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Political freedom (also known as political autonomy or political agency) is a central concept in history and political thought and one of the most important features of democratic societies. Political freedom was described as freedom from oppression or coercion, the absence of disabling conditions for an individual and the fulfillment of enabling conditions, or the absence of life conditions of compulsion, e.g. economic compulsion, in a society. Although political freedom is often interpreted negatively as the freedom from unreasonable external constraints on action, it can also refer to the positive exercise of rights, capacities and possibilities for action and the exercise of social or group rights. The concept can also include freedom from internal constraints on political action or speech (e.g. social conformity, consistency, or inauthentic behaviour). The concept of political freedom is closely connected with the concepts of civil liberties and human rights, which in democratic societies are usually afforded legal protection from the state.

Liberty International


Ancient Greece's Legacy for Liberty: Personal Freedom in Athens, by Roderick T. Long, 24 Sep 2015
Discusses the political system of ancient Athens and the personal liberties it afforded its citizens, resident aliens and slaves
All the same, a genuine reality does underlie the exaggeration; Athens had more freedom than other Greek cities, including enough intellectual freedom to attract thinkers and scholars to its gates from all over the Mediterranean world ... Athenian playwrights like Aristophanes lampooned the city's political leaders upon the public stage, assailed Athenian foreign policy, and satirized the gods too. Athenian commitment to being free to live as one pleases may have had its limits, but the idea was there, and it was implemented to an impressive extent.
An Arrow against all Tyrants, by Richard Overton, 12 Oct 1646
Full title: An Arrow Against All Tyrants And Tyrany, shot from the Prison of New-gate into the Prerogative Bowels of the Arbitrary House of Lords and all other Usurpers and Tyrants whatsoever
Letter addressed to "Mr Henry Marten, a member of the House of Commons", after two months in Newgate Prison having been arrested for publishing "An Alarum to the House of Lords"
[A]ll men are equally and alike born to like propriety, liberty and freedom; and as we are delivered of God by the hand of nature into this world, every one with a natural, innate freedom and propriety—as it were writ in the table of every man's heart, never to be obliterated—even so are we to live, everyone equally and alike to enjoy his birthright and privilege; even all whereof God by nature has made him free. And this by nature everyone's desire aims at and requires; for no man naturally would be befooled of his liberty by his neighbour's craft or enslaved by his neighbour's might.
Does Freedom Require Empire?, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 5 Sep 2014
Critiques Daniel McCarthy's "Why Liberalism Means Empire" (July 2014), which attempts to justify British and American imperialism by insisting that "power is the basis of the peaceful order upon which liberal democracy rests"
[McCarthy] writes, "Liberal democracy is unnatural. It is a product of power and security, not innate human sociability ..." This puts [him] at odds with the core of the liberal tradition, which found the seeds of individual liberty and voluntary cooperation in the social and reason-based nature of the human race. Adam Smith referred to the "system of natural liberty." Thomas Paine wrote in Rights of Man that "the great part" of social order is not the product of power—i.e., government—but of "mutual dependence and reciprocal interest." It is tyranny that is unnatural, according to liberalism.
Give Me Liberty [PDF], by Rose Wilder Lane, 1936
Originally published as an article titled "Credo" in the Saturday Evening Post; describes her experiences in and history of Soviet Russia and Europe, contrasting them with the history of the United States, emphasizing the individualist themes
The Reformation reduced the power of the State, the priests, so that common men were free to think and to speak as they pleased ... Every advance toward personal liberty which had been gained by the religious ... and ... political revolution, was lost by the collectivist economic reaction ... I came out of the Soviet Union no longer a commu-nist, because I believed in personal freedom. Like all Americans, I took for granted the individual liberty to which I had been born. It seemed as necessary and as inevitable as the air I breathed; it seemed the natural element in which human beings lived.
