Ama-gi, a Sumerian word, is the earliest written symbol that represents the idea of freedom

The ama-gi, a Sumerian cuneiform word, is the earliest known written symbol representing the idea of freedom. Our English word "freedom" comes from an Indo-European root that means "to love." Cognates of the English word "freedom" include the Old High German word for "peace" and our English word "afraid" from a Vulgar Latin word for breaking the peace

Liberty Leading the People, a personification of Liberty.








FREEDOM, the ability to act without restraint, may refer to:
  • freedom (philosophy), the ability to act consciously, in a well-balanced manner and with self control in a given constructive direction;
  • freedom (political), the right or the capacity of self-determination as an expression of the individual will.

In the context of internal control, freedom is also known as self-determination, individual sovereignty, or autonomy. The protection of interpersonal freedom can be the object of a social and political investigation, while the metaphysical foundation of inner freedom is a philosophical and psychological question. Both forms of freedom come together in each individual as the internal and external values mesh together in a dynamic compromise and power struggle; the society fighting for power in defining the values of individuals and the individual fighting for societal acceptance and respect in establishing one's own values in it. Spiritually, freedom encompasses the peaceful acceptance of reality. The theological question of freedom generally focuses on reconciling the experience or reality of inner freedom with the omnipotence of the divine.

Presence of freedom in all it's forms remains an issue. In this context, famous is FDR's Annual Message to the Congress January 6, 1941, an address to the Members of the Seventy-seventh Congress at a moment unprecedented in the history of the Union, due to the threatening of Amercan security. FDR speeched to focus the future days and to seek to make it secure,and to look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms:

  • The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
  • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
  • The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants - everywhere in the world.
  • The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.


The Four Freedoms were goals articulated by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 6, 1941. In an address known as the Four Freedoms speech (technically the 1941 State of the Union address). Roosevelt delivered his speech 11 months before the United States declared war on Japan, December 8, 1941. The State of the Union speech before Congress was largely about the national security of the United States and the threat to other democracies from world war that was being waged across the continents in the eastern hemisphere. In the speech, he made a break with the tradition of United States non-interventionism that had long been held in the United States. He outlined the U.S. role in helping allies already engaged in warfare.

In that context, he summarized the values of democracy behind the bipartisan consensus on international involvement that existed at the time. A famous quote from the speech prefaces those values: "As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone." In the second half of the speech, he lists the benefits of democracy, which include economic opportunity, employment, social security, and the promise of "adequate health care". The first two freedoms, of speech and religion, are protected by the First Amendment in the United States Constitution. His inclusion of the latter two freedoms went beyond the traditional Constitutional values protected by the U.S. Bill of Rights. Roosevelt endorsed a broader human right to economic security and anticipated what would become known decades later as the "human security" paradigm in social science and economic development. He also included the "freedom from fear" against national aggression and took it to the new United Nations he was setting up.

With the event ‘Roosevelt in The Hague‘ the Roosevelt Foundation and The Hague Institute for Global Justice together aim to engage, develop and test policy and educational frameworks that will enable key stakeholders to address the Four Freedoms effectively in our time. The event will inter alia involve the various fields of work of former, present and future Four Freedoms Awards Laureates.

The Peace Palace, the Roosevelt Foundation and The Hague Institute for Global Justice hosted the Roosevelt Awards Laureates Event entitled ‘Roosevelt in The Hague,’ chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Constantijn. In the presence of the Laureates who have received a Four Freedoms Award during the Four Freedoms Awards Ceremony the day before in Middelburg, the event meant to present each of the Laureates and their field of activities they are working in; they are:

Values, achievements and government models, such as stability, poverty threshold, democracy that should provide sufficient, peace, human rights, are taken for granted. But constantly shows that efforts and fights should be made to keep and to increase these levels. Education and sustainable connection with the youth, are ways to create a better world.



An absence of restraint

It means unwilling to subjugate, lacking submission, or without forceful inequality. The achievement of this form of freedom depends upon a combination of the resist of the individual (or group) and one's (their) environment; if one is in jail or even limited by a lack of resources, this person is free within their power and environment, but not free to defy reality. Natural laws restrict this form of freedom; for instance, no one is free to fly (though we may or may not be free to attempt to do so). Isaiah Berlin appears to call this kind of freedom "negative freedom" - an absence of obstacles put in the way of my action (especially by other people). He distinguishes this from "positive freedom", which refers to my power to make choices leading to action.

Freedom has often been used a rallying cry for revolution or rebellion. For instance, the Bible records the story of Moses leading his people out of slavery, and into freedom. In his famous "I Have a Dream" speech Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted an old spiritual song sung by black American slaves: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we are free at last!"

Inner autonomy

Freedom can also signify inner autonomy, or mastery over one's inner condition. This has several possible significances:

  • the ability to act in accordance with the dictates of reason;

  • the ability to act in accordance with one's own true self or values;

  • the ability to act in accordance with universal values (such as the True and the Good); and

  • the ability to act independently of both the dictates of reason and the urges of desires, i.e. arbitrarily (autonomously).

In a play by Hans Sachs, the Greek philosopher Diogenes speaks to Alexander the Great, saying: You are my servants' servant. The philosopher has conquered fear, lust, and anger; Alexander still serves these masters. Though he has conquered the world without, he has not yet mastered the world within. This kind of mastery is dependent upon no one and nothing other than ourselves. Richard Lovelace's poem echoes this experience:

'Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage
Minds innocent and quiet take that for an hermitage'.

Notable 20th century individuals who have exemplified this form of freedom include Nelson Mandela, Rabbi Leo Baeck, Gandhi, Lech Wałęsa and Václav Havel.

The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that the condition of freedom was inherent to humanity, an inevitable facet of the possession of a soul and sapience, with the implication that all social interactions subsequent to birth imply a loss of freedom, voluntarily or involuntarily.

Historical origins

The ama-gi, a Sumerian cuneiform word, is the earliest known written symbol representing the idea of freedom.Our English word "freedom" comes from an Indo-European root that means "to love." Cognates of the English word "freedom" include the Old High German word for "peace" and our English word "afraid" from a Vulgar Latin word for breaking.


Political freedom is the right, or the capacity and ability, of self-determination as an expression of the individual will.

  • Political freedom is the absence of political restraints, particularly with respect to speech, religious practice, and the press.

  • Personal liberty can refer to not being in prison (including not being a victim of false imprisonment). It may also refer to the enjoyment of all of the privileges of membership of a place or club (as in the honour, the Freedom of the City), financial freedom or anarchism.

  • Freedom of choice, i.e. free will.

  • Freedom of speech is similar to freedom of information, but refers to a general lack of such restrictions (on the creation, use, modification and dissemination of ideas) in a society by the government or those that hold power in that society.

  • Economic freedom usually means the degree to which economic actors are unfettered by governmental restrictions, as in the Index of Economic Freedom. Critics of capitalistic free markets equate Economic freedom with economic power. Some economists, such as those responsible for the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index, frame the issue of economic freedom as "the degree to which the public sector interferes with the private sector," and argue that the less a government acts to interfere with the economic freedom of businesses and individuals (such as through taxation or law), the healthier the economy will tend to be. Other schools of economic thought argue that the public sector need not always be seen as an unwanted intruder on the economy, that government action should not be seen as necessarily interfering or freedom-infringing. (See also, ) Economic freedom is rarely attainable.

  • Freedom of thought is also known as freedom of conscience and refers to the right of an individual to hold a particular thought, belief or viewpoint regardless of those held by others.

  • Psychological freedom, i.e. the ability to make the choice to not be afraid of failure in its most basic form.

  • Being not in any relationship (be it a romantic relationship or a cooperative, for example), free to do what one wants, including starting a new relationship or having relationship tests (like one-night-stands, casual physical intimacy, etc).

  • Freedom of education closely resembles autodidacticism, which views modern schooling as a dismal system of captivity. Students have traditionally seen gaps in the school year as freedom from their oppression. This idea is not to be confused with liberal education, as one may interpret them as opposites.

  • Software freedom or other freedom of information (or ideas); i.e.: information (esp. software) being free of technological or (more commonly) legal restrictions on its use, modification, distribution and (less often restricted) creation. See also: Free software, Open source and gratis software.

  • Leaving one's parents' home and coming of age.

  • The absence of interactions in physics; for example, asymptotic freedom discovered by David Gross, David Politzer, and Frank Wilczek.

  • Political philosopher Gerald MacCallum designed the following concept of freedom, allowing for its 'fleshing out' into many different conceptions: "X is free/not free from Y to do/not do/become/not become Z."

