What happened to liberty?

Commenting on the entry, “Why the spread of Muslim democracy simply equals the spread of jihadism,” an Indian living in the West writes:

If you watch footage from the past, American presidents rarely spoke only of “freedom,” which itself is capable of being interpreted differently, and can have a very debased meaning in the lowest common denominator popcorn sense today. The Americans spoke in the past not of “freedom” but of “liberty.” There is a qualitative difference in emphasis and meaning between the two terms. One is a debased term of common usage today, the other was a more elevated term which was used to reflect the uniqueness of American institutions and history.

And “liberty” really meant in large part what made America different. It was a term that reflect the political institutions of the country, the Constitution and the history of its founding. I think you may have noticed that the term “liberty” has almost gone completely out of existence. No one uses it any more. The last American president who used it was Reagan. And he finished his second term almost a quarter century ago.

LA replies:

Yes, it’s a key point. “Freedom” has entirely replaced “liberty.” Liberty denotes a political and moral order of which liberty is a part; liberty means liberty (or freedom) under law and morality. Freedom in today’s usage basically means you can do what you like; it is virtually indistinguishable from license. Freedom is almost never used in the older sense of ordered freedom. In fact, I hardly ever use the word liberty myself any more because I am engaged in critiquing contemporary politics, particularly contemporary “conservatism,” and contemporary “conservatives” speak only of unqualified “freedom.” Self-described conservatives who make freedom their highest ideal are absurd and unthinking persons.

However, Reagan is not a hero in this area. He played a key role in replacing “liberty” with “freedom.” Margaret Thatcher, by contrast, always spoke of “liberty under law.” Not that she was much of a conservative. She was a right-liberal who wanted to shrink the socialist state, but she had no vision of a cultural and moral order. If she had, she wouldn’t have let the Islamization of Britain proceed unchecked.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 30, 2012 08:14 AM | Send

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