chapter  10
18 Pages

Liberty and freedom

There is an initial question, that can be dealt with quickly, as to whether or not these two terms are synonymous. One reason for thinking that they are is that most dictionaries define each of them in terms of the other. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ‘freedom’ as personal liberty, civil liberty and liberty of action, while it defines ‘liberty’ as freedom from control. Chambers Dictionary defines ‘freedom’ as liberty and ‘liberty’ as freedom to do as one pleases. A second reason for regarding the terms as synonymous is that, as Hanna Pitkin has pointed out, it is only in the English language that one has a choice, as in other European languages there is simply one word (Pitkin 1988: 523). As ‘liberty’ comes from a Latin root whereas ‘freedom’ comes from a Germanic root, it would seem that the existence of the two alternative words is simply an accident of the historical fact that (as J. G. Fichte put it) English is a bastard language.