Per ardua liberi: what does it mean?

The Sheriff's Auxiliary's Latin motto is 'per ardua liberi', roughly 'freedom through adversity', but there is more to its meaning than the word-for-word translation. What does it mean to us?


The Latin liberi (lih-ber-EE) is 'free' plural, so it can be translated as 'freedom' or 'free people'. "Per" is a preposition, 'through or by', so it is through ardua (whatever that is) that we are or remain free. The motto then is about what makes us a free people and that comes back to the core purpose of the Sheriff's Auxiliary.


The word ardua (ar-DOO-ah) is a little harder to understand. It is usually translated as 'adversity' or 'difficulty', but this does it (and us) little justice. The Latin verb ardere means 'to burn or to be on fire'. Ardua comes from the same Latin root as ardor: a passionate or burning love; a love of loyal and steadfast earnestness. That gives a hint of what we are really talking about when we say per ardua. When we say 'ardor' we are talking about a love which is not passive: it requires action and expression. What we love that much, we serve, we sacrifice to protect.

ardua is active, not passive

In the same way, per ardua is not a passive endurance of suffering: it is the cost of loyal and steadfast devotion, the cost of honor and courage. If we are devoted to liberty, we do not merely sit and home and endure suffering, we serve the cause of liberty by going out to meet adversity--- and overcome it. That type of steadfast devotion to liberty is what made us free in the first place. We did not cast off the British and simply make George Washington King instead of King George. We upended everything to design a system around the concept of personal and civil liberty. That same steadfast devotion, the willingness to serve and--- when necessary--- sacrifice, is what keeps us free, or, as the common saying goes: "freedom is not free"

In this way, our motto wraps around full circle, bringing us back to our mission of direct personal service in our community. People clearly do not become volunteer emergency responders for the pay or benefits (trust me). They become volunteers because of a burning need to act: to heal others, to stand in harm's way. That is what we do.