Today is the start of the Memorial Day weekend, with the official federal holiday on Monday. It’s a time when we pause and remember the men and women who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. It is often said that they died to preserve our liberty. But is liberty really something you want?
This week, we’ve explored several areas where Americans are deeply divided. These include divided beliefs about God as the source of moral authority, the traditional family model, America’s moral destiny, and the tradeoff of freedom and security. Today, we consider beliefs about the value of liberty. You might be surprised to learn what Americans think about it!
Liberty means freedom from restraint—being able to do whatever you want. In my surveys, I asked about this meaning of liberty in two different ways. I intentionally didn’t use the word “liberty” because I wanted to avoid having the word (rather than the definition) influence responses.
Here are two statements. To what extent do you agree or disagree with each one?
“Freedom is being left alone to do what I want.”
“Freedom is having a government that doesn’t interfere in my life.”
Almost four of ten Americans (39%) agreed with the first statement, a figure that barely changed over the four surveys. Just under half (48%) disagreed, however, saying that they did not endorse this idea. Only 14% were neutral.
I found a similar pattern for the second statement. About half agreed with it. Over a third (35%) disagreed, and only 15% were neutral.
Liberty is in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, but beliefs about it are sharply divided.
We do find agreement, however, when we talk about freedom of expression and freedom as the right to participate in elections and politics. These are widely shared core values, as I describe in United America.
At the start of the Memorial Day weekend, what does “freedom” mean to you?
How about “liberty”?
- Divided America: Do you trust God or yourself?
- Divided America: Group marriage?
- Divided America: Still “A City upon a Hill?”
- Divided America: Is Edward Snowden hero or traitor?
- Divided America: Is ‘liberty’ what you really want?