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Political Freedom

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Definitions and Goals

Political freedom is the absence of interference with the sovereignty of an individual by the use of coercion or aggression. The members of a free society would have full dominion over their public and private lives. The opposite of a free society would be a totalitarian state, which highly restricts political freedom in order to regulate almost every aspect of behavior. In this sense ‘freedom’ refers solely to the relation of humans to other humans, and the only infringement on it is coercion by humans.[1]

What freedom is not[edit]

Freedom is not a legal right, nor is it a privilege. Legal rights are the legal barriers for the state from interfering in a person's life, however, these rights can often be suspended under some circumstances (such as war, terrorist attack, or natural disaster). Privilege is something that is normally practices only by a few persons, at the expense of others.

Freedom is a natural right.


The concept of political freedom is very closely allied with the concepts of civil liberties and individual rights, which in most democratic societies is the profession characterized by various freedoms which are afforded the legal protection of the state. Some of these freedoms may include (in alphabetical order):


Various groups along the political spectrum naturally differ on what they believe constitutes "true" political freedom.

Left wing political philosophy generally couples the notion of freedom with that of positive liberty, or the enabling of an individual to realize her own potential. Freedom, in this sense, may include freedom from poverty, starvation, treatable disease, and oppression, as well as freedom from force and coercion, from whomever they may issue.

However Friedrich Hayek, a well-known classical liberal, criticized this as a misconception of freedom, instead emphasizing the aspects of negative liberty.

the use of ‘liberty’ to describe the physical ‘ability to do what I want’, the power to satisfy our wishes, or the extent of the choice of alternatives open to us...has been deliberately fostered as part of the socialist argument...

Once this identification of freedom with power is admitted, there is no limit to the sophisms by which the attractions of the word ‘liberty’ can be used to support measures which destroy individual liberty, no end to the tricks by which people can be exhorted in the name of liberty to give up their liberty. It has been with the help of this equivocation that the notion of collective power over circumstances has been substituted for that of individual liberty and that in totalitarian states liberty has been suppressed in the name of liberty.[2]

Hayek also famously noted[3] that "liberty" and "freedom" have probably been the most abused words in recent history.

In contrast, Milton Friedman, another classical liberal, strongly incorporated the absence from coercion into his description of political freedom.

The essence of political freedom is the absence of coercion of one man by his fellow men. The fundamental danger to political freedom is the concentration of power. The existence of a large measure of power in the hands of a relatively few individuals enables them to use it to coerce their fellow men. Preservation of freedom requires either the elimination of power where that is possible or its dispersal where it cannot be eliminated.[4]

Many social anarchists see negative and positive liberty as complementary concepts of freedom. They describe the negative liberty-centric view endorsed by capitialists as "selfish freedom". According to Anarchism FAQ

The right-libertarian does not address or even acknowledge that the (absolute) right of private property may lead to extensive control by property owners over those who use, but do not own, property (such as workers and tenants). Thus a free-market capitalist system leads to a very selective and class-based protection of "rights" and "freedoms." For example, under capitalism, the "freedom" of employers inevitably conflicts with the "freedom" of employees. When stockholders or their managers exercise their "freedom of enterprise" to decide how their company will operate, they violate their employee's right to decide how their labouring capacities will be utilised. In other words, under capitalism, the "property rights" of employers will conflict with and restrict the "human right" of employees to manage themselves. Capitalism allows the right of self-management only to the few, not to all. Or, alternatively, capitalism does not recognise certain human rights as universal which anarchism does.

Freedom to do harm has never been accepted as a freedom. Pollution can do harm to everyone, and unlike most other crimes, it can do harm to places and nonhumans. Therefore the science of Ecology, and ethics, together imply that there is no such thing as "freedom to pollute" or "freedom to deforest" given that such activities create negative externalities.

Ethics, and therefore Environmentalists' ethical argument that political freedoms do not include all possible uses of world ecosystems, separate along the line of harm to non-human life.

The interaction between Animal Rights advocates such as PETA, ecosystems and the life within them, advocates of SUVs, golf, and urban sprawl, and those things themselves, has typically been one of confrontation and opposition, with heated arguments on both sides. The right wing has raised the issue of freedom in this political arena, to assert that ecological conservation clashes with values. Values, in this context is a way of conflating freedom with ethics. Values sounds like it is in some way a moral decision, but what it amounts to in this debate, is freedom that ignores ethics.

There have been numerous philosophical debates over the nature of freedom, the claimed differences between various types of freedom, and the extent to which freedom is desirable. Determinists argue that all human actions are pre-determined and thus freedom is an illusion. Isaiah Berlin saw a distinction between negative liberty and positive liberty.

In jurisprudence, freedom is the right to determine one's own actions autonomously ; generally it is granted in those fields in which the subject has no obligations to fulfill or laws to obey, according to the interpretation that the hypothetical natural unlimited freedom is limited by the law for some matters.

Joseph Garcia (Not the politition) states his belief that freedom in politics is generally used as a governing tool: "For what we call freedom is given only to those who obey, it is then when you stand for what you believe and fight back against oppression you lose those freedoms, and when what is taken away should be your inalienable rights what choice does one have but to obey?"

Freedom in other languages[edit]

Spelling (original) English transliteration Language
hooroeah Arabic
自由 jiyū, ziyû Chinese
frihed Danish
vrijheid Dutch
frælsi Faroese
vapaus Finnish
liberté French
Freiheit German
Eλευθερος eleftheria Greek
libertà Italian
kebebasan Indonesian
libertas Latin
Fräiheet Luxembourgish
uhuru Nigerian
frihet Norwegian
liberdade Polish
liberdade Portuguese
libertate Romanica
libertad Spanish
frihet Swedish
آزادى azaadi Urdu

Problems of definition[edit]

This section requires expansion

While Freedom has become, in the mouths of the unscrupulous, a cheap and easy propaganda word, used interchangeably with democracy, others see conflicts or even opposition between the two concepts. Even when used with good intent, 'Freedom', without further qualification, is a nebulous concept. The clarification of the preceding article aside, these are the problems caused by lack of definition.

One difficulty is describing relative degrees of freedom and examples of freedom by differing means as freedom, whereupon it seems obvious to others, with different definitions, that these things are not freedom. For example, some people argue that Iraq was free under Paul Bremer on the grounds that it was a rational, humanist, non-subjugating government, long before elections were held. Others have argued that Iraq was free under Saddam Hussein because Iraq was not a colony, while a third claim is that neither dictatorial nor colonial rule in Iraq are examples of political freedom.

External links[edit]

You can help Anarchopedia by expanding this article by adding some of these quotes from Wikiquote


  1. Friedrich August von Hayek, ‘Freedom and Coercion’ in David Miller (ed), Liberty (1991) pp. 80, 81.
  2. Friedrich August von Hayek, ‘Freedom and Coercion’ in David Miller (ed), Liberty (1991) pp. 80, 85-86
  3. Friedrich August von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1944) p. 14
  4. Milton Friedman, The New Liberal's Creed: Individual Freedom, Preserving Dissent Are Ultimate Goals (1961)

Sayings on freedom[edit]