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Liberty, License, and Virtuous Self-Government in John Milton’s Writings

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Abstract

Throughout his writings, John Milton addressed the idea of genuine liberty or freedom over against the self-indulgence that he sometimes called license, a selfindulgence that inevitably leads to tyranny from within and from without. Indeed, Milton’s understanding of license inevitably includes the idea of abusing freedom to pursue some sort of fleshly indulgence, whereas his concept of genuine liberty focuses on the freedom for the moral person to live a virtuous life and pursue virtuous goals under the strictures of his own conscience in spite of the temptations and roadblocks offered by intemperate persons, stifling custom, or an interfering state. Significantly, Milton’s explicitly Christian ideal of genuine liberty emphasizes the need for virtuous self-government to characterize the truly free individual. Although Milton does not always employ the specific terms liberty or license, these concepts as well as the ideal of self-government can consistently be seen, implicitly or explicitly, with remarkable consistency throughout his four and a half decades of published writings.

David V. Urban, "Liberty, License, and Virtuous Self-Government in John Milton's Writings," Journal of Markets and Morality 17, no.1 (Spring 2014):143-166.

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