by Carl Eric Scott
National Affairs
August 28, 2014
When we carefully consider the idea of liberty through the lens of the American political tradition, we find that Americans have held, and continue to hold, five interlocking but distinct understandings of the term. First and foremost, liberty has been regarded as the protection of natural rights—a notion of liberty we might simply call “natural-rights liberty.” Second, we have taken liberty to refer to the self-governance of a local community or group, a conception we might call “classical-communitarian liberty.” Third, we have taken the term to refer to economic individualism, or what we might call “economic-autonomy liberty.” Fourth, we have understood it to refer to the social justice of the national community, or what might be called “progressive liberty.” And fifth, we have understood liberty to refer to moral individualism, which we can call “personal-autonomy liberty.” Each of these has a claim to being the correct conception of political liberty, as well as the most genuinely American one.

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