The word liberty is derived from the Latin word ‘liber’ which means freedom. In its derivative sense, therefore, liberty means absence of all restraints and freedom to do whatever one likes.
The word liberty is derived from the Latin word ‘liber’ which means freedom. In its derivative sense, therefore, liberty means absence of all restraints and freedom to do whatever one likes. Liberty of this nature is license, pure and simple. It is not possible to have such a liberty while living in society.
Man is a social animal. He must live in society. He must, therefore, adjust his liberty with due regard to the liberty of others. Regulation of human conduct and behavior is indispensable in social life.
It is in this sense that the leaders of the French Revolution in the famous Declaration of Rights of Man (1789) defined liberty as “the power to do anything that does not injure another.” In practice the modern concept of liberty brings out two main idea.
Firstly, an individual wants to express his personality in thought, word and action. He demands freedom, i.e., absence of restraint on his freedom of thought, speech and action.
Secondly, freedom implies imposition of certain restrictions on the liberty of the individual in the interests of adjustment of like liberty to be enjoyed by others. Criminal law has emerged in every state for this purpose and it punishes those who infringe upon the liberty of other.
Liberty has two aspects—negative and positive. Various writers emphasize either one or the other aspect of liberty.
It implies the absence of restraints and maximum freedom of action. It further implies that the individual must be left alone to live his life as he desires without interference. Every law of the state is merely an encroachment upon liberty of man.
Thus the state must only hinder the hindrances and limit itself to the minimum negative functions of maintaining law and order and protection of person and property. Beyond that it should not interfere in social, cultural, economic, or moral aspects of life.
Liberty alone can enable a person to develop his personality. The State laws kill it. Man must be left alone so far as he does not interfere with his neighbor. The slate should guarantee only noninterference by one with the other. So far as the choice of the individual is concerned, he must be his own master. The state should not impose restrictions upon him.
The state should have only two functions to perform namely maintenance of internal law and order and the defence of the country against external aggression. All the rest should be left untouched for the free action on the part of the individual.
In religion, social behavior, economic life and all other aspects of man’s life in society the individual should have complete freedom of action and thought. The Individualist school of thought was the main supporter of this concept of Liberty. In fact, this school of thought wanted to allow maximum liberty to the rising industrial and commercial classes in England in the 18th century.
They wanted free enterprise and it is in their defence that this concept of liberty was put forward. Negative concept of liberty has been challenged by the modern political thinkers. They point out that liberty does not lie only in the absence of restraints; it lies in the creation of equal opportunities for all and freedom of the individual from material worries and cares.
Unrestrained freedom of action and thought in a society divided into ‘haves’ and ‘have notes’ will inevitably go in favour of the rich resulting in the oppression of the poor. The capitalists under these circumstances will have complete freedom to suck the blood of teeming millions in the garb of freedom of action.
This indeed is a dangerous type of 1 liberty in a society of hostile classes that has now been abandoned in the interest of general welfare of people.
Positive liberty means that the state creates positive conditions for a good life. The state should perform not merely negative functions creating hindrances but must organize positive services and conditions which individuals cannot procure alone. It means the organization of opportunities and the maintenance of those social and economic conditions without which there would be no real freedom for the common masses.
Positive liberty demands conditions which are essential to the harmonious development of the latent powers of an individual. In the words of Laski, “liberty means the eager maintenance of that atmosphere in which men can have the opportunity to be their best selves.
” Laski further says, “I mean by liberty the absence of restraints upon the existence of those social conditions which in modern civilization are necessary guarantee of individual happiness.” Thus positive liberty means the removal of hindrances from the path of good life and the creation of equal opportunities for all. All the democratic states have more or less accepted this concept of positive liberty.
The Welfare State is based on this concept. It attempts to provide those services that are needed for a happy life for instance good employment, free education, social services and insurance, etc. It must organize medical health services. It must develop mineral resources and organize the economy.
In a few words, the state must organize all those opportunities which man needs for the development of his personality. The state must not merely make declaration of rights but must also provide concrete physical conditions for the purpose.
Laski in his Grammar of Politics classified the content of positive liberty under these heads :
1. Positive Liberty:
It is opportunity to exercise freedom of choice in those areas of life where the results of one’s efforts are mainly personal to oneself. It lies in freedom of religion and personal security.
2. Political Liberty:
It lies in the right of the individual to take part in the affairs of the state. It comprises the right to vote, the right to be elected, the right of to freedom of speech and expression, the right to form associations.
3. Economic Liberty:
It lies in the exercise of certain economic rights. It consists of the right to remunerative employment, the right to rest and leisure, the right to education, and right to material security in case of illness, old age and disability.