Edmund Burke: Social Versus Individual Liberty

Edmund Burke


November 1789

In a letter writte to Frenchman François Depont in November of 1789, 4 months after the outbreak of the French Revolution, British Statesman and defender of the American Revolution, Edmund Burke, draws a distinction between the individualist (or unfettered) theory of liberty versus social liberty (or simply justice):

Permit me then to continue our conversation, and to tell you what the freedom is that I love, and that to which I think all men entitled. This is the more necessary, because, of all the loose terms in the world, liberty is the most indefinite. It is not solitary, unconnected, individual, selfish liberty, as if every man was to regulate the whole of his conduct by his own will. The liberty I mean is social freedom. It is that state of things in which liberty is secured by the equality of restraint. A constitution of things in which the liberty of no one man, and no body of men, and no number of men, can find means to trespass on the liberty of any person, or any description of persons, in the society. This kind of liberty is, indeed, but another name for justice; ascertained by wise laws, and secured by well-constructed institutions.


Founders Corner is a project of Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.

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