“Hello and welcome to Reality Check.  Hi, I’m Mark Pellegrino and today I’m going to be talking about liberty. 

That’s right, liberty. Liberty is a word that everyone in the world seems to know and use but very few understand.

Okay, so liberty is freedom, but freedom from what? Ah, there’s the rub.

See, people want to be free from all kinds of things. The problem is most of those freedoms don’t boil down to liberty. Wait. Did I just imply freedom is not the same as liberty? I did! 

Well technically that’s true. Hear me out. Freedom in the broadest sense just means without constraints, but the real world is filled with all kinds of natural constraints.

Take gravity for example. You want to fly? Leap a tall building in a single bound? Gravity will constrain you! And there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, you could but…

Life itself is very constraining. You want to live, you got to work. It’s okay, you’re not unusual. Every living thing in the world from the smallest bacteria to the most complex organisms must work to live. And every living thing in the world knows that except human beings. Only human beings think that the conditionality of life and the facts of reality are things you should be liberated from. 

Now where did that come from, I wonder. The desire to be free from the world as it is, seems to be a natural part of the human psyche. People have always wanted to have their cakes and eat them too. And through the ages there has been a steady supply of utopian thinkers to fill our imaginations with stories that appeal to that desire. Now the utopian idea was this. Human existence was once pristine, conditionless, and innocent, but is now fallen, depraved and harsh. The object is to return once more to that pristine and innocent time by creating a social system that could make that possible.

And that’s understandable, right, for most of human existence, life really was hard. Conditions did suck, everywhere, and still do in far too many places in the world, so it’s understandable to want to be liberated from them. The problem is you can’t! You can only be liberated from another moral agent, i.e., human being. You can’t be liberated from the conditionality of the natural world and the constraints of life.

Now what does that mean? It means natural constraints just are and have to be understood and worked around. A moral agent, i.e., human being, is another story. Moral agents do everything by choice, and since one of those choices could be to impede another moral agent’s ability to live and work within his own natural constraints, moral agents set up a rule between them not to. And that rule is what we call liberty.

Wait, so liberty is a constraint? Yes! It is the constraint of force so that moral agents can work within the natural constraints of life. Peaceably. Translation: liberty is freedom from people. Because people are the only things that can use force when they don’t have to.

People can oppress you. Life and the realities of life can’t. They just are. So any liberation movement that seeks to liberate people from conditionality in order to achieve [utopia] winds up achieving [oppression] because the natural constraints of reality in life cannot be pretended out of existence. At best, the burden of complying with these unalterable realities can be shifted temporarily to another. But since they are the price of living, the cost must be borne by someone.

So ask yourself if you want freedom or liberty.


Mark Pellegrino Reality Check