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Liberty is an integral concept in Western political and social thought. Liberty as an inalienable social and political attribute of individuals emerged in the formation of the modern political discourse in the West. Since Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831) the concept has often been categorized in a threefold manner: moral liberties (freedom of moral choice, such as freedom of conscience), civil liberties (freedom of individuals as constituting members of a civil society, such as freedom of speech) and political liberties (freedom of individuals in relation to the state, such as freedom of political association), all being attributes of individuals. Pre-modern Europe, by contrast, did not necessarily attribute liberties to individuals but to social relations and communities. Non-Western worlds did not produce an idea equivalent to liberty in their own intellectual traditions. Around the nineteenth century, however, they assimilated the Occidental idea of liberty primarily as a concept denoting the independence of the nation state rather than the liberties of individual human beings. In what follows we shall survey Western conceptions of liberty chronologically, and discuss the Islamic, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese variations of it.

Ancient Conceptions

Liberty or freedom (eleutheria ) in ancient Greece denoted the status of the free man and woman as opposed to that of the slave. The division between free persons and slaves was deemed to be a social and natural institution. Free status was identified by a set of various rights and privileges. Hence, liberty was exclusive and could not be shared by every individual. Indeed, one of the rights of free individuals was to own other individuals as slaves. Similarly, the political freedom of a community also denoted the subjugation of other communities under its control. The preservation of an individual's liberty was not considered to be inconsistent with the depravation of another's, and this was also the case with a political community. In addition, the Greek (especially Athenian) concept of liberty entailed equality of political rights and freedom of male political participation in the public sphere.

In his philosophical framework, Plato (c. 428348 or 347 b.c.e.) left little room for liberty or freedom. Liberty was not a constituent element of human dignity, and freedom of thought was nothing other than the freedom to be incorrect, that is, a greater chance to deviate from the objective truths. Aristotle's (384322 b.c.e.) definition of liberty resembles the contemporary notion; for him, the general essence of freedom is being one's own person for one's own sake rather than belonging to another. What discriminates the slave from the free man, then, is not that he is restricted in his actions and subject to coercion but that everything he does is done to serve the interest of someone else. Whether Aristotle enshrined individual freedom in the sense of personal autonomy is a contentious issue. The place of autonomous practical rationality in his ethics becomes problematic when set against his claim of the individual's subordination to the state (polis ). Aristotle's alleged dearth of interest in personal autonomy would be consistent with the reduction of the individual to a mere part of the state, while the recognition of personal autonomy in the Aristotelian ethical system would not.

The Roman idea of liberty (libertas ) was a civic right acquired under positive law; namely, it was a constituent of the membership of the civic body (citizenship). Roman civil law was applicable to citizens of Rome only; noncitizens were ruled by the law of nations. Roman liberty was by definition a positive right that was guaranteed (but could also be withdrawn) by the law. Law-abiding citizens enjoyed the liberty of a Roman citizen and, before the law, all the citizens were equal. The slave was legally defined as a thing (res ) rather than person (persona ) and was subject to the mastery of another person.

In the final days of Roman republicanism, Cicero (10643 b.c.e.) significantly related forms of government with the idea of liberty. He drew on the Polybian discourse on the change of constitutions and characterized each form of polity according to the degree of liberty attributed to it. Cicero's notion of liberty was equality of juridical rights, not equality before the law. He considered that democracy was marked by the excess of liberty granted to the ruled, and he recommended a just equality proportionate to dignitas (reputation or merit).

Early Christian ideas of liberty concerned interior disposition, which contrasted sharply with Greek and Roman ideas of liberty. St. Augustine of Hippo's (354430 c.e.) discourse on freedom revolved around the idea of free will. Just as God is by definition unwilling and incapable of sin, so Adam, before the Fall, knew the distinction between good and evil and had the God-given power to choose the good alone. After the Fall, however, Adam and his descendents were motivated to choose evil. At the heart of Augustine's conception of liberty was the incapability of sin. From this perspective, individuals, who are "free" in the this-worldly sense are no more free than slaves. In terms of sinful humanity, neither "free" persons nor slaves have the right to be free in this world: the liberty of humans can only be achieved eschatologically.

Medieval Conceptions

Medieval Europe, it is often argued, is an insignificant period in the history of liberty. And yet "liberty" (libertas or franchise ) is a word that can be found in a wide range of medieval documents: charters, plea rolls, theological treatises, and polemical writings. Liberty was, in medieval Europe, widely and primarily grasped as territorial immunity from seigneurial justice. The exclusion of public judges from an individual's land was the privilege attached to and exercised in the landlord's territory, and it could only be granted by a higher authority that acknowledged the capacity to act as a holder of a court or to be a judge.

The libertas and franchise, however, were privileges, and their recipients were often communities. They were not the rights of individual citizens. Indeed, medieval European society has been described as consisting of tightly bound corporate groups, in which individuals were absorbed, and liberty was often attributed to such groups rather than individuals. Should "liberty" be supposed to be an attribute of individuals, it might appear difficult to narrate a medieval history of liberty. But the "discovery of the individual" is now traced back to the world of intellectuals, higher clergy, and aristocracy in the twelfth century. Accordingly, recent research has denied that liberty as an attribute to individuals was not known in medieval Europe. Liberties as individual rights were also known in terms of personal freedom from, say, arbitrary imprisonment and extortion of money for release. This idea of individual liberties can be found in the record of royal justices and parliaments. Article 39 of the Magna Carta (1215) stipulated that "no free man should be captured and imprisoned or disseized or outlawed or exiled or in any way harmed except by a lawful tribunal of his peers and by the law of the land." King John (r. 11991216) was compelled to concede to the requests of the rebellious barons and accepted that royal legislative and judicial authority was limited not only by the divine and natural law but also by his need to obtain counsel and consent of his subjects. In the fourteenth century, the privilege was not limited to the aristocracy as "free men" but to all: no men of whatever estate or condition he may be was to be captured and imprisoned unlawfully. Historians are divided over the significance of the charters of liberties. While the charters appear to offer new liberties, some scholars argue that they merely acknowledged freedoms that had already been enjoyed de facto by individuals as well as communities.

Similar conceptual change took place in the sphere of political and legal theory. It is well known that Henry de Bracton (d. 1268) noted the concept of liberty in Roman law as "the natural power of every man to do what he pleases, unless forbidden by law or force." Thomas Aquinas (c. 12241274) maintained that by nature all human beings were both free and equal. Aquinas's concept of liberty denotes the individual's capacity for free choice, in which one is master of oneself, as opposed to servitude, a markedly Aristotelian conception. The English philosopher William of Ockham (c. 1285?1347) was perhaps the greatest champion of individual liberty before the Renaissance and the Reformation. His ecclesiastical protest against the heretical doctrine of papal absolutism culminated in his assertion of the liberty of evangelical law, which may be grasped as volitional freedom of moral choice. Also Ockham's "nominalist" outlook rejected the quintessentially medieval idea of corporation, thus attributing what he called "right and liberties granted by God and nature" to all individual humans rather than any fictitious groups. His discourse on natural rights and individual liberty has long been considered as the "semantic revolution" of the medieval language of rights. His intrinsically destructive anarchism, it was argued, anticipated the collapse of medieval Latin Christendom followed by the Reformation. Recent research, however, has shown that Ockham's notion of right as the subjective power of an individual's volition originates in the writings of canon lawyers in the twelfth century, such as Uguccione da Pisa (d. 1210), who held that human rationality included a capacity for moral discernment.

Modern Conceptions

Niccolò Machiavelli (14691527) has often been considered as a theorist of political leadership, a founder of modern political science, or a preacher of amoral power politics. Recent scholarship, however, has increasingly paid attention to his republicanism, describing him as a theorist of political liberty. His Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio (1535; trans. Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy ) discussed why the city of Rome attained supreme greatness, and liberty was considered as a means to such greatness. The work, filled with references to Roman writers such as Livy, Cicero, and Sallust, is interpreted as an assertion of republican liberty. Machiavelli grasped liberty as the counter-concept of slavery, which parallels his contrast between the free way of life and tyranny. According to him, the preservation of liberty is closely related to the maintenance of a particular form of polity because the enslavement of a political community will inevitably jeopardize individual freedom. The liberty of individual citizens can only be secured if the political community is maintained in a state of liberty. In this sense, coercion to a specific type of polity does not obstruct but rather warrants freedom, and coercion and the Machiavellian concept of liberty are not mutually exclusive. This maintenance of a free commonwealth in turn requires the individual citizen's service to the common good, which can be motivated through the cultivation of civic virtues. This republican idea of liberty was influential among the English Puritan writers in the seventeenth century including James Harrington (16111677) and John Milton (16081674), and America's Federalists in the eighteenth century.

