Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. (Approximately 73,700 attributions to Freud, as of 2012-10-31)

There do not appear to be any common alternate forms.


This quote is FAKE.

Probable mechanism: Keyes' Rules of Misquotation Axiom 2, Corollary 2C: "Comments made about someone might as well have been made by that person."


This quote does not appear in any works indexed by Google Books that are by or about Freud.[1]

By far the earliest appearance of this phrase, or any large piece of it, occurs in Bryan Magee's 1973[2] book Popper, a study of the philosopher Karl Popper:

Near the centre of Popper's explanation of the appeal of totalitarianism is a socio-psychological concept which he calls 'the strain of civilization' -- a concept related, as he acknowledges, to that formulated by Freud in Civiliation and its Discontents. We often hear it asserted that most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. Whether or not this applies to 'most people' there is, I am sure, a vital element of truth in it.[3]
Although Freud is mentioned in the same paragraph, he is not asserted to be the source of the statement -- nor does Magee even claim that this statement represents Freud's ideas specifically.

A biographical essay on Karl Popper by Peter Landry, which was online by 1998, describes the Magee quotation as representing a "Freudian" view. Confusingly, Landry does not actually ascribe the quotation directly to Magee, and worse, the relevant footnote of Landry's essay -- viz. "As will be found in Freud's work, Civilization and Its Discontents" -- could easily be misconstrued as indicating that this was a direct quote from Civilization and Its Discontents, rather than from Magee's work.

The first post-Magee appearance of this sentence in Google Books[4] occurs in the management book Total Performance Scorecard (published May 2003[5]), p. 102. The misattribution was already in the air by this time, however. The quotation had appeared in a Usenet sigline as early as January 2003, ascribed directly to Freud.[6]

The quote occurs once on Google Books in 2004 (in The Boomer's Guide to Dating (Again), p. 247), and once in 2005, in Price's 1001 Smartest Things Ever Said (p. 273). This is followed by three occurrences in 2006, and five in 2007.[7] The cats of misattribution had been loosed from their bag.

There is, thus, a plausible line to be drawn from Magee's book (1973), to Landry's essay (or a similar source) (1998 or before), to some online stockpile of quotations (2003 or before), and finally to the innumerable websites on which the quote appears today.


  1. First edition published in 1973, but version previewable on Google Books is from 1974.
  2. Bryan Magee (1974). Popper. Psychology Press. p. 87. 
  3. "Total Performance Scorecard". Routledge. Retrieved 2012-10-31. 
  4. "Re: Donnie Darko....huh? (spoilers)",, 2003-01-30, "StainlessSteelRat"
  5. Based on Google Books search as of October 2012.

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