This page contains a list of the best books on freedom/liberty. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on freedom. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about freedom. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.
Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on freedom/liberty in no particular order.
Freedom: An Introduction with Readings – Nigel Warburton
Publisher description: This introduction to the arguments about individual freedom is ideal for newcomers to philosophy or political thought. Each chapter considers a fundamental argument about the scope of individual freedom, including the concepts of negative and positive freedom, freedom of belief, the Harm Principle, and freedom of speech and expression. Each argument is then clearly linked to a reading from key thinkers on each of these problems: Isaiah Berlin, Jeremy Waldron, Jonathan Wolff, Bernard Williams, Ronald Dworkin, H.L.A. Hart and Charles Taylor. Key features include clear activities and discussion points, chapter summaries, and guides to further reading.
Freedom: Contemporary Liberal Perspectives – Katrin Flikschuh
Publisher description: In this engaging new book, Katrin Flikschuh offers an accessible introduction to divergent conceptions of freedom in contemporary liberal political philosophy. Beginning with a discussion of Isaiah Berlin’s seminal distinction between negative and positive liberty, the book goes on to consider Gerald MacCallums alternative proposal of freedom as a triadic concept. The abiding influence of Berlin’s argument on the writings of contemporary liberal philosophers such as Robert Nozick, Hillel Steiner, Ronald Dworkin and Joseph Raz, is fully explored in subsequent chapters.
Flikschuh shows that, instead of just one negative and one positive freedom tradition, contemporary liberal thinkers articulate the meaning and significance of liberal freedom in many different and often conflicting ways. What should we make of such diversity and disagreement? Should it undermine our confidence in the coherence of liberal freedom? Should we strive towards greater conceptual and normative unity?
Flikschuh argues that moral and political disagreement about freedom can often be traced back to differences in underlying metaphysical presuppositions and commitments. Yet these differences do not show liberal freedom debates to be confused or incoherent. On the contrary, they demonstrate the centrality of this philosophically elusive idea to the continued vitality of liberal political thinking.
Freedom: A Philosophical Anthology – I. Carter, M. Kramer & H. Steiner
Publisher description: Edited by leading contributors to the literature, Freedom: An Anthology is the most complete anthology on social, political and economic freedom ever compiled.
- Offers a broad guide to the vast literature on social, political and economic freedom.
- Contains selections from the best scholarship of recent decades as well as classic writings from Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Kant among others.
- General and sectional introductions help to orient the reader.
- Compiled and edited by three important contributors to the field.
The Liberty Reader – David Miller
Publisher description: For centuries past, the quest for liberty has driven political movements across the globe, inspiring revolutions in America, France, China and many other countries. Now, we have Iraq and the idea of liberation through preemption. What is this liberty that is so fervently pursued? Does it mean a private space for individuals, the capacity for free and rational choice, or collective self-rule? What is the difference between positive and negative liberty, or the relationship between freedom and coercion? Reflecting on these questions reveals a surprisingly rich landscape of ideas-and further questions. The Liberty Reader collects twelve of the most important and insightful essays on issues of freedom currently available. It is essential reading for students of social and political theory, political philosophy, and anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the variety of ideas and ideals behind perennial human strivings for liberty. Contributors Hannah Arendt, Isaiah Berlin, G. A. Cohen, T. H. Green, F. A. Hayek, Nancy Hirschman, Gerald C. MacCallum Jr., David Miller, Phillip Pettit, Quentin Skinner, Hillel Steiner, Charles Taylor.
The Oxford Handbook of Freedom – David Schmidtz & Carmen Pavel
Publisher description: We speak of being ‘free’ to speak our minds, free to go to college, free to move about; we can be cancer-free, debt-free, worry-free, or free from doubt. The concept of freedom (and relatedly the notion of liberty) is ubiquitous but not everyone agrees what the term means, and the philosophical analysis of freedom that has grown over the last two decades has revealed it to be a complex notion whose meaning is dependent on the context. The Oxford Handbook of Freedom will crystallize this work and craft the first wide-ranging analysis of freedom in all its dimensions: legal, cultural, religious, economic, political, and psychological. This volume includes 28 new essays by well regarded philosophers, as well some historians and political theorists, in order to reflect the breadth of the topic.
This handbook covers both current scholarship as well as historical trends, with an overall eye to how current ideas on freedom developed. The volume is divided into six sections: conceptual frames (framing the overall debates about freedom), historical frames (freedom in key historical periods, from the ancients onward), institutional frames (freedom and the law), cultural frames (mutual expectations on our ‘right’ to be free), economic frames (freedom and the market), and lastly psychological frames (free will in philosophy and psychology).
On Liberty – John Stuart Mill
Publisher description: Discussed and debated from time immemorial, the concept of personal liberty went without codification until the 1859 publication of On Liberty. John Stuart Mill’s complete and resolute dedication to the cause of freedom inspired this treatise, an enduring work through which the concept remains well known and studied.
The British economist, philosopher, and ethical theorist’s argument does not focus on “the so-called Liberty of the Will … but Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.” Mill asks and answers provocative questions relating to the boundaries of social authority and individual sovereignty. In powerful and persuasive prose, he declares that there is “one very simple principle” regarding the use of coercion in society — one may only coerce others either to defend oneself or to defend others from harm.
The new edition offers students of political science and philosophy, in an inexpensive volume, one of the most influential studies on the nature of individual liberty and its role in a democratic society.
Four Essays on Liberty – Isaiah Berlin
Publisher description: The four essays are `Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century’; `Historical Inevitability’, which the Economist described as `a magnificent assertion of the reality of human freedom, of the role of free choice in history’; `Two Concepts of Liberty’, a ringing manifesto for pluralism and individual freedom; and `John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life’. There is also a long and masterly introduction written specially for this collection, in which the author replies to his critics. This book is intended for students from undergraduate level upwards studying philosophy, history, politics.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
For more introductory philosophy resources and reading lists check out this collection of Resources and Reading Lists.