The Nature Of Liberty

The Nature Of Liberty: By liberty, I mean the eager maintenance of that atmosphere in which men have the opportunity to be their best selves. Liberty, therefore, is a product of rights. A State built upon the conditions essential to the full development of our faculties will confer freedom upon its citizens. It will release their individuality. It will enable them to contribute their peculiar and intimate experience to the common stock.

It will offer security that the decisions of the government are built upon the widest knowledge open to its members. It will prevent that frustration of creative impulse Which destroys the special character of men. Without rights there cannot be liberty, became, without rights, men are the subjects of law unrelated to the needs of personality.

Liberty, therefore, is a positive thing. It does not merely mean absence of restraint. Regulation, obviously enough, is the consequence of gregariousness for we cannot live together without common rules. What is important is that the rules made should embody an experience I can follow and, in general, accept. I shall not feel that my liberty is endangered When I am refused permission to commit murder.

My creative impulses do not suffer frustration when I am hidden to drive on a given side of the road. I am not even deprived of freedom when the law ordains that I must educate my children. Historic experience has evolved for us rules of convenience which promote right living.

To compel obedience to them is not to make a man unfree. Wherever there are avenues of conduct which must be prohibited in the common interest, their removal from the sphere of unrestrained action need not constitute an invasion of liberty.

That is not, of course, to argue that every such prohibition is justified merely because it is made by an authority legally competent to issue it. Governments may in fact invade liberty even while they claim to be acting in the common interest.

The exclusion of Nonconformists from full political privilege was an invasion of liberty. The restriction of the franchise to the owners of property was an invasion of liberty. The Combination Acts of 1799-1800 destroyed the liberty of working men.

They could not realise their best selves because they could not unite in the effort to translate their experience into terms of statute. It is, in other words, essential to freedom that the prohibitions issued should be built upon the wills of those whom they affect.

I must be able to feet that my will has access to avenues through which it can impress itself upon the holders of power.If I have the sense that the orders issued are beyond my scrutiny or criticism. I shall be, in a vital sense, unfree.

Liberty, therefore, is not merely obedience to a rule. My self is too distinct from other selves to accept a given order as good unless I feel that my will is embodied in its substance. I shall, of course, be compelled to endure irksome restraints. I must fill up income tax returns. I must light the lamps upon my own motor car at a set time.

But no normal person will regard restrictions of this kind as so unrelated to his will as to constitute coercion of it. Where restraint becomes an invasion of liberty is where the given prohibition acts so as to destroy that harmony of impulses which comes when a man knows that he is doing something it is worth while to do. Restraint is felt as evil when it frustrates the life of spiritual enrichment.

What 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 there implied. And it is important that the initiative be a continuous one. The minds of citizens must be active minds. They must be given the habit of thought.

They must be given the avenues through which thought can act. They must be accustomed to the exercise of will and conscience , if they are to be alert to the duties implied in their function as citizens. Liberty consists in nothing so much as the encouragement of the will based on the instructed conscience of humble men.

In such a background, we cannot accept Mill’s famous attempt to define the limits of State interference. All conduct is social conduct in the sense that whatever I do has results Upon me as a member of society. There are certain freedoms I must have in order to be more than an inert recipient of of orders there is an atmosphere about those freedoms of quick vigilance without which they cannot be maintained.

Liberty thus involves in its nature restraints, because the separate freedoms I use are not freedoms to destroy the freedoms of those with whom I live. My freedoms are avenues of choice through which I may, as I deem fit, construct for myself my own course of conduct.

And the freedoms I must possess to enjoy a general liberty are those which, in their sum, will constitute the path through which my best self is capable of attainment That is not to say it will be attained. It is to say only that I alone can make that best self, and that without those freedoms I have not the means of manufacture at my disposal.

Freedoms are therefore opportunities which history has shown to be essential to the development of personality. And freedoms are inseparable from rights because, otherwise, their realisation is hedged about with an uncertainty which destroys their quality.

If, for example, my utterance of opinion is followed by persecution, I shall, in general, cease to express my mind. I shall cease, in fact, to be a citizen and the state for me ceases to have meaning. For if I cannot embody my experience in its will, it ceases, sooner or later, to assume that I have a will at all.

Nothing, therefore, is so likely to maintain a condition of liberty as the knowledge that the invasion of rights will result in protest, and, if need be, resistance. Liberty is nothing if it is not the organized and conscious power to resist in the last resort. The implied threat of contingent anarchy is a safeguard against the abuse of government.

I have set liberty here in the context of opportunity, and, in its turn, opportunity in the context of the State. That is the only atmosphere in which it admits of organization. We can create channels, we cannot force men to take advantage of those channels. We can, further, create channels only in limited number.

A man may feel that all that he cares for in life depends upon success in love, we can remove the barriers of caste or race or religion which, in the past, have barred his access to that love, But we cannot guarantee to him that his plea will be successful. The avenues, which organization can create are always limited by the fact that the most intimate realization of oneself is personal and built upon isolation’s which evade social control.

Yet the social control is important. If, in the last resort, the State cannot make me happy, certainly it can, if it so will, compel unhappiness. It can invade my private life in wanton fashion. It can degrade me as a political unit in a fashion which distinguishes me from other citizens. It can protect an economic order which  implicates in William James phrase, unfreedom.

None of these things is, of course, a genuinely separate category , at most the distinction is one  of convenience. For liberty is a definite whole, because the life I lead is a totality in which I strive to realise a whole  personality as harmonious. Yet each of these aspects is sufficiently clear to warrant a separate word.

But it must first be urged that m this context State-action is action by government. It means the maintenance of rules which affect my liberty. Those rules will be issued by persons, and, normally, those persons Will be the government. Theories which seek to differentiate between State and government almost always ignore the substance of the administrative act.

