sustain the Republic by voting. Yes, sometimes it’s hard to tell who to vote for. Yes, you must do research. And research beyond what your social media algorithms show you. It’s not easy. It’s not meant to be, making that decision. It’s an important one.
If we CAN’T all take advantage of our right to vote, then something is very, very wrong. Every attempt to restrict voting access is an attempt to undermine Democracy and, ultimately, an assault on our Liberty.
Jefferson’s words are not the end of the American experiment. They are the beginning. The results of the experiment aren’t in yet. Each of us can affect the outcome and help shape that more perfect union. We must continue to fight for our Liberty. Within the confines of our social contract, we must strive for equality and equity, respect each other’s rights, and continue to fight for our freedoms.
So, what are my thoughts about Liberty and Freedom? They are summed up in a phrase I considered important enough to tattoo on my arm and use in my County email signature: “Nullus unus liberum quoad omne liberum”. It’s Latin (I’m a nerd, sorry). It means, none of us are free until all of us are free.