Steve A. Stone
A discussion of freedom and liberty
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By Steve A. Stone
March 13, 2020

Dear Friends and Patriots,

I watched Mark Levin interview Charlie Kirk on Life, Liberty, and Levin. It was an amazing experience, and to me, one of the most meaningful programs Levin has run on his Fox News broadcast. Kirk seemed to impress Levin, which is saying a lot. Levin is a very, very smart and knowledgeable guy, and I've only seen a guest impress him on rare occasions. Levin seems to accept most guests as at least intellectual equals, and it appeared at the onset that was his take on Kirk. But once the discussion went toward the philosophic basis for the founding of America when compared to the philosophic basis for progressivism, things went in directions Levin clearly didn't expect. Kirk uttered a quote from Plato that clearly surprised Levin. Then, he went further and began to discuss the concept of private property and how Plato didn't believe people had an intrinsic right to own property. Kirk explained how Socrates had been Plato's teacher and mentor, and Plato subsequently taught and mentored Aristotle. Plato had developed his notion regarding property himself and taught it to Aristotle, but Aristotle later came to completely disagree. He evidently came to a realization of property ownership as a social benefit – a force that helped bind populations together in a necessary and peaceful way.

Kirk went on to discuss Rousseau and how he was not only an inspiration for Karl Marx, but an outspoken critic of the ownership of property. Rousseau advocated for a more utopian order based on equal distribution of all resources, all the while living as one of France's most renowned plutocrats. Levin remarked that most of the utopian theorists were the same way, preaching equality and fairness, while living quite significantly higher on the old commie hog.

About that time in the conversation, Levin asked a fascinating question, one I've heard many times, but never with a response I thought was either correct or fully considered. His question regarded the difference between "freedom" and "liberty." If you've read my works for any length of time, you know I don't use the terms interchangeably as many do. If I refer to both, I do so as "freedom and liberty" so as to ensure all readers understand there is a difference between the two.

I would describe Kirk's response as somewhat vague. If it didn't wander so much, it could be described as dissembling, but it lacked philosophic specificity. What was interesting to me was to hear how forceful and direct he was when describing the natural right to own and possess property, and how less so he was when asked to discuss the differences between two of the most basic and essential concepts of our founding.

I consulted my oldest Webster's Dictionary, an edition copyrighted in 1967. I usually rely on it because it's not nearly as tainted by progressive redefinitions as my newer dictionaries. But in this instance, my old friend failed me. What I read as definitions for both "freedom" and "liberty" seemed to lack the philosophic substance needed to comprehend both of those words in the full majesty of their connotations as our founders understood them. I decided to try on my own. I think it's an important effort, and hope you do, too.

Freedom, as understood and expressed by our founders in their correspondence and the Declaration of Independence, involves far more than just the lack of constraint or restraint. When you take the word in consideration of the philosophic concept of innate or natural rights, you should be able to make the linkage between them. Indeed, if you are able to enjoy all your natural rights in an unimpeded way, you can be said to be a completely free person. Freedom is diminished whenever any of those natural rights are constrained or removed to any degree.

Does that make sense as stated? If not, consider freedom of speech, as stated in our Constitution's First Amendment. If speech is completely unimpeded or unconstrained, then one enjoys total freedom to exercise this one natural right. If some person's action or any law of government constrains a person's ability to fully express themselves, either orally, in writing, or in any other way legally defined as speech, then it's logical to assume that person's right has been diminished or constrained, and they don't enjoy the fullness of their God-given freedom.

Liberty is related to freedom, but because the freedom has to exist before liberty can be exercised, liberty is derivative. That may sound obtuse, so let me explain it as I learned it.

I spent over ten years in the Navy. I learned a lot about the concepts of freedom and liberty there. They were never referred to as the same or even equivalents. Could it be that ancient naval traditions that exist even today helped me comprehend such deep philosophic notions? Perhaps so. You tell me.

When a person joins the military, they willingly surrender a surprising degree of personal freedom. Military people are not free to exercise their natural rights. They do not have the right of free speech. They cannot always exercise their freedom of religion as they did as civilians. They are often confined for long periods of time, and have absolutely no independent right to come and go. They are restricted from certain possessions and certain affiliations. They have no right of assembly for any purpose unless ordered to do so. Their right to life is voluntarily surrendered. Their lives are completely in the hands of others – senior military members and politicians. Very few civilians realize the degree to which all military members surrender the gifts God gave them or the daily compromises they make that average civilians never have to consider. Freedom is something our military exists to guarantee for others, while voluntarily denying it to themselves.

