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Ancient Conceptions, Medieval Conceptions, Modern Conceptions, Contemporary Conceptions, Islamic World, India, China

Liberty is an integral concept in Western political and social thought. Liberty as an inalienable social and political attribute of individuals emerged in the formation of the modern political discourse in the West. Since Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) the concept has often been categorized in a threefold manner: moral liberties (freedom of moral choice, such as freedom of conscience), civil liberties (freedom of individuals as constituting members of a civil society, such as freedom of speech) and political liberties (freedom of individuals in relation to the state, such as freedom of political association), all being attributes of individuals. Pre-modern Europe, by contrast, did not necessarily attribute liberties to individuals but to social relations and communities. Non-Western worlds did not produce an idea equivalent to liberty in their own intellectual traditions. Around the nineteenth century, however, they assimilated the Occidental idea of liberty primarily as a concept denoting the independence of the nation state rather than the liberties of individual human beings. In what follows we shall survey Western conceptions of liberty chronologically, and discuss the Islamic, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese variations of it.

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