Through the lens of science, that which appears to be mysterious is seen as simple, and that which appears to be ordinary is seen as remarkable. That which already exists around us begins to be unveiled and understood, thus empowering us to use that knowledge for our benefit.
The sun, for example, has been shining for millions of years. Only upon closer inspection are we beginning to understand the properties of light, enabling us to harness its power. Many revolutionary inventions only required an awareness of the forces of nature, such as the waterwheel and the windmill.
Liberty is like water, wind or light. It already exists within every living being. It grows in conjunction with life and flows from the center of intelligence outward, as far as each individual will let it. It starts in individuals and unites them to form self-governing societies. Liberty is a potential energy waiting to be harnessed when understood. Let us look deeper into the properties of liberty that it may surge throughout all of humanity. Ezra Taft Benson has said that if we “stand up for freedom, no matter what the cost… it can help to save [our] soul[s].”1
The components of liberty
During this investigation we will use the term liberty, but keep in mind that we are defining liberty synonymously with agency. Liberty is made up of three fundamental components. Elder D. Todd Christofferson defined them as follows:
“First, there must be alternatives to choose among…Second, for us to have agency, we must not only have alternatives but we must also know that they exist and what they are. If we are unaware of the choices available, the existence of those choices is meaningless to us…Third…the freedom to make choices.”2
I will refer to these three components as: first, options to choose from; second, the ability to choose; third, the power to execute the choice. Each component necessarily requires the previous component. Thus, they build upon each other. We will look deeper into each of these components in order to have a complete understanding of liberty.
To be understood completely, the components of liberty must be explained first from the inside out, then from the outside in. There are certain principles that become self-evident from the internal perspective and others from the external perspective—axioms derived from one part that can, then, be applied to expound on the other parts.
First component: options to choose from
When speaking of choices, they are to be understood in the broadest sense- the choices of what one can think, feel, say and do. The principles of liberty apply from the most inward feelings and thoughts to the most outward words and actions. Each moment, there are countless options of what one may choose to think, feel, say and do. Every one of those actions leads to an entirely new set of options. Under the current conditions, liberty is never limited by a lack of options. This first component will be investigated in more detail later, but, for now, suffice it to say that the nature of our universe is one of infinite options.
Second component: the ability to choose
This component exists internally within one’s own mind. The ability to choose depends upon one’s knowledge of truth. To address this properly will also require an explanation of the nature of truth, and the requirements for learning truth.
The ability to choose is dependent upon knowledge of truth
The ability to choose is dependent upon knowledge of truth. False knowledge obstructs the ability to choose. From here on out knowledge will be referred to strictly as knowledge of truth. There are an infinite number of choices one can make each moment. Knowledge of these choices and their outcomes expands one’s ability to choose.
There are two different categories of knowledge: factual knowledge and functional knowledge.
Factual knowledge answers the questions who, what, when and where. Functional knowledge answers the questions why and how. Functional knowledge is obtained by inductive reasoning—identifying patterns from factual knowledge.
There are universal laws that determine the reactions to every action.3 (D&C 130:20–21) Functional knowledge pertains to universal laws or principles.
While one’s liberty is affected by one’s factual knowledge, it is much more affected by one’s functional knowledge.
Factual knowledge can be illustrated with the example of a traveler at a fork in the road. The traveler has a choice of two different paths. If the traveler doesn’t know what lies at the end of each path, then he has no power to choose his destination. He may be able to choose which path is most enticing, but the destination attached to it is completely out of his control. Sometimes the desired destinations are only attainable through difficult paths, and sometimes the easy paths lead to undesired destinations. In such cases, the traveler, knowing what lies at the end of each path has the power to choose either the path that he desires or the destination that he desires, but not both, because they are already attached.
