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Political freedom is the absence of interference with the sovereignty of an individual by the use of coercion or aggression. Freedom is commonly known as a state of being free from government oppression.
The opposite of a free society is a totalitarian state, which highly restricts political freedom in order to regulate almost every aspect of behavior. In this sense ‘freedom’ refers solely to the relation of humans to other humans, and the only infringement on it is coercion by humans.
The concept of political freedom is very closely allied with the concepts of civil liberties and individual rights, which in most democratic societies is characterized by various freedoms which are afforded the legal protection from the state. Some of these freedoms may include (in alphabetical order):
Various groups along the political spectrum naturally differ on what they believe constitutes "true" political freedom.
Left wing political philosophy generally couples the notion of freedom with that of positive liberty, or the enabling of an individual to realize his or her own potential. Freedom, in this sense, may include freedom from poverty, starvation, treatable disease, and oppression, as well as freedom from force and coercion, from whomever they may issue.
the use of ‘liberty’ to describe the physical ‘ability to do what I want’, the power to satisfy our wishes, or the extent of the choice of alternatives open to us...has been deliberately fostered as part of the socialist argument... Once this identification of freedom with power is admitted, there is no limit to the sophisms by which the attractions of the word ‘liberty’ can be used to support measures which destroy individual liberty, no end to the tricks by which people can be exhorted in the name of liberty to give up their liberty. It has been with the help of this equivocation that the notion of collective power over circumstances has been substituted for that of individual liberty and that in totalitarian states liberty has been suppressed in the name of liberty.
Hayek also famously noted that "liberty" and "freedom" have probably been the most abused words in recent history.
Milton Friedman, another classical liberal, strongly incorporated the absence from coercion into his description of political freedom.
The essence of political freedom is the absence of coercion of one man by his fellow men. The fundamental danger to political freedom is the concentration of power. The existence of a large measure of power in the hands of a relatively few individuals enables them to use it to coerce their fellow men. Preservation of freedom requires either the elimination of power where that is possible or its dispersal where it cannot be eliminated.
Many social anarchists see negative and positive liberty as complementary concepts of freedom. They describe the negative liberty-centric view endorsed by capitalists as "selfish freedom". According to Anarchism FAQ
The right-libertarian does not address or even acknowledge that the (absolute) right of private property may lead to extensive control by property owners over those who use, but do not own, property (such as workers and tenants). Thus a free-market capitalist system leads to a very selective and class-based protection of "rights" and "freedoms." For example, under capitalism, the "freedom" of employers inevitably conflicts with the "freedom" of employees. When stockholders or their managers exercise their "freedom of enterprise" to decide how their company will operate, they violate their employee's right to decide how their labouring capacities will be utilised. In other words, under capitalism, the "property rights" of employers will conflict with and restrict the "human right" of employees to manage themselves. Capitalism allows the right of self-management only to the few, not to all. Or, alternatively, capitalism does not recognise certain human rights as universal which anarchism does.
Some people treat freedom as if it were almost synonymous with democracy, while other people see conflicts or even opposition between the two concepts. For example, some people argue that Iraq was free under Paul Bremer on the grounds that it was a rational, humanist, non-subjugating government, long before elections were held. Others have argued that Iraq was free under Saddam Hussein because Iraq was not a colony, while a third one's claim is that neither dictatorial nor colonial rule in Iraq are examples of political freedom.
Environmentalists often argue that political freedoms should include some constraint on use of ecosystems. They maintain there is no such thing, for instance, as "freedom to pollute" or "freedom to deforest" given that such activities create negative externalities. The popularity of SUVs, golf, and urban sprawl has been used as evidence that some ideas of freedom and ecological conservation can clash. This leads at times to serious confrontations and clashes of values reflected in advertising campaigns, e.g. that of PETA regarding fur.
There have been numerous philosophical debates over the nature of freedom, the claimed differences between various types of freedom, and the extent to which freedom is desirable. Determinists argue that all human actions are pre-determined and thus freedom is an illusion. Isaiah Berlin saw a distinction between negative liberty and positive liberty.
In jurisprudence, freedom is the right to determine one's own actions autonomously; generally it is granted in those fields in which the subject has no obligations to fulfill or laws to obey, according to the interpretation that the hypothetical natural unlimited freedom is limited by the law for some matters.