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What if everything you thought you knew about freedom was wrong?

For generations of political activists, revolutionaries, utopians and dreamers, freedom has been the watchword of political struggle. People have stood on barricades and in front of tanks demanding it, wasted in prisons in defence of it and stood in front of firing squads for fighting for it. But what kind of freedom were they fighting for?

You might think they were fighting for their rights against an overreaching government – and therefore freedom is primarily freedom from being governed. But, says historian Annelien de Dijn, that’s wrong. Instead, she argues that the freedom which motivated ancient Greek democrats, French revolutionaries and socialist radicals alike was above all a democratic freedom – the freedom to participate in government. She joins James Butler to take a tour through the evolution of freedom from ancient origins, through the tumult of revolution, to today’s so-called populists.

Annelien De Dijn’s Freedom: An Unruly History is out now from Harvard University Press.

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