The concept of liberty occupies an important place in social political ideals. It has been a magic word in history, inspiring millions to revolt against absolute authority of any type, religious, social, political or economic. Where ever individuals suffer from injustice, they invoke the name of liberty. In this sense, history is a record of the unending struggle for liberty. The history of mankind reveals that liberty is the fundamental value that goes to make up the ethos of man and gives meaning and significance to human civilization. Human beings consider liberty necessary for the attainment of happiness and for the development of the diverse capacities of their personality.

“Liberty” and “Freedom” are terms which are generally used interchangeably. The idea of freedom presupposes absence of restraints. Freedom of choice and will implies a kind of freedom. It is the freedom to select one possibility among others. Generally, we talk of freedom of will in the moral realm. When we use the term freedom in the social or political context, it means the freedom to carry out what one has chosen to do. The restraint may be either due to the deliberate action of other persons or may be removable by the deliberate action of other person.

Development of the Concept of Liberty

Though Liberty and other Political ideals systematically developed in the modern age, ancient and medieval philosophers also talked about these ideals, though in different form.

For Greek statesman Pericles, freedom meant advancement and political activity for full citizens. For Greeks, liberty meant participation in the affairs of the state or society. However, Socrates and Plato did not accept the notion of individual liberty against the society or the state.

During the Medieval period, liberty was associated with the liberty of the soul and was deemed to lie in salvation. Christianity ruled out the question of liberty on this earth.

In modern age renaissance, reformation and industrial revolution brought the question of individual liberty at the forefront.

In its rising phase, liberty was highly individualistic. It was regarded as liberty “from the state”.

Later on in the nineteenth and twentieth century the concept of positive liberty is the form of “Liberty through the state” developed in the writings of Green, Laski, Barker etc. Marxists and Socialist thinkers developed their own notion of freedom “as creativity”. In this was liberty developed as a fully-fledged concept.

Meaning : The term liberty has meant different things to different philosophers.

At one stage of history, the thought concerning liberty looked as it as “absence of restraints” in the free competition of men involved in achieving “the other satisfactions of life”. In this context, liberty meant “an atmosphere where the law is silent and where state interference is the least”.

But soon this contradiction was removed and liberty was made to stand on a wider perspective. With the change in the circumstances, attention was drawn to the means which the state or the social institutions could provide and which were considered necessary for the attainment of liberty. This led to a comprehensive conception of the nature of liberty but still it could not get rid itself of the old conception completely. We refer to these two stages in the development of liberty as “negative” and “positive” liberty.

In the Marxist tradition, liberty was seen as conditioned by the structure of unequal relations in the capitalist society. Liberty for the Marxists therefore cannot be defined in the abstract but it has to be done only in relation to the prevalent social relations and the material conditions of production.

They define liberty as the “realization of creative potential of the individuals”.

Liberty and License

When liberty is interpreted as the absence or removal of all restraints on the actions of individuals in utter disregard of the interest of other individuals, liberty degenerates into license.

License means the abuse of freedom, it is the print at which freedom becomes excessive. Where as liberty is usually thought to be wholesome, desirable and morally corrupt.

Two aspects of Liberty :

a) Negative Liberty : The concept of Liberty as emerged from the theory and practice of early liberalism is known as Negative Liberty. This conception found classical expressions in the writings of John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer and J.S Mill.


* Negative Liberty believes that liberty is absence of restraints. Liberty implies that the individual has some assured private sphere, that there is some set of circumstances in his environment with which others cannot interfere. J.S Mill saw it as a “circle around every individual human being”, ” a space entrenched around”, “a reserved territory”.)
* State should be a limited state.
* Law and Liberty are contradictory.
* There is a distinction between Liberty and Conditions of Liberty.
* State should not intervene in the economy. Therefore they supported the policy of Laissez Faire.
* Liberty and Equality are contradictory. Criticism of the negative conception of liberty.

b) Positive Liberty : The positive conception of Liberty associates liberty with society, socio-economic conditions, rights, equality and justice. Laski, Barker, Rawls are the supporters of this notion of liberty. It is the “positive power” or “capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing/enjoying”.

