The relationship between law and liberty is very much controversial in nature and unanimous of opinion is never reached on this vital question. Some philosophers like John Locke opines that law creates a condition, a congenial atmosphere for the enjoyment of liberty. But the contrary view is held by a galaxy philosophers and eminent scholars like Hobbes, Spencer, and Prof. A.V. Dicey etc. To Prof. A.V. Dicey “the more there is one the less there is the other”. Anarchist philosophers like Proudhon, Goodnow, Bacunm, Kropotkin etc. have gone to the extent of propounding for the abolition of state in order to attain greater freedom.
Therefore, the truth lies somewhere in between the two extreme views. The relationship between them can be studied in the context of a particular form of government. If in a dictatorial form of government law is the command of the dictator and does not reflect the public opinion, in a democratic system it is an essential condition for the full enjoyment of individual liberty. Since the days of the Sophists to the exponents of Laissez Faire theory, enactment of law was treated as a curtailment over individual liberty. The anarchists pleaded for the abolition of the state for the sake of complete freedom of the individual. Thus, the relationship between law and liberty is dependent on the political system in which they operate.
Thus, the real relationship between law and liberty lies in the reconciliation of the opposite views. Liberty without law will degenerate into a licence. Law without liberty is only oppressive in nature and protects the interests of the law-giver. Law creates a helpful condition, a congenial atmosphere where an individual gets the opportunity for the fuller development of his inner potentiality. Where law ends, tyranny begins and without a disciplined life liberty has no meaning.
Therefore, it brings the conclusion that law without liberty will not bring order but anarchy. As order and anarchy are contradictory, so law and liberty are complementary to each other. Thus, law is a condition for liberty. Both are close and intimate. Law is the protector of liberty as it punishes those persons who transgress laws. Sometimes the laws are the upholder of individual liberty as the enactment of labour laws provide adequate wages to the workers, fixing an working hour, guarantee pensionary benefits and compensation in the event of an accident to the workers. Thus, such type of laws safeguards the workers interests against the evil designs of the selfish employer.
But all laws are not the conditions for liberty. A law made by a dictator in complete disregard of the public opinion is only contradictory to liberty. Therefore, in certain political systems law and liberty are contradictory and antithetical.
At the end it can be concluded that absolute freedom is no freedom as it is a licence. Liberty is only a restricted freedom and this restriction is a reasonable restriction imposed by law alone. Thus, liberty is less than absolute freedom to exercise one’s will.