Functional knowledge is analogous to the previous example. Just as every path connects a starting point to a destination, so does a universal law or principle connect an action to its corresponding reaction. If one understands the consequences attached to each action, then one’s ability to choose is enhanced. Every choice we make is like choosing the path or the destination. Are we aware of the outcomes of our actions, and, if so, are we choosing the actions we want to take, or are we choosing the outcomes we truly desire?
Obedience to knowledge will be defined as choosing the desired outcome regardless of the required action. Disobedience to knowledge will be defined as choosing the desired action regardless of the inevitable consequence.
The nature of truth
All truth is connected and graded. This can be seen through the relationship of principles. Not only are principles connected, but they are also graded; higher principles being built upon lower principles. For example, in mathematics, one can’t understand the principle of powers and roots until the principle of multiplication and division is understood first. And that can’t be understood without understanding the principle of addition and subtraction. And, finally, that presumes the understanding of the most fundamental principle, the ability to count in a given numeral system. Each law is based on a simpler law, all of which fundamentally derive from an axiomatic principle. 4 (Isaiah 28:10) One may know parts of the higher principles, factually, without grasping the foundational principle, functionally; such as a child memorizing a multiplication problem without understanding how it works. We all do this more frequently than we know. We understand who, what, when and where, but we don’t search for the underlying principles by asking why and how. By inductive reasoning, factual knowledge can be transformed into functional knowledge. When this transformation occurs, a new principle is learned, which can then be applied to understand all of the branches of truth that extend from that one. The most important truths are those fundamental principles that serve as the foundation for the rest. We must continually search deeper and farther for the root principles.
The requirements for learning truth
Knowledge of truth or the ability to choose can only be increased or decreased by the individual. Obedience to truth increases knowledge.5 (D&C 93:27–28) Disobedience to truth limits knowledge.
After learning certain principles of truth, one may prefer not to live by them. When one’s actions are unharmonious with one’s thoughts, there is dissonance or guilt, and the human tendency is to let one submit to the other. In this case, the weaker mind will redefine its principles, splitting a truth into fragments and restructuring the elements into a false reality that conforms to the actions. This is called rationalization. It occurs when one prefers to satisfy one’s indulgences or laziness above one’s will of mind. When actions govern thoughts, thoughts become distorted, ever subject to change and manipulation. The mind is weakened, and, having erased a principle from its consciousness, becomes incapable of learning those principles connected with the one it has abandoned. The opportunity to discover and enjoy the results of acting upon those principles becomes unavailable.
When one attempts to redefine reality within one’s own mind, there will always be gaps and incongruences. These little discrepancies, between reality and the mind, will continue to create dissonance and prod with guilt. Each time this happens, one makes a choice whether to unpeel the mask of false principles and reform one’s actions, or to continue to add to the network of falsities that enshroud one’s mind.
On the other hand, when thought governs actions, the actions reform themselves to align with the newly learned principle. One changes courses to a new path that leads to one’s desired destination. As one continues to live in accordance with one’s knowledge, new and higher principles begin to reveal themselves. It is as if the destination reveals new paths to greater destinations.
Therefore, one’s potential to learn truth is limited by one’s willingness to live by that truth. Obedience to truth enables more knowledge, which in turn expands liberty. Conversely, disobedience to truth breeds ignorance, which in turn creates captivity.6 (Alma 12:9–12) The moment the will is curtailed by indulgences, the cancerous rationalization impregnates itself within the mind. This cancer is much easier to prevent than to cure.
Third component: the power to execute the choice
This component exists externally as the manifestation of the internal component. The ability to execute a choice is what transforms thoughts and feelings into words and actions. It enables the metaphysical to take the form of the physical. It is impossible to consciously execute what the mind has not conceived. Therefore, the power to execute a choice is completely dependent on the ability to choose.
In considering the power to execute the choice, there are three categories of power: the power of life, the power of property, and the power of influence.