  • To the Jews who believed Him Jesus said "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

  • Freedom from government and Church - Christian anarchism

Types of freedom

The concept of political freedom is closely allied with the concepts of civil liberties and human rights. Most democratic societies are characterized by various freedoms which are afforded the legal protection of the state. Some of these freedoms may include (in alphabetical order):

  • Freedom of assembly
    Freedom of association
    Freedom to bear arms
    Freedom from government sanctioned discrimination
    Freedom of education
    Freedom of movement (or travel)
    Freedom of the press
    Freedom of religion (or belief)
    Freedom of speech
    Freedom of thought
    Sexual freedom
    Intellectual freedom
    Freedom from military occupation, colonialism, or Imperialism (see Freedom Fighter)


Various groups along the political spectrum naturally differ on what they believe constitutes "true" political freedom. Friedrich Hayek famously noted that "liberty" and "freedom" have probably been the most abused words in recent history.

In libertarianism, freedom is defined in terms of interference with the individual pursuit of happiness either by government or other persons, where interference is defined as unreasonably preventing others from realising their will in their chosen course of action or in their use of things. Contrary to popular belief, libertarians are not pro-business. Rather, they simply oppose interference in any consenting acts between adults, including capitalist acts. Generally businesses favour regulations that protect them from competition, which requires many restrictions on consenting capitalist acts between adults. Libertarians call for freedom from coercion, governmental and civilian, in social, political, and economic matters.

On the other hand, those on the political left place more emphasis on freedom as the ability of the individual to realize one's own potential and pursuit of happiness. Freedom in this sense may include freedom from want, poverty, deprivation, or oppression.

Many anarchists with the exception of individualist anarchists, anarcho-capitalists, and particularly anarchists that don't qualify their type of anarchism see negative and positive liberty as complementary concepts of freedom. Anarchists that recognize the concepts of negative and positive liberty tend to be left-leaning anarchists such as communist anarchists.

Some treat freedom as if it were almost synonymous with democracy, while others see conflicts or even opposition between the two concepts. For example, some people argue that Iraq was free under Paul Bremer because it was a rational, humanist, non-subjugating government, long before elections were held. However, others have argued that Iraq was free under Saddam Hussein because Iraq was not a colony {[fact}}.

Environmentalists often argue that political freedoms should include some social constraint on use of ecosystems. They maintain there is no such thing, for instance, as "freedom to pollute" or "freedom to deforest" given the downstream consequences. 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 autonomously determine one's own actions; 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.

Recent trends

In modern times the expansion of "freedom" around the world is considered by some to be synonymous with increased participation in democratic political systems. In the 20th Century, the world observed a great reverse in terms of political situation, since the revolutionary struggles in areas of the world suddenly succeeded in establishing freedom from foreign colonialists and domination, at least in places like Africa, even though others may argue that the Cold War caused most of these new states to become puppet states for various regimes such as in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Freedom of expression in the age of inequality 1 (Zeki Ergas *). Nothing straight has ever been made from the crooked timber of humanity (Immanuel Kant)

So suddenly, unexpectedly, revolution broke out in the Arab world. A true revolution ignited by a Tunisian man who turned himself into a human torch by setting his body on fire. Little did he know that his gesture triggered by hopelessness and despair would be the spark would start a massive forest fire that would rapidly spread to the whole Arab world. But the Arab world was not alone to feel the hear generated by this massive fire: the old citadels of intolerance and repression - inter alia, China, Iran, Myanmar, Cuba, North Korea, and so on,
– must have felt it too. The response of the West was, as usual, ambivalent and ambiguous: between the wish of helping 'our Arab brothers' and the fear that this massive fire may cross the natural boundaries of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and reach the shores of Western Europe and North America. The truth is that nobody knows what is going to happen, and where the fire will stop. I believe that the revolutionary movement will spread to Western Europe and North America. Why? Because there is a lot that is wrong in the
Western world and needs to be fixed. What? The fallacy of democracy in the United States, for example, which is being used as a tool for a shameless oligarchy. As for Western Europe, it is caught between the Charybdis of its selfishness and the Scylla of the risk of invasion by poor and desperate migrants. The fascist and extreme right political parties are on the march.

This paper is primarily concerned by the question of freedom of expression (FE) which is - together with the freedoms of association and of religion, and free and fair elections, etc. - one of the essential conditions of democracy. I believe that credibility and honesty require that we should begin by examining the real situation 'at home' before pointing out at the shortcomings elsewhere. The arrival on the scene of Wikileaks which has completely transformed the 'situation' is very relevant and revealing in that respect. Thus, the questions that I shall try
briefly to 'deal with' are: Who owns the mass media, especially television? What are the goals and purposes of the owners of the mass media? What can we say about censorship, and especially, self-censorship in the Western world?

