Meaning and Definitions of Liberty:
The word liberty is derived from liber. The root of liberty is another two words libertas and liberte. Liber means “free”. Many people are accustomed to use freedom. But both the words mean same thing and they are used interchangeably. In strict sense there is a difference. We call “freedom movement”, “freedom fighter” etc. but not liberty movement. Liberty is generally used in the case of individual and freedom refers to greater entity such as freedom of a country.
But this distinction does not always hold good. For example, we call national liberation movement of Africa or Latin America. Here liberation is used to denote freedom or liberty. In political science, however, the interchangeable use is the general practice.
The term liberty is associated with two other words—toleration and liberation. Toleration means to allow other men to do their duties and even if that creates disadvantage to some that should be tolerated. It is because the liberty of one is restriction to others, and vice versa. Naturally if one does not tolerate others’ actions, the people cannot have liberty. So we can say that liberty cannot be separated from toleration.
Similarly, in recent years we witness the emergence of another word which is a variation of liberty—it is liberation. Today the words ‘liberation movement’ are very often used. When a nation is under foreign domination it cannot be called a free nation so also the citizens (it is used in general sense) are not free.
There is large number of definitions of liberty or freedom. In our day-to-day speech or conversations we use the term to mean absence of constraints or limitations or obstacles. When we find that an individual is free to do as he likes it will be assumed that he is free, that is, he has liberty. Prof. Harold Laski’s definition is well-known and oft-quoted. “By liberty I mean the eager maintenance of that atmosphere in which men have the opportunity to be their best selves”.
Heywood says that philosophers and political scientists do not use the term in identical sense. The philosophers use it as a property of the will. It is primarily a matter of mind and psychology. By contrast, the political scientists use the term in different senses. It is connected with values, development of mind and inherent qualities of individuals. It also denotes a congenial atmosphere in which men will be able to flourish their good qualities.
Freedom also means the scope to select the required alternative from a number of alternatives. If this scope or opportunity is not available to the individual that will mean the absence of freedom. Hence liberty is an atmosphere where individuals will face a number of choices and they will pick up one or more according to their requirement. D. D. Raphael views freedom in this sense. He further maintains that freedom is the absence of restraints. Raphael further says that freedom means to carry out what one has chosen to do. This sense is generally used in political science.
Nature of Liberty:
After thorough study the political scientists have found out several features of liberty or freedom.
We note few of them:
1. Freedom to do means the freedom to choose among the alternatives which again means the freedom of conscience. This is an important characteristic of liberty. Whenever an individual intends to do something he is supposed to be guided by his conscience. The conscience is the force that guides the individual. But Raphael says that conscience is not always the force that guides the individual for action. There may be other forces.
2. Laski calls liberty an atmosphere. In the atmosphere, the individual will be permitted to perform such activities that will facilitate the development of the best qualities a man possesses. We can say that freedom is a material condition of social life.
3. Freedom is understood as voluntary and un-coerced action. Behind every action there shall exist spontaneity. When man is forced to do a work that will lead to the loss of liberty. We can say liberty and coercion are antithetical terms. This, however, is not always correct. Sometimes a man is forced to act accordingly to make way for the exercise of freedom to others. If a person creates obstacles, authority removes them by force.
4. Norman Barry pointed out another feature of liberty. He suggests to draw distinction between “feeling free” and “being free”. According to Barry the following is the distinction. Feeling free is a state of contentment and “being free” is a state in which major impediments to making choices have been removed. In his opinion liberty (Barry uses both liberty and freedom interchangeably) includes both meanings.
The distinction may be illustrated in the following way. A convict may commit a crime deliberately in order to go to prison for security reasons. Here the condition of “feeling free” appears, but not the “being free”. He says that “being free” and “being able” are two terms different from each other. When there are no physical impediments a man may undertake any work but his ability does not allow him to shoulder the burden of doing the work. So here we find that a person is free to do the work but he is not able to do it, and mainly for that reason his ability and freedom stand apart.
Explaining freedom we must take note of this distinction. It can further be illustrated by another example. A man has the freedom to go to any expensive restaurant and take choicest dish. But his fund or health condition do not allow him. Or it may be that doctor has advised him not to take food outside. In our analysis of the nature of freedom we must consider these subtitles.
