Previously posted, but moved up front 5/21/09 for emphasis, and in reply to those who would rename the GOP and call it the Liberty Party: I know you think are are sophisticated. I know you look down on rubes who believe in old-fashioned, quaint antiquated notions of morality and decency. In fact, I believe that you consider your position to be so superior to the conservative position that you look down on any who do not agree with your position. But you aren’t as smart as you think. The Founding Fathers drew a clear distinction between liberty and licentiousness. You’ve either forgotten the difference, or never knew it in the first place.
Here is a wonderful article, written in 1997 that explains the difference. I can’t even tell who wrote it. The rest is the article in total:
Liberty and License
Ask the average American today what they think “liberty” is and they will probably say something along the lines of “Well, it’s being able to do what you like.” A generation and more of Americans have been continuously indoctrinated with this notion, of liberty as unbridled freedom from any sort of control, be it government dictatorship, stuffy traditions, religious teachings or even personal responsibilities. The problem is that, as far as I can tell, this notion of liberty has got absolutely nothing to do with liberty as our founding fathers envisioned it, and is about as destructive an idea as I can imagine over the long run.
If we are going to do more than pay lip service to the notion of the United States as a Constitutional Republic, we are going to have to keep an honest and accurate understanding of what concepts and beliefs were held by those who wrote the Constitution. To allow otherwise is like a religion letting a cult faction take over and reinterpret it’s teachings into something foreign to what was originally intended.
The founders had two words to describe the freedom to engage in personal actions: liberty and license. Liberty and license were not the same thing (that’s why they needed two words.) Ironically, what most people think of today when they use the word “liberty” is really something close to the meaning of the word “license.”
License referred to the right to do something without reference to moral restraint. It is from license that we get the word “licentious” and its derivatives, referring to wickedly immoral and characteristically freewheeling behavior. By contrast, liberty was a freedom to act, but only in a responsible and moral manner. Thus, a “fishing license” grants a person the right to catch a certain number of fish under certain conditions without regard to what they do with those fish. They can be responsible and eat them, or simply wasteful in what they do with the fish. But they have been granted “license” to fish and so long as other laws are not broken what they choose to do with the fish they catch is their own concern.
Another example would be “James Bond, license to kill.” In this phrase, coupled with knowledge of the James Bond movies and books, we see that the word “license” refers to James Bond being given the power to kill without moral constraint. Please note, all men and women have LIBERTY to kill another human being. That is, we all have the right to kill under certain conditions of self-defense or in defense or others when lives are being threatened, and this is recognized as a moral action when circumstances warrant. But the “license to kill” was a special status accorded him without need for moral justification.
What this means, in a nutshell, is that there is a moral foundation for the nation and that it cannot be ignored simply because certain elites say so. Claiming the right to engage in “hate speech” because we have liberty to speak freely, or a right to publish or view pornography because of similar liberties is nonsense. It is license they are seeking, not liberty, and they should be honest with the public about what they want (and they should stop misinforming the public about liberty as well).
The ACLU, Libertarians and similar factions have done their best to blur the distinction between liberty and license so as to eliminate obstacles to imposition of their own agenda on society. One irony is that the “Libertarian” movement would be more honestly described as the “Licensarian” movement. The following quotation of a scholar who studied Adam Smith, the English contemporary of the American Founders, illustrates this distinction:
“[Smith’s] name is invoked by those who claim that the public good springs automatically out of the pursuit of self-interest, who regard government as the enemy of liberty, and who cite Smith’s principle of ‘natural liberty’ to defend the legalization of everything from pornography to guns to hard drugs…
Far from being an individualist, Smith believed that it is the influence of society that transforms people into moral beings. He thought that people often misjudge their own self-interest… The ‘liberty’ Smith advocated was not ‘freedom’ from all control, but freedom to control one’s own passions. That freedom would be learned from and encouraged by such social institutions as the market, the family, religious communities, and the law.
Dr. Gerald Muller, Adam Smith: In His Time and Ours (cited in Conservative Book Club brochure).
Here is a simple practical example of the difference between liberty and license. Consider the 1st amendment free speech guarantee and these two statements:
A. “I hate you.”
B. “I hate you, you *&^$#*&^$# $^@&*^ing jerk!”
Those who believe in license defend both statements as helpful and permissible in our society. Believers in liberty defend the first but outlaw second. One has the right to express their opinion in a moral and straightforward manner. Cussing and swearing add no real information content to the original messsage.*
It is fairly well absurd to claim the Founders meant liberty to include things like pornography, drug use and hateful speech when one considers their own actions and writings. Where is the historical example to support such notions? I find it impossible to justify the notion that even one of the founders, much less the majority, would have tolerated a suggestion that pornography or hate speech could be defended under the 1st Amendment. The founders sought to establish noble ideals in defending principled men from being persecuted for honest beliefs. They had seen good men imprisoned for publishing newspapers critical of the government; today deviants twist their words to defend gutter language and behavior. The founders sought to buttress social norms and build up society; the ACLU and anarchists seek to drag society down with the same words. When will the folly end?
“Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and the burden of choice; it also means that he must bear the consequences of his actions… Liberty and responsibility are inseparable.” -Friedrich von Hayek
* Some might appeal to an expanded definition of the concept of “the right to express yourself” and argue that the swearing adds emphasis and content to Message A. In a tenuous sense this is true but I would reject this expanded definition because under it anything could be justified. For example, American Survival Guide had an anti-crime article recently that mentioned a grad student convicted of murder for killing his professor. His professor was apparently being grossly unfair towards the student (who needed his approval and cooperation to earn his Ph.D.), so the student bashed his skull in. In a very real sense he was “expressing himself” and his frustrations when he did so. Does that mean his actions should be protected? According to some of the tortuous rationalizations I’ve heard, it might!