Thomas Hobbes (15881679) has been regarded as no more a defender of liberty than Machiavelli, and yet his conception of liberty, in sharp contrast to Machiavelli's, was no less important in the history of the concept. Hobbes's notion of human freedom was characterized by the absence of external impediments: he discerned when an individual is not hindered to do whatever he has the will, desire, or inclination to do. Hobbes rejected freedom of the will; for him, to say that the will is free is nothing other than to say that a form of internal motion is not constrained from moving by something external, and this was absurd. According to him, liberty "properly called" is what he called "natural liberty," that is, under the "natural" condition, humans have no legal obligations; they are capable of exercising powers without being physically prevented or compelled. In the Hobbesian world of nature, then, one can maximize the enjoyment of liberty when one is alone: a radical and extreme departure from the ancient conception that is embedded in a political and social context. The "artificial" condition of humans, under which people give up their natural liberties and live under human law is in sharp contrast to the natural condition. Liberty we can enjoy under the artificial condition was called the "liberty of subjects," which is identified with the absence of legal prescriptions; hence, "artificial" liberties. Unlike Machiavelli, Hobbes dismissed the idea that the preservation of individual liberty requires the maintenance of a particular type of regime. There is no such thing as a "free" commonwealth because all the commonwealths have laws. To enter subjection to civil rule, however, did not require the complete renunciation of natural liberty; indeed, natural liberties, for instance, to preserve oneself, were inalienable natural rights.

It has been argued that liberty as a universal God-given attribute rather than a privilege determined by political and social institutions is a distinctively "modern" notion. Indeed, the ancient concept of liberty was inconceivable apart from the political and social context, while the modern one was free from such contexts and was rather linked to metaphysical views about the nature of humans. In such modern views, liberty is prior to any political or social arrangements. However, recent research has traced its origin back into medieval Scholastic discourse; hence, the distinction between "modern" and "premodern" concepts of liberty is increasingly blurred and contentious. Seen in this light, Sir Robert Filmer's (d. 1653) attack on the "modern" idea of natural liberty by asserting the naturalness of subjection to an absolute monarch was a radical break with the long-established tradition. Filmer derived his vision of patriarchal monarchy from Adam's unlimited dominion over his spouse and offspring. The traditional theory of natural liberty, for Filmer, identifies liberty with license and would allow the members of society to withdraw their obedience as it pleased them, thereby making social order unstable. John Locke (16321704) defended the older idea of natural liberty against Filmer's criticism by demonstrating the rationality of liberty. Liberty was the will or power to do or not to do what was willed and it gains a moral dimension when it is exercised through identifying the will with the dictates of the reason or intellect that discovers objective good in the natural law. According to Locke, law and freedom are not mutually exclusive; unlike Hobbes, following the law constitutes the fulfillment of liberty. Locke thus restored the nexus between liberty and moral order that was severed by Hobbes. In contrast to Hobbes and Filmer, moreover, Locke attributed to the state the function of assuring the protection of its citizen's "property" including civil and religious liberty.

In criticizing the malaise of inequality in the despotism of the ancien régime, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778) was perhaps the most eloquent proponent of the idea of liberty in modern Europe. Rousseau considered that human beings enjoyed freedom in the "natural" state where social and political customs and institutions were nonexistent. The emergence and development of society, however, created moral and political inequality and undermined human beings' "natural" virtue, freedom and equality, which, in his view, culminated in the France of his day. Rousseau thus reclaimed human freedom by asserting popular sovereignty. In participating in the making of the law, men would obey themselves through obeying the law. The kernel of Rousseau's idea of liberty was thus self-mastery, namely every individual's unlimited sovereignty. This conception of liberty transformed the function of the state. In contrast to Locke, who separated religion and morality from politics, Rousseau held that the state might become the constitutive element of the intellectual and moral development of man. This doctrine of liberty influenced Immanuel Kant's (17241804) idea of freedom. In their passionate celebration of liberty commentators like Benjamin Constant (18451902) discerned the potential danger of legitimating totalitarian tyranny or charismatic dictatorship exemplified by the experience of Jacobinism.

Before the Enlightenment the idea of liberty revolved around its relationship to the moral order on the one hand and the relationship between state and individuals or society on the other. After the time of the revolutions at the turn of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, a new perspective was introduced in the discourse on liberty. The pre-Enlightenment perspective overlooked the fact that individual freedom could be constrained and even undermined by power of society, as opposed to the external constraints represented by the state. This problem, which Jeremy Bentham (17481832) first highlighted in his defense of homosexuality and Alexis de Tocqueville (18051859) discussed in his Democracy in America (1835, 1840), was the main subject of John Stuart Mill's (18061873) incisive and extensive criticism in On Liberty (1859). Mill's work was primarily written in protest against the coercive force of moralism that pervaded Victorian society. What Mill called the "tyranny of the majority" captured and criticized the coercive reality of public opinion that was intolerant of any dissidence, eccentricity, and difference. Hence, he limited the authority of society over individuals from his utilitarian perspective; interference with other individual's activities is permitted only if they are likely to cause definite harm to some other persons, thereby violating their social rights. The flip side of this idea was the assertion of the freedom of thought. "If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind." This defense of freedom of thought and speech was rooted in his emphasis on individuality and self-development, which formed an antithesis to the Protestant ethic of self-restraint. Mill's criticism of the "tyrannical" force of social custom also crystallized in his assertion that the women should be liberated from the "subjection" to the men.

Contemporary Conceptions

Modern liberalism regarded liberty as a property of each individual, thereby conceptualizing it as free from politics. Hannah Arendt (19061975) criticized this "anti-political" conception of liberty and preached a return to the ancient political notion. For Arendt, freedom was something "disclosed" in the collective action of individuals toward a shared goal; freedom and the act of exercising power are synonymous, not mutually exclusive. Arendt's celebration of political practice in the polis of ancient Greece resulted in an assertion of republican freedom.

Although Arendt's conception increasingly received serious attention, what has determined the paradigm of the discourse on liberty since the middle of the twentieth century was Isaiah Berlin's (19091997) 1958 lecture "Two Concepts of Liberty," which was later published in Four Essays on Liberty (1969). Its basic framework is easy to draw: Berlin distinguished between positive and negative liberty. Positive liberty denotes rational self-determination or autonomy, while negative liberty denotes the absence of constraints imposed by others. Despite its simplicity, however, Berlin's conceptualization was controversial and required further clarification. In 1969 he reformulated the concept by introducing two questions. Negative freedom can be determined by answering the question: "How much am I governed?" By contrast, the positive concept can be determined by the answer to the question: "By whom am I governed?" Thus Berlin offered a revised definition of negative liberty: "not simply the absence of frustration (which may be obtained by killing desires), but the absence of obstacles to possible choices and activities." Berlin's negative freedom concerns "opportunity for action rather than action itself," which was labeled later by Charles Taylor (b. 1931) as an "opportunity-concept."

Berlin acknowledged positive freedom as "a valid, universal goal," and yet his goal was to suggest the potential danger that positive liberty could readily be turned into the principle that legitimizes oppression, thereby demonstrating why negative liberty was preferable. Positive freedom as self-mastery, according to him, generates a metaphysical fission of the self into a "higher," "real," or "ideal" self and a "lower," "empirical," or "psychological" self. When the "higher" self is identified with institutions, churches, nations, races, and so forth, the doctrine of positive freedom turns into a doctrine of authority, or at times, of oppression. Berlin's discourse forms an intriguing parallel to Benjamin Constant's dual concept of liberty. Constant made a distinction between ancient and modern notions of freedom. He argued that liberty for the ancients was the freedom to participate collectively in the exercise of sovereignty, while liberty for the moderns was the freedom from interference by the community. Constant criticized Rousseau's unlimited notion of sovereigntyhe read Rousseau's texts as supporting despotism. The resemblance between Constant's criticism of modern liberty and Berlin's caution about "positive" freedom is striking, and yet they differed significantly. Constant grasped modern liberty as the inalienable right of individuals, while Berlin's positive freedom is "choice among alternatives or options that is unimpeded by others" (John Gray). Constant's modern freedom and despotism are mutually exclusive, while Berlin's freedom and despotism can coexist.

Berlin's negative liberty was underpinned by his commitment to pluralism. For Berlin, the absence of constraint covers a diverse and conflicting range of values from good to evil. Berlin never tried to reconcile colliding and incommensurable values and rejected any principle that claims to resolve the conflicts. This position forms an intriguing contrast with that of Joseph Raz, who defended negative freedom, by anchoring the moral basis of freedom in autonomy. For Raz, the value of free choice-making is determined by its contribution to the positive freedom of autonomy, which is the intrinsic value. Berlin refuses to give negative freedom such an instrumental status; namely, he celebrates negative freedom as the intrinsic value.

The criticism against the negative concept of liberty highlights the notion's indifference to opportunities or choices. Charles Taylor argues that freedom is important to us because we are purposive beings; hence, we discriminate external obstacles (and, therefore, opportunities available to us as the result of the absence of the external obstacles) according to their significance. The restrictions of religious practice, for instance, may be deemed a serious obstacle and hence a significant threat to liberty, while more traffic lights may not be perceived as serious blow to our freedom. Furthermore, obstacles are not necessarily external; we may be fettered by feelings such as shame or fear or by two conflicting desires (for instance the choice between career and marriage), and we have to discriminate between our motives. Actions arising out of irrational fear or spite cannot be said to be free. Thus Taylor suggests that the negative notion as an "opportunity-concept" is seriously flawed, and abandons one of the important elements of liberalism, that is "self-realization."

