I’ve been considering the differences between liberty and freedom recently. By talking with my good friend Carter about this, I was able, with plenty of help from him, to piece together my thoughts and hone my ideas into the visual depiction you see before you. I’ve come to believe that liberty is a really special, even sacred, experience within the spectrums of both government and freedom (Note that the government spectrum is not the freedom spectrum. Government influences freedom, obviously. But so do cartels and other forms of anarchist organizations.). I’ve come to understand through my study that freedom needs to be restrained, and when it is perfectly bridled, the people all experience liberty. But when powerful people have more freedom, the rights of others are trampled.
I was recently struck by the profound ideas contained in the incredible hymn, “America The Beautiful”. This is the chorus of verse 2:
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
(emphasis added, America the Beautiful)
Liberty is freedom restrained by moral self-government. It is the golden state of a nation that lives under People’s Law, where all people are guaranteed the full exercise of their unalienable rights and is based on discipline and personal restraint. Former LDS apostle Marion G. Romney said, “Obedience to the law of Christ is liberty” (“The Perfect Law of Liberty“, Marion G. Romney, October 1981). This form of government is so good and just that the Lord has said:
4 And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.
5 And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.
6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;
7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.
(emphasis added, D&C 98)
The Lord said this government belongs to all mankind and that anything more or less than this “cometh of evil”. (As a side note, I think it’s important to recognize that this heavenly endorsement of the Constitution was given while it only had 12 amendments. We have allowed several good constitutional principles to become discarded by adding many destructive amendments. This will be discussed in future articles.)
It’s incredibly difficult for a nation to adjust its government incrementally. Nations often swing back and forth between tyranny and anarchy like a pendulum. Revolutions occur and governments get overthrown when the people become sick of the tyranny, and then they live in anarchy for a time. Eventually, an influential person puts themselves forth as one who can lead the people in peace and the people decide to back him up. In time, he becomes tyrannical and the cycle repeats itself. One of the greatest miracles of America was that we went from tyranny under English rule to just right of people’s law with the Articles of Confederation, and then to what Marion G. Romney has called, “the perfect law of Liberty” under the Constitution. We didn’t swing straight into anarchy after tyranny, and we didn’t create tyranny after abandoning the Articles of Confederation.
For now, I’ll try to let the picture do most of the talking. However, based on several conversations with friends on this topic, I recognize I do need to offer some clarifications.
As a nation approaches anarchy, it becomes survival of the fittest and gangs and mobs conspire to put themselves in positions of power. The rest of the people as a whole generally lose their freedoms and their safety is in jeopardy.
You may have noticed that the dotted and dashed lines aren’t perfectly straight as they pass through the pinnacle of the people’s freedom. That was intentional. Now, exactly where those points lane on the axes isn’t very important. It will probably vary in different countries and under a spectrum of circumstances. What matters is that the angles do change and that they are not parallel with the slopes of “the people”, especially the righteous people. I’ll do my best to explain why I’ve bent these dotted lines.
Let’s first look at the slope of “The Power of Government”. I expect it makes sense to all of us why it looks the way it does to the left of liberty, but it suddenly falls as it moves to the right of liberty. An example should clarify this relationship. The Constitutional Convention was assembled at the request of James Madison, which is why he is often referred to as the Father of the Constitution. He could see the severe shortcomings of the federal government under the Articles of Confederation. The problem with the Articles of Confederation was that the government did not have enough power to enforce its own laws. The states and the people had much more power than the federal government, and the federal government was essentially irrelevant. The federal government needed to become stronger if peace and prosperity would exist in the United States (I’ll probably write another post on this issue with more depth in the future). As two additional examples, think of the drug cartels in Mexico or the gangs and mobs in Detroit. In 2012, the Detroit chief of police said that visitors to the city cannot be protected and that they enter these “dangerous and war-like” conditions at their own risk. When anarchy reigns, the government becomes increasingly irrelevant. So that should explain why the government looses power even faster than the people.
Now let’s look at freedom of immoral people to the left of liberty. When tyrannical governments rule, people of virtue are usually oppressed first while the corrupt government makes deals with and gives special treatment to criminals and immoral people. I’d imagine that corrupt political leaders enjoy the company in sin, so they aren’t as quick to oppress people with similar lifestyles. The ancient Nephite King Mosiah issued a warning his people in America:
21 And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.
22 For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;
23 And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.
(emphasis added, Mosiah 29)
The righteous are the people who won’t obey the wicked laws of an immoral king, so they become the rebels he seeks to destroy.
Some of these lines should probably be curved instead of perfectly linear, and I may create an even more accurate depiction in the future. But for now, use this to understand a little better what liberty is and why we don’t want to be “left” or “right”, but perfectly centered.