Monday, February 07, 2005

Freedom and Liberty

Is there a difference between Freedom and Liberty? This is the question that David Hackett Fischer attempts to answer positively in a recent article of the NYT. He starts from the ethimological differences of the two words. Liberty comes from latin (libertas), while Freedom has the same Indo-European root as friend, and it means 'dear' or 'beloved.'
From there, he suggests that liberty has an individualistic sense, whereas freedom has a more communitarian taste.
The ethimological analysis is certainly correct, but I really wonder whether it can justify a more substantive understanding of the two terms. English, as Hackett Fischer acknowledges himself, is the only western language that displays such a distinction. Yet, in Italian, Spanish, German, and French, we do encounter various meaning of 'liberty' , which encompass the two types cited above corresponding respectively to Freedom and Liberty.
More interesting would be to explore how many meanings were attributed to each of those terms and for what reasons. For instance, when Bush refers to Freedom, it has Orwellian overtones more than anything else; considering Bush's administration record with the Patriotic Act, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, a word like Freedom sounds exactly like oppression.

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