Berlin's negative concept of liberty did not only attract criticisms but also found a loyal heir in John Rawls; he understood liberty as freedom from interference. Rawls did not offer an explicit general definition of liberty, but his attribution of the exalted status of liberty, which constituted one of the two principles of justice, is noteworthy. According to the first principle, "Each person is to have an equal right to most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for others." Rawls was very specific about "basic liberties," which included "political liberty (the right to vote and to be eligible for public office) together with freedom of speech and assembly, liberty of conscience and freedom of thought, freedom of the person along with the right to hold (personal) property, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure as defined by the rule of law." The priority of these liberties does not allow any of them to be sacrificed except for the sake of liberty.

In addition to the arguments surrounding Berlin's thesis, a "third" concept of liberty has emerged. Intellectual historians, including J. G. A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner, have explored the republican (or "neo-Roman") concept of liberty in early modern republican discourses, and the political philosopher Philip Pettit has theorized republicanism with a focus on the new notion of liberty as nondomination. Hannah Arendt's republican ideals were inspired by political practice in ancient Greece and the American Revolution, while this "third" concept of liberty does not originate in Arendt's vision but rather derives from sixteenth-century Italian humanism and seventeenth-century English republicanism.

Domination, according to Pettit, is exemplified by the relationship of master to slave or master to servant. The "third" concept of liberty proposed by Pettit is neither "non-interference" nor "self-mastery" but "non-domination" that requires that no one has the capacity to interfere on an arbitrary basis in the choices of the free person. Liberty as nondomination differs from the positive notion in that the former emphasizes avoiding interference rather than achieving participation. Yet, republican liberty also differs from the negative concept. Domination occurs without actual interference; and republican liberty would repudiate the presence of a master who did not actually interfere, while the negative concept of liberty would not. Republican liberty rejects arbitrary interference, and what is required for non-arbitrariness in the exercise of power is not consent to the power, as is often claimed by the contractarian theorists, but "the permanent possibility of effectively contesting it." Institutionalized contestability, Pettit argues, would promote "the absence of uncertainty, the absence of a need to defer strategically to the powerful, and the absence of a social subordination to others."

Quentin Skinner participates in the debate from an entirely different angle: he has revised the history of the concept, thereby offering a third concept of liberty that contemporary political philosophers have overlooked. Skinner's case studies of the history of the concept of republican liberty range from Machiavelli to seventeenth-century republican writers including John Milton. Skinner's notion of neo-Roman liberty underlines that it opposes dependence or slavery rather than coercion, on the one hand, and that it requires a specific institutional arrangement, namely the "free state," on the other. The former point represents an antithesis to the Rawlsian narrower notion of liberty as natural rights, and coercion as the antonym of liberty, while, as for the latter, Skinner departed from Berlin who asserted that liberty is independent of the forms of polity.

In the early 1990s Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the "end of history," in a work by the same title, marked by the victory of liberal democracy and market capitalism. Although the number of "liberal democracies" is steadily increasing worldwide, one can hardly say that the notion of liberty is universally shared. Indeed, the civilizations outside the Occidental world did not embrace liberty as a social and political concept until the encounter with Western ideas, especially in the middle of the nineteenth century. The reception of these ideas was, largely speaking, lukewarm at best and, more often, hostile. In addition, those who favored the Western idea confronted the following two problems: one was doctrinalhow to relate a foreign idea to the their own intellectual traditionsand the other was semantichow to translate the word "liberty" into their own language.

Islamic World

The Arabic word for liberty or freedom is hurriyya, stemming from hurr, meaning "free." "Free" as a legal term signified the opposite of "slave," while it denoted, as an ethical term, "noble" character and behavior. The legal concept of freedom, which was already known to the pre-Islamic world, continued to be used in Muslim jurisprudence. Hurriyya occupied an important place also in metaphysics: one of the significant repercussions of Sufism on political thought was the retreat from politics. The Sufist doctrine of renunciation maintained that poverty, self-humiliation and complete surrender of personality was the highest value of life, which underpinned the apolitical character of the doctrine. Accordingly, a Sufi mystic philosopher, Ibn al-Arabi (11651240), defined hurriyya as "slavery to God," namely freedom from everything but God. Personal freedom was valued within the religious, moral, and customary sphere determined by the umma (Islamic community of believers), yet it was never considered to be an absolute moral value. Thus hurriyya never enjoyed exalted status as a fundamental political value.

It was Ottoman Turkey in the eighteenth century that introduced the Western ideas of liberty to Islam. The treaty of Kücük Kaynarch in 1774 between Russia and Turkey established the free and independent status of the Crimean Tatars from the two countries. The Turkish term first used for liberty, however, was not hürriyet, derived from the Arabic hurriyya, but serbestiyet. Serbest is a Persian word, meaning "exempt," "untrammeled," and "unrestricted"; accordingly, serbestiyet denotes the absence of limitations or restrictions. This negative concept of liberty does not convey such meanings as citizenship or participation to government. The use of serbestiyet in a political context dates from the early fourteenth century and was a commonplace in political discourse by the late eighteenth century. Celebrated Ottoman ambassadors, such as Azmi Efendi and Morali Esseyid Ali Efendi, used serbestiyet in terms of political liberty in their memoranda.

Hurriyya entered the Islamic political lexicon in 1798 when Napoléon Bonaparte arrived in Egypt and addressed the Egyptians in Arabic on behalf of the French Republic "founded on the basis of freedom and equality," and the term hurriyya was chosen for the translation of "freedom." Again, the Ottomans made a significant contribution to the widespread political use of the term. Sadik Rifat Pasa (18071856) was one such writer. He observed that European prosperity derived from political conditions such as security of life and property and freedom. Rifat's Concerning the Condition of Europe, which was written during his sojourn in Vienna, represents the early Ottoman reception of the Western idea of political liberty. But his understanding of liberty was limited to the security of subjects from arbitrary coercion by the government, not the right to participate in it. Rifat also introduced the new language of rights into his largely traditional framework of Islamic political thought.

The Ottoman assimilation of the concept of political liberty was accelerated by the rise of a new Turkish literary movement led by the Young Ottomans including Ibrahim Sinasi (18261871), Ziya Pasa (18251880), and Namik Kemal (18401888). Their popular weekly journal Hürriyet was launched in 1868. Perhaps Namik Kemal is the most systematic of these thinkers; he was the first to correlate the ideas of human right and parliamentary government so as to achieve a new vision of freedom and self-government. Heavily influenced by the writings of Montesquieu and Rousseau as well as the practice of the French Third Republic and the British parliamentary system, Kemal attempted to marry the language of modern liberal-parliamentary democracy to Islamic political language. For the first time in the history of Islamic political thought, popular sovereignty was based on the liberty of the individual. However, the tyranny of Abdülhamīd II (18421918) stifled the Ottoman pursuit of liberty.

Egypt under British rule assimilated liberal political thought quite independent of the Turkish experience. Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid (18721963) was probably the most systematic exponent of Islamic liberalism. Under the influence of Mill, Lutfi al-Sayyid squarely situated freedom at the center of this thought. For him, freedom meant absence of unnecessary control by the state: a negative concept of liberty. Freedom was "the necessary food for our life," the human's inalienable natural right: it was a necessary condition for humans to be human in the fullest sense. Hence, Lutfi al-Sayyid celebrated limited government: political and legal arrangements and institutions that safeguard liberty were the "natural" and "true" form of government. An opponent of pan-Islamism and Arab nationalism, Lutfi al-Saiyyd was also concerned with the freedom of the nation. He argued for the liberation of Egypt from foreign rule. In this context, liberty and independence were considered almost synonymous.


Liberty in the sense of spiritual liberation from the cycle of birth and death was a key idea in Indian thought. The liberty of the individual in civil or political society was foreign to classical Indian political thought. The equivalent to the idea of civil rights can be found in the ancient literature of Smritis, but it differed significantly from the Western idea in that the former was considered to belong exclusively to the upper classes (especially the order of the Brahmanas).

