The triumph of external freedom: Conflicting liberties and modernities in comparative perspective

C. K. Martin Chung*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In June of 1945, Thomas Mann gave a talk at the Library of Congress in Washington, in which he contrasted two concepts of freedom: “external” and “internal.” External freedom (äußere Freiheit) is understood in the context of a nation’s relations to the outside world. It demands the right to be oneself in defense against anything that attempts to limit that collective individualism. Internal freedom (innere Freiheit), on the other hand, is a moral-political concept understood in the context of the relationship between the citizens and the state. Mann lamented that in German history up until then, the concept of external freedom had always triumphed over the concept of internal freedom. “[It is] an externally oriented, defiant individualism in relation to the world, to Europe, to civilization. Internally, it comes with a disturbing measure of illiberality, immaturity, and insipid subservience.” This essay uses Mann’s insight to reassess the revolutionary thought of Sun Yat-sen. It attempts to answer the question of whether and how the tensions seen by Mann in pre-1945 Germany also manifested themselves in Sun’s Sanmin-ism, the Three Principles of the People. The argument of this essay is that weiquan, or rights protection, has undergone a transformation in recent history from an internal concept of civil rights protection to an externally-oriented “defense” of sovereignty. Furthermore, the essay asserts that such a triumph of external over internal freedom seems to be a continual presence in the Chinese process of modernization thus far.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCultures, Nationalism and Populism
Subtitle of host publicationNew Challenges to Multilateralism
EditorsThomas Meyer, José Luís de Sales Marques, Mario Telò
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780429260421
ISBN (Print)9780367202460, 9780367202477
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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