H. L. Mencken: The Joyous Libertarian, by Murray N. Rothbard, New Individualist Review, 1962
Examines the themes and style in Mencken's writings, mainly from selected pieces in A Mencken Chrestomathy
Mencken's guiding passion was individual liberty ... [H]e once solemnly declared: "I believe in only one thing and that thing is human liberty. If ever a man is to achieve anything like dignity, it can happen only if superior men are given absolute freedom to think what they want to think and say what they want to say. I am against any man and any organization which seeks to limit or deny that freedom ... [and] the superior man can be sure of freedom only if it is given to all men." ... [H]e believed in absolute individual liberty "up to the limit of the unbearable, and even beyond."
How Nationalism and Socialism Arose from the French Revolution, by Dan Sanchez, 12 Apr 2017
Examines how three crucial ideas (liberalism, nationalism and socialism) emerged around the same time (18th and 19th century) and how they depended on the rise of the modern people's state
The ideas of individual liberty and of the modern people's state emerged in close conjunction, because the two had a common enemy: the hereditary, divine princely state ... Liberals considered the people's state, or "political liberty," to be an indispensable guardian of individual liberty ... [T]he leading revolutionaries tried to set the French people free ... The liberals among them believed the objectives of collective power and individual liberty to be beautifully complementary, even identical. In practice, collective power waged war on individual liberty almost from the outset.
Individual Liberty and Civil Society, by Richard Ebeling, Freedom Daily, Feb 1993
Reflects on Benjamin Constant's lecture "The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns" on what liberty meant to the ancient Greeks vs. the 19th century Europeans and Americans and about the 20th century reversion to statism
Our [modern] "liberty" in the political order is to choose between political leaders with the same philosophical perspective. Once that has been done, we revert to being subjects dependent upon the increasing discretion of those we have placed in office and those who have the greatest special-interest influence in effecting the directions of state policy. As the new century rapidly approaches, we are continuing our journey back to the political world of three thousand years ago. We continue to trade away the modern ideal of individual liberty for the ancient ideal of collective tyranny.
Individual Liberty and the Constitution: A Response to Robert Bork, by Roger Pilon, 9 Jul 2008
Responds to Robert Bork's essay "Individual Liberty and the Constitution" published in the June 2008 issue of The American Spectator
At bottom, Bork's constitutional vision rests not in individual but in collective liberty ... Calling those conflicting principles [from his book The Tempting of America] "the Madisonian dilemma," Bork in fact has Madison standing on his head. Not only in the Declaration of Independence—our founding document—but in Madison's Constitution as well we find individual liberty first, democratic rule second, as a means to securing liberty. The Preamble, in the state-of-nature tradition, makes it plain that all power rests originally with the people, as individuals.
Introductory, by John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
Chapter I; explains the subject of the essay, namely, "the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual"
The subject of this Essay is ... the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual ... That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection ... The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
A Letter From Butler Shaffer, by Butler Shaffer, 19 Oct 2001
Relates the change in people's behavior after the September 2001 attacks, some standing up for principle whereas others followed the herd, but in the end finding some cause for optimism
One positive feature of the post-September 11th mess has been the discovery of who is, and who is not, devoted to individual liberty. It's all so easy to espouse liberty principles when there are no apparent costs associated with doing so. It becomes much tougher when the costs begin to escalate ... [S]o many of the Randians, the FreeRepublic, the Cato people, and the Libertarian Party ... seem more intent on looking "respectable" ... To such people, there is now a greater "cost" to leaving the security of the herd than there is a "benefit" to living as a free, self-controlling individual.
Liberalism, by F. A. Hayek, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas, 1978
Chapter 9; originally written in 1973 for the Enciclopedia del Novicento; covers both the history of both strands of liberalism as well as a systematic description of the "classical" or "evolutionary" type
The first people who had clearly formulated the ideal of individual liberty were the ancient Greeks and particularly the Athenians during the classical period of the fifth and fourth centuries BC ... Their conception of freedom was of freedom under the law, or of a state of affairs in which, as the popular phrase ran, law was king. It found expression, during the early classical periods, in the ideal of isonomia or equality before the law which, without using the old name, is still clearly described by Aristotle.