The idea of liberty came to the fore of Indian political thinking with the encounter with the modern West, epitomized by the intellectual contributions of Mahatma Gandhi (18691948) and Manabandra Nath Roy (18871954). Gandhi's idea of liberty was framed in the idea of swaraj, a multifaced concept of the utmost importance in his thought. Swaraj, literally meaning "self-rule," was also used by Gandhi to signify national independence and the political, economic and spiritual freedom of the individual. As was the case with the "modern" Islam, national independence was closely related to the idea of liberty, meaning collective freedom from alien rule. Gandhi, however, did not conceptualize it negatively. National independence, framed in the idea of swaraj, was not merely freedom from foreign rule but also self-government. Gandhi's commitment to political freedom turned him into a defender of rights, and yet he refused to base the peace and security of collective life on rights. He always placed individual duty (dharma) and social and moral interdependence above rights because, for him, rights were the consequence of the fulfillment of duties. Gandhi considered his celebrated satyagraha (passive resistance) as the performance of his duties and hence also as a method of securing rights by personal suffering. Gandhi's conception of liberty also entailed an economic dimension: it denoted freedom from poverty. He attacked the contemporary reality of poverty by practicing voluntary poverty in order to demonstrate solidarity with the poor, while he criticized technology-oriented industrialization for its imperialistic exploitation of the masses. Although Gandhi located liberty in a political and economic context, his notion of liberty was also spiritual: self-rule through the practice of virtues toward self-realization. Gandhi's novelty lies in the fact that to the notion of spiritual freedom, which was derived from the classical Indian tradition, he added political, economic, and social dimensions. This perspective derived from Gandhi's internal dialogue between the Western Utopian thought represented by Henry David Thoreau (18171862), John Ruskin (18191920), Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882), and Leo Tolstoy (18281910) and the classical Indian thought manifested in the Hindu devotional work the Bhagavad Gita.

Whereas Gandhi's leadership of the Hindu masses was enormously influential and successful, Manabendra Nath Roy's gained no popular appeal. Roy's political position changed over time from nationalism, then to communism, and finally to radical humanism. His colorful but unsuccessful commitment to the Indian freedom movement, however, was guided consistently by an ardent desire for individual freedom. The intellectual context of Roy's political and literary activity was, unlike that of Gandhi, distinctively Westernized, markedly severed from the Indian traditions. Roy defined freedom as the "progressive disappearance of all restrictions on the unfolding of the potentialities of individuals," and anchored the desire for freedom in biological nature. His conception of liberty was radically negative to the extent that individual freedom and social responsibility were mutually exclusive. Roy considered liberty to be dependent upon the mind of the individual rather than external conditions, and yet his belief in popular sovereignty as an inalienable right determined his preference for people's direct political participation in parliamentary democracy.


The Chinese language did not know a word for "liberty" before the nineteenth century. The modern translation of "liberty," ziyou (meaning, literally, self-determination), had to be coined in response to the reception of Western ideas. The closest classical term, ziran (meaning, literally, "the natural"), denoted a Taoist sense of harmony with nature. This is not to say that the idea of personal freedom was totally foreign to classical Chinese philosophy. Confucian belief in human perfectibility, however, concerned interior spiritual freedom, differing from the Western political and social concept. Likewise, freedom as a right was not conceptualized until the nineteenth century. Kang Youmai (18581927) was one of the first Chinese intellectuals who introduced the Protestant idea of free will. His Complete Book of Substantial Principles and General Laws (written between 1885 and 1887) described human beings as owners of the "right of autonomy" (zizhu zhi quan ), thereby adopting the language of rights.

The Chinese encounter with the Western idea of liberty may well be illustrated by the translation of the works of nineteenth-century English intellectuals by Yan Fu (18541921). He became widely known for his translation of T. H. Huxley's Evolution and Ethics, which introduced evolution theory to the Chinese intellectual world at the turn of nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Deeply inspired by Herbert Spencer's (18201903) concept of social organism, Yan Fu maintained that the individual's pursuit of self-interest would generate a Darwinian struggle for survival that should result in the evolution of a more harmonious society. Yan Fu claimed to have derived from Spencer his own notion of human freedom denoting the release of an individual's "energy." His Spencerian liberalism was a radical departure from the orthodox Confucian ethic that regarded the pursuit of self-interest as the source of evil, while his translations also distorted the original meaning of other writings from the West. One such case is his translation of Mill's On Liberty : Yan Fu bent Mill's original conception of liberty to meet his own political purposes. Mill considered liberty of the individual as an end in itself. However, Yan Fu's Spencerian outlook produced a distorted understanding of Mill's concept as a means to the advancement of the people's virtue and intellect, ultimately to achieve the freedom of the state.

One of the powerful promoters of individual liberties (ziyou ) and rights (quanli ) in the Late Qing China was Liang Qichao (18731929). He absorbed a wide range of Western philosophy and social sciences through Japanese translations, but he endeavored to anchor the ideas of liberty and rights in the Confucian intellectual heritage. It has been debated how the Chinese reception of social and political concepts and discourses from the modern West relates to classical Chinese traditions. For instance, freedom of thought is at the heart of contemporary Western liberal democracy, while "harmony and unity of thought" (tongyi sixiang ) is celebrated in post-socialist China. This contrasting attitude toward freedom of thought has received scholarly attention in connection with the lingering Confucian tradition.


In modern Japanese, "liberty" is normally translated jiyu. The Japanese first encountered the idea of liberty in Dutch, vrijheid, and the translator could not find any proper translation, leaving it untranslated. Indeed, when Western scholarship flooded into the Japanese intellectual scene through the translation of works such as Samuel Smiles's Self Help (1859) and Mill's On Liberty, "liberty" was commonly recognized as a difficult word to translate. After a variety of translations were attempted, jiyu survived as the only term widely used today. Unlike the case in China, jiyu had already existed in the Japanese vocabulary before Japan's exposure to the Western idea of liberty; however, the first Japanese translators of "liberty" were not entirely convinced with their choice of the term. Fukuzawa Yukichi (18341901) is arguably responsible for the proliferation of the word, and yet he noted that jiyu (and any other Japanese word) failed to capture the precise meaning of liberty. According to the contemporary usage, jiyu signified "selfishness," "arbitrariness," and "emancipation of human desire"in a word "license." The moral connotation of jiyu was rather negative. Some maintain that the notion of jiyu is rooted in the Taoist idea of formless but freely moving spirit, while others see its affinity to the National Learning (kokugaku ) emphasis on human desire, as the novelist and poet Ihara Saikaku (16421693) once wrote: "Humans are the desires with four limbs." The first translators' concern with possible misunderstanding and misconceptions soon became real: although jiyu became a buzz word in the 1880s when the Freedom and People's Rights Movement (jiyu minken undo ) reached its height, the majority of intellectuals and political leaders who supported the movement grasped jiyu in terms of "license." Consequently liberalism was considered to be a licentious ideology.

The leaders of the Japanese Enlightenment often understood the concept of jiyu in connection with the independence of their country as a nation state. The liberty and independence of the state were the focus of debate, whereas civil liberties often escaped the attention of intellectuals. The indifference to civil liberties forms the background to the state's oppression of free speech and academic enquiry. In 1919, Morito Tatsuo (18881984), of the Faculty of Economics in Tokyo Imperial University, published an article on the social thought of the anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin (18421921), and the authorities filed charges against him and the editor of the journal that published the paper. Morito was expelled from the university and imprisoned. Minobe Tatsukichi (18731948) of the Faculty of Law at Tokyo Imperial University was known for his view that the emperor was an organ of the state. In 1935, his "organ theory," which had gained wide support in the academic community, suddenly became the object of public condemnation. Minobe was compelled to resign from the Membership of the House of Peers, and his books were banned and burned. These incidents did not merely represent the state's oppression of intellectual freedom, but also reflected the public's skepticism toward the mistranslated "liberty." The widespread confusion of jiyu with license had prevented the Japanese from appreciating the value of civil liberties, and heavily discredited liberalism until Japan's disastrous defeat in 1945.

See also Autonomy ; Enlightenment ; Equality ; Human Rights ; Liberalism ; Sovereignty ; State, The .


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LIBERTY. While it possessed important connotations in philosophical and theological discourses, the term liberty (and its frequent cognate, freedom ) conveyed primarily social and political overtones in early modern Europe. Liberty formed a central organizing principle around which myriad transformations of communal life occurred, culminating in the program of the French Revolutionaries, who placed the demand for civil and legal freedom at the forefront of their movement.

Early modern Europe inherited several different ideas of liberty that were revised, refined, and sometimes rejected entirely. The ancient republicans of Rome prized liberty as a collective good, which betokened both freedom from foreign domination and the absence of internal oppression in the form of a king. Liberty was thus connected with civic self-rule of a populist (if not quite popular) character. This republican ideal was widely disseminated among, and often endorsed by, early modern thinkers.

Christianity contributed the doctrines of freedom of the will and evangelical liberty that added a personal dimension to human freedom. Created in God's image, humanity possessed a capacity to choose between good and evil and hence to accept or to turn away from the divine will. Of course, the objects between which one chooses are not of equal worth. Rejecting God by preferring one's own desires yields dissatisfaction and unhappiness in one's earthly life as well as the misery of eternal damnation. By contrast, submitting to God properly expresses one's divinely granted freedom; it is the correct use of the will with which human begins have been endowed. At the same time, the possibility of freely renouncing self-will in favor of embracing God's lawin sum, a conversional experienceremains always open up to the very moment of one's death.