The power of life
The power of life is the power to physically perform an action. This power is dependent upon our physical bodies. Hence, it is called the power of life. It is the ability to move our mouths to speak, our feet to walk, our hands to lift, etc. That power increases as one improves the health and strength of one’s body, and as one learns to master one’s control of it. A crawling child has less power to move than a walking man. The man is less bound by three-dimensional space than the child. A virtuosic violinist, having acute control of the fingers and hands, has more power to play the violin than someone who hasn’t.
The power of property
The power of life is intimately connected with the power of property. For life immediately depends on property of the basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing. Without the ownership and control of property, there cannot be control of life. Likewise, whoever owns and controls property has the power to control the life that is dependent upon that property. Property also depends on life—being the means of obtaining that property.
We mix our labor (power of life) with natural resources to create goods in order to increase the quality of our life. First we labor to sustain life through food, shelter and clothing, satisfying our natural will to survive. Beyond that, we labor to increase the quality of our life, satisfying our will to thrive and expand. Many of the things for which we labor to increase the quality of life are simply tools to facilitate the acquisition of the necessities of life, such as plows, hammers, cars, computers etc. Our property is a means through which we can execute our will. If we expand our property then we expand our power to execute our will. Property is an extension of life.
We acquire property to sustain and improve the quality of life as we see fit, according to our knowledge. This is correctly referred to as the subjective pursuit of happiness.
Other than our own life and our own property, there is another definition of power that is completely different. That is the power to influence others to bring about our will. From here on out I will refer to power strictly as the latter.
The power of influence
There are two different methods of obtaining this form of power: by force or by persuasion. The method of persuasion can be divided into two subcategories: persuasion of truth, and persuasion of falsity.
Persuasion of truth explains the direct value of obedience, namely the beneficial reactions related to that particular act of obedience and its corollary, the afflictive reactions to disobedience. It expounds on the fundamental laws relating to that action and reaction, or, at least, displays evidence of the potential consequences. This method is not only stable but also self-perpetuating and naturally propagative. This method is only possible for obtaining power if one’s will is in harmony with the expansion of life and truth.
Persuasion of falsity conceals the long-term consequences and glamorizes the short-term consequences of a given action that would otherwise be undesirable. This method is also self-perpetuating and highly propagative, but only as long as the truth continues to be concealed.
Persuasion of truth is the only method of obtaining true and lasting power. Force and persuasion of falsity can only obtain a counterfeit temporary power. Effective persuasion of truth also requires patience, gentleness, meekness, love, kindness and charity.7 (D&C 121:41–45)
True and lasting power stems from honor, love and trust.8 (D&C 29:36) It isn’t obtained by seeking power over others, but by seeking to empower others. This power always respects the will and liberty of others, and it is never compulsory.
For example, a father does everything possible to help his children find joy and success in all that they do. He supports, provides, teaches, leads, listens to and loves his children. Eventually the children’s trust in the father will become so strong that they will do what the father asks, even if they don’t understand why. They do, however, know that anything he asks them to do will be for their own benefit. The children honor the father because the father loves the children. The father can project his good will through his children. His dominion of power has increased through his children.9 (D&C 121:46)
True power can be illustrated by an upside-down pyramid—the father is at the bottom lifting the others up. The father’s will streams through the conduits of trust and solidifies into physical form by the energy and abilities of many. Therefore, he has power to do what could not have been done by his own physical body and property. Many of the children will follow his example, and thus the pyramid grows upward and the power increases exponentially.
Again, true power, to transmit one’s will through others, requires that one’s will is in harmony with the expansion of life and truth.
The counterfeit of power uses coercion, false promises, fear, secrecy, ignorance, half-truths and threats. This is obtained by seeking to disempower others. It violates the rights of others. The enslaved do the will of the master for at least one of two reasons; one is the fear of consequences (force), the other is the promise of power (persuasion of falsity). True power, however, cannot be given; it must be earned.
The fearful master knows that the enslaved want to get out, and is driven by constant fear of this. The master becomes a slave to his own system, and his liberty diminishes. This relationship is highly unstable and ultimately unsustainable. The efficiency of this façade of power is inhibited by the lack of will of the enslaved. He may be physically executing the task, but his mental faculties are engaged in escaping his situation.