Monetary Central Planning and the State, Part 29: The Gold Standard in the 19th Century, by Richard M. Ebeling, Freedom Daily, May 1999
Discusses the evolution of the gold standard, from the creation of the Bank of England (1694), the Bank Restriction Act (1797), arguments for its repeal by David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, and its international development until the 1890s
In the 19th century, the ruling idea had been liberty. The wealth of nations was seen as arising from individual freedom in a social order respecting private property in the means of production. The relationships among men, it was believed, should be based on voluntary exchange for mutual benefit. Just as there were no inherent antagonisms among men in a free market within the same nation, there were no inherent antagonisms among men living in different nations. The mutual gains from trade could be expanded by extending the principle of division of labor to a global scale.
Nothing Is More Local than the Individual, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 31 Oct 2014
Commentary on the 2014 Arkansas Alcohol Beverage Initiative, Issue 4 referendum to end county-level prohibitions on liquor sales (which was voted down 57% to 43%)
Proponents ... don't avoid the issue of individual liberty ... A major opposition talking point has been that the statewide referendum intrudes on a local prerogative ... [S]o-called local control actually constitutes a violation of the most local prerogatives of all: those of the individual. By what right does anyone prohibit an individual from engaging in peaceful commerce? If a minority of the residents of a county want to buy or sell alcohol, why should their neighbors—no matter how many—have the legal power to stop them? (And how long would a liquor store last in a town where no one drinks?)
Related Topics: Arkansas, Prohibition
On Liberty & License, by H. Maitre, Reason, Dec 1976
Discusses commentary by supposedly "conservative libertarians" on Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia and worries about "the amoralism of some of the libertarian movement"
Individual liberty is no end, no virtue, in itself. It is the supreme political principle, but that requires demonstration. This demonstration is impossible without a moral foundation, which too many of the better-known supporters of the free society explicitly disclaim. They are, however, ill-advised to exclude from their theory of the free society the concepts of morality, justice, and civility. As philosophical ideals and practical commitments, these qualities make for a social order acceptable to serious seekers after an alternative to today's growing State ...
Page Scandal: Political Corruption Precedes Sexual Corruption, by Sheldon Richman, 25 Oct 2006
Comments on the U.S. Congress page program, recommending its immediate abolition, and the scandal involving Mark Foley
The Washington Post illustrated the problem in a recent article ... Quotations from former pages make it clear that these high schoolers risk being corrupted because they are encouraged to think that wielding power is "cool." But power—forcibly taking money from people (taxes), spending it in ways they would never approve, and regulating their lives—is not cool. It violates individual freedom. The more power the government has, the less freedom the people have. But the pages are misled into believing otherwise. This indoctrination must stop or they will be scarred for life.
Related Topics: Government, Politics
Rebuilding the Democratic Party brand: Back to the future with a return to liberalism's Jeffersonian roots [PDF], by Terry Michael, The Washington Examiner, 9 Feb 2005
As the Democratic Party was set to elect a new chairman, former DNC staffer Michael looks back at its history and recommends a "rebranding" by a return to its Jeffersonian roots
Born in the agrarian era of its founder, ... the Democratic Party's original story was of a small central government serving self-sufficient "little people" (farmers, shop keepers, frontiersmen), prizing and preserving individual liberty—juxtaposed against the elitist federalists ... [I]n a post-industrial, information economy, the little guys, who Democrats have always claimed to represent, are again more self-sufficient ... [W]hen it comes to lifestyle and personal choices ... the party still has some juice left from that ... story, which made individual liberty central to party ID.
Self-Interest and Social Order in Classical Liberalism: Bernard Mandeville, by George H. Smith, 9 Jan 2015
Discusses interpretations of Mandeville's "private vices", his defense of psychological egoism and the movement to curtail personal vices in England at the turn of the 18th century
Since God ... inflicts collective vengeance ..., rulers must suppress and punish supposedly private vices as a means of protecting society as a whole from the divine wrath of plagues, famines ... [T]his was one reason why Enlightenment libertarians stressed the importance of science, which teaches that such disasters result from natural causes. Individual freedom ... cannot gain a solid foothold in a world where the innocent are punished along with the guilty, since there exists no room in this scheme for the argument that private vices harm only the individuals who practice them.