Finally, medieval Europe added a legal dimension to liberty that, in a sense, synthesized the public and the private meanings conveyed by republicanism and Christianity respectively. Under the terms of feudal law, the person designated to hold a prerogative or privilege (such as the ability to exercise forms of justice or to collect certain types of revenues) was said to possess "a liberty." Feudal liberty, in this sense, was an exclusive, independent, and nonusurpable right to the application of power over people and property, granted under fixed conditions from a superior who was deemed to be its ultimate source and guarantor. In short, liberty reflected a sphere of authority within which no one could directly intercede or interfere with the exercise of specified rights. Yet it was not wholly private. The possessor of a liberty could protect it from erosion by appeal for assistance to the lord who granted it. Someone who claimed a liberty could also be charged with its misapplication by those subjected to it, and could even be challenged to demonstrate the warrant on the basis of which it was exercised.


Although these inherited concepts of liberty continued to circulate in early modern Europe, the language of freedom proliferated and diversified in the context of the vast cultural changes that marked the period. Crucial to this development was religion. The Reformation brought not only a challenge in practice to the unity of the Christian Church, but also transformation of important theological categories. Martin Luther (14831546) insisted upon the unique presence of God alone in the conscience of believers, with the implication that the faithful Christian is responsible directly and immediately to God. The consequence of this teachingwhile perhaps recognized only fleetingly by Luther and his followerswas that salvation did not depend upon submission to the authority of the priesthood or the church. Nor did it fall to the secular power, to whom pertained the control of bodies and behavior, to discipline the souls of subjects. Thus, whether intentionally or not, Luther opened the door to claims of public respect for "liberty of conscience," and eventually freedom of worship.

In the generation after Luther, inferences about freedom of religion were drawn out by reforming thinkers. Sébastien Castellion (15151563) published pseudonymously a treatise entitled De Haereticis, an sint Persequendi (1554), in response to John Calvin's (15091564) organization of the burning of a fellow Christian theologian for heresy at Geneva. Castellion argued that coercion is an inappropriate tool for effecting a change of religious views since Christian belief must be held with sincere conviction. Hence, clerics and magistrates must refrain from persecution of convinced Christians who cling to doctrines that do not coincide with official teachings. While Castellion does not go so far as to license broad dissemination of heterodox theology, he maintains that a Christian's duties extend to forbearance of the free and honest faith of his fellows even in the face of disagreements of understanding and interpretation.

In the seventeenth century, the theme of religious liberty became more pronounced. For instance, the Levellers in England during the 1640s made freedom to dissent from the established religion a central plank of their political program. Major figures in European philosophy weighed in on the side of freedom of religion. Baruch Spinoza (16321677) claimed a broad application for a right to liberty of thought and belief without inference from a sovereign power's (or a church's) determination of the truth or falsity of one's ideas. Pierre Bayle (16471706) boldly asserted that all forms of persecution (innocuous as well as harsh) of religious diversity encouraged hypocrisy and eroded social order. An erring conscience, if it be held in good faith, deserves as much protection as a correct onea principle that Bayle extended even to atheists. John Locke (16321704) was unwilling to include atheism and other religious attitudes that he deemed dangerous to social trust and political obedience, but he, too, proposed liberty of conscience as justified in the case of most Christian (and perhaps some non-Christian) rites. The role of the magistrate, according to Locke, should be confined to the maintenance of public tranquillity and the defense of individual rights, rather than the care of the soul.

Pragmatic as well as principled considerations led to the acceptance of some measure of freedom of religion throughout much of Europe over the course of the early modern period. Wars of religion undermined peace and sapped public enthusiasm for persecution. The free practice of differing confessions (usually limited to Christianity, and sometimes only to reformed Christianity) became an enshrined feature of many European states by the late eighteenth century. Where this did not occur (with certain exceptions, such as in Spain and parts of the Italian peninsula), it posed a continuing source of conflict into later times, as Johannes Althusius (15571638) predicted it would in his Politica Methodice Digesta (1603; 3rd ed., 1614). Thus, freedom of religion constituted one of the main changes sought in France during the Revolution, as expressed in the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen."


The evolving acceptance of liberty of confession paralleled changes in other European cultural, social, and political practices and attitudes. The invention of the printing press and movable type immeasurably enhanced the ability of individuals to disseminate their ideas and for a larger public to have access to the written word. Demands were heard for freedom of the press (literally and figuratively) from censorship by clerical and secular authorities alike.

Of course, the tradition of republican liberty, inspired by the Romans, had not disappeared from the intellectual landscape. From Niccolò Machiavelli (14691527) and the more conventional humanists of Renaissance Italy through the thinkers and practitioners of Dutch republicanism like Hugo Grotius (15831645) to advocates of republican rule in England such as James Harrington (16111677) and Algernon Sidney (16231683), the praise of liberty as a distinctive feature of republican government was voiced. In the cities of Italy and of Holland, commercial vitality and strong civic loyalty, not to mention considerations of scale, rendered collective self-government a feasible option. Political practice could approach, even if never quite attain, the heights of theory.

In larger territorial states, such communally based republican liberty resonated less clearly. Indeed, republicans who spoke of their version of liberty too loudly found themselves at odds with authorities, hence Sidney's execution in England for espousal of and action upon his republican proclivities. Political liberty in more geographically extensive regimes with monarchic institutions tended to be conceived in terms of individual freedom rather than civic populism. Hence, it is at this time and place that we locate the origins of the doctrines that came to be labeled liberalism.

Thomas Hobbes (15881679) is generally identified as the most important direct antecedent of the modern individualist theory of liberty. In his Leviathan (1651), Hobbes ascribes to all human beings natural liberty (as well as equality) on the basis of which they are licensed to undertake whatever actions are necessary in order to preserve themselves from their fellow creatures. Hobbes believed that the exercise of such natural liberty logically leads to unceasing conflict and unremitting fear, so long as no single sovereign ruler exists to maintain peace. The exchange of chaotic natural freedom for government-imposed order requires renunciation of all freedoms that humans possess by nature (except, of course, for the sake of self-preservation itself) and voluntary submission to any dictate imposed by the sovereign. Yet, even under the terms of Hobbes's absolute sovereignty, the subject is deemed to remain at liberty to choose for himself concerning any and all matters about which the ruler has not explicitly legislated.

Locke begins his mature political theory in the Second Treatise of Government (1690) with the postulation of the divinely granted liberty of all individuals, understood in terms of the absolute right to preserve one's life and to claim the goods one requires for survival. Arguing against the patriarchal doctrine of Sir Robert Filmer (15881653), Locke insists that no natural basisneither paternity nor descentjustifies the submission of one man to another. In contrast with Hobbes, Locke maintains that the condition of liberty does not represent a state of war, but instead can be maintained tranquilly because human beings are deemed sufficiently rational that they can and do generally constrain their free action under the terms of the laws of nature. Hence, should people choose to enter into formal bonds of civil society and to authorize a government in order to avoid the "inconveniences" and inefficiency of the precivil world, the only rulership worthy of consent is that which strictly upholds and protects the liberty possessed by nature. According to Locke, any government that systematically denies to its subjects the exercise of their God-given liberty (as Hobbes's sovereign would do) is tyrannical and cannot expect obedience.

While Hobbesian and Lockean lines of thought persisted into the eighteenth century alongside republican doctrines, occasional attempts were made to transcend, or at any rate to synthesize, the lessons of republicanism and nascent liberalism concerning liberty. The writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778) afford an illustration of this. On the one hand, Rousseau held that Hobbes and Locke each captured an important facet of human liberty. Hobbes realized that the only way to create a truly sovereign authorityone capable of commanding the obedience of those subject to itwas the renunciation of all the liberty that one enjoyed by nature. Locke recognized that the sole reason any free person would consent to enter into a formalized social arrangement would be to protect his liberty. Hence, Rousseau concludes, the surrender of one's natural liberty must be matched by the return to each person of an amount of civil liberty (which he terms "moral liberty") that is greater than what has been given up. In other words, in a properly organized political system, every citizen enjoys more freedom than if he had remained in a precivil condition with his natural liberty intact.

From this marriage of Hobbesian and Lockean conceptions of liberty issues a set of republican conclusions. For Rousseau, sovereignty cannot be exercised by any authority external to the body of citizens whose liberty is at stake. Hence, no matter what constitutional form of government is appointedand he contends that kingship, aristocracy, and democracy may each be appropriate, depending on the scale of the territory to be governedit remains only the executive of the general will of the community. Freedom reposes strictly and exclusively in the communal order in which the moral liberty of each person assumes the equal moral liberty of every person, guaranteed under the terms of the law and protected by the magistrates. Hence, Rousseau's free state is guided by the collective determinations of the people about how they wish to livea clear statement of a system of popular sovereignty.


