There is a lot of confusion out there about what liberty is and what a libertarian is. I hope to share with you in this article my perspective on what true liberty is. Like any good concept in our culture, that are always people who claim to be a part of something, but do not hold true to the ideals it espouses. Some people will even claim to be a participant in a good concept, but act in the exact opposite way of what true participants should act.
Then there are people who do not like liberty or libertarian views so they mistakenly or purposefully convince the culture to associate negative terms with liberty. This is essentially name calling or poor interpretation done so to further an agenda.
So how do I define liberty? Lets start with a definition of liberty from the Merriam-Webster dictionary (online). Here is what definition number one (the definition relevant to this topic) says:
1) the quality or state of being free:
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
Most of these definitions do a decent job of describing my view of liberty, however, definition "a" does a horrible job.
It is important to realize that true liberty is difficult to define with a single short phrase. I see liberty as a more complex concept that combines definitions b,c,d, e, and some additional attributes. Liberty should be and, in my opinion, must be defined and interpreted within a framework. Often people with the wrong idea about what liberty is have acquired that view by trying to define liberty as definition "a" describes and then expanding it to the extreme. The phrase "the power to do as one pleases" is significantly different than "the power to do as one pleases, as long as it is responsible, just, honorable, and reasonable". Taking the first phrase to the extreme is where labels like "anarchy" and "marxism" come from. However, these labels are incorrect and irresponsible when they are applied to liberty. If liberty was truly anarchy or marxism, then we would not need the word liberty!! The second phrase maybe not be perfect either, but liberty is a complex concept.
Liberty is perhaps easiest to discuss when placed in an appropriate context. Liberty in the United States of America is about admitting that the government authority has a limit and that individual authority has a limit. In America individual liberties are often destroyed or discarded when government powers abuse their authority and over step their proper limits. When an individual denies that their authority has limits, and they state or act as if they should be able to do as they please no matter what, then they are enacting anarchy not liberty. Liberty ceases to be liberty when you remove it from a proper framework and disregard all limits.
Now that you understand the difference between anarchy and liberty, who defines the proper limits of liberty? This is a questions which people have written volumes of text about. Many people see this question as requiring a lengthy answer. My worldview has a clear framework and clear limits, because I am a Christ follower and I try to conform to the standards and limits of the Bible. The US declaration of indepence says it well:
"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"
Since the creator has given us liberty, we must exercise proper responsibility when using our liberty, otherwise we abuse the concept and it becomes something entirely different.