Spencer, Herbert (1820-1903), by George H. Smith, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
Social Statics contained Spencer's first extended justification of his celebrated "law of equal freedom," according to which "every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty by every other man." The young Spencer, having been raised in a tradition of Protestant dissent, which he once described as "an expression of antagonism to arbitrary control," grounded this principle in a divinely ordained duty to pursue happiness, which in turn requires the freedom to exercise one's faculties according to one's own judgments.
Stop Worrying about the Election, by Isaac M. Morehouse, Mises Daily, 3 Oct 2008
Illustrates individual freedom using the film The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and events in communist Poland
After a lifetime in prison, Hatlen is finally freed as an old man ... [T]ragically, he commits suicide ... The difference between these two men had nothing to do with their physical circumstances ... Andy Dufresne, even while imprisoned, was still free. No bars or guards or hardships could take away his freedom. Hatlen had lost his freedom, and even in the absence of physical oppression, he was still a prisoner. An individual who wants to be free can be, no matter what the world brings. An individual who has let the spirit of freedom die will never be free, no matter what the world brings.
Related Topics: Government, Poland
Talking To Ourselves, by Henry Grady Weaver, Ideas on Liberty, Sep 1955
Examines the question of whether it is worthwhile to distributing literature about individual freedom and free markets to those who already favor those premises; note this was the opening article of the second issue of Ideas on Liberty
[T]he very idea of "educating the masses" is inconsistent with the ideals of individual freedom to which we give lip service. Just who are "the masses"? ... We are all individuals differing in qualities and abilities, but we all share a basic human nature capable of self-development. If this is not true, then the ideal of personal freedom is a fanciful myth. But the ideal ... is not a fanciful myth. It is thoroughly attainable in a practical way. And it will be more readily attainable if we ... recognize the individual person as the fountainhead of good, of energy, of all that is creative.
Related Topics: Achievement, Socialism
What Is the Constitution?, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, Jun 2002
Discusses constitutional interpretation of allowed governmental powers and restrictions on such powers, in particular the ninth and tenth amendments, in light of comments from Justice Antonin Scalia about a national ID card
Scalia is probably the smartest man on the Supreme Court. That makes him a living example of how bad political and philosophical premises can put great talent in the service of an evil cause, namely, the destruction of individual liberty ... His views are based on an incorrect—indeed, a pernicious—notion of what the U.S. Constitution was and is supposed to be. In fact, he stands the Constitution on its head. Instead of a document that protects individual liberty by reining in government power, Scalia would make it one that protects government power by reining in individual liberty.
Why Are We Afraid To Be Free?, by Butler Shaffer, 27 Nov 2001
Examines the question of how to bring about freedom in individuals' lives, discussing how government influences people to be in conflicted states and how one must look within oneself and act accordingly to begin to be "free"
Why are so many of us preoccupied with the subject of "freedom," and yet seem so unclear about the conditions essential to its existence? The one question that dominates the inquiries I receive from others is this: "what can we do to bring about a condition of freedom in our lives?" It is encouraging that such questions are being asked, and with far greater frequency ... Still, the question is almost always misfocused, for the inquiry is generally framed in terms of how other people's thinking, or institutional systems can be changed to bring about a greater degree of individual liberty.
Why We Consent to Oppression, by Peter Breggin, Reason, Sep 1977
Examines the questions posed by La Boétie in his "Discourse on Voluntary Servitude" from a psychological perspective, particularly how childhood self-suppression leads most adults to more easily accept government oppression
Free will is the inner, personal, or subjective experience of liberty. It can be felt privately by the individual and it can be inferred from his public actions or conduct. Reason is closely related to free will. It can be described as systematic choice making. "Personal sovereignty" is the term I use to designate the capacity and the right to govern one's inner world. It can be viewed as an absolute; we have the right to be absolute monarchs over our own inner experience. Personal freedom is the expression of free will in the external world.
Winning the Battle for Freedom and Prosperity, by John Mackey, Liberty, Jun 2006
Updated from speech given at FreedomFest 2004; after a brief background on himself, Mackey criticizes the freedom movement from a marketing and branding perspective and suggests a different approach by de-emphasizing some issues and prioritizing others
Freedom from government coercion is clearly a very, very important goal. But unless you live in a country like China, North Korea, Cuba, or Iran that lacks many personal liberties that we Westerners take largely for granted, freedom is not usually an important goal ... [M]ost Americans forget that vigilance is the eternal price we have to pay for protecting liberties ... The freedom movement needs to reposition itself and re-brand itself. Personal freedom may be the first goal we work towards—but we can't stop there; it isn't enough. There is so much more to life.


