Free, independent, sovereign, autonomous, autarchic, autarkic are comparable when they mean not subject to the rule or control of another.
The same differences in implications and connotations are found in their corresponding nouns freedom, independence, sovereignty, autonomy, autarchy, autarky when they denote the state or condition of not being subject to external rule or control.
Free and freedom (see also FREEDOM 2 ) stress the absence of external compulsion or determination and not the absence of restraint. For free as applied to a state, a people, a person, or the will implies self-government and therefore the right to determine one’s own acts, one’s own laws, and one’s own restraints or to accept or reject those that are proposed from without.
Independent and independence have for their fundamental implication lack of relatedness to anyone or anything else; therefore independent implies that the person or thing so described stands alone.
When applied to a state or government, it implies not complete detachment from other states or governments and a refusal to have allies or dominions, but a lack of connection with a state or government that has the power to interfere with one’s liberty of action.
When applied to a person or his acts and opinions, it implies either a disposition to stand alone and apart from others, or refusal to accept another’s judgments, or self-reliance amounting almost to a fault; thus, a person who is independent in politics is attached to no political party; one might wish that a person he is trying vainly to help were less independent.
Sovereign (see also DOMINANT ) and sovereignty stress the absence of a superior power and imply the supremacy within its own domain or sphere of what is so described or so designated. As applied to a state or government, these words usually involve the ideas both of political independence and of the possession of original and underived power.
When used in reference to a thing, both words impute to that thing unquestioned supremacy and imply that everything within its sphere of influence is subject to it.
Autonomous and autonomy may imply independence combined with freedom. The terms are much used in philosophy to describe or designate a theoretical or ideal freedom in which the individual is absolutely self-governing and acknowledges no claim of another to interference or control.
In political use the words seldom imply such absolute independence and freedom, for they are employed largely in reference to states which belong to an empire, a federation, or a commonwealth of nations. In reference to such states autonomy and autonomous commonly imply independence from the central power only in matters pertaining to self-government but recognition of the central governmental sovereignty in matters (as foreign policy) affecting the empire, federation, or commonwealth of nations as a whole.
When a state is granted autonomy or become autonomous, the terms of such a grant are usually precisely stated.
Autarchic and autarchy historically implied absolute sovereignty or absolute or autocratic rule, but they have become interchangeable with autarkic and autarky, and both pairs of words imply economic and especially national economic self-sufficiency; the words are used in reference to states or governments that favor isolation through a policy of rigidly and arbitrarily planned economic self-sufficiency as a means of maintaining their independence.