Some philosophical considerations.
To begin with, we must recognize that FE is not, cannot be, absolute or perfect, and that there are, and always will be, limitations to its application, that owing primarily to the fact that human beings and, therefore, human societies, are not, and cannot be, perfect. We must, therefore, aim, not to a perfect FE, but to one that helps us to achieve a society that is as good as possible. What does that mean? Here, I believe, Isaiah Berlin's well-known essay, Two Concepts of Liberty, in which he argues convincingly that the impossibility of a human society to be perfect is related to the impossibility of achieving simultaneously the perfection of its 2 three ultimate values, liberty, equality and justice. That is impossible, Berlin argues very convincingly, because the perfection of the one of them, say, liberty or equality (a theoretical possibility, not a practical one), would necessarily come at the expense of the other two.
Therefore, in human societies, Berlin pursues his demonstration, we are forced, or obliged, to seek an optimal combination of these three ultimate values, liberty, equality and justice. And that requires making concessions, or compromises, based on constant dialogue, or negotiations.

These optimal combinations mean a constant struggle because they involve a large number of actors or 'players' and the social, economic, cultural and spiritual 'conditions' vary enormously from one society, or country to another. Let us take three extreme examples to cover some of the ideological spectrum. In the United States, for historical reasons – a nation of immigrants, the conquest of the West, etc. – the value of liberty is of paramount importance. In Western Europe, the continent of the French and Russian Revolutions (even if the latter ended as an abysmal failure), liberty also comes first but, so to speak, shares top billing with equality. As for justice, Berlin's third 'ultimate dimension', which is based on the law, it, by its very nature, has a bias that favors the 'haves', as opposed to have-nots, because the former have interests and privileges to protect and to promote, and they use the law to do that. Berlin writes in his essay mentioned above: What does liberty mean to a starving Ethiopian? Nothing else than the liberty to starve ... We can say, with equal pertinence: What do justice and equality mean for a starving Ethiopian? Admittedly, nothing very much. It seems therefore that before arguing about the existence or non-existence of these three ultimate values in a society, we need to make sure that the problem of extreme poverty is solved. Otherwise, they are meaningless and irrelevant.

Some Thoughts on the Political Economy of Freedom of Expression
Today, there is a wide consensus that the main life-and-death issues that humanity as a whole must confront are (not necessarily in that order): global warming, nuclear weapons proliferation, extreme poverty, 3 the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, and international terrorism. Global warming can cause the destruction of the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people and result in massive migration; nuclear weapons proliferation could end up in global nuclear war and the end of 'civilization' as we know it; extreme poverty and the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots can result in revolution; and international terrorism can (it has already) cause the loss in the Western world of the three ultimate values, and catastrophic damage, if it can lay its hands on nuclear weapons.

This is the global environment in which FE has to operate. Its direct consequence is, im my view, that FE, to be credible, must aim at building a better world. That means, we need to live more frugal lives and to share more.

Increasingly, there is a growing recognition that the current paradigm based on the two global dimensions of the market and state is not working. That we need to add to it a third dimension based on the people, or the community. Ultimately, the goal is not accumulating profits and power (the principles of the two global dimensions mentioned above), but living well (a concept adopted, it seems, by Brazil: the Bemvivir) which aims at harmony and inclusion, and not competition and exclusion.

As already mentioned in the Introduction, the political economy of FE means asking ourselves the following questions: What is FE? Who controls it? And more importantly: What are the means, the instruments, the tools through which that control is realized? FE is the possibility of speaking freely and, more importantly, that of being heard. However, speaking freely to friends and family means relatively little. What really counts is having access to print and electronic media that shape public opinion. But the mass or mainstream media is controlled by a small number of holding companies owned by a few extremely wealthy men who are their main shareholders. These men have an undeniable interest in the perpetuation of the status quo which is largely dominated by large multinational corporations MNCs). That is the reality of our 'neo-liberal' and globalized world. Thus, the media moguls are important stars in the constellation of forces that make the big decisions. The decisive actors or players are the large MNCs and their allies, the governments. Banks that are 'too big to fail' were saved by the injection of hundreds of billions of dollars, euros, yens and Swiss francs of tax-payers' money. These powerful players meet annually in the World Economic Forum and, for the Trilateral Commission (whose deliberations are secret), at various other places.

A final word about censorship and self-censorship. Open and direct censorship is rare in the Western world. However, self-censorship is common and an important part of the 'system'. The editors of newspapers, and television and radio stations know where the limits are and are careful not to cross them. Wikileaks is major threat to this 'system'. Thus, the all-out 'war' to 'get' its founder and charismatic leader, Julian Assange. If the American can succeed in having him extradited, the chances that he will be 'destroyed' are great. However, it seems
likely that Wikileaks will continue even without Assange, and that is very good news for the Western and the rest of the world. The al-Jazeera television news channel is, increasingly, playing a similar role in the Arab world. Wikileaks and al-Jazeera may be the front-runner of a revolution in the information, and that is a very hopeful development.