Free to Choose: A Personal Statement
    by Milton Friedman, Rose D. Friedman (Contributor), 1979
Contents: The Power of the Market - The Tyranny of Controls - The Anatomy of Crisis - Cradle to Grave - Created Equal - What's Wrong with Our Schools? - Who Protects the Consumer? - Who Protects the Worker? - Cure for Inflation - The Tide is Turning
How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World: A Handbook for Personal Liberty
    by Harry Browne, 1973
Partial contents: I-Why You Are Not Free - The Identity Trap - The Government Trap - II-How You Can Be Free - Freedom from Government - Freedom from Social Restrictions - III-A New Life - Who Are You? - Your Own Morality - A Fresh Start - Making Changes
Individual Liberty: Selections from the writings of Benjamin R. Tucker, by Benjamin Tucker, 1926
A collection of essays and editorials; contents: Sociology: State Socialism and Anarchism - The Individual, Society, and the State - Economics: Money and Interest - Land And Rent - Trade and Industry
Publisher's Note: C.L.S., the editor and compiler of this book, has known Benjamin R. Tucker personally since 1891, having entered his employ at that time in the mechanical department of Liberty, Mr. Tucker's journal for the exposition of Individualist Anarchism. ... For a considerable period he had complete editorial charge, during Mr. Tucker's absence. Thus the present work has been performed by one who has entire familiarity with Liberty's philosophy and who perhaps at present has a closer sympathy with Mr. Tucker's ideas than any other person in America.
Principles for a Free Society: Reconciling Individual Liberty With the Common Good
    by Richard Epstein, 1998
Partial contents: Natural Law: The Utilitarian Connection - Social Norms versus Legal Commands - Harm: The Gateway to Liability - The Benefit Principle - Altruism: Its Uses and Limits - Forfeiture: The Flip Side of Rights - Boundaries: Firm and Fuzzy
  • ISBN 0201136465: Hardcover, Addison-Wesley, 1998
  • ISBN 0738200417: Hardcover, Perseus Books, 1998
  • ISBN 0738208299: Paperback, Perseus Publishing, New edition, 2002


Free to Choose: The Updated and Revised Television Series
    by Milton Friedman, 1990
Recordings of television programs, originally broadcast in 1980 on PBS; participants included David Brooks, James Galbraith, Gary Becker, Thomas Sowell, Michael Kinsley, Gordon Tullock, and Samuel Bowles; with new introductions by Ronal Reagan and others
Liberty & Community, by James Otteson, 14 Jun 2011
Contrasts the arguments from the political right and left as to whether granting individual liberty threatens the larger community, counseling that freedom of association is necessary to a free society
On the right, people may worry that individual liberty, granting a wide scope of freedom to people to make individual choices, might endanger moral community. ... Similarly on ... the political left, people might make the following argument: they worry that if we give people individual liberty, they might tend to think only about themselves or the things that matter only to them. ... In a free society human beings will always make choices. There will always be things people do that we don't all like. But from ... the classical liberal perspective, that's a price we must be willing to pay ...
Related Topic: Freedom of Association

What's So Bad About The Galactic Empire?, by Sean Malone, 4 May 2017
Analyzes the various Star Wars movies and attempts to answer the title question and conversely what is good about the Rebel Alliance
What makes life under Emperor Palpatine so unbearable ...? ... The only answer ... that actually makes sense is that the Empire is an awful place to live because its people lack individual freedom. Citizens of the Empire aren't secure in their possessions and property. They can't go where they want without being stopped by Imperial forces. They can be imprisoned or forced into an army without a trial or the opportunity to say no, and restrictions on trade and commerce make them poor and condemn them to getting what they need from dangerous black markets, smugglers, and gangsters.
Related Topics: Democracy, Militarism, Star Wars

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Political freedom" as of 27 Aug 2023, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.