“Freedom” is among the most central concepts in our political vocabulary. I think it is deservedly so. But it’s also a concept with a notoriously large number of meanings. Libertarians identify freedom simply with the absence of state coercion; by contrast, the most widely used Sanskrit term with an equivalence to freedom is probably mokṣa, liberation from the suffering of worldly existence. And the most common use of “freedom” today is something different again: the ability to make unrestricted choices, to decide for oneself what one will do.
Freedom in this sense of choice played a fairly limited role in premodern political thought, and I think this is because the ancients understood its limitations. Continue reading