Liberty is a magic concept which has inspired millions to revolt and the history of mankind is nothing but the story of liberty. The celebrated French philosopher Rousseau on the eve of the French Revolution of 1789 made a historic declaration “Man is born free but is everywhere in chains”. It is a concept with magical touch for which people still prefer to die. Being obsessed by the blood bath of French Revolution Romain (Madam) Roland went to the statue of Liberty and said “Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name”. The fight of the Americans against British imperialism, the French Revolution of 1789 against the Bourbon king, the Proletarian Revolution of 1917 against the Czarist regime, India’s freedom struggle and Dr. Nelson Mandela’s ceaseless fight against the White Regime etc. are the few instances to high-light the craze for liberty.
The English word ‘liberty’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Liber’ which means free. Thus, the etymological or the literal meaning of liberty is ‘doing what one desires’. But this fails to satisfy the spirit of this concept. From time to time this concept has been variously interpreted to give it varied meanings Liberty can be enjoyed only in a society and there would be no liberty if there is no society. Alexander Selkirk, the sailor who was banished in a lonely island, was denied of liberty as there was no human society. Thus, liberty can be enjoyed in a congenial social atmosphere. ]
The Greeks viewed liberty as the subjugation of the individual to the dictates of law or rule of law. Rousseau is of the opinion that liberty of an individual is to be completely identified with the General will or the will of the sovereign. Hobbes holds the view that liberty means absence of restraint. T.H.Green takes liberty as the positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying. J.S. Mill, the leading exponent of liberty, defines it as “being left to oneself’ and to him “all restraint qua restraint is an evil”. A Marxist can see liberty only in the withering away of the state and the establishment of a classless and stateless society, an anarchist can find liberty only in the absence of state by advocating ‘nihilism’, a pluralist can see liberty in the working of various associations, a democrat discovers liberty only in the decentralisation of authority etc. To find out the true meaning of the term ‘liberty’ some standard definitions need citation and elaboration.
According to Mekechzie “Freedom is not the absence of all restraints, but rather the substitution of rational one’s for the irrational”.
To Gettel “Liberty is the positive power of doing and enjoying those things which are worthy of enjoyment and work”.
According to Prof H. J. Laski Liberty is “the eager maintenance of that atmosphere in which men have opportunity to be their bestselves”.
To Seeley “Liberty is the opposite of over-government”.
M. K.Gandhi writes “Liberty does not mean the absence of restraint but it lies in development of personality”.
John Locke, the social contractualist maintains that “where there is no law, there is no freedom”.
The French Declaration of the Right of man (1789) says “Liberty consists in the power to do everything that does not injure another.”
The above definitions point out two aspects of liberty- negative and positive. When liberty implies the absence of restraints it means the negative aspect of liberty. It guarantees absolute freedom to the individuals. John Stuart Mill, advocates for absolute freedom in the matter of self-regarding actions and denies state interference. In the positive aspect of liberty free and full opportunity is provided by law to every individual for the development of his personality. Prof. Laski supports the positive aspect of liberty. All the modern democratic states accept and recognise the positive aspect of liberty as against the negative aspect of liberty, as absolute and unrestrained freedom will degenerate into licence. Prof. Barker believes all actions of the individual are social-actions as they affect society.
Broadly, liberty implies the following things.
(1) Liberty does not mean the absence of all restraints.
(2) Liberty means the absence of unjust and tyrannical restrictions.
(3) Liberty means legal, moral and reasonable restrictions on the functions the individuals.
(4) Liberty is an essential condition for the development of individual personality.
(5) It means the rights of the individual to do things which are not harmful to others.
(6) Liberty is to be provided to every individual equally by the state without discrimination.
Types of Liberty
R. M.MacIver observes in his book “The Modern State” that ‘Liberty itself is not one but manifold’. Thus, Liberty can be divided into five kinds.
(a) Natural Liberty :
The concept of natural liberty was highlighted by the contractualists like Hobbes, Locks and Rousseau. According to them, the concept of liberty is natural to man and therefore it is in born with man. Rousseau writes ” Man is born free”. It implies that liberty is natural in whose absence an organised political community can never come into existence.
(b) Civil Liberty :
The civil liberty is enjoyed in the capacity of a man or an individual. The absence of civil liberty will reduce the man to the status of stud animals. This liberty is granted by the state to its people in the form of rights, like the right to life, liberty, property, freedom of expression, freedom of religion etc.
(c) Political Liberty :
Political liberty is enjoyed by a person in the capacity of a citizen. This liberty enables a person to associate himself in the affairs of the state. It includes the right to vote, right to hold public office, right to canvass, right to petition etc. Prof. Laski writes for the enjoyment of this liberty two conditions are necessary- (1) widespread education, (2) supply of honest and straightforward information.
(d) Economic Liberty :
A person enjoys economic liberty in the capacity of a worker. This liberty was highlighted by Karl Marx who propounded for an exploitation free society. It implies the absence of unemployment, exploitation, unfair wages, insecurity, substandard living etc.
(e) National Liberty :
National liberty implies ‘self-rule’ of the people Every nation has a right to rule over themselves. It means the absence of imperialism and colonialism. Thus when a states born, it is born with a right to be independent and sovereign. The nation should be independent of foreign domination as it will lead to slavery, exploitation and racial discrimination.
Besides the five liberties, with the passage of time, the concept of internationalism and International liberty has emerged and the entire world is viewed as one family of nations. The international liberty implies renunciation of war, abandonment of the use of force and peaceful settlement of all international disputes, limitation on the production of mass destructive weapons, coexistence of nation-states, international cooperation and peaceful world order.