5. A plausible distinction can be drawn between political liberty and other types of liberty. In a democratic state political liberty is especially stressed. Participation in all affairs of the state is encouraged. But the same individuals are confronted with dissimilar situation in social and cultural fields. In less advanced societies (these may be or are democratic) numerous superstitions inhibit the free lives of the individuals.
They are not always free to select their religious ways or to practice any belief or faith: on the contrary, in many autocratic states political liberty is very limited but religious or other liberties do exist- Our viewpoint is that for a proper analysis of the concept of freedom all forms of liberty are not to be mixed or confused. In other words various types of liberty shall carry their our identity.
6. Liberty is a very comprehensive idea and it changes with the change of time and other things such as outlook, physical conditions, attitude etc. By liberty one need not mean only political or any other’ particular type of liberty. The objective of liberty is quite ambitious—to make feasible the development of good qualities of man and for that purpose all types of liberty may be required and in this sense it is comprehensive in nature.
Liberty is, again, a dynamic concept. If attitude and outlook of individuals are changed the sphere or extent of liberty must also change. For example, women of today’s society are claiming more jobs or employment opportunities and they deem it as their right and they claim that they must have the liberty to do job.
Women are also demanding to do job with men in night shift and with full protection. In Western countries women work in night shifts and India is proceeding to that. The age of Information and Technology has enhanced freedom.
Liberty is Conditional, Not Absolute:
Prof. Ernest Barker, in his noted work, talks about legal liberty and this type of liberty is never absolute but always conditional. He says: “legal liberty, just because it is legal, is not an absolute or unconditional liberty. The need of liberty for each is necessarily qualified and conditioned by the need of liberty for all”. Let us see what Barker wants to say.
It is a mistaken idea that liberty need not be restricted to limited number of persons. When liberty is legal, everybody has an access to it. But in many societies only a handful of persons have the opportunity to enjoy liberty and on the opinion of Barker this is to be done away with. How is it to be done? His suggestion is by legal way the state shall impose restrictions upon the individuals in regard to have access to liberty.
The state will enact laws as to the enjoyment of liberty. Everyone in the society has an identity and in that background he can claim liberty, Barker beautifully observes: [Liberty] is not the indefinite liberty of an undefined individual, it is the definite liberty of a defined personality”.
Liberty in the state, that is legal liberty, is always relative and regulated. When liberty is regulated, its amount is much greater than the absolute liberty. This is due to the reason that absolute liberty is the liberty of only few persons but the relative or regulated liberty is meant for all men. Even men whose liberty is controlled can enjoy liberty.
Conflicts among Liberties:
Barker has drawn our attention to a very interesting aspect of liberty. He says that in any modern society there are three forms of liberty. These are civil liberty, political liberty and economic liberty. These three types of liberties may come into conflict. How does this happen? His analysis runs in the following manner: By virtue of civil liberty an individual has the freedom to express his opinion through book, article or any other means. But the parliamentarians by virtue of their political liberty can impose restriction upon the freedom of expression or speech. Here civil and political liberties clash with each other and this frequently happens in any society.
Conflict is often found between civil and economic liberties. A worker can claim higher wages or less working hour and this falls within his economic freedom. On the other hand the employer has the civil liberty to enter into contract with the workers dictating the terms of wages, working hours etc. In this way different forms of liberty create conflict among the citizens and Barker believes that this is inevitable.
Everyone is eager to enjoy liberty to which he is entitled. There is no way of getting out of this dilemma and remembering this (perhaps) Barker has said that liberty is really a complex notion, it has the capacity to unite men and, at the same time, it divides or disunites them—clash of interest is the cause of disunity.
Law and Liberty:
We shall now turn to a very vexed issue—the relationship between law and liberty. There is a misconception that liberty is antithetical to law, or vice versa. Those who think in this line believe in the negative character of liberty, which implies that liberty is the absence of restraints. Law means restraints or regulations. Naturally, more laws will lead to the curtailment of liberty.
This idea about the relation between the two is erroneous. Liberty is out and out a positive idea. If liberty is to be made a meaningful concept, regulations are essential. Unrestricted liberty may cause enhancement of liberty for few persons, but it will result in the reduction of liberty of the majority. This makes liberty conditional. Liberty, to be proper, must come under the restrictions of law.
This is the exact relation between law and liberty. But the relationship between law and liberty must be judged in the proper perspective. Law will not be permitted to interfere with the freedom of individuals. The purpose of law, in regard to liberty, must be to protect liberty for all. Mention may be made in this connection that though law makes the enjoyment of liberty more liberal, blind obedience to law does not do that.
