The history of liberty

Banners at the Holocaust Museum remind us our actions matter, April 2013.

Holocaust Museum banners in Washington DC remind us our actions matter, April 2013.

“Liberty has never come from the government.  Liberty has always come from the subjects of it.  The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”  — Woodrow Wilson

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”Thomas Jefferson, from the Declaration of Independence

Whenever a government moves to uphold or defend freedom, it’s easy to get confused and think that the freedom came from the government.  In reality, freedom is secured by governments, not granted by them, and even that happens only insofar as governments act in accordance with the will of the governed.  One need not look far into the history books to find confirmation of Wilson’s assertion that the history of liberty is inextricably bound up with resistance to governmental tyranny.

There is a difference, of course, between oppression and unpopular legislation.  I think people on either end of the political spectrum are far too quick to refer to anything they disagree with as “facism,” and to liken any political opponent to Hitler.  Such words begin to lose meaning when they are tossed about as hyperbole, and desensitization to their concepts is dangerous.

It’s important to recognize, especially in a democracy, that the will of the majority must not disregard the liberty of the minorities.  Thus the sometimes inexorably slow and cumbersome process of governmental checks and balances will test the patience of citizens who care passionately about their country’s actions and policies.

The great thing about having lived through many years of alternating dominance of one political party or another is that it gives us a sense of how it feels to be on either side of the equation. We’ve all felt elation when elections or court decisions went the way we hoped they would, and disappointment or even despair when they did not.  If nothing else, it should give us a measure of sympathy for each other, regardless of our differing affiliations and ideas.

The next time you find yourself in either a winning or losing political position, remember that the liberty we all claim to value has never been uniformly and consistently available in all aspects of life.  To value liberty is to accept the inevitability of disagreement, and the best we can do is act, speak and live in ways that will keep such conflicts in the realm of civil discourse.  The most inhumane atrocities had their beginnings in tiny seeds of prejudice, anger, blame, malicious rumor and disrespectful behavior.

The history of liberty is indeed a history of resistance – including resistance to gratuitous hostility.

One year ago today

The one who thinks differently

This post was first published seven years ago today. Since I first began re-publishing these posts in early 2020, I have thought many times how surprising it is that many of them still seem as relevant as when they were written. This post, though, is the first that actually seems MORE relevant now than when I wrote it in 2014. I hope people will read it thoughtfully, and consider the ideas herein.

The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. True, Julia. This post is extremely relevant at present.
    How do we feed compassion?

    • My honest opinion? Mostly by stepping outside ourselves and our comfortable groups of people who think like we do, and making friends (not just tolerating) people with opposing viewpoints. It’s hard to have compassion on people one considers to be ignorant, evil or repugnant, no matter how many virtue-signaling talking heads make it seem fashionable to be self-righteous. Often, these nasty stereotypes do not bear up on close examination. As Dr. King said, “you cannot drive out hate with hate. Only love can do that” or words to that effect.

      • MaryAnn

        Great post & response, Julia! I will share this. I am actively seeking ways to accomplish “making friends” with people outside my groups.

        • It’s harder to do than one might imagine, because often people are justifiably cautious at being friendly with someone outside their normal circle of friends. And I think the ever-increasing transfer of many parts of life from “real time” to the online world has only intensified this tendency to avoid face to face interactions. But it’s still an effort worth making, because the rewards can be great.

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

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