Definition of Liberty: Liberty is derived from the Latin word liber, which means free. It is a word of negative meaning denoting the absence of restraint. Its primary significance is to do what one likes, regardless of all consequences, But this is obviously an impossibility.
Liberty, in the sense of a complete absence of restraint, cannot exist. We cannot live together without common rules. The presence of common rules of behavior is the consequence of our gregariousness. If I choose to do all that I wish, regardless of the interests of others I live in, there is likely to be perpetual strife and conflict in social conditions of chaos and anarchy. Such a society does not provide freedom for me or others.
Definitions of liberty:
as Laski has said, “has evolved for us rules of convenience which promote right living and to compel obedience to them is a justifiable limitation of freedom.”
By liberty, therefore, we mean freedom to do everything provided it does not injure others’ freedom. It implies necessary restraint on all to ensure the greatest possible amount of liberty for each. In this sense, Liberty can be maximized only when there are mutual respect and goodwill, and all follow a simple rule of social behavior.
Do unto others as you Would have others do unto you. This simple rule of man’s sociability tends to harmonies his liberty with that of his fellows. It entails such restraints as reasonable and necessary to promote and ensure the greatest possible extent of liberty.
Reasonable restrictions do not destroy liberty; it is destroyed only When such restraints are arbitrary and unjust. If restrictions embody an experience I can follow and accept, my liberty is not endangered. It is really enhanced. If I am not allowed to rob another person, commit murder or suicide or drive on the wrong side and recklessly, or park my vehicle in the middle of the road, or prove to be a public nuisance by my actions, my creative impulses do not suffer a frustration. Accordingly, the law is the condition of liberty provided the prohibitions it imposes are built on the wills they affect and are not arbitrary and capricious.
But liberty is not a mere negative condition. It has a positive aspect, too, which is, indeed, significant and important. Liberty can exist only when the State maintains those Conditions which help the citizen to rise to the full stature of his personality. It involves the opportunity for many-sided cumulative growth, which consists of the capacity to act, availability of an effective range of choices, and spontaneity, that is, the ability to act following one’s own personality, without having to mks a great effort at self-denial or self-control and without being subjected to external constraints.
According to Laski, ” liberty is the eager maintenance of that atmosphere in which men have the opportunity to be their best selves.”
It constitutes the enjoyment of those rights, and the creation of such opportunities as help man grow to be the best of himself, develop his faculties, and plan his life as he deems best. The true test of liberty lies in the laws of the State and the extent to which they help a citizen to develop all that is good in him. Liberty is, thus, a product of rights. It thrives best where rights are guaranteed to all without distinguishing sex, creed, caste, color, or status in society.
Liberty and Sovereignty:
The Individualists, the Anarchists, the Syndicalists, and many other schools of thought regard liberty and sovereignty as opposed to each other and offer their own explanations. The Individualists assert that the State’s sovereignty embraces every phase of human life, and at every step, the individual is required to obey its laws. Laws restrict liberty and frustrate initiative as they are of the nature of commands and prescribe a certain way of life. They hold that the State is a necessary evil and its functions are negatively regulative or protective. It should only maintain peace and order, leave the individual alone, laissez-faire, manage his own affairs, and develop freely according to his own ability and capacity.
The Anarchists are out to destroy the State and establish in its place a stateless society where. Liberty will be supreme. They regard political authority, in any of its forms, as unnecessary and undesirable. “Liberty of man,” according to Bakunin, founder of scientific Anarchism, “consists solely in this, that he (individual) obeys the laws of nature because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been imposed upon him externally by any foreign will whatever, human or divine, collective or individual.” The Syndicalists are similarly hostile to the State as its laws and authority perpetuate the interests of society’s capitalist class. On the other hand, the Socialists stand for maximization of the functions of the State and justify its interference to promote social good.
Apparently, there seems to be a fundamental contradiction between the sovereignty of the State and the individual’s liberty as the more there is of the one, the less there is of the other. But really, it is not so. The purpose of the rights is to enable men to live to enjoy life and develop to their individual personalities’ full potentialities. Rights are a means to an end, and the State provides conditions to realize that end. Though it may differ in many ways for different individuals, that end may be summed up in one word, liberty, and it is the attainment of men’s ambition to be free to live their own lives in their own way.
