I argue that 'negative' freedom or freedom as absence of impediment is better described as freedom within a putative 'private' sphere, where individuals are allegedly protected from the coercive interference of other agents. As such it is characterised by four problems as an account of freedom under modern conditions. I then consider two alternatives, within which freedom is identified with politics or political action, and argue that they are therefore also inappropriate for understanding modern freedom. Yet, I do not discard them completely. In the main part of the paper, I draw on Machiavelli's emphasis on institutionalised class conflict as constitutive of freedom and propose a conception of freedom that captures the manifold conditions for freedom of action today. This realistic, modern conception of freedom identifies freedom with power across four domains; and it follows from this, I argue pace Pettit, that representative, partisan political institutions are requirements for freedom and democracy.