According to Laski :

* Liberty is essential for man’s material and moral development. Like Justice and Equality, it is not an empty social idea floating in the air, but drives its specific content and meaning from a particular social and historical milieu in which it has to be understood. In the present context, it is not absence of restraints but a positive condition for free and full development of the individual in the society.
* All restraints are not evil. Positive liberty affirmed that restraints in some contexts are not antagonistic to liberty but its guarantee.
* Law and Liberty are complementary.
* The state is not an enemy of liberty but its best promoter. The duty of the state is not to leave the individual alone but, through positive action, create conditions and opportunities for the realization of liberty.
* Liberty and equality are complementary to each other.

Freedom cannot exist without conditions of freedom.

The difficulty with this argument is that it implies that someone else. (E.g The government knows better what is good for you. Therefore he (or it) should have the right to impose it on you in your own interest! This, it is argued can very easily lead to dictatorship and Fascism.

The Views of Macpherson

In the recent years Macpherson has presented a forceful case for positive liberty. He calls this “development liberty”. He says, “the division will be better marked if we change the name of positive liberty to developmental liberty”. Defining the concept he says, “positive liberty is liberty to act as a full human being”. A man’s positive liberty is virtually the same as what I have called a man’s power in the development sense.” Macpherson maintains the liberty means the capitalist mode of production, based on private property, should be replaced some other liberty of another individual. He says, “since each individual’s liberty must diminish or destroy the liberty of another individual, says that the only sensible way to measure individual liberty is to measure the aggregate net liberty of all the individuals in a given society.” So the measurement of liberty is the total liberty available to all the members of the society. Thus Macpherson gives importance to the social dimension of liberty.

The Main Points :

* Liberty is not the absence of restraints, rather it is the presence of those socio-economic and political conditions without which liberty cannot be realized.
* The object of liberty is the development of man as a social being.
* Without proper opportunities and social conditions liberty cannot be realized.
* Rights are necessary for liberty and are related to justice, morality and equality.
* The liberties of an individual must correspond with social welfare.
* The duty of the state is to create positive conditions for the realization of liberty and for this the state can limit the liberties of some individuals. However, the government must be a responsible government. The state is not viewed as an enemy of personal liberty.
* Liberty is a social requirement of social man and it is not given to asocial and anti-social beings.

Difference between Negative and Positive Liberty

a) Negative Liberty gives more weight to the personal aspect of man and regards liberty as inherent in the personality of an individual. The positive view of liberty looks at in the social context and maintains that it is based on the socio-economic and political conditions of society.

b) The negative view regard liberty as the absence of restraints, whereas the view of positive liberty emphasizes the positive conditions for the realization of liberty.

c) The negative view assumes that the State in an enemy of personal liberty, while the positive view assigns the responsibility of creating the positive conditions for the liberalization of liberty to the state.

d) The negative liberty emphasizes the personal and political aspects of liberty whereas and the positive view emphasizes the social and economic aspects of liberty.

e) The view of negative liberty does not associate it with rights, equality, morality and justice; the positive view regards liberty, equality and justice mutually related.

f) The view of negative liberty supports the negative state with minimum functions and the positive view supports the positive state with welfare functions.

g) The negative view is based on the market concept of society – that it is composed of atomized individuals having natural liberty. The positive view emphasizes the social aspect of man.

h) Liberalism supported negative liberty in its earlier phase while positive liberty has been supported mainly during the present century. Socialism also supports the positive view of liberty and maintains that only by the abolition of private property the necessary conditions for the realization of liberty can be established.
Kinds of Liberty :

a) Personal or Civil Liberty : Personal or civil liberty refers to a sphere of human actions in which the individuals are left to their own choice without being restrained by the state or other individuals or social groups. Generally they involve, freedom of thought and belief, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of movement freedom from social or physical coercion unless sanctioned by law, freedom of assembly, freedom to hold property and freedom to seek constitutional remedies in case any of the above freedom is violated.

b) Political Liberty : Political freedom involves freedom to participate in the political processes and in making political decisions. Modern democratic states seek to ensure political liberty of citizens by the following well known rights. It encompasses :

* Freedom to vote
* Freedom to stand for election
* Freedom to hold public offices
* Freedom to express views on all issues
* Freedom to seek accountability from the rulers

c) Economic Liberty : It is a freedom to pursue one’s livelihood and opportunity to obtain full value of one’s labor. In classical liberalism, economic liberty can be understood as freedom of trade and free market in which state doesn’t interfere.