The concept of natural liberty is also one that came to the fore in the economic doctrines of the eighteenth century. Adam Smith (17231790) founded his principal doctrines upon the notion of natural liberty, by which he meant simply that if every person acts freely as he sees fit in his own interests, then the welfare of the whole society will be served best. For Smith, the system of natural liberty constitutes a sort of automatic or homeostatic mechanism of self-adjustment (which he sometimes calls the "invisible hand"), so that any attempt (on the part of government or some other agent) to interfere in its operation will lead to greater inefficiency and hence less total welfare. The sources for Smith's insight about maximized individual liberty, unconstrained by coercive externalities, have been debated. Certainly, the French economic theorists known collectively as the Physiocrats may have played a role in the formulation of this idea, as may have the political theorists whose views have already been surveyed. Smith applied this discovery, however, not only to the operation of the marketplace but to all aspects of society, including its educational, religious, and judicial institutions. He narrowly confines the role of government to those functions consistent with natural liberty: foreign defense, regulation of criminal activity, and provision of "public goods" too expensive for any single segment of the private economy to undertake.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the concept of liberty had pervaded the religious, social, political, cultural, and economic dimensions of European life. Yet it remained a controversial idea for (and against) which people would continue to fight and die. Moreover, the application of principles of freedom remained in many ways incomplete. Slavery had been by no means entirely eradicated from the regions over which European nations exercised control, even if it was largely passé within Europe itself. Women occupied almost exactly the same social, political, and economic position in 1789 as in 1450, and the extent of their personal and group liberty was largely determined by their class status. Despite occasional agitation for universal manhood suffrage, such as occurred during the earliest stages of the English Civil War, the unpropertied also experienced little improvement in their effective freedom between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries. Finally, the diffusion of ideas and practices of religious liberty was limited almost entirely to Christian sects, although deists and advocates of natural religion seem generally to have been left alone; freedom to worship occupied a far more precarious position for Jews and members of other non-Christian confessions (for example, Turks) who made their way to Europe.

See also Bayle, Pierre ; Calvin, John ; English Civil War and Interregnum ; Grotius, Hugo ; Hobbes, Thomas ; Liberalism, Economic ; Locke, John ; Luther, Martin ; Physiocrats and Physiocracy ; Revolutions, Age of ; Republicanism ; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques ; Smith, Adam ; Sovereignty, Theory of ; Spinoza, Baruch .


Primary Sources

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Edited by Edwin Curley. Indianapolis, 1994.

Locke, John. A Letter concerning Toleration, in Focus. Edited by John P. Horton and Susan Mendus. London, 1991.

. Two Treatises of Government. Edited by Peter Laslett. Cambridge, U.K., 1988.

Luther, Martin, and John Calvin. Luther and Calvin on Secular Authority. Edited and translated by Harro Höpfl. Cambridge, U.K., 1991.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Basic Political Writings. Edited and translated by Donald A. Cress. Indianapolis, 1987.

Secondary Sources

Davis, R. W. The Origins of Modern Freedom in the West. Stanford, 1995.

Fitzgibbons, Athol. Adam Smith's System of Liberty, Wealth, and Virtue: The Moral and Political Foundations of The Wealth of Nations. Oxford, 1995.

Laursen, John Christian, and Cary J. Nederman, eds. Beyond the Persecuting Society: Religious Toleration before the Enlightenment. Philadelphia, 1998.

Pelczynski, Zbigniew A., and John Gray, eds. Conceptions of Liberty in Political Philosophy. London, 1984.

Skinner, Quentin. Visions of Politics. 3 vols. Cambridge, U.K., 2002.

Van Gelderen, Martin, and Quentin Skinner, eds. Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage. 2 vols. Cambridge, U.K., 2002

Cary J. Nederman

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The etymological origin of liberty is the Latin word libertas, from liber, which means free. In the social sciences, liberty and freedom are often used interchangeably. However, in common parlance, a distinction can be made. Freedom is the more general term referring to a lack of restraint in all its manifestations. Liberty, in contrast, is typically used when discussing the political and legal aspects of the human condition, particularly those involving choice.

Liberty, as a political ideal, has had a profound influence over the course of human events going back to the eighteenth century. It was a central theme for both the American Revolution (17751783) and the French Revolution (17891799). Liberty was a fundamental motivation for the rise of the modern democratic state, capitalist economies, and the concern for human rights. In contemporary practice, a number of freedoms are commonly protected by the state, including assembly, association, press, religion, speech, thought, and trade. The importance and significance of liberty is widely acknowledged. Still, there are fundamentally different understandings about what it means and why it is valuable.

Benjamin Constant (17671830), for example, distinguishes between what he calls liberty of the ancients and liberty of the moderns. Ancient liberty refers to the direct sharing of political power. It is the active and constant participation of citizens in the collective governing of their communities. Consequently, it can only be realized in smaller political units such as the city-state. Ancient liberty involves citizens being able to make truly meaningful contributions to political decisions on a continual basis, thus allowing them to play an intimate role in determining the course of their collective lives. This identification of liberty with ongoing collective political decision-making, however, entails the complete subjection of the citizen to the authority of the community (Constant [1820] 1988, p. 311). Still, authentic self-government brought such a vivid and repeated pleasure (p. 316) that citizens were willing to make great sacrifices to preserve this form of liberty. The problem is that too little value was attached to the rights of individual citizens.

With the emergence of larger political units like the nation-state, ancient liberty was no longer possible. Lost in the multitude, the individual can almost never perceive the influence he exercises (Constant [1820] 1988, p. 316). Liberty, therefore, became associated with individual rights and freedoms. This modern liberty consists in peaceful enjoyment and private independence (p. 316) for each citizen. It is made possible by legal guarantees such as the rule of law, freedom of expression, property rights, freedom of association, elected political representation, and the right to petition the government. The purpose of modern liberty is to give citizens the opportunity to choose and enjoy their own private pleasures. The danger of this type of liberty is that people will get so absorbed in pursuing their personal happiness and interests that they neglect their political responsibilities, thereby allowing the government to overstep its limits.

Another well-known distinction is Isaiah Berlins (19091997) understandings of negative and positive conceptions of liberty. On the one hand, negative liberty simply refers to the absence of external constraints and obstacles. It is freedom from. Liberty, in this sense, is the ability to act without human or institutional hindrances. It is concerned with the boundaries of individual autonomy. Negative liberty deals with the question, What is the area within which the subjecta person or group of personsis or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons? (Berlin [1958] 1990, p. 121122). Positive liberty, on the other hand, refers to being able to live an authentic or self-directed life. It is the freedom to. This type of liberty is associated with concepts like self-mastery and self-realization. It is interested in the question, What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that (p. 122).

Berlin notes that negative and positive liberty might be thought of as two sides of the same coin. The former focuses on the freedom that exists when there are no constraints on the individual, and the latter concentrates on the freedom that comes from personal self-determination. Berlin claims, however, that the theoretical development of these two types of liberty has led to divergent understandings. While the meaning of negative liberty remained the same, positive liberty took on a more psychological orientation. Positive liberty became associated with overcoming internal obstacles that thwarted self-mastery. Berlin contends that this understanding of liberty is dangerous because state coercion can be justified as a benevolent action. By coercing people into living according to their supposed authentic desires, the state is simply advancing positive liberty. Overlooked is the fact that individuals are still being constrained against their will and the state is assuming to know better the true interests of its citizens. Appeals to positive liberty, therefore, divert attention from the disquieting contradiction that the state is forcing its citizens to be free. Berlin sardonically observes that, in this case, true freedom is obtained even while my poor earthly body and foolish mind bitterly reject it, and struggle against those who seek however benevolently to impose it (Berlin [1958] 1990, p. 134).

Even though positive liberty can be used to justify political tyranny, the association of self-mastery with liberty may nonetheless reflect how humans tend to think about what it means to be free, at least in part. Charles Taylor argues that humans do have higher order, life-orienting aims that can be undermined by impulses and desires. Unhealthy indulgences, for example, may harm an individuals physical well-being. Irrational fears may prevent people from taking advantage of opportunities that are in their best interests. In these types of situations, is freedom not at stake when we find ourselves carried away by a less significant goal to override a highly significant one? (Taylor 1979, p. 185)

Positive liberty is also associated with having requisite resources and opportunities to act. T. H. Green (18361882), for example, contends that freedom is commonly recognized as involving the positive power or capacity to maximize human potential. Liberty involves not simply the lack of constraint; it also includes the ability to successfully pursue personal goals and ambitions. Green contends that this success depends on people having basic protections and services. Moreover, it is societys responsibility to provide this assistance. Positive liberty, consequently, requires the provision of educational opportunities, safety regulations for the workplace, and adequate housing. Without health and knowledge, people are not able to develop their faculties and make the most out of themselves.

Liberty, variously understood, has been a central concern for liberalism, the dominant political ideology of the modern age. John Locke (16321704), for example, considered individual liberty a natural right along with life, health, and property. The state, therefore, had a responsibility to protect the freedoms of its citizens. Thomas Jefferson (17431826) adopted Lockes theme for the Declaration of Independence, asserting that humans are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This concern for individual freedom was further formalized in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which provide citizens with rights that limit the power of the state.

John Stuart Mill (18061873) was also interested in protecting the liberty of citizens to think and act without interference by the state. He provides a seminal defense of civil liberties in his classic work, On Liberty (1859). His justification, however, was not based on natural or inalienable rights; it was based on utility. Mill claims that maximizing individual liberty creates the greatest utility for society. There are three fundamental types of civil liberties that need to be protected: (1) thought and opinion, (2) tastes and pursuits, and (3) association. The limits of these liberties should be based on what has come to be called the harm principle. The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others (Mill [1859] 1978, p. 9).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778) provided a markedly different approach to protecting individual liberty. Instead of trying to limit the power of the state, he sought to align the individual will with the general will, which is the sovereign will of the people. To accomplish this task, there must be the total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights, to the entire community (Rousseau [1762] 1987, p. 24). In so doing, each citizen, while uniting with all, obeys only himself and remains as free as before (p. 24). The identification of the individual will with the general will means the states decisions are simply reflections of each citizens preferences. Consequently, people are not under the subjection of any other person. If citizens have preferences contrary to the general will, then it merely proves that they were in error about the good of the community and their true interests.

Liberal political philosophers may justify liberty in terms of natural rights or utilitarianism. They may advocate negative or positive understandings of liberty. Regardless, all liberal political theories share two basic assumptions: Freedom is a key human value and all individuals are equal in some primary sense. Equality is a necessary complement for liberty. At the same time, however, it can provide a significant challenge. The grant of liberty inevitably undermines equality. The imposition of equality inevitably requires restrictions on liberty. The proper balance of liberty and equality, therefore, is an issue that will always have to be addressed by liberal political theories.

SEE ALSO American Revolution; Choice in Psychology; Citizenship; Civil Rights; Constitutions; Democracy; Freedom; French Revolution; Government; Human Rights; Individualism; Liberalism; Liberation; Mill, John Stuart; Natural Rights; Philosophy, Political; Political Theory; Privacy; Utilitarianism


Berlin, Isaiah. [1958] 1990. Four Essays on Liberty. New York: Oxford University Press.

Constant, Benjamin. [1820] 1988. Constant: Political Writings. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Green, T. H. [1880] 1986. Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation and Other Writings. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Locke, John. [1690] 1988. Two Treatise of Government. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mill, John Stuart. [1859] 1978. On Liberty. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. [1762] 1987. On the Social Contract. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.

Taylor, Charles. 1979. Whats Wrong with Negative Liberty? In the Idea of Freedom: Essays in Honour of Isaiah Berlin, ed. Alan Ryan. 175193. New York: Oxford University Press.

Johnny Goldfinger

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The state of being free; enjoying various social, political, or economic rights and privileges The concept of liberty forms the core of all democratic principles. Yet, as a legal concept, it defies clear definition.

The modern conception of liberty as implying certain fundamental or basic rights dates back to the writings of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century theorists such as Francis Hutcheson and john locke. Hutcheson believed that all people are equal and that they possess certain basic rights that are conferred by natural law. Locke postulated that humans are born with an innate tendency to be reasonable and tolerant. He also believed that all individuals are entitled to liberty under the natural law that governed them before they formed societies. Locke's concept of natural law required that no one should interfere with another's life, health, liberty, or possessions. According to Locke, governments are necessary only to protect those who live within the laws of nature from those who do not. For this reason, he believed that the power of government and the rule of the majority must be kept in check, and that they are best controlled by protecting and preserving individual liberties. Locke's philosophies gave rise to the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances that are the basis of U.S. government.

Limitless freedom is untenable in a peaceful and orderly society. Yet, the founders of the United States were concerned that individual liberty interests be adequately protected. Echoing Locke's natural-law theory, the Declaration of Independence states that all people have inalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Similarly, the Preamble to the Constitution outlines the Framers' intent to establish a government structure that ensures freedom from oppression. It reads, in part, "We the People … in Order to … secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…." The bill of rights sets forth a number of specific protections of individual liberties.

Through these documents, U.S. citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion; freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures; and freedom from slavery or involuntary servitude. Criminal law and procedure require that a person may not be detained unlawfully and that a person who is accused of a crime is entitled to reasonable bail and a speedy trial. The right to be free from unlawful detention has been interpreted to mean not only that the government may not deprive a person of liberty without due process of law, but also that a citizen has a right "to be free in the enjoyment of all his faculties; to be free to use them in all lawful ways; to live and work where he will; to earn his living by any lawful calling; and to pursue any livelihood or vocation" (Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U.S. 578, 17 S. Ct. 427, 41 L. Ed. 832 [1897]). State governments may not regulate individual freedom except for a legitimate public purpose and only by means that are rationally designed to achieve that purpose (see Nebbia v. New York, 291 U.S. 502, 54 S. Ct. 505, 78 L. Ed. 940 [1934]).

The liberties guaranteed to individuals are not granted without restriction. Throughout U.S. history, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that individual freedom may be restricted when necessary to advance a compelling government interest, such as public safety, national security, or the protection of the rights of others. Countless cases have litigated the parameters of justifiable government restriction. In one such case, Perry Education Ass'n v. Perry Local Educators' Ass'n, 460 U.S. 37, 103 S. Ct. 948, 74 L. Ed. 2d 794 (1983), the Court found that the content of a message delivered in a public forum may be restricted if the restriction serves a compelling state interest and is narrowly drawn to achieve that interest. Restrictions on speech in a public forum also may be upheld if the expressive activity being regulated is a of type that is not entitled to full first amendment protection, such as obscenity. If a restriction on speech deals only with the time, place, and manner of the activity, it need only serve a significant government interest and allow ample alternative channels of communication (see Perry). In such an instance, the law does not need to be the least restrictive alternative; it is necessary only that the government's interest would be achieved less effectively without it and that the means chosen are not substantially broader than necessary to achieve the interest (Ward v. Rock against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 109 S. Ct. 2746, 105 L. Ed. 2d 661 [1989]).

The Court has held that the government may infringe on a person's freedom of association by punishing membership in an organization that advocates illegal conduct if the defendant had knowledge of the group's illegal objectives and had the specific intent to further them (see Scales v. United States, 367 U.S. 203, 81 S. Ct. 1469, 6 L. Ed. 2d 782 [1961]; Noto v. United States, 367 U.S. 290, 81 S. Ct. 1517, 6 L. Ed. 2d 836 [1961]).

The Court has also determined that when competing liberty interests clash, the majority may not necessarily impose its belief on the minority. In abington school district v. schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 83 S. Ct. 1560, 10 L. Ed. 2d 844 (1963), the Court held that the freedom to exercise one's religion does not extend to prayer sessions in public schools, even if the proposed prayer is nondenominational and favored by the majority. Justice tom c. clark, writing for the majority, emphasized that the freedom to exercise one's religion ends when it infringes on another's right to be free from state-imposed religious practices. He wrote, "While the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs." The Court reaffirmed its holding that the Free Exercise Clause does not allow the majority to impose its beliefs on the minority in wallace v. jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 105 S. Ct. 2479, 86 L. Ed. 2d 29 (1985).

The Court has engendered bitter and sustained controversy with its defense of privacy rights in cases such as roe v. wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 (1973), which found the constitutional right to privacy to include the right to obtain an abortion. Critics of such decisions contend that such liberties are not enumerated in the Constitution and that the Court should uphold only rights found in the Constitution. But the Court has consistently held that the liberties enumerated in the Constitution are a continuum that, in the words of Justice john marshall harlan, "includes a freedom from all substantial arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints … and which also recognizes … that certain interests require particularly careful scrutiny of the state needs asserted to justify their abridgement" (Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497, 81 S. Ct. 1752, 6 L. Ed. 2d 989 [1961]).

The Court justified its findings of liberty rights that are not enumerated in the Constitution by stating that some rights are basic and fundamental, and that the government has a duty to protect those rights. It has held that the Constitution outlines a "realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter." As an example, it noted that marriage is not mentioned in the Bill of Rights and that interracial marriage was illegal in many places during the nineteenth century, but that the Court has rightly found these activities to be within the liberty interests guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Court has repeatedly held that individual liberties must be protected no matter how repugnant some find the activity or individual involved. For example, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 112 S. Ct. 2791, 120 L. Ed. 28 674 (1992), the Court stated, "Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code." In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 63 S. Ct. 1178, 87 L. Ed. 1628 (1943), the Court invalidated a law mandating that all students salute the flag, and in texas v. johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 109 S. Ct. 2533, 105 L. Ed. 2d 342 (1989), it invalidated a law prohibiting burning of the flag. In all of these cases, the Court emphasized that individuals may disagree about whether the activity is morally acceptable, but the liberty inherent in the activity may not be proscribed even if a majority of the populace thinks that it should be.

Justice louis d. brandeis summarized the Court's general wariness of government intrusion into liberty interests, in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 47 S. Ct. 641, 71 L. Ed. 1095 (1927): "Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free." The Court will continue to grapple with the extent to which organized society may restrict individual liberty without violating that mandate.

further readings

Burris, Alan. 1983. A Liberty Primer. Rochester, N.Y.: Society for Individual Liberty.


