Benjamin Franklin once said
Those who are willing to sacrifice essential freedom for security deserve neither.

In order to avoid really convoluted language, this writeup assumes that you live in a country with a robust form of democratic government. This writeup does not assume that you must live in such a country in order to believe in freedom!

Believing in freedom

Truly believing in freedom means (in no particular order):
  • also believing in democracy

  • understanding that a genuine belief in freedom is much much more than a few patriotic slogans

  • understanding that all of the mainstream democracies in the world today (partial list: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States - please see notes below) provide their citizens with essentially equivalent levels of freedom (i.e. no one country has a monopoly on freedom or a significantly greater amount or belief in freedom than the other mainstream democracies)

  • believing that the other person's rights and freedoms are as important as your rights and freedoms

  • believing in freedom of speech even when you disagree with what is being said (see notes)

  • believing in universal sufferage (i.e. all citizens of an appropriate age have the right to vote with a definition of citizen which is quite inclusive)

  • believing in the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty even when the bastard is obviously as guilty as sin

  • remembering what Benjamin Franklin said above (i.e. Those who are willing to sacrifice essential freedom for security deserve neither.) and really believing it to be true

  • believing in the notion of habeas corpus and that it applies to everyone

  • understanding that there is no such thing as a free lunch

  • keeping in mind that, ultimately, the only thing that anyone can force you to do is die

  • understanding that your rights stop when they are about to infringe on someone else's equivalent rights (see notes)

  • understanding that true freedom is worth risking your life for

  • understanding that you can't possibly truly believe in something that you don't understand

  • understanding that truly believing in freedom is hard work

The proverbial to-do list

You're right - it isn't a very long list. Feel free to take your time but get on with the job.

P.S. I'm a long ways from personally completing all of the items on this list.


  • I have no plans to expand the list of examples of countries which have mainstream democracies (it is representative even though it is not complete). I will reduce the list if I've made a mistake (i.e. included a country which doesn't belong) so feel free to "clue me in"

  • While I'm a strong believer in freedom of speech, there are a few qualifications including:

    • freedom of speech doesn't give someone the right to yell "FIRE!" in a crowded movie theater (unless, of course, there is actually a fire)
    • freedom of speech doesn't given someone the right to libel or slander someone

    (this is not a complete list of qualifications)

  • The whole notion of the relative importance of different rights is far beyond the scope of this writeup. Suffice it to say that the courts have, do and will make decisions which balance or trade-off various rights.

  • The "to-do" list needs to be longer. Any suggestions?

  • None of the statements above is aimed at any particular person, group of persons or country. This specifically includes those statements which appear to be aimed at a particular person, group of persons or country.

  • The Reporters Without Borders published their first worldwide press freedom index on 2002/10/23. It's an interesting list with a few surprises.

  • By making a belief in freedom symmetric (reflexive?) with a belief in democracy, my intent is to make it clear that they come as a pair (i.e. you don't get to just believe in one of them). I will grant that this doesn't quite match the formal definition of democracy which includes the possibility of mob rule (as pointed out below by robwicks's writeup below) but that's part of why I tied a belief in democracy to a belief in freedom.

  • This writeup is a companion to my believing in democracy writeup. They both exist as separate writeups as it may be useful to be able to link to either of them.

  • I'm a Canadian citizen living in Canada who happens to believe that the greatest danger facing freedom in any of the mainstream democracies today is the complacency of their electorates.

P.S. I agree with the views expressed by robwicks below. The caveats that he places on belief in democracy are REALLY important. Fanaticism of any sort, including a fanatic belief in democracy or even freedom, usually leads to lots of pain and sorrow all around.

I should probably also say that I am more than a little uncomfortable with the notion of pure democracy (a form of government in which, roughly speaking, the entire electorate is elligible to vote on every proposed law). The mainstream democracies are, without exception, representative democracies for a very simple reason - the typical citizen does not have the time to properly educate themselves on each issue so the citizenry elect representatives who are expected to "make a full time job" of casting "informed votes" on the issues.

I don't think a belief in freedom is the same as a belief in democracy. Democracy can essentially be mob rule. By its very nature, it means the actions of a minority may be constrained by the desires of the majority. This can mean freedom and privilege for one class, and slavery and oppression to the other. If one institutes democracy among a people with no traditions of freedom, and mistrust of others in their midst, disaster is an almost certain result.

The danger, it's true, is in the electorate, but complacency is not the only concern. It really isn't even the primary one in my book. It's respect for the rights of others. If the electorate maintains that, democracy can be a powerful force for freedom. When this respect wanes, terror and bloodshed are almost certain to follow.

See the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror for details. Indeed, what we see in Zimbabwe today with Robert Mugabe's confiscation of white farmers' farms is democracy. And even if you agree with this policy due to historical injustice, remember that the tides can turn against those who navigate them as easily as they can aid them. There is great peril in implementing the politics of popular opinion.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.