The world is a big place. But at the end of the day, all we have control over is our own little corner of it, which begins with the self.

There is no arguing that we live in an unfree world. However, we can carve out our own space of freedom within it. Personal autonomy is absolutely crucial for anyone seeking to make a free life for themselves in a world where personal freedom is hemmed in on all sides from both state and private institutions.

Everyone worth their salt wants to be free. The question is how we go about doing this in a world where it is so difficult. In the hardest of situations, it can be helpful to simply know that others have confronted the same challenges as you and have overcome them.

Mastery of the self begins with controlling one’s emotions. When we are a slave to our emotions how can we ever be otherwise free? Again: The world around us is largely out of our control, but we can control ourselves. The only way to do this properly is by controlling our emotions.

All of this is easier said than done. But perhaps these quotes will help you to see the path forward when nothing else will.

Quotes About Autonomy and Self Rule


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe quote on autonomy


“He alone is great and happy, who requires neither to command nor to obey, in order to secure his being of some importance in the world.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Wendy McElroy quote on autonomy


“Every human being has a fundamental obligation to determine what is just and then to act according to his or her conscience, even if it contradicts the majority or the law. One’s moral conscience is what makes someone fully human.”

Wendy McElroy, paraphrasing Henry David Thoreau


Henry David Thoreau quote on autonomy


“I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”

Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience


Ernst Jünger quote on autonomy


“A basic theme for the anarch is how man, left to his own devices, can defy superior forces – whether state, society, or the elements – by making use of their rules without submitting to them.”

– Ernst JüngerEumeswil


Ernst Junger quote on autonomy


“‘It is strange,’ Sir William Parry wrote when describing the igloos on Winter Island, ‘it is strange to think that all these measure are taken against the cold – and in houses of ice.’”

Ernst Jünger, Eumeswill


Muhammad Ali quote on autonomy


“I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be who I wanna be and think what I wanna think.”

Muhammad Ali


Charlie Chaplin quote on autonomy


“As for politics, I’m an anarchist. I hate governments and rules and fetters. Can’t stand caged animals. People must be free.”

Charlie Chaplin


William Penn quotes on autonomy


“Wear none of thine own chains; but keep free, whilst thou art free.”

William Penn, “Some Fruits of Solitude,” 1693


Davy Crockett quote on autonomy


“I bark at no man’s bid. I will never come and go, and fetch and carry, at the whistle of the great man in the White House no matter who he is.”

Davy Crockett


Lao Tzu quote on autonomy


“Knowing others is intelligence;

knowing yourself is true wisdom.

Mastering others is strength;

mastering yourself is true power.”

Lao Tzu


George Carlin quote on autonomy


“I have always viewed [this culture] from a safe distance, knowing I don’t belong; it doesn’t include me, and it never has. No matter how you care to define it, I do not identify with the local group. Planet, species, race, nation, state, religion, party, union, club, association, neighborhood, improvement committee; I have no interest in any of it. I love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.”

George Carlin, Brain Droppings


Marlon Brando quote on autonomy


“There’s a line in the picture where he snarls, ‘Nobody tells me what to do.’ That’s exactly how I’ve felt all my life.”

Marlon Brando


Walt Whitman quote on autonomy


“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.

You must travel it by yourself.

It is not far. It is within reach.

Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.

Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”

Walt Whitman


Patrick Henry quote on autonomy


“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Patrick Henry


Sam Adams quote on autonomy


“Our unalterable resolution should be to be free.”

Sam Adams, to James Warren, 1776


Thomas Stephen Szasz quote on autonomy


“Malcolm X and Edmund Burke shared an appreciation of this important insight, this painful truth — that the state wants men to be weak and timid, not strong and proud.”

Thomas Stephen SzaszCeremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts and Pushers


Epictetus quote on autonomy


“No person is free who is not master of himself.”



Bruce Lee quote on autonomy


“True mastery transcends any particular art. It stems from mastery of oneself—the ability, developed through self-discipline, to be calm, fully aware, and completely in tune with oneself and the surroundings. Then, and only then, can a person know himself.”

Bruce Lee


Charlotte Brontë quote on autonomy


“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre


Jean-Jacques Rousseau quote on autonomy


“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract