The term ‘Liberty’ or ‘freedom’ denotes a very important principle of political philosophy. It is formally be describe as ‘absence of restrain’-Means in order to maintain liberty of the individual, the state should not impose any restraints on his activities in various sphere of life. The problem of liberty involves the adjustment of claims between individual and society (or community).If liberty of individual is increasingly restricted in the supposed interest of society, the result would be an unconditional submission to authority and if liberty would stretched extremely with disregard to the interest of society, liberty would be reduced to license.




Liberty and License – Liberty and Authority

When Liberty is interpreted as the absence or removal of all restrains on the action of individual as well as society, will be degenerates ‘License’ which implies absolute freedom.The regulation of liberty becomes necessary to safeguard liberty itself. As ‘BARKER’ observed –Liberty within the state is thus a relative and regulated liberty which implies the recognition of authority of the state over the individual. If we deny absolute liberty to the individual because no individual is perfect then why could accord absolute authority to the state when no state when no state on the earth is perfect. The conflict between liberty and authority has remained a thorny issue in Political theory.

Dimensions of Liberty

Liberty may formally be described as ‘absence of restrain’ means in order to maintain liberty of the individual; the state should not impose any restraints on the activities of individual in various spheres of life. There are three dimensions are as follows:-


CIVIL LIBERTY, according to BARKER the liberty of man in the capacity of an individual person- his personal liberty. This consists in three somewhat differently expressed articles:-

  • Physical freedom from injury or threat to the life, health and movement of the body.
  • Intellectual freedom for the expression of thought and belief.
  • Practical freedom of the play of will and the exercise of choice in the general field of contractual action and relations with other persons.

POLITICAL LIBERTY, whereas a man enjoys civil liberty in the capacity of an individual person, he enjoys political liberty in the capacity of a citizen. According to William Blackstone, political liberty meant the power of curbing government, from which it follows that he conceived of government as something external. But in the modern democracy where government is constituted by the people themselves, political liberty is “a liberty not of curbing government, but of constituting and controlling; constituting it by a general act of choice or election, in which we all freely share on the basis of universal suffrage; controlling it by a general and continuous process of discussion, in which we all freely share according to our capacities.”

This view of political liberty postulates the positive right of the people to be represented in decision-making bodies and to influence their decisions by freely articulating their views and opinions on issues of public policy. In effect, It is intended to ensure that the state shall be sensitive and responsible to the prevailing social consciousness.

ECONOMIC LIBERTY, broadly speaking, belongs to man in his capacity as a worker whether with hand or brain engaged in some gainful occupation or service. As Barker suggests that economic liberty is implied in the articles of civil liberty already enumerated. In fact, however, economic liberty is a ticklish issues. It is capable of conflicting interpretation by conflicting parties: employer and worker, trader and consumer, landlord and tenant etc. In short, it is the economic sphere that the claims of negative liberty and positive liberty come into direct conflict and confrontation.

Liberal- Individualist View of Liberty

Liberal writers use the terms ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ synonymously. For them, liberty or freedom is the supreme value which must be the guiding principle of all public policy. It is generally the liberty of individual which they wish to protect, and it is defined as ‘the absence of restraint ’ or ‘the absence of constraint or coercion ’.

Henry Sedgwick (1838-1900) asserted that a person who freely negotiated a contract, expressed his individual choice even if the terms were particularly onerous to him. The early liberals who stood for liberty on all spheres insisted that law must enforce all contracts (with some exceptions, such as in the case of contracts of slavery) since each individual was the best judge of his own interest, and he used his judgement before entering into any contract . This liberal –individualist view of liberty was originally put forward by the spokesmen of the new middle class –the merchant- industrialist class which sought to establish a ’free market society’ against the mercantile policies of the state.

It was John Stuart Mill (1806-73) who introduced the conception of positive liberty consequent transition from negative liberalism to positive liberalism. Mill started with a defence of laissez-faire individualism, but realizing its weakness in the light of the new socio-economic realities.

The Contemporary Debate

  • Isaiah Berlin, in his two concepts of liberty (1958), sought to give a new turn to the distinction between negative liberty and positive liberty .According to Berlin, negative liberty of individual consists in not being prevented from attaining his goal by other human beings. In both cases liberty implies an absence of restraint. Political liberty belongs only to the sphere of negative liberty.
  • F.A HAYEK, used the terms ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ interchangeable and argued that a man possesses liberty or freedom when he is not subject to coercion by the arbitrary will of another. This is the essence of individual freedom which should not be confused with any other meaning of freedom. In short, he identifies freedom as ‘freedom from constraints of the state’.
  • ROBERT NOZICK is another prominent liberal who seeks to oppose the principle of equality in strong terms. In his Anarchy, state and Utopia. He tries to determine functions of the state on the basis of his theory of origin of the state.
  • MARXIST CONCEPT OF FREEDOM is different from its liberal-individualist concept. It analyses freedom against the background of socio-economic conditions. According to them, freedom is not something that an individual enjoys in isolation or by ‘being left alone’. Rejecting the atomistic view of the individual, Marx and Engels argue that the natural needs of man, the very conditions of his existence, bring him into a natural relation with other individuals and civil society comes into existence, which holds the individuals together.


To be concluded that as we proceed to analyse the problem of liberty or freedom in various contexts, its complexity is gradually revealed to us. At the outset, when liberty is defined as ‘absence of restrain’, it seems to be a simple matter. This was the earliest definition put forward by the classical liberalism. According to this view, the state may impose certain restraints on the individual only in order to maintain public order and security and to ensure enforcement of contracts. Liberty is seen as an area where the state has no interference. It is argued that in order to allow maximum liberty to the individual, the state should restrict itself to minimum functions which are most essential.

In a nutshell, the quest for freedom is a continuous process. Although freedom is sought for the individual, yet it cannot be enjoyed by the individual in isolation. Genuine freedom- or maximum possible freedom- can be attained only in a congenial social order where (on lines of Marx’s phraseology) free development of each will be the necessary condition for free development of all…..

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  1. Polity | Aspirant Forum - November 17, 2015

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