But it means moral freedom and not the absence of restraints on their freedom of action. Clearly, men who live in society cannot be free from restraints. If they are, the result will be not liberty but license, anarchy, and chaos. Restraints are necessary in the interest of order and harmonization, in so far as possible of our different conceptions of liberty. As Hothouse has put it, The liberty of each must, on the principle of the common good, be limited by the rights of all; in general, my rights are my liberties, and in protecting my rights, the community secures my liberties.
The system of rights is the system of harmonized liberties because my rights are your duties, and duties are nothing but restraints on unrestricted liberty. Laws are, accordingly, the condition of liberty. Laws do not curtail liberty; they maintain and enhance it. They create a condition in which every individual enjoys the maximum freedom to do as he pleases, compatible with others’ right to the same extent of freedom. If the murderer is arrested and convicted, it is the realization of liberty, for the law, which punishes the murderer, protects and defines men’s rights. Reasonable restraints on freedom of action actually add to happiness.
Certain laws of the State add to the creative faculties of man. Laws limiting the hours of work are restraints on workers just as much as on employers. Originally, the workers bitterly opposed all such restraints. But these restraints save the workers from the temptation of injuring their health by excessive labor and consequently add to their well being.
The same is true of legislation forbidding child labor and establishing compulsory education. All such laws were fiercely resisted by parents who did not want to lose money the child might earn, if not forbidden to work or compulsorily sent to school. Well-meaning and sincere people also condemned them as interference with freedom. And so they were. But these inter references aimed to secure a fuller life for the children, and ultimately for the parents themselves. It is also true of numerous other measures.
The order established by sensible laws and conventions opens up several possibilities that would not have existed otherwise. T. H. Green has justly said, “Much modern legislation interferes with freedom of contract, to maintain the conditions with but which a free exercise of the human faculties is impossible.”
The laws of the State, in sum, are not a negation of liberty. They are the medium of liberty. However, it is wrong to claim that every prohibition issued by the State is justified and adds to the liberty of the people. If the prohibition goes beyond what is necessary and frustrates the life of spiritual enrichment, it is an invasion of man’s liberty. Each of us desires in life is room for our personal initiative in the things that add to our moral stature. What is destructive of our freedom is a system of prohibitions which limits the initiative therein implied. Man is really not free if he feels that he has no means to express his opinion and impress his perspective upon those who exercise authority. Free expression of opinion is allowed in a country with democratic machinery of government.
There is no liberty where the individual is subordinated to the will of the whole community to merge his identity m it, or in an authoritarian State which will leave its citizens free for certain things, but not for the expression of opinion in any way. To enjoy true liberty, neither freedom nor authority can be absolute and complete. Freedom Unrestrained by responsibility becomes mere license, says Dewey, responsibility unchecked by freedom becomes more arbitrary power. The question, then, is not whether freedom and responsibility shall be united, but how they can be united and reconciled to the best advantage.
This is indeed the central problem of all political philosophy and practice. Freedom is. Thus, all a matter of adjustment Sovereignty carried to the extreme becomes tyranny and destroys liberty, and liberty carried to the extreme becomes anarchy and destroys sovereignty. But the extent of liberty varies greatly from time to time and place to place. Conditions may be favorable to it, or they may be most unfavorable; the State’s role in providing liberty also varies greatly.
Nowadays, it is widely felt that negative liberty is not enough that the State must do more than prevent intrusions upon liberty but that it must also take positive action to enable people to utilize their liberty effectively. Devices that extend liberty or make it effective also come under the head of welfare and welfare embraces man’s entire life. It also means planning for the future to enhance the individual’s all rounded personality and ensure the unbounded advancement of the society to which he belongs.
The problem of liberty has, accordingly, become more difficult than ever before. The enjoyment of liberty necessitates a government with increased functions and also increased powers. As a result, the old problem of restraining authority itself and preventing arbitrariness and corruption of power become more serious now than ever before. In short, the constitutional democratic society must create and utilize authority to view the welfare of all individuals in society. Yet, it must prevent that authority horn from becoming a new master, which, under the guise of ensuring both security and greater well-being, destroys the hard-won freedoms of men.