The Meaning of Liberty ~ BENEATH THE SURFACE with PAUL MURANO

By: Paul Murano – July 2019

As another Independence Day has come and gone, Americans had an opportunity again to reflect on the meaning of July 4th. Traditionally, we have self-identified as a nation of freedom and liberty. Yet, as we move further and further in time from the writing of the Declaration of Independence, two movements have come to obscure this national identity – one from the left and the other from the right.

The American Left celebrates Independence Day with an underlying anger. The focus is not on who enjoys liberty, but on who does not. This begins with the African slaves and continues with all consequent discrimination. It is true the U.S. has not been immune to fallen man’s tendency to protect what is his and exert power over the new guy.

In this sense America has always been a class society; the newest migrants being at the service of those who came before them, financially and socially. While the Irish, Greeks, Italians, etc. were discriminated against when they first immigrated to America, after a couple generations they acculturated enough to share in its middle class dream. Two ethnic groups today, however, continue to sense a glass ceiling that is not being broken. With the help of the media and the Democratic Party, Blacks and Hispanics are openly encouraged to harbor animosity against ‘white people’.

Just watch CNN or MSNBC for 30 minutes and you’ll see it. Democratic policies, which have demonstrably failed the poor, keep these groups dependent on politicians. This is why people like Ben Carson and Candace Owens are seen as great threats to their power.

On the other hand the American Right also has warped the definition of liberty. Before modern philosophy began distorting it, individual liberty meant the ‘freedom to do the good’ or what one ought to do (i.e. the right thing). It has evolved, however, to correspond more to our selfish nature by becoming ‘freedom to do what we want’ – as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.

This definition of liberty, with which everyone is familiar today, gives rise to the ethical theory consequentialism, which looks solely at the potential consequences of an act as the standard by which to judge right and wrong. Instead of asking “Is this act good?” the question becomes, “What harm does it do?” This turning of liberty’s meaning is accompanied with suspicion of government. Hence, the right’s expectation can be summed up in the maxim that if there is no apparent harm to another, one has a right to do it – and government should not interfere. Liberty, therefore, becomes the freedom to watch pornography, do hard drugs, and manipulate other people’s weaknesses for profit. After all, the thinking goes, as long as there is consent and no one is physically hurt, I am free to do it. This is wrong. It is not liberty, but license.

By the way, the Left concurs with this skewed view of freedom only when it relates to bedroom issues. Other than sexual perversions, the Left seeks more and more governmental involvement in people’s lives. Therefore, to the Left, a divorce culture, an abortion culture of 1.3 million prenatal homicides per year, “same-sex marriage”, and men calling themselves women is liberty, however, virtually everything else in the public social and economic sphere the Left demands be more government involvement.

Here lies the problem: Liberty, and human rights in general, has to be based on something. It needs a source. That something is not the state or the majority. It is human nature and its intrinsic law. Read Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and you will see how civil rights leaders understood human rights to be based upon natural law. Like Augustine and Aquinas before him, MLK held that if any civil law contradicts natural law it must be resisted because, in essence, it is null and void. Rights are not granted by the state, or by our own selfish desires, but are inherent in the nature of the human being.

Therefore, the term ‘good’ must be understood to mean that which fulfills natural human inclination, enabling one to flourish, and contributing to the fulfillment of the individual, family, and society. Liberty means the freedom to do the good. We are not at liberty to contradict the basic tenets of natural law, despite any disordered desire or attraction to them, such as defying legitimate authority, killing the innocent (murder, abortion, euthanasia), lust and sex outside marriage (pornography, fornication, sodomy, adultery), stealing, coveting, or lying. All these acts violate human nature and are human wrongs, not human rights. They diminish the well being of all. There is no “pride” in this.

We live in an increasingly divided and isolated nation. Only when we rediscover that independence from Britain does not mean independence from God, others, and human nature itself, will we stop the decline of what was once an independent country with great promise.

Paul Murano teaches college philosophy and theology and is the talk host of ‘Beneath the Surface’ radio show and podcast. Check out Paul’s website at Email him at