Constitution of the United States; Criminal Procedure; Freedom of Speech; Freedom of the Press; School Prayer.

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liberty (in political science)

liberty, term used to describe various types of individual freedom, such as religious liberty, political liberty, freedom of speech, right of self-defense, and others. It is also used as a general term for the sum of specific liberties. Fundamental perhaps is personal liberty, the freedom of a person to come and go as he or she pleases without unwarranted restraint.

Historical Perspective

Liberty has a history that shows that it varies with time and place. In England prior to the Habeas Corpus Act (1679) a person could be seized and kept in prison indefinitely without trial or hearing. The common-law prohibition of conspiracy as dangerous to domestic peace and order was invoked far into the 19th cent. to limit the right of association in labor unions. Specifically political liberties, such as the general right to vote and to hold public office, were practically unknown before the 19th cent., when they were achieved by the liberal movement in England. The same is true of such civil liberties as freedom of speech and of the press. Freedom of conscience, the right of private judgment in religious matters, and the right to worship with groups of one's own choosing were nonexistent prior to the Protestant Reformation and still limited in most places for a long time afterward.

The Philosophical Concept of Liberty

Liberty has found philosophical expression in individualism and anarchism (an extreme form of individualism) and in nationalism. Such philosophers as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau popularized the conception of the individual as having certain natural rights that could not be denied or taken away by society or by any external authority, rights that Thomas Jefferson spoke of in the Declaration of Independence as "unalienable" and that were embodied in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. Rousseau especially thought of them as the rights possessed by people living in a "state of nature" and not surrendered, only modified, in the social contract by which they agreed to live together in society.

The Acquisition of Liberty

Political scientists point out that even in a state of nature people are subject to the law of nature and that the rights enjoyed by them in society are historically acquired and not natural except in a strictly social sense. Liberties are acquired through the joining of like-minded individuals to gain special privileges for themselves. Thus, through Magna Carta the English barons in 1215 wrested from King John certain freedoms that in time they had to share with the rest of the people.

The history of liberty in the later Middle Ages is that of numerous corporate groups, such as guilds of artisans and merchants, winning immunity from external control. By agreements with their feudal overlords these groups obtained release from certain feudal dues and bonds, gaining a limited freedom to carry on trade and manufacture, which formed the nucleus of the liberties extended to the bourgeoisie in the 19th cent. Some ethnic minorities, as in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, were able by a show of strength to gain legal status for their language and culture as well as assurance of some political rights. Freedom to follow the trade or profession of one's inclination, as of women to practice medicine, denied in most societies, was gained only in recent times. The feminist movement in the 19th and 20th cent. is a good example of the attempt to gain such rights.

The acquired nature of rights—their dependence on conditions of time and place—also makes them peculiarly subject to danger of loss. Liberties have had to be defended against encroachment, and sometimes populations have had their liberties curtailed. In times of national danger some rights may be suspended, as was the right of habeas corpus by President Abraham Lincoln in the American Civil War, and the struggle for rights not yet acquired may be discontinued.

The freedom for self-expression, as distinguished from the freedom from external restraint, has become increasingly important to the notion of liberty. Since medieval times liberty has been increased by the gradual but advancing removal of restraints once imposed by church and state, by custom and law; in the 20th cent. attention was turned to the creation of certain conditions regarded as necessary if individuals are to develop their fullest potential. The idea of equality, emphasized by the philosophers of the French Revolution, came to be closely associated with the idea of liberty in democratic societies—not equality based on a supposed equality of ability but equality of opportunity. Inequality, especially economic inequality, was held to be as great an obstacle to individual development as any form of external restraint. Therefore it was proposed that the state should seek to equalize as far as possible the conditions in such areas as education, health, and housing, thereby establishing economic and social security, and freedom from want and fear, so that every individual might have equal opportunity for self-realization.

The right of national groups to be independent and sovereign has also come to be regarded as a principle of liberty. Since 1945, more than 50 former colonial areas have become independent states (see imperialism). The UN Commission on Human Rights has sought to promote the extension of political and cultural liberty throughout the world through treaties and covenants, the most important of which has been the Declaration of Human Rights.


See J. S. Mill, On Liberty (1859, repr. 1972); H. Butterfield, Liberty in the Modern World (1952); S. Hook, Political Power and Personal Freedom (1959, repr. 1962); M. R. Konvitz, ed., Aspects of Liberty (1958, repr. 1965) and Expanding Liberties (1967); J. M. Swomley, Liberation Ethics (1972); J. David and R. B. McKay, ed., The Blessings of Liberty (1989); E. Foner, The Story of American Freedom (1998).

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lib·er·ty / ˈlibərtē/ • n. (pl. -ties) 1. the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views: compulsory retirement would interfere with individual liberty. ∎  (usu. liberties) an instance of this; a right or privilege, esp. a statutory one: the Bill of Rights was intended to secure basic civil liberties. ∎  the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved: people who have lost property or liberty without due process. ∎  ( Liberty) the personification of liberty as a female figure. 2. the power or scope to act as one pleases: individuals should enjoy the liberty to pursue their own interests and preferences. ∎  Philos. a person's freedom from control by fate or necessity. ∎ inf. a presumptuous remark or action: how did he know what she was thinking?—it was a liberty! ∎  Naut. shore leave granted to a sailor. PHRASES: at liberty 1. not imprisoned: he was at liberty for three months before he was recaptured. 2. allowed or entitled to do something: competent adults are generally at liberty to refuse medical treatment. take liberties 1. behave in an unduly familiar manner toward a person: you've taken too many liberties with me. 2. treat something freely, without strict faithfulness to the facts or to an original: the scriptwriter has taken few liberties with the original narrative. take the liberty venture to do something without first asking permission: I have taken the liberty of submitting an idea to several of their research departments. THE RIGHT WORD freedom, independence, liberty, license, permission

The Fourth of July is the day on which Americans commemorate their nation's independence, a word that implies the ability to stand alone, without being sustained by anything else.

While independence is usually associated with countries or nations, freedom and liberty more often apply to people. But unlike freedom, which implies an absence of restraint or compulsion ( the freedom to speak openly), liberty implies the power to choose among alternatives rather than merely being unrestrained ( the liberty to select their own form of government). Freedom can also apply to many different types of oppressive influences ( freedom from interruption; freedom to leave the room at any time), while liberty often connotes deliverance or release ( he gave the slaves their liberty).

License may imply the liberty to disobey rules or regulations imposed on others, especially when there is an advantage to be gained in doing so ( poetic license). But more often it refers to an abuse of liberty or the power to do whatever one pleases ( a license to sell drugs).

Permission is an even broader term than license, suggesting the capacity to act without interference or censure, usually with some degree of approval or authority ( permission to be absent from his post).

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liberty Liberty Bell a bell in Philadelphia first rung on 8 July 1776 to celebrate the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. It bears the legend ‘Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof’ (Leviticus 25:10). It cracked irreparably when rung for George Washington's birthday in 1846 and is now housed near Independence Hall, Philadelphia.
Liberty Hall a place where one may do as one likes. The phrase comes originally from Goldmith's She Stoops to Conquer (1773).
Statue of Liberty a statue at the entrance to New York harbour, a symbol of welcome to immigrants, representing a draped female figure carrying a book of laws in her left hand and holding aloft a torch in her right; it is inscribed with lines by the American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–87). Dedicated in 1886, it was designed by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi and was the gift of the French, commemorating the alliance of France and the US during the War of American Independence. The formal title of the statue is Liberty Enlightening the World.

See also cap of liberty.

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Liberty (city, United States)

Liberty, city (1990 pop. 20,459), seat of Clay co., W central Mo., in a grain and livestock area; laid out 1822. It has railroad yards and grain elevators. William Jewell College is there.

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1. Allegorical female figure frequently depicted by French Revolutionary artists, complete with flaming torch and Phrygian cap.

2. Italian Art Nouveau, called Stile Liberty.

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liberty XIV. — (O)F. libertē — L. lībertās, —tāt—, f. līber free, see LIBERAL, -TY2.
Hence libertarian XVIII.

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libertyfooty, putti, sooty, tutti •shufti • casualty • deputy •butty, cutty, gutty, nutty, puttee, putty, rutty, smutty •mufti, tufty •bhakti • subtlety • humpty-dumpty •Bunty, runty •bustee, busty, crusty, dusty, fusty, gusty, lusty, musty, rusty, trusty •fealty • realty •propriety, society •loyalty, royalty •cruelty •Krishnamurti, Trimurti •liberty • puberty •faggoty, maggoty •Hecate • chocolatey • Cromarty •commonalty • personalty • property •carroty • guaranty • mayoralty •warranty • admiralty • severalty •poverty •Alberti, Bertie, dirty, flirty, shirty, thirty •uncertainty •Kirstie, thirsty •bloodthirsty

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