Obedience to law must be based on reason and rationality. Again, a law must be based on the approval of citizens. This does not, of course, mean that a law is to be approved by all, only majority support behind a law is enough. A law shall not be used to harass citizens.
Berlin’s Theory of Liberty:
Isaiah Berlin’s (1909-1997) theory of liberty is a highly acclaimed and widely criticised theory. His Four Essays on Liberty (1969) contains the following essays, Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century, Historical Inevitability, Two Concepts of Liberty and J. S. Mill and the Ends of Life. We are here concerned chiefly with the third essay—Two Concepts of Liberty. Berlin was born in Latvia and received partial education in St. Petersberg.
He went to Britain at the beginning of the 1920s and the rest of his education and service were in Britain. Berlin was a strong believer of liberal pluralism. In his Two Concepts of Liberty Berlin has carefully and pedantically analysed various aspects of liberty. Of the two types of liberty—positive and negative—his preference for the latter is quite clear. He believed in the existence of innumerable values and ideas and the conflict among them. In such a situation the positive liberty is likely to do more harm and may lead to totalitarian situation. His penchant for liberal pluralism encouraged him to lend support for negative liberty.
In the opening para of the Two Concepts of Liberty he has said that there is disagreement in every sphere of human society—political problems arise from and thrive on this disagreement. He further observes that people may arrive at agreement on the ends of society or functions of government but, at the same time, they will disagree on the means to achieve the ends.
Positive versus Negative Liberty:
In his analysis of positive and negative liberties Berlin wants to raise the following questions:
(a) Whether the difference he has drawn between positive and negative liberty is specious or too sharp,
(b) Whether the term liberty can be extended widely. But while doing so care shall be taken about the retention of significance. In other words, the extension of the meaning of liberty cannot curb the significance of the concept,
(c) Why political liberty is considered important. Berlin claims that he has slightly amended his earlier version of the concept of negative and positive liberty. This, however, does not change the core idea of liberty.
Berlin has discussed some of the definitions given by leading political scientists of his time. He, in the following way, defines liberty, “The freedom of which I speak is opportunity for action, rather than action itself. If, although I enjoy the right to walk through open doors, I prefer not to do so, but to sit still and vegetate. I am not thereby rendered less free. “Freedom is the opportunity to act, not action itself, the possibility of action, not necessarily that dynamic realisation of it”. Berlin refers to a very interesting aspect of liberty.
Normally we say that freedom means when man satisfies his wants. But if he cannot satisfy his wants he must learn the way as to how and in what way he can meet his wants. And, by adopting this method, he can contribute to his happiness. In this case the individuals will have to devise ways of meeting demands.
Negative Concept of Liberty:
A man is said to be free to the extent that his actions and movements (and even views) are not controlled by other men or body of men. That is almost everything of a man remains beyond all sorts of control. Berlin defines it in the following language: “Political liberty is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed by others”. In this definition the important word is unobstructed. To speak the truth this is the core word or idea of Berlin’s definition of negative liberty.
Liberty will be called negative when an individual’s activities remain unobstructed by others. When the activities of a man are interfered by others or when he is coerced by someone he will reasonably be called un-free. So inability caused by coercion is another name of “Un-freedom”. Coercion means deliberate intervention by others and thus freedom and coercion do not coexist.
But, on the contrary, if the inabilities are the consequences of other causes then that cannot be called loss or absence of liberty. A man may be excessively extravagant —naturally he will suffer from poverty and will not be able to meet all the necessary requirements. He will not have the freedom to consult a specialist or make trip round the world or to visit a good eating house. “This inability would not be described as lack of freedom, least of all political freedom”. Berlin says that the inability caused by particular factors is special case.
Negative Liberty and Non-interference:
In the opinion of Berlin freedom in its negative meaning is equivalent to noninterference and he has given special stress on it. A man is free in the sense that he is not interfered with by others. A man will have the scope to do his work without any interference. In the support of his contention Berlin remembers Hobbes.
Talking about freedom Hobbes said “A free man is not hindered to do what he hath the will to do? No obstruction will stand on the way of doing anything which a man intends. He further observes that the law is the most powerful “fetter”. So, according to Hobbes, law is the killer of human freedom.
But a question here arises. What would exactly be the area of non-interference? Should it be limited or unlimited? Berlin, drawing examples from the writings of traditional political philosophers, has maintained that the area of non-interference must not be unlimited or wide.
