The Safeguards Of Liberty

Safeguards Of Liberty: Freedom, therefore, will not be achieved for the mass of men save under special guarantees. It can never, firstly, exist in the presence of special privilege. Unless I enjoy the same access to power as others, I live in an atmosphere of contingent frustration. It does not matter that I shall probably not desire to take full advantage of that access. Its denial will mean that I accept an allotted station as a permanent condition of my life and that, in its turn, is fatal to the spontaneity that is of the essence of freedom.

Anyone who has seen the political inertia of English rural life will have realised how slow to mature is the plant of initiative. The English agricultural laborer lived for so long in an atmosphere of frustrated impulse that, when he was raised to the status of citizenship, he rarely, in general, knew how to take advantage of his opportunities. The genius of a Joseph Arch might stir him into angry and sudden revolt against intolerable Conditions, but he was too habituated to uncritical inertia to persist when opposition came. So, too, the endurance of oppression by negro slaves was the outcome of their wonted subjection to a regime of privilege.

They lost the habit of creativeness. They became, in fact, those “animate tools” which Aristotle described as the characteristic of the natural slave. Men who see others selected to govern by a principle other than their own choice tend, over a period, to believe that these have come to govern by nature. They will lose both the will and the power to act for theme selves They will learn to think that institutions made by their ancestors are the necessary foundations of the State.

They will think it their duty to accept where, in truth, it is their duty to inquire. Whenever men accept, their habits. Sooner or later, come to be formed at the will of others. They lose the ability to realise their own good. Their personality lies at the disposal of others whose action is not instinct, at least inherently, with a desire for the good of all, for those who desire the good of all begin by the abolition of special privilege.

Nor must we omit here the influence of such privilege upon those who possess it. They are free in the sense that they can build their own system of restraints. But their restraints will be manipulated for their own advantage. They will come to regard those outside their own circle as inferior beings. They will insist that their subordination is part of a, natural order. They will even argue, like the slave-owners of the South, that exclusion from privilege is a benefit to those so excluded.

They will discover special virtues in themselves, as when Macaulay argued that the middle class is  the natural representative of the human race. They will tend to identify demands for the admission to power of the unemancipated as the very definition of evil. They will part with their power, too often, only at the point of the sword, for voluntary abdication from special privilege has been the exception, and not the rule, in history. They will therefore seek at all costs to maintain their authority; and that will mean, most often, the further depression of the unfree.

So Lord Sidmouth passed the Six Acts lest inconvenient criticism be made of an effete political regime. And the reaction from such policy will, as in France and Russia, tend to be proportionately violent to the degree of repression it has encountered. Special privilege is incompatible with freedom because the latter quality belongs to all alike in their character as human beings. We cannot differentiate between men until we have shown those excluded from a share in power that their exclusion is in their own interest. There seems no reason to suppose that the demonstration can be made.

Nor, secondly, can there be liberty where the rights of some depend upon the pleasure of others. Our common rules must bind those who exercise power as well as those who are  the subjects of power. No groups of men must be in a position to encroach upon my enjoyment of the rights which attach to me as a citizen. That is not the case to day My livelihood may be destroyed by the whim of an employer.

The meaning of my wage-standard may be injured by the cornering of the market in some essential commodity. The whole quality of my citizenship may be impaled by the manner in which the wealth of the community is distributed, and while I seem to enjoy political freedom, the absence of economic freedom may, in fact render illusory my hope of a harmony of impulses.

At every point therefore, Where the action of a man or group of men may impinge upon the exercise of rights a control is wanted With Will frustrate their power so to impinge. That submit, is, above all, a matter for the State, because it is upon the plane of citizenship that the undifferentiated interests of men come most clearly interview. State control means, in daily fact, control by government. It therefore follows that the action of all men who, by what they do, have the fate of others their hands, is set in the perspective of limitation by the power of authority.

This, it should be added, does not necessarily mean intervention by the government at every turn and twist of individual life. It means the planning of the principles of social action. It means the absence from social organization of those uncertainties Which result in social less and are deliberately planned by individuals. We cannot abolish the uncertainties due to such natural phenomena as earthquakes, but we can at least destroy the uncertainty that comes when, say, the Standard Oil Trust drives competitors out of the field by making an agreement for differential rates with the Pennsylvania Railroad.

I We can at least prevent the dismissal of teachers from their posts because some utterance has proved displeasing to the trustees they serve. Our principles of control are general principles,but because their application Will need to be as various as the problems they indicate, they will, as a rule, require decentralized administration.

All this is to assume, thirdly, that the incidence of State action is unbiased. In a full sense, doubtless, we cannot achieve that ideal. In any society the varied personalities of which it is composed, the weight of the different interests involved, the degrees of effort men will make, the amount of knowledge they will possess  are certain to tend its authority in the support of some special interest.

The most we can do for the maintenance of freedom is to seek that system which will minimize the bias involved. That is why rights assume so vast an importance, they are the guarantee of a minimum bias. They give us what assurance we may have that the State power will not be perverted to the use of Some few.

But it is important to insist that it is bound to suffer perversion unless men are unceasingly vigilant about its exercise. Those who consented to the passage in 1917 of the American Espionage Act did not realise that it would become the parent of similar legislation destined to protect the most powerful industrial autocracy in the world from criticism of its foundations.

Those who voted in the House of Commons  for the Restoration of Order in Ireland, October 1920, can hardly have expected that it would be used to deprive British citizens of the ordinary resource of justice. I Obviously, few things are more urgent than the scrutiny of the problem of liberty in the terms that are most likely to prevent the operation of that bias.

A citizen-body that is; quick to resent its presence, and willing, in the last resort, to compel its repudiation, has the most obvious guarantee that it will be minimized. But even such a body of citizens as that of ancient Athens, to whom, as Pericles said in the great Funeral Speech , the secret of liberty is courage, will have heed of the channels through which courage may flow to its appointed purpose.