The word “Liberty” is often used in political rhetoric, and given the state of our Union, I wonder how many of us actually understand this object we all claim to desire. Believe it or not, not everyone in America is for true Liberty. History is replete with people and rulers who despise the actual Spirit of Liberty, and unfortunately, that lawless spirit is still among us. In choosing our public servants, we must discern between those who use the charming sound of Liberty for their own agendas, and with those who speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty (James 2).
Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
If our Liberty is under attack; we certainly can’t defend it if we don’t know what’s being attacked… we won’t even know how or when it’s being attacked. So I’d like to share a collection of enlightening excerpts concerning this important subject.
The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names—liberty and tyranny.
The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. ~Abraham Lincoln, speech at a Sanitary Fair in Baltimore, MD (April 18th, 1864)
But Liberty is not the absolute freedom to do as we please, otherwise it would fall under the name – anarchy, which soon gives way to tyranny.
But, says he [Filmer], They do not remember that the desire of liberty was the first cause of the fall of man: and I desire it may not be forgotten, that the liberty asserted is not a licentiousness of doing what is pleasing to everyone against the command of God; but an exemption from all human laws, to which they have not given their assent. ~Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government
Which is confirmed by Scripture:
1 Corinthians 8:9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
James 1:25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
The above Scripture can also be seen as the roots in James Wilson’s writings on Liberty.
But law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge. The same course of study, properly directed, will lead us to the knowledge of both. Indeed, neither of them can be known, because neither of them can exist, without the other. Without liberty, law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without law, liberty also loses its nature and its name, and becomes licentiousness. ~James Wilson, Of the Study of Law in the United States
With all the above, it should be plain to see what happens when we stray in one direction or the other from the incorruptible Source that makes Liberty possible. It is to Him we must return and submit ourselves to if there is any hope in restoring our nation of Liberty. All other means are either useless or a new evil.
I’ll close with the entirety of Judge Learned Hand’s Spirit of Liberty for further edification. It was delivered in 1944.
We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion. Some of us have chosen America as the land of our adoption; the rest have come from those who did the same. For this reason we have some right to consider ourselves a picked group, a group of those who had the courage to break from the past and brave the dangers and the loneliness of a strange land. What was the object that nerved us, or those who went before us, to this choice? We sought liberty; freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves. This we then sought; this we now believe that we are by way of winning. What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.
What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest. And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be; nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it; yet in the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America I ask you to rise and with me pledge our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country.