If everyone wants to have unlimited or very wide area of non-interference, then a situation would arise when everybody will try to interfere with others’ liberty. “The classical English political philosophers disagreed about how wide the area should or could be. They supposed that it could not be unlimited! Because if it were it would entail a state in which all men could boundlessly interfere with all other men, and this kind of “natural” freedom would lead to social chaos”.
Negative Liberty and Interference:
We have just now noticed that negative liberty is not equivalent to complete noninterference. Such a situation will be another name of anarchy and anarchy is not freedom. That is why Berlin suggests that since the interests and aims of different individuals are incompatible a process to harmonise among them shall there be and this is to be done by law. Law will harmonise different objectives of men.
In the absence of law or any type of restriction the creation of a political organisation will be meaningless. Not only this, even if an association were set up its credibility will be at the lowest level. Here again a problem arises. What would be the extent of interference? We feel that it is necessary to arrive at a compromise.
This can be better stated in the words of Berlin. “But equally it is assumed, especially by such libertarians as Locke and Mill in England, and Constant and de Tocqueville in France, that there ought to exist a certain minimum area of personal freedom which must on no account be violated”.
Absolute non-interference is practically an impossibility. Keeping aside all considerations and issues we assertively say that men are by nature and due to circumstances are interdependent and if that be so there cannot be anything like absolute privacy. Interference, therefore, must occur and it will be taken as fait accompli.
Berlin has drawn our attention to a real situation. It is admitted on all hands that everyone shall have the opportunity to enjoy freedom and necessary steps to that extent are to be taken. But here arises a crucial problem. When in a society large number of men are underfed, naked, suffer from various diseases, they are deprived of basic education, is it not a political claptrap to allow them enjoy freedom?
Freedom is essential for all residents of a society. But which one is to be given priority- medicine, education, clothing or freedom? A peasant or an ordinary man must have the minimum freedom to have food, clothes, medicine and when this minimum freedom is achieved, he can claim larger amount of liberty which includes political liberty. But neglecting minimum liberty and thinking about larger amount of liberty is nothing but a mockery.
Liberty is a goal and indeed a very coveted goal but it cannot be treated in isolation. A society must make all sorts of efforts to reach the goal of minimum liberty and after that there shall be arrangements for ensuring greater liberty. Once Prof. Laski said that everyone had the right (or liberty) to take minimum food and when this liberty is attained some may claim to have cake. The satisfaction of minimum needs is the primary condition for granting better and higher privileges. J. S. Mill also said that all are entitled to minimum freedom.
Berlin and Mill:
In the course of his detailed analysis of negative notion of liberty Berlin refers to another famous thinker—J. S. Mill. Mill is also a protagonist of liberty and this is termed by many as negative liberty. Mill in his On Liberty had forcefully argued for unobstructed liberty. He said, “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way”.
It may be stated here that this is the gist of Mill’s theory of liberty. Though Mill did not categorically mention the removal of limitation he, in his mind, had that idea. To him freedom was equivalent to pursuance of one’s own good and any obstruction could be regarded as inimical to liberty.
Why did Mill give so much importance to liberty? If we cursorily go through his On Liberty, we shall find that without adequate liberty civilisation could not progress. That is why he gave maximum importance to liberty. Mill believed that the progress of human civilisation was far more important than throttling the voice of some persons in the name of expanding freedom.
Berlin discovers few discrepancies in Mill’s analysis of liberty. One is that according to Mill all coercion is bad. But when coercion is applied to combat greater evil this should also be bad—Mill does not say. Another inconsistency, according to Berlin is, men should strive to find out the truth and that truth is to be found only in freedom. Though these two are liberal assumptions “they are not identical”. Berlin nevertheless, agrees with Mill’s views of liberty because it is modern.
Negative Liberty and Privacy:
When liberty is viewed in negative terms, the absence of external interference, it is closely linked with privacy. Because the external interference encroaches upon the exclusively private affairs of individuals and in Western society it is always given priority. Privacy is different from public realm and privacy conscious individuals do not intend any violation. Not only this, it is believed that a major part of the affairs, of the men of Western society comprises private affairs.
They also treat private affairs as sacrosanct. It has also been asserted that all the private affairs shall be within the management and control of individuals and the state authority has nothing to do with these affairs. So far as the private realm is concerned the individuals should be left alone.