Worse than being driven by fear, is to be driven by the promise of power, in which case the subordinates propagate the errors of their master. This is slightly more stable but ultimately unsustainable. The problem with promising false power over others is that eventually they run out of people, and the system collapses into a ravaging power-hungry anarchy.
The counterfeit of true power can be illustrated by a right-side-up pyramid— instead of truly lifting others up, the master pushes them down as he tries to maintain his position on the top. His will is transmitted through the veins of fear and/or ignorance and distorts into physical form by the efforts of others.
To summarize, liberty has three components: First, options to choose from, which are inherent in our universe; second, the ability to choose, which is dependent upon knowledge of truth, which in turn is dependent upon obedience to knowledge; and third, the power to execute the choice, the power of life, property and influence. As each component is limited to the extent of the previous component, we see that liberty can only grow from the inside out. It exists on an individual basis. It flows from the center of intelligence outward, as far as each individual will let it.
Now that we have investigated the three components of liberty from the inside out, we have a complete picture of basic properties of liberty. With this complete view of liberty, we can see a new dimension of self-evident truth that springs from that understanding, namely fundamental rights.
A right is an authority; they are synonymous. Power and authority are two different things, not to be confused. In regard to liberty, we have more power than we have authority. One might have the power to take his neighbor’s life or property, but he does not have the right to do so.
The principle of fundamental rights is easiest to understand in the context of property. If one owns a piece of property, then one has ownership and control of that property. Consequently, one’s relationship to that property claims that no one else has ownership or control over it. Conversely, one has no right to the property to which another has ownership and control. Rights can be understood simply as an imaginary line that divides the property of each individual. That line is the limitation of each person’s rights and, also, the protection of those same rights. To act outside of one’s rights or authority is to infringe on the rights of someone else. When one acts outside of the boundaries of one’s rights in liberty, then liberty is diminished. Thomas Jefferson gave this definition of fundamental rights, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”
The definition of fundamental rights in the context of property can also be applied universally; for there is a deeper and simpler principle hidden within this concept. To use this understanding of fundamental rights, without seeing the deeper principle, would be like memorizing a few addition problems without truly understanding how to count. If we rephrase the definition, then the simpler principle becomes more apparent, thus, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within the limits drawn by the rights of liberty.” Even simpler, the rights of liberty protect the rights of liberty. In other words liberty does not contradict liberty. The liberty of one person does not take away the liberty of another. Just as truth supports more truth, liberty supports liberty.10 (D&C 88:40) Liberty is as infinite as truth, life and matter. This is the most fundamental and self-evident principle from which rights derive, the axiom of ‘liberty supports liberty’.
The axiom of ‘liberty supports liberty’
Under the condition that we understand liberty as it truly occurs, from the inside out, we can then apodictically derive the limits and bounds of rights from that axiom. Therefore, one’s rights of liberty are to choose those things that support or expand liberty. This is the fulcrum from which we turn and begin to look at liberty from an external perspective inward. We will, first, look at the rights of liberty externally, then internally.
The external application
The external application pertains to physical things such as life and property. Force is the only means by which physical boundaries can be infringed. Therefore, the external application of rights pertains strictly to the realm of force.
Offensive force is to initiate the damage or control of life or property, unauthorized. Defensive force is to damage or control the life or property of the offender only as necessary to defend one’s own life or property from offensive force. This includes the taking of the life of the offender if required. As all life and property are perfectly delineated by rights there is never a justification for unauthorized use of force against the life or property of another. Therefore offensive force is never justified. When offensive force is used the offender refuses to recognize authority or rights. The act of offensive force is, in fact, a statement of the offender’s non-recognition of the existence of rights, including his own. Thus, an attempt to use persuasion in defense of those rights may prove inadequate. Therefore, defensive force is not only justified, but, in some cases, may also be required to maintain the boundaries of rights in liberty. Offensive force destroys liberty, and defensive force supports liberty.
