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Free society

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The term free society is used frequently by American libertarian theorists to denote a society in which their ideal political, legal and economic aims are in effect.[1][2][3]

In a theoretical free society, all individuals act voluntarily, having the freedom to obtain the power and resources to fulfill their own potential. Adlai Stevenson defined free societies as a society in which individuals find it "safe to be unpopular".[4] Others, such as Chandran Kukathas, described a free society as dependent upon the "principle of freedom of association".[5] Cindy Cohn has argued that the freedom to have a "private conversation" is "central to a free society".[6]

These interpretations can also be elaborated in terms of freedom of speech – if people have a right to express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm. In a free society, individuals would organize in voluntary associations, including free market and communal societies. Individuals would gain more prosperity due to the lack of restrictions on trade and wealth creation.

Economic freedom[edit]

As a citizen among a free society, one would have the ability to organize in voluntary associations such as the free market. This freedom of choice is key to establishing a free society and individuals would gain more prosperity due to lack of restrictions on trade. The role of government regarding these freedoms is also vital to a free society. Early proponents of the free market, such as James Madison, "understood that getting the rules right and allowing markets to expand would increase personal and economic freedom".[7][full citation needed] Further, there has been much debate regarding the level of state involvement in the market as there was a strong belief in the 19th century that "the market should be seen as a self-regulating mechanism and that the state's role was to remove itself as far as possible from intervening in it or regulating it".[8]

The ideal supporting this self-regulation is known as laissez-faire, in which the government creates regulations for the sole purpose of protecting property rights against theft and aggression while allowing the market to self-regulate. Adam Smith is quoted saying that in a free society "every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice is perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other order of men".[9] The reasoning for desiring reduced government regulation has come from the view that "the protection of the masses has in all times been the pretence of tyranny – the plea of monarchy, of aristocracy, of special privilege of every kind [...] slave owners justified slavery as protecting the slaves".[10]

While It has been argued that free society should consist of low government involvement and regulation, arguments do remain to the contrary. It has been suggested that in a society that involves free market large governments and their involvement is a good thing as it ensures social justice as well as equality. While this view does exist "the truth is that while the [2008] economic crisis may have created an opening for a more active government and increased scepticism about the desirability of unrestrained free markets, supporters of an activist state have yet to offer a coherent and compelling argument in its favour".[11] As such, the current free market view holds that government regulations shall be kept at a minimum, existing solely to protect its citizens and their property rights from harm. While recent debate has recurred regarding this issue, this remains the consensus when referring to free market.

Freedom of speech[edit]

Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship or limitation.[12] Although it varies from one country to another, freedom of speech established a formal acknowledgement by the laws of most nations.[8] The European Enlightenment was the cause of freedom of speech. In 1689, England's Bill of Rights granted "freedom of speech in Parliament". In 1789, the French Revolution declared the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Freedom of speech was explicitly declared as an undeniable right.[8] Years later, freedom of speech was followed by challenges and limitations. These challenges and limitations include offensiveness, agitation, speech that involves looming lawless action, commercial speech and child pornography.[8] Along with the freedom of speech rises the hate speech which is any kind of speech or act that may display violence or prejudicial actions against a single person or group. This type of speech has been forbidden and categorized as a deviance act or crime.[13]

According to the Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) landmark decision, the Supreme Court discarded the previous test of "clear and present danger", ruling that an American citizen right to freedom of (political) speech is almost absolute.[14] The court ruled that the government could not constitutionally punish abstract advocacy of force or law violation. In another Supreme Court ruling, hate speech was also determined to be protected by the First Amendment in the United States as decided in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992) in which the court ruled that hate speech is permissible except in the case of imminent violence.[15] The case involved the hateful crime of a 14-year old white boy who illegally burned a cross on the lawn of the only African American family in a St. Paul, Minnesota neighborhood. The state law improperly prosecuted the boy for the motivation of his actions rather than on his criminal behavior, seeking to punish the youth for the content of his message and not for his criminal actions. Some of the legal principles cited in the R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul case involved the free speech protection that prevents the government from proscribing speech,[16] or even expressive conduct,[17] because of disapproval of the ideas expressed.[18] Historically, governments have attempted to impede free speech by arbitrarily defining unpopular speech as dangerous or threatening to society, designating what is and what is not acceptable. Such laws are often "used by politically powerful factions to suppress speech that criticizes them" and "can be abused for political ends".[19]

Freedom of religion[edit]

Freedom of religion is defined as the right to practice religion in public or private.[20] This also includes having full freedom to convert religion or to not follow a religion at all. This is also known as "freedom from religion". In 1791, the First Amendment states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances". There are two parts to the language that assures the freedom of religion. The first part is Establishment Clause, which was created to forbid the federal government from proclaiming and supporting a national religion financially.[21] The second part is the Free Exercise Clause, which states "Congress cannot prohibit the free exercise of religious practices". Some parts of the world, such as Myanmar, lack the existence of religious freedom.[12]

See also[edit]


Political systems[edit]

Related approaches to society[edit]



  1. Liberal Modernity and Its Adversaries: Freedom, Liberalism and Anti-Liberalism in the 21st Century. BRILL. 2007. p. 141. ISBN 978-9004160521. Retrieved 3 September 2017. Search this book on
  2. The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 11:2 (Summer 1995): 132-181 [1]
  3. The Atlas Society. "Government Financing in a Free Society" [2]
  4. Adlai E. Stevenson (1952-10-07). "Speech in Detroit".
  5. Chandran Kukathas, The Liberal Archipelago: A Theory of Diversity and Freedom, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 4
  6. Cindy Cohn, “With the latest WikiLeaks revelations about the CIA – is privacy really dead?”, Olivia Solon, The Guardian, March 9, 2017 [3]
  7. Dorn, J. A. (2012). "The Scope of Government in a Free Society." CATO Journal, 32(3), 629–642
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Jackson, B. (2010). "At the Origins of Neo-Liberalism: The Free Economy and the Strong State, 1930–1947." Historical Journal, 53(1), 129-151
  9. Buder, Stanley. Capitalizing on Change: A Social History of American Business. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Print., additional text.
  10. Bonaparte, T. H. (1989). "George on Free Trade, At Home and Abroad: The American Economist and Social Philosopher Envisioned a World Unhindered in Production and Exchange." American Journal of Economics & Sociology, 48(2), 245., additional text.
  11. Sabeel Rahman, K. (2011). "Conceptualizing the Economic Role of the State: Laissez-Faire, Technocracy, and the Democratic Alternative." Polity, 43(2), 264–286. doi:10.1057/pol.2010.29, additional text.
  12. 12.0 12.1 [4], additional text.
  13. [Nockleby, John T. (2000), “Hate Speech,” in Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, ed. Leonard W. Levy and Kenneth L. Karst, vol. 3. (2nd ed.), Detroit: Macmillan Reference US, pp. 1277-1279. Cited in "Library 2.0 and the Problem of Hate Speech," by Margaret Brown-Sica and Jeffrey Beall, Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, vol. 9 no. 2 (Summer 2008)], additional text.
  14. Anthony Lewis, Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment, Basic Books, 2007, p. 124
  15. ABA Division for Public Education: Students: Debating the "Mighty Constitutional Opposites: Hate Speech Debate" [5] Archived 2016-10-13 at the Wayback Machine
  16. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 [6](1940)
  17. Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 [7] (1989)
  18. 505 U.S. at 382
  19. Michael W. McConnell, “You Can’t Say That: ‘The Harm in Hate Speech,’ by Jeremy Waldron,” The New York Times, June 22, 2012 [8]
  20. [9], additional text.
  21. [10], additional text.

External links[edit]

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