Rights withheld mean rights which the holders of power withhold. To say that in a democratic theory the mass of citizens are the holders of power is to miss the vital fact that the people, in the pressure of daily affairs,cannot exercise that power in details in States of the modern size.

They may have influence and opinion but these are not the power of government. It is the cumulative force of administrative acts which are the heart of the modern State. The principles behind these acts are, of course, of prime importance. But principles may be invalidated by the method of their application and it is governments which have the actual administration of them.

Liberty, therefore, is never real unless the government can be called to account and it should always be called to account When it invades rights. It will always invade them unless its organization prevents it from being weighted in some special interest. The three aspects of liberty I have noted are always relative to this situation.

By private liberty, for example, I mean the opportunity to exercise freedom of choice in those areas of life where the results of my effort mainly affect me in that isolation by which, at least ultimately, I am always surrounded. Religion is a good instance of this aspect. I am not truly free to decide without hindrance upon my creed unless there is not merely no penalty on any form of religious faith, but, also, no advantage of a political kind attached to one form rather than another.

When the government of England denied public employment to Dissenters it invaded private liberty. It did not directly punish but, at least, it offered special benefit to an alternative faith. When France repealed the Edict of Nantes it invaded private liberty , fer the honorable profession of religious conviction involved political outlawry.

These are simple instances. In the complex modern State invasions of private liberty may be more subtle. Private liberty may be denied when the poor citizen is unable to secure adequate legal protection in the Courts of Justice. A divorce law, for example, which gives the rich access to its facilities but, broadly, makes them difficult, if not impossible, for the poor, invades their private freedom.

So does , the demand for excessive bail, so, too, when the poor prisoner, with inadequate counsel, confronts the legal ability at the command of government. Private liberty is thus that aspect of which the substance is mainly personal to a man’s self. It is the opportunity to be fully himself in the private relations of life. It is the chance practically to avail himself of the safeguards evolved for the maintenance of those relations.

Political liberty means the power to be active in affairs of State. It means that, I can let my mind play freely about the substance of public business. I must be able without hindrance to add my special experience to the general sum of experience. I must find no barriers that are not general barriers in the way of access to positions of authority.

I must be able to announce my opinion and to concert with others in the announcement of opinion. For political liberty to be real, two conditions are essential. I must be educated to the point where I can express what I want in a way that is intelligible to others. Anyone who has seen the dumb inarticulateness of the poor will realise the urgency of education in this regard.

Nothing is more striking than the way in which our educational systems train the children of rich or well-born men to habits of authority while the children of the poor are trained to habits of deference. Such a division of attitude can never produce political freedom, because a class trained to govern will exert its power because it is conscious of it, while a class trained to deference will not fulfill its wants because it does not know how to formulate its demands.

Combination in the period of experience will, of course, as with trade unions, do something to restore the balance but it will never fully compensate for the defect of early training. For the inculcation of deferential habits will never produce a free people. It is only when men have learned that they themselves make and work institutions that they can learn to adjust them to their needs.

The second condition of political liberty is the provision of an honest and straightforward supply of news. Those who are to decide must have truthful material upon which to decide. Their judgment must not be thwarted by the presentation of a biased case. We have learned, especially of late years, that this is no easy matter.

A statesman cannot seldom be made what the press chooses to make him. A policy may be represented as entirely good or bad by the skillful omission of relevant facts. Our civilization has stimulated the creation of agencies which live deliberately on the falsification of news.

It would, indeed, not be very wide of the mark to argue that much of what had been achieved by the art of education in the nineteenth Century had been frustrated by the art of propaganda in the twentieth. The problem is made more complex than in the past by the area over which our judgment must pass.

We have no leisure to survey that area with comprehensive accuracy. We must, very largely, take our facts on trust. But if the facts are deliberately perverted, our judgment will be unrelated to the truth. A people without reliable news is, sooner or later, a people without the basis of freedom. For to exercise one’s judgment in a miasma of distortion is, ultimately, to go disastrously astray.

By economic liberty. I mean security and the opportunity to find reasonable significance in the earning of one’s daily bread. I must, that is, be free from the constant fear of unemployment and insufficiency which, perhaps more than any other inadequacies, sap the whole strength of personality, I must be safeguarded against the wants of tomorrow.

I must know that I can build a home, and make that home a means of self-expression. I must be able to make my personality flow through my effort as a producer of services, and find in that effort the capacity of enrichment. For, otherwise, I become a stunted and shrunken being in that aspect of myself which lends color and texture to all that I am. Either I must, in this sense, be free, or I become one of those half-souls who are found in the slums and prisons as the casualties of civilization.

Nor is this all. I must be more than the recipient of orders which I must obey unthinkingly because my labour is only a commodity bought and sold in the market, like coal and boots and chairs. Without these freedoms, or, at least, an access to them, men are hardly less truly slaves than when they were exposed for purchase and sale.

Economic liberty, therefore, implies democracy in industry. That means two things. It means that industrial government is subject to the system of rights which obtain for men as citizens, and it means that industrial direction must be of a character that makes it the rule of laws made by co-operation and not by compulsion.Obviously, the character of those laws must depend upon the needs of production. Those needs leave less room for spontaneity than is true either of private or of political liberty.

A man is entitled to be original about his politics or his religion, he is not entitled to be original when he is working with others, say, in a nitroglycerine factory. But he is entitled to co-operate in the setting of the standards by which he is judged industrially and in the application of those standards. Otherwise, he lives at the behest of other men.

His initiative becomes not the free expression of his own individuality, but a routine made from without and enforced upon him by fear of starvation. A system built upon fear is always fatal to the release of the creative faculties, and it is therefore, incompatible with liberty.