“Any intrusion to the privacy of persons is, in this sense, an infringement of their liberty. To prize negative freedom is clearly to prefer the private to the public, and to wish to enlarge the scope of the former at the expense of the latter”. It is still believed in the Western countries that education, health, to pursue arts etc. are all subjects of private realm and the state has nothing to do with all these.
These should be left entirely at the hands or discretion of the individuals. Even the state interference in economic field is uncalled for. A large section of modem liberal thinkers forcefully argue that the state should refrain from interfering in the economic activities because these are private affairs and the individuals understand these far better than the state.
Negative Liberty and Rationality:
Unlimited faith on the rationality and individuality of person is treated as a potential cause of the popularity of negative freedom. It is believed that the individuals are more or less rational and behind their activities there is proof of rationality. Though this has not been clearly stated by the advocates of negative freedom, it is surmised that each person understands his own interests and knows how to protect them. If the individuals are left alone they are capable of protecting their interests properly and efficiently.
On the other hand, if the state interferes and coercion is frequently applied in the name of general interests that will frustrate the spontaneity of the individuals. So, for the sake of proper development of rationality and furtherance of spontaneity it is essential that the state interference should be reduced to the lowest level. Modern thinkers have called the state interference as a type of paternalism and all forms of paternalism, however, well-intentioned, is enough to dwarf the responsibility and spontaneity of individuals.
Naturally any type of paternalism or attempt of paternalism must be nipped in the bud. It has been argued that if the individuals are left to themselves they will commit mistakes and that may inflict temporary loss to the economy or interests of the society. But the other side, and it is the bright side, of the picture is they will learn the right lesson from their mistakes and this is very important. State interference sometimes can guide the individuals but that can never be the permanent feature of state.
The positive meaning of liberty may be defined in the following words: It means that the individual is his own master. The life and decisions of one will depend on the individuals themselves. The individual is the instrument of his own affairs. The positive sense of freedom is concerned with the question “By whom am I governed?” rather than “How much am I governed?” “I wish to be a subject, not an object, to be moved by reasons, by conscious purposes which are my own, not by causes which affect me. I wish to be somebody, not nobody, a doer deciding not being decided for, self directed and not acted upon by external nature or by other men as if I were a thing, an animal or a slave incapable of playing a human role”.
The positive sense of freedom wants to emphasise the following:
“The freedom which consists in being one’s own master and the freedom which consists in not being prevented from choosing as I do by other men”. The paradox of positive freedom has been explained beautifully by Heywood, “Indeed a demos that imposes many restrictive laws on itself may be positively free but negatively quite un-free.
In its other sense, positive freedom relates to the ideas of self-realisation and personal development”. “I feel free to the degree that I believe this is true, and enslaved to the degree that I am made to realise that it is not”.
Positive Freedom and Self-realisation:
Berlin has assertively said that there is a close relationship between positive liberty and self-realisation. The best way of attaining self-realisation (realisation of the best self which a man possesses) is the positive form of freedom. Every individual has his own motive, mission and vision; he wants to act to fulfill that mission or vision. He decides his own method and makes plan. All these he will do as a free man. It means the person will have freedom. Freedom as he understands. He will utilise the freedom in his own way.
But the realisation of self will never be possible if congenial atmosphere is not available. It means that the individual will not feel any obstruction which stands on the way of self-realisation. Berlin says that self-realisation cannot thrive in vacuum or in an atmosphere free from all sorts of obstructions.
Berlin maintains, “The notion of liberty is not the negative conception of a field without obstacles a vacuum in which nothing obstructs me but the notion of self-direction or self-control”. What a man wants to do, he will have the opportunity and freedom to do. Berlin says that there is the necessity of obstruction for the realisation of self.
The aim of the restriction imposed by the state of society will be to help the furtherance of self-realisation. It has been assumed that obstructions are not always harmful. They have good effects and here lies the fundamental difference between negative freedom and positive freedom.
Relationship between Two Freedoms:
We have discussed two types of liberty and now we like to throw light, on the probable relationship between these two. The word probable is used here to mean that the purest form of negative or positive liberty is not found in real society. No liberty is absolutely negative or positive. Nevertheless there is a relationship between them. Berlin had earlier raised the issue which we have already noted. He asked whether the difference between negative and positive liberty is specious.