It may sound odd, but the nature of the military is truly a hierarchic dictatorship that exists to guarantee the maximum degree of freedom to all who exist outside its confines, while either denying or rationing it within. At least, that's true in America. I won't address any other country, though to greater or lesser degrees, it's the same in any military organization. If you want to truly understand the value of your freedoms and appreciate their meaning and majesty, there are two places to learn – the military and prison. Even then, it's true that of the two, it's the military that takes more freedom from a person. It's true that it's the military that's the more likely to "take" a member's life. Need I elaborate more? I hope not.

The military uses the word "liberty" in very specific ways; at least I know the Navy does. There's "regular" liberty, "special" liberty, "Cinderella" liberty, "on-board" liberty, and even one called "periscope" liberty. We spoke of liberty "chits," liberty "privileges," "terminated" liberty, liberty "restrictions," and many other connotations. When I read this list I admit it, we dealt with many, many concepts of liberty, and did so all the time. But, just what were we talking about? It was the degree of ability we were occasionally and temporarily granted to exercise our formerly innate, natural rights.

When aboard ship, all the constraints on freedom apply. A crew member has only those freedoms allowed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). For the military, the UCMJ is their Constitution. The Constitution of the United States of America is not the governing law for any military member while on a military reservation, in a foreign war zone, deployed on a mission, or aboard a military ship or airplane. Whenever any military member is on liberty (shore leave) in the community, they are actually under dual legal systems, that of the UCMJ and that of the Constitution. There is also the possibility of double jeopardy that doesn't exist under normal circumstances for civilians.

The military doesn't actually teach the meaning of liberty. It's inferred by practice. After some time in uniform, a member begins to understand liberty as a condition where certain of their former innate and natural rights are reinstated to some degree for a specified period of time. It works like this. When a military person is granted weekend liberty, they recover some of their right of free travel, within specified limits. They can come and go off their vessel or base at will. They can go to places in the community like any other citizen, unless it's a place that's on a restricted list. They can speak at will and say pretty much whatever they want, though in many venues they aren't allowed to fully represent their status in the military. They can buy, sell, own, possess, and transfer property of any kind, as long as it's not identified by the military as illegal or contraband. The UCMJ is germane wherever a military person goes, and is used to judge all they do as long as they are under contract or possess an active commission. Liberty is a temporary reinstatement of some, but never all, natural rights, and never to a complete degree.

If you followed that, then you understand liberty as a variable condition that determines how fully anyone can exercise innate freedoms. Note I don't say "their" innate freedoms. In truth, when a person is in the military, they are virtual chattels, hardly different from any slave. They are not guaranteed any freedom, other than the thoughts in their heads. But the concept of liberty as applied by the military also applies universally.

Liberty is always related to the degree one can exercise one's freedoms. You have the freedom of speech, but can you always exercise that freedom? Perhaps at home, but not at your place of employment. That's the law. You have liberty at home, but constraints at work, a lesser condition of liberty. You have the freedom to live wherever you wish and enjoy whatever lifestyle you choose, but can you always exercise that freedom? If your job keeps you in "City A" 500 miles from "City B," which is where you wish to be, then your choice of employment compromises your liberty. You have the potential liberty to live where you want, but because it's impractical to do so, you give up that liberty, while the freedom is actually still intact. Does that make sense?

I hope you found this meaningful. The fact that Mark Levin asked Charlie Kirk to discuss this subject tells me you might.

In Liberty,

Steve

© Steve A. Stone

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Steve A. Stone

Steve A. Stone is and always will be a Texan, though he's lived outside that great state for all but 3 years since 1970. He currently resides in Grand Bay, AL, with his wife of 44 years and a larger herd of furry dependents. Steve retired from the US Coast Guard reserves in 2011 after serving over 22 years in uniform over the span of four decades. His service included duty on two US Navy attack submarines, and one Navy and two US Coast Guard Reserve Units. He has worked as a senior civil servant for the US Navy for over 30 years, and is still on the job. Steve is a member of the Mobile County Republican Executive Committee and Common Sense Campaign, South Alabama's largest Tea Party. He is also a member of SUBVETS, Inc. and a life member of both the NRA and The Submarine League. In 2018, Steve created 671 Press LLC to publish his books under – he does it his way.

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