Is there a difference between liberty and freedom? From listening to people and reading about the issue, it seems that they are used synonymously.

This is a very interesting question indeed. It does seem that today, the words are often used interchangeably. However, there are etymological differences between the words which suggest that at least originally, they were used in different senses. Very roughly, liberty seems to have been originally used to characterize an absence of external constraint, what, following Isaiah Berlin's seminal essay, "Two Concepts of Liberty," one might call 'negative', whereas freedom seems to have been originally used to characterize a capacity for self-control or self-government, what, following Berlin again, one might might 'positive'. The latter, then, seems to have an individual, moral sense, whereas the former has more of a political connotation. There is considerable discussion of this topic in the blogosophere: one helpful discussion that I found may be accessed by clicking on the following link. There is also a relatively recent book, Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas, by David Hackett Fischer, that discusses these words and their differences, in the context of American history.

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