He proceeds to analyse the relation in this way. Berlin says that the two questions- How much am I governed? and by whom am I governed?—are not quite identical. But this is not to say that the distinction between these two questions is unimportant. Let us see what Berlin exactly says, “I confess that I cannot see either that the two questions are identical, or that the difference is unimportant”. He admits that two types of liberty are different but the relation between them cannot be ignored and Berlin has emphasised this.
In his analysis we find that there are many obstacles which the man cannot remove or ignore, and if these are not removed the development of personality or freedom will receive serious setback. For the removal of these obstacles the interference of an authority is indispensable.
This proves that freedom cannot be the absence of restraints. Berlin concludes “despite the heroic efforts to transcend or dissolve the conflicts and resistance to others, if I do not wish to be deceived, I shall recognise the fact that total harmony with others is incompatible with self-identity”. What he wants to say is that there cannot be compatibility among the interests of different men. If so, outside interference is a must. But that does not mean that persons will not have an area which can be called exclusive.
The two concepts of liberty—negative and positive—have very often been separately treated by their advocates. But a close scrutiny between them reveals that in ultimate analysis there is no important difference. The aims of both liberties are almost same. Both want the development of the qualities of men. Some people think that the removal of all hindrances can help the attainment of the objectives.
On the contrary, others are of opinion that some sorts of outside interference are necessary. This is chiefly due to the reason that there are incompatibilities in interests and aims of differences and for their removal force or coercion is essential. Here the coercion should not be treated as abductor but liberator.
Coercion liberates individuals from enslavement. Since there is no fixed area of positive and negative liberties there is every possibility of overlapping. In society this overlapping frequently occurs. The distinction between the two is pedantic and psychological. It is the personal preference of the thinker.
Curtailment of Liberty:
Some critics have pertinently asked—Can the number of liberty be expanded and significance of liberty be kept intact? It is a very complex question and cannot be answered directly. Enhancement of the number of liberty is absolutely desirable. But there is a lot of difference between to desire liberty and the translation of desire into reality.
How much liberty a citizen can enjoy depends on the social, economic and political structure of society and, simultaneously, on the persons themselves. The citizens may cherish in mind to enjoy liberty but many hindrances stand on their way and this results in curtailment of liberty.
If we go through the history of Western political thought we shall find that from the middle Ages people are experiencing the curtailment of liberty. In the middle Ages individuals had very little religious freedom. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the rise of absolute monarchy drastically curbed freedom of general public. There were agitations no doubt but the situation did not improve considerably.
The Industrial Revolution of the second-half of the eighteenth century turned the situation to a different direction. The fabulous amount of wealth generated by Industrial Revolution was practically captured by a handful of capitalists leading to the gross inequalities of wealth and income. The number of have-nots began to increase astronomically. The have-nots were deprived of basic requirements of life.
In other words, the economic liberty was enjoyed by few persons and the majority was deprived of it. It is a tragedy that the stalwart liberals stridently advocated for liberty but their arguments were confined within the academic analysis. The result was that there was hardly any perceptible improvement in the condition of liberty.
Two opposite tendencies have developed in nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One is there has arisen an increasing claim for more and more liberty and, on the other hand, different techniques are being devised to corner the future prospects of liberty, specially in its positive sense.
The dominant class and elite groups are active and in various ways— they have established their full control over different branches of state authority. This has mutilated the basic norms of democracy based on liberty. So while we are talking about more and more liberty the tendency is developing in opposite direction. We wish to conclude this point by quoting large passage from Berlin’s book:
“Nor do I wish to deny that the new ways in which liberty, both in its positive and negative sense, can be and has been, curtailed have arisen since the nineteenth century. In an age of expanding economic productivity there exist ways of curtailing both types of liberty—for example—by permitting or promoting a situation in which entire groups and nations are progressively shut off from benefits which have been allowed to accumulate exclusively in the hands of other groups and nations, the rich and strong—a situation which, in turn, has produced … social arrangements that have caused walls to arise around men and doors to be shut to the development of individuals and classes”.
Importance of Political Liberty:
To the bourgeois theoreticians and politicians political liberty is of prime importance. It is because the political liberty means people’s right to pursue their own aims and interests in political field without any apprehension of state interference. The liberalisation of political liberty or its expansion beyond the narrow limits prescribed by some will undoubtedly enable the citizens to pursue their own objectives which will ultimately accelerate the development of society.
