Only a moral society is a free society. But a society is not an object or thing. A society is a collective term like team, or band, or club. It is the members of a society (or team, or band, or club) that determine the kind of society (or team, or band, or club) it is. A moral society is a society in which every member is a moral individual. An immoral society is one in which some or all members of that society are immoral.
Moral individuals desire nothing in this world they have not earned by their own effort, by producing it or acquiring it from those who have produced it in exchange for what they have produced—that is, by trade. Since moral individuals only deal with one another by means of reason, as traders exchanging value for value, they are never a threat to any other individuals' persons or property. A moral individual has no interest in how other individual's choose to live their lives and no interest in interfering in their lives or business.
A society in which every member is a moral individual is a free society, because everyone in such a society is free to live their life in any way they choose, because no one else will ever interfere in how they live their life. Such a free society will also be the most prosperous kind of society possible, because all moral individuals are productive individuals. Such a free society will also be a society in which the highest degree of good will, happiness, and friendliness exist. But the prosperity, benevolence and happiness of a society are never the objective of moral individuals, they just happen to be the inevitable consequence of their moral behavior.
No Moral Societies
As far as I know there is not now nor ever has been a moral society. Such a society is not even a realistic ideal. There have been societies that were much less immoral than any society today, but a society in which every member, or even most members were moral has never existed.
Since only a moral society would be a truly free society, no society has ever been completely free, and every society today is, at best, only moderately free if free at all. Since it is the immoral in a society that constitute the only threats to individuals and to their freedom, the degree of oppression of every society is a reflection of the degree of the immorality of that society.
The Mistake Of Government
Moral individuals do not steal, do not commit fraud, do not threaten others, their property, or their freedom. Only the immoral do those things. Those who try to justify modern governments, (the divine right of kings being out of favor these days), usually describe government as an agency necessary to preserve individual freedom, by means of protecting individuals from the threats of the immoral. The method is a set of laws forbidding all the kinds of things with which the immoral threaten others.
The notion of government recognizes the only threats to individual freedom are immoral individuals in a society and that the only means to a free society would be to prevent immoral individuals from behaving immorally, and thus being a threat.
While this is certainly not the language they use, this is the exact meaning of such political philosophies as that of Ayn Rand and minimalist libertarians. And how do they propose to make the immoral behave as though they were moral? It is not really possible, which I'll get back to, but they do have a method, always explained in grave philosophical language.
This is the sophisticated philosophical principle behind government as a means to a free society: threats of physical harm. It is explained as a, "system of laws," and, "a system of justice."
The laws forbid the kind of things only the immoral do, like theft, assault, murder, fraud, or other ways of threatening persons and their property. The so-called system of justice meats out punishments for breaking the laws, punishments in the form of financial penalties (i.e. threats against one's property), incarceration (i.e. threats against one's person and freedom) or some prescribed, "service," one must perform (i.e. threats of enslavement).
It is assumed that immoral individuals will behave morally out of fear of the laws' penalties. There is no deep principle of justice behind the scheme of penal law, it is nothing but terrorism—"behave in a way we regard as moral or we will make you suffer." That is the whole of penal law in a nutshell—and it doesn't work.
You Can't Change People
You cannot make people be what they do not choose to be. Oh, you might be able to manipulate some people into behaving in some ways you might like; advertising and the promotion of religions are both very successful, but only with some people some of the time. What can never be done is to turn an immoral individual into a moral individual. Only an individual can make such a change and only in themselves, but it is a very rare event.
You can also make some immoral people behave as though they were moral, but what is more likely, you will only make them figure out how to appear moral or to have their immorality go undetected.
If the threat of punishment really made the immoral behave as though they were moral, there would be no theft, no murder, no fraud, and no "crime." If that scheme worked, the United States would not have the largest prison population in the world (both in raw numbers and per capita). Threats just do not work.
An Even More Absurd Argument For Government
The wrong-headed idea of making a society free by means of government is the result of totally misunderstanding the nature of human beings, both the moral and the immoral. We've already seen you cannot change the immoral. But there is another even bigger mistake made about the nature of the truly moral.
Ayn Rand wrote: "The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law." [Emphasis mine.]
The nature of the truly moral is such that no matter how severe the difference or dispute, the moral would never resort to immoral methods of solving them. There can never be a need for an agency of force to solve any possible disagreements or misunderstandings among moral individuals.
The assumption that an agency of force is needed to protect anyone from breach of contract or fraud or to settle disputes is the assumption that the individuals involved are immoral, and since we already know no threats of force will make the immoral behave as though they are moral, government is no solution in these cases either.
Anarchy Is Not Freedom
Anarchy means, "no government." These days there are endless varieties of so-called anarchism. Behind them all is the essential idea that all government is oppressive and that a truly free society is only possible where there is no government.
While it is certainly true government always limits freedom, the assumption that a society sans government is automatically free is simply not true. Governments are oppressive because they are agencies of force, but agencies, like societies are collective terms, in that, whatever they are is determined by the individuals that are that collective. Eliminating government does not eliminate the individuals who are the actual agents of force; that is, a society without government is not a society without the immoral individuals who are the true threats to individuals and their freedom.
The root of all oppression are immoral individuals. In most cases the kind of government any society has is determined by the degree of immorality of that society. So long as there are immoral individuals in the world there will be governments, and the more immoral a society is, the more oppressive its government will be. Government is not the source of oppression, immorality is the source of oppression; governments are only a manifestation of that immorality.
Morality Always Missing
Ayn Rand once wrote: "The world crisis of today is a moral crisis—and nothing less than a moral revolution can resolve it." [Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal, "19. Conservatism: An Obituary"]
Rand wrote that in the early 60s when she still believed such a revolution might be possible, though she learned it was not possible in the early 40s, and eventually came to repudiate that method. (See Ayn Rand's Mistake )
The particular immorality she was referring to was altruism for which she thought the cure was capitalism based on the ethics of individualism. While I do not agree with some particulars of her view, or that immorality constituted a, "world crisis," any more than at any other time, I do agree that the fundamental issue is morality, and that all human caused problems and all human failures are the consequence of immorality.
In all the discussions, articles, papers, videos, programs, and campaigns I read and see dealing with, "freedom," morality never even comes up. Many libertarians actually deny that individual moral principles even matter. But there is no, "solution," to any question of freedom, or oppression, or politics, or economics, or society, outside a moral context.
The question is inevitable, "WHAT MORALITY?"
The question is wrong. There are no different moralities any more than there are different chemistries or different arithmetics. There is only chemistry, only arithmetic, and only morality (or ethical principles).
It is the existence of the immoral that is the source of all threats to freedom. Without moral principles no true freedom is possible, and no freedom will do the immoral any good. Moral principles are those that enable an individual to make right choices that will lead to success and happiness. To attempt to live without moral principles, to live immorally, can only lead to failure, disappointment, regret, and unhappiness.
Does freedom have no purpose? Is the purpose of freedom to live a life of failure, disappointment, regret, and unhappiness? What is the point of freedom to choose if one has no idea what to choose? What is the point of freedom to live if one has no idea how to live successfully. What is the point of freedom if one chooses to live immorally or does not know how to choose otherwise and becomes one of the immoral who are the source of all threats, oppression, poverty, and suffering?
I personally think any scheme or plan or project to achieve or promote freedom that is not based on moral principles and does not have morality as its objective is itself immoral, and I think that is the description of almost every so-called freedom movement today.