In the execution of laws, governments are only capable of using force.11 The attempt to use persuasion, for such a task, would be impracticable. Force is the only method of executing justice with equity. Therefore, the justified sphere of force is the only justified sphere of government action—limiting it to the protection of life and property from offensive force.12 (D&C 134:2)
Each individual constituent voluntarily delegates their authority to defend their life and property to the government. They don’t give up that authority; they only extend it.
As long as there is coercive interaction between people and/or property, whether intentionally or by accident, there is a need for government. Even if we all had perfect intentions, our mistakes would require government to execute justice.
We require a form of government because we are not perfect beings, but that form of government requires limitations because perfect beings do not govern us. Just as people outside of government are capable of doing wrong and need to be governed, so are those within government capable of doing wrong and need to be limited.13 The same concept that necessitates the existence of government also necessitates the limitation of that government. That concept is human imperfection- ones capability to use force against others. Therefore, government justified force is balanced with the initial aggressive force among its constituents. Conversely, the constituents are justified in using force to escape or defend their lives and property from the government, when it is using unjustified force.14,15 (D&C 134:5)
Any other government services must be optional in order not to infringe upon the rights of those who don’t want and use the services.
On the topic of the proper role of government, there is an extremely important distinction that should be made between the definition of life and that of existence. Life is a part of liberty. Its purpose is to give the power to execute choices. Life is a means to an end, while existence is an end in itself. Life is active and purposeful to the individual, while existence is inactive and purposeless to the individual. When the role of the government shifts from protecting liberty to maintaining the existence of its constituents, then they are reduced to an extension of the will of the government. When the primary goal of a government is to provide for the health, rather than the liberty of its constituents, that is a sure sign of slavery- maintaining existence at the expense of life.
The internal application
By understanding this deeper principle, we can begin to apply it to a whole new branch of applications. Not only does the axiom of “liberty supports liberty” define rights in regard to property, but it also defines right and wrong universally. Right being that which expands life and knowledge of truth- two components of liberty, and wrong being that which supports death and ignorance- two components of captivity. Liberty and captivity, right and wrong, good and evil can all be considered as the absence of the other. They are diametrically opposed to each other. There is no grey area. Therefore, the rights of liberty are to do that which is right. While liberty is the ability to think and to act, rights delineate the boundaries between just and unjust thoughts and actions.
Keep in mind, the more we define the true boundaries of the rights of liberty, the more knowledge we have to enhance liberty. For the corollary applies, that the more we act outside of the rights of liberty, knowingly or unknowingly, the more liberty is diminished. It would seem paradoxical that the more boundaries placed around one’s thoughts and actions the more one’s liberty would increase. But, as long as those boundaries are dictated by the rights of liberty, then one’s thoughts and actions will only be those that enhance liberty and will avoid those that diminish it.
Obedience to truth expands knowledge, and knowledge expands liberty. The expansion and protection of the quality and quantity of life also expands liberty. The boundaries of what is right are those thoughts and actions that are in harmony with the expansion of liberty.
Any thought or action that fosters a physical or mental addiction weakens the mind and limits the ability to choose. It limits the power of life and property by taking time, energy and resources to satisfy the addiction. In many cases, it also permanently damages the health of the body and physiologically deteriorates the brain.
Any thought or action that initializes the rationalization process acts as a dam to the progress of one’s knowledge of truth, and consequently one’s own liberty.
As there are infinite options to choose from, there are also infinite ways to do right and wrong. To write them all down would be impossible.16 (Mosiah 4:29–30) But know this, that each choice one makes either leads to more liberty and life or to captivity and death.17 (2 Nephi 2:27) The most important choices that determine those outcomes are not where to go to school or what career to take, but more importantly what thoughts to entertain; for all actions are preceded by thoughts, and our very thoughts can dramatically affect our ability to think, to choose, and to learn.
