It is commonly supposed that democracies should encourage greater political participation and civic engagement. This article identifies two distinct perspectives on political participation and civic engagement: a ‘freedom-centred’ model and an ‘ethical’ model. The ‘freedom-centred’ model defended here draws on the republican concept of freedom as non-domination, together with the political liberal notion of fair deliberative proceduralism, while the ethical model draws on Aristotelian, perfectionist, sources. It is argued that the ‘ethical’ model is overly concerned with the ‘moral renewal’ of modern social life, and is insensitive to problems of domination posed by its account of civic reciprocity and trust. By contrast, the ‘freedom-centred’ model developed offers a systematic account of personal and political freedom, which provides qualified support for deliberative modes of participation and engagement.