It has also been argued that freedom in the political sphere will have a positive impact on the economic sphere. People will get enough opportunities as well as freedom to proceed with their economic functions without any hindrance. The laissez faire doctrine, though primarily based on economic freedom, it does not ignore the political freedom because liberty in political fields will encourage citizens to start new schemes in other fields.
This can be illustrated by the functioning of democracy. Modern political scientists think in these terms. The New Right concept developed in the seventies and eighties of the last century wanted a general shift from the state oriented organisation to market- oriented organisation and this was implemented by Reagan in USA and Margaret Thatcher in Britain.
Robert Nozick also propounded a theory of minimal state. All these reveal that political liberty is to be given maximum importance. Of course arguments against this approach are huge in number. However, the fact is that the forward march of market economy has accompanied with it the political liberty.
Marxist Theory of Liberty:
Part of his Political Philosophy:
Neither Marx nor Engels did build up a separate theory of liberty. Their main interests lay in analysing the capitalist system and for unraveling its true nature they studied history. In the course of discussion they studied the nature of state, functioning of bourgeois democracy, condition of rights and freedoms of common people etc.
Their study of history is based on the materialist outlook and because of this Marx’s analysis is called materialist interpretation of history. Both Marx and Engels made strenuous efforts to show that in capitalist society the entire state structure is controlled by the bourgeois class for its own benefit. All the privileges and wealth are captured by the capitalist.
The capitalist class enjoys all sorts of rights and liberties and the machinery of the state are used by them to safeguard the interests of the ruling class. Naturally what is generally regarded as political concept or theory is merely the products of bourgeois brain. Political theory or any part of it can never be a variant of general capitalist political theory.
Whatever Marx and Engels had said about political theory in general was their reflection about capitalist society in general and political theory of capitalist state in particular. Political theory of capitalist state means political scientists and scholars discussed political concepts in support of capitalism. They have made suggestion, in overt manner, to strengthen the foundation of capitalism.
Marx on Human Nature and Society:
Marx and his followers believed that the aptitudes and attitudes of man are the products of society or social atmosphere, they are not hereditary. The material conditions of society determine the human character and if so if we want to change or remodel the human character, attitudes, aptitudes etc., it is first of all necessary to change the material conditions of society.
The capitalists have built up the structure of society in such a manner that common people or the working class have no scope to enjoy liberty or to exercise rights. Qualities of human beings are not innate and in order to remodel or build them up the whole social structure is to be rebuilt.
In the analysis of a Marxist we find the following observation: “The individual is the social being. His life, even if it may not appear in the direct form of a communal life carried out together with others—is therefore an expression and confirmation of social life”.
The term ‘individual is the social being’ means that he is an integral part of whole society and his identity cannot be separated from society. The individual develops his personality with the help of opportunities which are opened to him by the society. So if he fails to develop the qualities, it is not his fault, or he is not wholly responsible for it, the structure of the society is to be blamed. It is the society that determines how much liberty individual will enjoy.
Marxist Theory of Liberty is Positive:
The standard definition of negative liberty is its absence of restraints. Hence proper liberty must be free from coercion. But to Marx and many others liberty must be thought not in the negative sense. The Marxist concept of freedom, in larger sense, is heir to wider and richer view stemming from such philosophers as Spinoza (1632-1677).
Rousseau (1712-1778), Kant (1724-1804) and Hegel (1770-1831). All of them held the view that freedom is a way of self determination and development of mental qualities. Marx by freedom did not mean that it was the absence of restrictions. Its main focus is not what the state cannot do, but what it can do and what it must do for the all-round development of human personality.
The Marxists have never propagated the minimal state theory or the less done the better idea. It is the duty of state to do whatever is necessary. The objective of the state functioning should be to raise the development of man to the highest level.
We have already noted that aptitude and other qualities are the products of social system or structure and it is the primary function of state/authority to remodel that structure to the tune of human progress. In this notion of Marx and his followers there is practically no touch of negative outlook towards state. In other words the state must play constructive role in the arena of human development.
The bourgeois thinkers stressed the negative sense of freedom because they believed that too much restrictions would chain the freedom of capitalists and due to that they would not be in a position to exploit and control the society according to their wishes. If the activities of state were not kept at minimum level domination of the bourgeoisie would be drastically curtailed.
The capitalists never thought of liberty for all sections of society but only for the limited few and that is why they linked liberty with the imposition of restrictions. The capitalists also did not support the imposition of restriction still on another ground. They argued that the restrictions were very powerful to curb liberty of individuals. Spontaneity is crushed under the wheels of restrictions. So it is the best way to refrain from imposing restrictions.
