What Is That “Liberty ” You Speak Of?

“We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; …”

When Thomas Jefferson penned that phrase so many years ago, he had a vision of a new America where men would be created equal and would have the rights to govern and live as they chose. Yet, we have this idea of Liberty – that audacious and intangible “thing” that we hear of all too often. We are inundated with people across the political spectrum fighting for “Liberty” and watchdog groups ensuring that our laws and legislators are measuring up on the “Liberty litmus tests”. Yet, do we really have Liberty? Do we know what Liberty even is?

We have great examples to follow in the Liberty Movement, from Ayn Rand to Dr. Yaron Brook to Lawrence W. Reed, to name a few. We are told that Liberty lies in free markets, capitalism and free competition – in embracing the individual and allowing the people to determine cause and effect in life. Yet, we have seen recently that to some, Liberty means dressing up in costumes and using hate-speech and violence to spread their ideas.

I would argue that Liberty is more than a march or an economic system. Liberty lies within us. When we have Liberty, we have the freedom to learn, to make mistakes, to grow from our decisions and to change our minds and directions as many times as we like. We are not endowed with the right to an education, job or home. We are endowed with the right to be human and to choose to work hard, fight even harder and press the limits or to do nothing at all.

Many years ago, I was told I could be anything I wanted to be – I needed just set my mind to it and the rest would follow. That perhaps is the greatest example of Liberty. No one gives us a roadmap to success, happiness or freedom – we have to make our own path. When we make choices for others, force our ideas and morals onto the people around us, not only do we not have Liberty, we take it away from others. Liberty is not ours to take or give – it is simply ours to seek and strive for every day.

As Lawrence W. Reed writes in Are We Good Enough for Liberty, “If you do not govern yourself, you will be governed”. But it goes further – we must have the character and grace worthy of Liberty to truly have Liberty. When we lose our character, how can we ask for, demand or say we have Liberty? I would argue that Liberty is about having the grace to accept flaws and the courage to learn and take chances to be greater than you could have ever imagined every day. Liberty may instead be the character we exhibit rather than an abstract idea. When we choose Liberty, we choose to be good citizens, respect others’ rights to live as they choose and to be worthy of forgiveness, respect and dignity as well as willing to bestow the same upon others. We choose to work hard, contribute our best and choose our paths without infringing upon those of our fellow man – it is then that we have Liberty.

Jillian Likness, MBA


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