Divided America: Is ‘liberty’ what you really want?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Divided America
Two images of Lady Liberty from World War I

THE MANY FACES OF LIBERTY: This summer marks the centennial of World War I. Here are two popular images of Lady Liberty used on posters during WWI.

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”?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Series Navigation<< Divided America: Is Edward Snowden hero or traitor?


  1. Jeona says

    Hi. 🙂 I read this web page and I have a question about it. When I read things, I like to know the reason(s) why it was wrote or the idea behind it. Something like that. You know, the point, or the main idea(s). I would like to know the point(s)or the reason why you wrote it. I did not read the other 4 parts. I just read this. I don’t remember how I got here, (*laughs* or lol )but I got here and I read this, and I’d like to know what I asked you. I only put my email there so you could reply, so please do not share it with anyone, or anything. Thank you. 🙂

  2. Jeona says

    If I would have known my email address was not necessary for you to reply, I would not have put it there. I seen the asterisk behind it and thought I had to put it there for you to reply. Now I two other questions. Why do you need my email address? I want to know what you are going to do with it since it was a “requirement” for me to put it there? You want to know to what extent that I agree with you doing that?

    • Jeona says

      have* I hate it when I don’t proofread. I’m kind of mad though about the email thing. Do you want to know why?

      • Jeona says

        I feel like since I did not want it there and the fact that it was “required” to post a comment, it took my “liberty” away.