New liberals however argue that mere freedom of trade deprives a vast number of people of their livelihood. For them, economic liberty means absence of constant fear of unemployment, presence of relative security of the terms and conditions of labor, adequate leisure right to arbitrate the conditions of employment, provision of public utilities etc.

d) National Liberty : Refers to the freedom of nations to determine their own internal and external affairs unrestrained by other states. This liberty confers on the people and the nations the right of self determination to seek their own distinctive identity and political independence.

Marxist view of Freedom : Marx states that the class character of the state in the capitalist society, reduces “freedom” to a class phenomenon. The Marxist interpretations regarding the real meaning and nature of liberty depend mainly on the nature and scope of economic liberty available in the pattern of social life. In the burgeois theory and practice, freedom is basically elitist and racist. Marx clearly mentioned that true freedom cannot be attained in a bourgeois society. Marx clearly mentioned that true freedom cannot be attained in a burgeois society. Bourgeios or capitalist society is characterized by the private ownership of means of production. It is a class divided society and in such a society freedom becomes the privilege of the capitalist class. All civil and political liberties are enjoyed by a particular class and majority of the society is deprived of these liberties. The Marxists argue that as long as the means of production remain in the hands of the capitalist class there can be no universalistic notion of freedom. The capitalist system of production is characteristized by constraint or necessity – a condition under which man’s life is governed by laws of nature that are independent of man’s will. So, only socialization of the means of production can help society to tide over this crisis, ushering in a new era of freedom.

The Marxist view of freedom is different from that of the liberal view. As Marx says, “man’s right to freedom is based not on association of man with man, but on the contrary, on the isolation of man from man. It is a right to this isolation, the right of the limited, secluded individual.”

The Marxist view emphasizes the need for creating new socio-economic conditions conducive to the enjoyment of freedom by all, as distinguished from the limited freedom of the propertied class in the capitalist society. So freedom cannot be secured by retaining the capitalist system even after necessary readjustments are made. True freedom can develop and grow only in a new socialist, classless society that would come into being after liquidation of the capitalist state.

J.S Mill : John Stuart Mill is one of the finest and the most moving essay on liberty. It makes an eloquent and powerful plea for liberty of thought and expression. It offers a defense not merely against the state interference but also against the pressures of the society, public opinion and religious orthodoxy on the affairs of the individual.

“Man is sovereign(Supreme) over his body(action), mind and soul(Speech and Thought)” – Mill

According to Mill liberty is the highest political ideal because the ultimate goal of human life is development of personality which is possible only in an atmosphere of liberty.

Mill defines liberty as non-interference of state and society in the thought process and personal action and rational interference of state and society in the thought process and personal action and rational interference in those actions which affect the society.

According to Mill there are two aspects of freedom :

* Freedom of thought, speech and expression
* Freedom of action

He supports absolute freedom in the domain of thought, speech and expression. Unless absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment – scientific, moral and theological – is guaranteed, a society is not completely free. His famous dictim was “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power would be justified in silencing mankind.

He based freedom of opinion and expression on three grounds : a) Any opinion we silence may be true b) Though the silenced opinion may be erraneous, it may be partly true and because the prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely the complete truth, it is only by the collusion of adverse opinion may be completely true, it will inevitably becoming a dogma, prejudice and formula unless it is exposed to the challenge of free discussion.

Regarding freedom of action, Mill divided the activities of the individual into two parts :

a) Self Regarding b) Other-Regarding

The self regarding action may include those matters which affect the individual himself, having no concern with others.

Other regarding actions are those actions of the individual which affect the society as a whole. In self regarding actions, he again supports absolute liberty. But he permits state intervention in other regarding actions. At this juncture we can clearly see the emerging idea of positive liberty is Mills Philosophy though his overall emphasis is in the favor of negative liberty.

Criticism :

a) Barker says that Mill has glorified liberty but Mill didn’t formulate a philosophy of rights to protect liberty.
b) At maximum placed, Mill seems to be a supporter of negative liberty which according to Barker is empty notion of liberty.

Abstract Individual : According to Barker, Mill divides human action into self regarding actions and other regarding actions that means these are some actions of individual (self regarding) which affect the individual (self regarding) which affect the individual directly or indirectly affects other members of society. There Mill is talking of an abstract individual.

b) Mill’s emphasis on unrestricted freedom of speech and expression may lead to many social problems. For example : Contempt of court or judiciary, security of state, harm to public morality and harm to dignity of follow beings.

c) Uninterrupted freedom of speech of expression may lead to social tension and social violence.

Significance :

a) Mills arguments = logically sound
b) Mill = tried to combine together both negative and positive liberty by formulating non interference in self regarding action and logical interference in other regarding action
c) Mill’s view on liberty are very important to protect the individual from the dictatorship of state and society.

Therefore, in contemporary days also in the era of growing intolerance and social censorship, Mill’s views on liberty may be used as justification for liberty.
Freedom and Responsibility

Satre says “Man is free”. Freedom does not mean a property of existence. “To be” is identical with “to be free”. Existence and freedom are the two aspects of the same coin. Man has no other option than to choose. One can say “A man may be guided by others”. Satre says that man himself has chosen to be guided by other. This decision is also taken by man himself. Man when guided by other also chooses to be guided by others. Here too he is free.

Man has free choices in all cases. Man always finds himself in certain situation and in every situation there are many possibilities and he is compelled to choose one of those possibilities. It does not mean that he cannot be influenced by others. He can be. But it is on the man to accept a particular influence or to reject command or other from superior are also open to man to abide or go against. Satre refers to Abraham’s story. One day God commaned (ordered) him t sacrifice the dearest things. He sacrified his dearest son. Satre says there that even here Abraham was free to choose. He was free to either obey god or not obey him. So he was free. Always the choice is made by man ultimately.

Satre points out limitation in freedom. One can’t choose his/her family. These things are called faciticity. These are factual conditions : socio-political condition, death etc. are limitation to freedom.

a) A limitation becomes a hurdle only if I choose. If I don’t choose, there is no hurdle. (A thing appears to be limited because a person choose. If you don’t choose, there is no limitation) eg a locked room is limited, when one wants to go out.

b) Even in a limited condition there are several options/alternatives.

c) Finally, some people confused to equate choice with successes. Freedom of choices doesn’t mean the freedom to succeed. Freedom doesn’t mean successful action. Man is free to choose, not to act successfully. Freedom is not destroyed by failure. Successful doing and freedom are different things. Therefore man is completely free in this sense.

Along with freedom comes responsibility. Man is free and is also responsible for choices and his actions. Man always finds himself in certain situations and every such situation provides you with many possibilities and he is compelled to choose from one of these possibilities.

If man is free, he is responsible for what he chooses. If man is angry, he has chosen to be angry. Earlier Satre said even the moods and situation is chosen by man. Man is completely responsible for his decision. One cannot give excuses. There is no escape route/go at for ones decision. Freedom is necessarily connected with responsibility. More freedom means more responsibility.

Responsibility creates strength – when a man chooses something, he assigns value. If it is value then it should be for others also, i.e by a particular choice I’m not only responsible for myself I become responsible for others as well.

This realization increases the feeling of anguish and anguish at times becomes unbearable. (As others may not agree with your choices)

Anguish is tormenting and unbearable. It is painful, full of anguish. So people often try to avoid responsibility. If one avoids responsibility.

What is to be done : Bad Faith

There are a number of ways a person tries to avoid responsibility such as circumstances, fate, God. If there’s a decision which is really of great important one do not postpone it.

* Any attempt to skip from responsibility is bad faith.
* People try to make other things responsible like God, circumstances etc.

One is in inauthentic existence. Satre calls it Bad Faith. Procrastination is a type of BAD FAITH. There are two types of Bad Faith :

* One is “playing the role”. He gives an example of a waiter in a restaurant.

A waiter in a cafe employed for 5-6 hrs. But waiter wears persona (mask) of waiter which he’s not. Waiter takes his role seriously and forgets that he’s a real human being and waiter is a part timejob. He forget that so he becomes polite, most likely, but everywhere he isn’t waiter. He changes his whole personality and starts playing role of waiter. So, most of us assume the role which is assigned to us by society. We become Prisoner of Image and forget our real thing, creative-choice etc. This happens with inauthentic beings.

* Second way is “Treating oneself as material things”

E.g Young boy and girl – intellectual talk. One day boy holds girl’s hand. Girl has to decision. But she doesn’t takes decision and sensation occurs in their body and mind. Hand in boy’s hand and mind not taking decision.

Bad faith is self deception. It is also similar to telling lie to oneself. Here the speaker deceives himself.

Authentic existence means admitting the responsibility of what a man does or chooses.

* If a man realizes his freedom and responsibility, he’s an authentic being.
* If he tries to escape from the responsibility he is inauthentic and he is a fallen being.