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


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 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


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

Ernst Jünger 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


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 quote 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 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


C. Bronte 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


J. J. Rousseau quote on autonomy


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

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract

Quotes About Self Control and Controlling Your Emotions


Confucius quote on autonomy


“He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.”



Plato quote on autonomy


“The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself…”



Aldous Huxley quote on autonomy


“Experience is not what happens to you — it’s how you interpret what happens to you.”

Aldous Huxley

Goethe quote on autonomy


“To think is easy. To act is hard. But the hardest thing in the world is to act in accordance with your thinking.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Ben Franklin quote on autonomy


“Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame.”

Benjamin Franklin


Lao Tzu quote on autonomy


“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”

Lao Tzu


Epictetus quote on autonomy


“If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.”



Oli Anderson quote on autonomy


“Unleash in the right time and place before you explode at the wrong time and place.”

Oli Anderson


Mavis Mazhura quote on autonomy


“Emotions can get in the way or get you on the way.”

Mavis Mazhura


Robert K. Cooper quote on autonomy

“If we lack emotional intelligence, whenever stress rises the human brain switches to autopilot and has an inherent tendency to do more of the same, only harder.  Which, more often than not, is precisely the wrong approach in today’s world.”

Robert K. Cooper



Hermann Hesse quote on autonomy

“I am superior to you only in one point: I’m awake, whereas you are only half awake, or completely asleep sometimes. I call a man awake who knows in his conscious reason his innermost unreasonable force, drives, and weaknesses and knows how to deal with them.”

Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund


Bruce Lee quote on autonomy

“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you, true power is sitting back and observing everything with logic, if words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.”

Bruce Lee


Marcus Aurelius quote on autonomy


“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations