As a result of the requirement to wear masks nowadays, we tend to hear the words “freedom” and, to a lesser degree, “liberty” a lot, as these concepts are fundamental to what it supposedly means to be an American.
However, as we hear these terms used in political, legal, entertainment, and historical discourse, we tend to think the words are interchangeable as they have seemingly become nowadays.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, one definition of “liberty” is the quality or state of being free,” essentially as a synonym of freedom. However, the other definitions are more subtle, implying that it is a form or subset of freedom. Essentially, that liberty is freedom within certain bounds and constraints like the laws.
In contrast, “freedom” is defined by Webster’s Dictionary primarily and simply in terms of the lack of restraint or barriers to action.
Mainly, it seems like “liberty” is a form of “freedom” and that “liberty” carries with it the implication of responsibility. While in contrast, freedom merely means the desire or ability to act and do as one will.
To better understand what freedom and liberty mean, it is helpful to look at the origins of these words, digging into their histories and how they developed.
Freedom comes from Old English, meaning “power of self-determination, state of free will, or emancipation from slavery or other forms of servitude.”
Liberty comes from the Latin “libertatem,” which means “civil or political freedom, the condition of a free man; the absence of restraint or permissions.”
Some writers and philosophers seem to argue that freedom is the condition that exists within your mind, where liberty is a condition that arises from free people living together in society. Liberty is a social condition. Freedom is an inner philosophical and psychological condition.”
Therefore if you decide you want to run around downtown without a mask, you are free to want to do so, but unfortunately the law now says you don’t have the liberty to do it.
The validity to enact such laws was ruled by the Supreme Court in 1905 in which the Court upheld the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination laws. The Court’s decision articulated the view that individual liberty is not absolute and is subject to the police powers of the state.