Options to choose from, the character of God, a glimpse into eternity
After investigating the properties of liberty from the inside out and, then, from the outside in, we are ready to understand one of the most exciting parts of liberty. Within this first component of liberty is manifest the character of God and a glimpse into eternity.
Many people ask the question, “If God exists, then why does He let bad things happen to good people?” The answer is that He desires for us to live and be free, as opposed to merely exist and be captive. In God’s eyes, all bad is bad and all good is good, so how bad does it have to be before He intervenes with force? Where do you draw the line? As long as we are free to choose, we will make mistakes that hurt ourselves and those around us. Another form of the same question would be, “Why does God allow us to do bad things?” or “Why does God allow us to make mistakes, to stub our toes, or to be imperfect in any manner?” or “Why does God allow us not to know the cures to all diseases and the art of life?” God would either have to allow all things to happen to us, or nothing to happen to us; allow us to be imperfect or force us to be perfect. There is no middle ground. This is the first of the three components of liberty, namely, options to choose from.
There are only two ways to stop bad things from happening to us; either God would have to make all of our choices for us, and we would not be conscious beings but only bodies, or He would have to eliminate our options to do bad things, confining us to a prison. Either way, the intervention required to prevent bad things from happening would prevent good things from happening as well. It would prevent all experience, good and bad, happiness and misery. Without any experience, we would be incapable of gaining functional knowledge of universal laws. We could never learn what actions expand life and liberty and what actions don’t. We couldn’t know right from wrong. We couldn’t progress in any way. Indeed there would be no purpose behind our existence.18 (2 Nephi 2:11–12) We are allowed to choose good or bad, that through our experience we might gain this knowledge. This does not mean that God doesn’t make efforts to stop bad things from happening to us; it only means His method is that of persuasion rather than that of force. By using persuasion He is showing respect to our liberty and our will. This persuasion is manifest throughout the history of the world by prophets and their writings in scriptures pleading with us to choose the right and be free; urging us to choose a greater destination rather than the easy path; the desired consequence rather than the indulging action.
God knows all truth. His actions are in accordance with the expansion of truth, life and liberty. He has mastered the art of life, and He never acts outside of the bounds of rightful liberty. God’s respect for our liberty shows us that He is more interested in who we become, rather than completing a checklist of do’s and don’ts.19 God is omnipotent, and, if He wanted to, He could make us exist and die as lifeless beings, never doing anything wrong, without having the opportunity for pain or joy to learn and grow. But God has much bigger plans for us than to simply exist. He desires for us to consciously choose to live and be free—to love truth, life and liberty and to master them as He has. He desires for us to become like Himself. Our becoming something more is of greater importance than our immediate comfort. Therefore, we can suppose that the sufferings of this world are incomparable to the joy of who we will become from the experience.20 (Romans 8:18)
This investigation has shown that, like light, liberty is an infinite resource waiting to be unleashed. Each individual has complete control of the floodgates, for it only flows in one direction—from the inside out. Therefore, it cannot be forced from the outside inwards. Guns, tanks, bombs or any physical force cannot make someone free; only the truth, the will power to live by it, and the courage to share it.21,22 (John 8:32, 2 Corinthians 3:17)
1. Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure, published 1977
2. D. Todd Christofferson, Moral Agency, Devotional address 31 January 2006
4. Isaiah 28:10
5. D&C 93:27–28
6. Alma 12:9–12
8. D&C 29:36
9. D&C 121:46
10. D&C 88:40
11. George Washington, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master.”
12. D&C 134:2
13. James Madison, Federalist No. 51
14. The declaration of independence, first sentence
15. D&C 134:5
16. Mosiah 4:29–30
17. 2 Nephi 2:27
18. 2 Nephi 2:11–12
19. “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, November 2000, 32; emphasis in original)
20. Romans 8:18
21. John 8:32