The Age of Inequality (AI). The MDGs Versus Reality

The tenth anniversary the UN campaign of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been recently celebrated with great pomp and fanfare in New York. More than a hundred heads of state and government were present. The MDG campaign was launched in September 2000, at the beginning of the third millennium, when the powers that be of our world realized that something special, that would strike the imaginations, was needed to show they were concerned about the persistence of extreme poverty in the world. More than a billion people
lived with less than a dollar a day (and, another two billions, with less than three dollars a day). So, the MDG campaign was launched to cut poverty in half by the year 2015 by undertaking action in eight areas: extreme poverty (directly), universal education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, AIDS/HIV, environmental protection and global partnership. In the ten years that elapsed since the year 2000, some, but insufficient, progress was realized in some of these areas: universal education, by increasing significantly the
number of girls going to school, and AIDS/HIV, and, a bit less, gender equality, child and maternal health. Environmental protection and global partnership (between leaders of the developed and developing worlds) leaves a lot to be desired.

Insofar as extreme poverty is concerned, the results fall far from being satisfactory. The total number of extremely poor people have slightly decreased in the world, dropping from about one billion to some 850 million people. But that was primarily due to the extraordinary economic growth in China and, less so, in India, and to the success of the poverty reduction programs in Brazil. In Africa, the total number of extremely poor people has, if anything, increased. The culprits are: civil wars, unemployment, the persistence of preventable diseases, lack of access to clean water, etc. AND, by far last but not least, corruption. Let us face it: corruption is literally killing Africa (as it has been, together with unemployment and poverty 'killing' the Arab world). Its most recent expression is the 'land deals': millions of acres of land that are 'leased' for 99 years to foreign state-owned corporations and business conglomerates - China, South Korea and the Emirates are among the big buyers – that are granted ten-year tax holidays and create little or no employment and whose agricultural production is exclusively exported. 5

Some tentative conclusions
The champions of FE in the West will object : All these things that you are mentioning in this paper, and especially in the preceding two sections, are out in the open, and they are being discussed and debated freely. True and not true. But, the point is that: firstly, nothing changes really, as the French say, Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose; and, secondly, certain subjects are taboo. Sharing is discussed, but not limits to income and wealth. It is clear that real change, structural change, demands the establishment of limits to income and wealth.
How can we talk of ethics and social justice when billionaires and extremely poor people who make less than a dollar day co-exist on the same little planet? I believe that, in a century or two -- if humanity survives that long –, our descendants will judge us very severely. They will not 'understand' how such a situation could exist for such a long time. After all, 2.500 years ago, Aristotle, in his famous Doctrine of the (Golden) Mean, taught us that all excesses are harmful and that virtue is always to be found in moderation, between the two extremes of
excess and deficiency, and that applies to wealth income as well.

So, and to conclude, while it is true that FE cannot be absolute or perfect, owing primarily to the fact that human beings and human societies are not, cannot be, perfect, we must aim at having a global society that is as good as possible. That requires concessions and compromises, tolerance and constant dialogue. FE needs to operate within the context of the need to build a better world, a world in which there is more sharing. A world that is more free, more equal and more just than the present one.

* The author can be reached at:

1. I owe the term 'The Age of Inequality' to P. Sainath, the Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu (newspaper). He used it in a conference on that subject that took place on September 24, 2010 in New Delhi.
2. In addition to Two Concepts of Liberty, Isaiah Berlin wrote, Historical Inevitability, a sister essay. Much later, he wrote, My Intellectual Path, an article he published in the New York Review of Books on May 14, 1998.
3. In a recent essay, I have described extreme poverty as 'genocide by omission', because the rich and developed countries had the means to do anyway with it, but chose not to do it. See: Is Extreme Poverty a Form of Genocide by Omission? in, Ergas, Z., In Search of a Better World (Robinco, Budapest, 2008) pp. 66-72
4. I was astonished to discover that the term exists also in Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche, an important indigenous population in Chile. It is called Küme Mogen (in Spanish Buen Vivir) I believe that we have a lot to learn from the indigenous populations of Latin America - the Aymara in Bolivia, for example, who elected Evo Morales, president of the Republic - in search of a new paradigm.
5. See: International Land Deals in Africa. It is the first detailed study of large scale land acquisitions in Africa

Let Freedom Ring, 28 August 2013