The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Speaking Freely #29: Quotes About Rights and Liberty

One project for this page is to collect verified quotes by decent figures in history about the nature of rights and liberty. We quote people from across the moderate middle, from “liberal” to “conservative.” I believe when these hundreds of quotes are read they present a coherent statement on the values of a free, decent society where the rights of all are respected.

We are all caught into a single garment of destiny…before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on half the world.
Martin Luther King Jr. • 1929–1968

Take nothing on its looks, take everything on evidence. There is no better rule.
Great Expectations (film) 1946

Civilization rests on the fact that we all benefit from knowledge which we do not possess.
F.A. Hayek • 1829–1968

Where is the society which does not struggle along under a dead-weight of tradition and law inherited from its grandfather?
Suzanne LaFollette • 1893–1983

We do not mean merely freedom from restraint or compulsion. We do not mean merely freedom to do as we like, irrespectively of what it is that we like. We do not mean a freedom that can be enjoyed by one man or one set of men at the cost of a loss of freedom to others. When we speak of freedom as something to be highly prized, we mean a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying, and that, too, something that we do or enjoy in common with others. We mean by it a power which each man exercises through the help or security given him by his fellow-men, and which he in turn helps to secure for them. When we measure the progress of a society by the growth in freedom, we measure it by the increasing development and exercise on the whole of those powers of contributing to social good with which we believe the members of the society to be endowed; in short, by the greater power on the part of the citizens as a body to make the most and best of themselves.
Prof. T.H. Greene • 1836–1882

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.
Voltaire • 1694–1778

The first law of decency is to preserve the liberty of others, the second is to demonstrate one’s own freedom.
Friedrich Schiller • 1759 –1805

Christianity… has suffered more injury by its pretended friends, who have undertaken to regulate it by law, than it has from all its enemies.
Rev. John Leland • 1754–1841

Virtually all ideologues, of any variety, are fearful and insecure, which is why they are drawn to ideologies that promise prefabricated answers for all circumstances.
Jane Jacobs • 1916–2006

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of law’ because law is often by the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
Thomas Jefferson • 1743–1826

The search for liberty is simply part of the greater search for a world where respect for the rule of law and human rights is universal — a world free of dictators, terrorists, warmongers and fanatics, where men and women of all nationalities, races, traditions and creeds can coexist in the culture of freedom, where borders give way to bridges that people cross to reach their goals limited only by free will and respect for one another’s rights. It is a search to which I’ve dedicated my writing, and so many have taken notice. But is it not a search to which we should all devote our very lives? The answer is clear when we see what is at stake.
Mario Vargas Llosa • 1936–

The totalitarian states, whether of the fascist or the communist persuasion, are more than superficially alike as dictatorships, in the suppression of dissent, and in operating planned and directed economies. They are profoundly alike.
Walter Lippman • 1899–1974

There is no more dangerous man in a free country, in a democracy, than an official who thinks he is better than the laws. The good man in office should be most careful not to set a bad example or precedent for his bad successor, who will come along sooner or later.
William Gaynor • 1849–1913

While the choices we make may be foolish or self-destructive—bungee jumping is my favorite example of insanity—there is still the overriding principle that we cannot allow the micromanaging of each other’s lives.
George McGovern • 1922–2012

If one considers the peaceful cooperation of all men as the goal of social evolution, one cannot permit the peace to be disturbed by priests and fanatics. Liberalism proclaims tolerance for every religious faith and every metaphysical belief, not out of indifference for these “higher” things, but from the conviction that the assurance of peace within society must take precedence over everything and everyone.
Ludwig Mises • 1881–1973

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.
Harvey Fierstein • 1954 –

Those men who wish to be feared cannot but themselves be afraid of the very men who fear them.
Cicero • 106 BC – 43 BC

The relationship that springs up between benefactor and beneficiary is, for this present state of the world, a refining one. Having power to muzzle awhile those propensities of the savage which yet linger in us — corrective as it of the cold, hard state of feeling in which the every-day business of life is pursued — and drawing closer as it does those links of mutual dependence which keep society together — charity is in its nature essentially civilizing.
Herbert Spencer • 1820 –1903

Thought Of equality- as if it harm’d me,
giving others the same chances
and rights as myself
as if it were not indispensable
to my own rights
that others possess the same.
Walt Whitman • 1819 –1892

Man must have the right of choice, even to choose wrong, if he shall ever learn to choose right.
Josiah Wedgewood • 1730 –1795

Any time we deny any citizen the full exercise of his constitutional rights, we are weakening our own claim to them.
Dwight Eisenhower • 1890 –1969

We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.
Will Rogers • 1879 –1935


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James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.