It was also the belief that individual is the best judge of his own well-being and development because he is rational. But Marxists do not subscribe to this conception. Some individuals may be quite rational and intelligent but not all. For the upliftment of all individuals it is necessary that the state should play an important role and this approach lays the foundation of positive liberty which has received maximum support from Marx and his followers. So we conclude that in the conception of positive freedom Marx saw a constructive role of state.
Removal of Obstacles and Liberty:
A major part of Marx’s literature deals with the exploitation of working class and emancipation from all sorts of exploitation and in Marxism emancipation is treated as freedom. How could this emancipation be made possible? Marxism believes that only through the removal of obstacles to emancipation attainment of liberty is possible.
Let us see what is stated in the book just referred to: “Marxism involves wider notions of the relevant restrictions and options and of human agency. More specifically Marx and later Marxists tend to see freedom in terms of the removal of obstacles to human emancipation that is to the manifold development of human powers and bringing into being of a form of association worthy of human nature”. Mere realisation of emancipation of human being is not freedom because at any time it may be lost.
The counter-revolutionaries and reactionaries will try to destroy the socialist system and by doing that capitalist system will be able to establish its own hegemony. So to Marxism true liberty means the removal of obstacles to emancipation and only the socialist state can do this. The socialist state will have to play a constructive role.
So in Marxist theory of liberty we find two vital things. One is the issues or problems that jeopardise the emancipation must be mercilessly destroyed or defeated. Secondly, the state along with human agencies and institutions must try to remove them. The obstacles and their removal have been viewed differently in Marxism.
Marxist Freedom is Collective:
The Marxists never consider society as consisting of disparate individuals. All the members of the society are intrinsically related with each other and every society is characterised by interdependence. This is the collective nature of society and, if so, freedom is also collective in nature because the freedom of one individual depends on another individual.
In The German Ideology Marx and Engels have said: “The conditions of their life and labour (life of proletarians) and therewith all the conditions of existence of modern society have become … something over which no social organisation can give them control”.
The physical conditions of society created by the bourgeois class are such that it is not possible for the labouring class to overcome them individually. Only collective action on the part of the proletarians can bring about emancipation. “Overcoming such obstacles is a collective enterprise and freedom as self-determination is collective in the sense that it consists in the socially cooperative and organised imposition of human control over both nature and the social conditions of production”.
Freedom as the product of collective efforts asserts that only collective efforts can remove the impediments to liberty or what Marxists call emancipation. Again, for the development and enjoyment of freedom, cooperation among all the individuals is essential. Here lies the basic difference between capitalist notion of freedom and Marxist notion of freedom.
Marxist Freedom is Economic:
Mention has been made that the bourgeois theoreticians had excessively stressed the political freedom because the realisation of such freedom would materialise the social progress as well as the balanced progress by individual qualities. But coming to Marx we find a different notion.
To the Marxists economic freedom is far more important than political freedom and without the former the latter has practically very little significance. The economic structure of society is to be so constructed as to satisfy the economic and other needs of the people. So long the economic needs remain unfulfilled the political freedom is bound to be nothing. Marx and Engels drew this conclusion on the basis of the knowledge they derived from the thorough study of history.
They have also learnt that the economically powerful class, in manifold ways, controls almost all the agencies of state administration and utilises it for its own benefit! Though the neutrality of the state in between the different conflicting classes has been questioned by many it is a fact that the state generally acts as an instrument of exploitation and sometimes it poses as a neutral political organisation.
Since the capitalist class controls both the production and distribution the working class is deprived of economic benefits from production. This makes the proletarians subservient to the powerful class. Thus, in a political system where both production and distribution are controlled by capitalists, political freedom of the deprived class is a mockery.
Condition for Freedom:
Marx and Engels were of opinion that without socialisation of production and distribution freedom could not be achieved. But in capitalist system the socialisation of production could not be done. The capitalist would resist it. The socialisation of production and distribution means the dethronement of capitalists from power and authority. In such a situation the only alternative left before the proletarians is to seize political power through revolution.
In this way the capitalist class would be suppressed and that would make way for the Working class to capture power. This is the new society in place of the old bourgeois society. Marx and Engels have stated the matter in The German Ideology. “It is the association of individuals (assuming the advanced stage of modern productive of forces) which puts the conditions of the free development and movement of individuals under their control—the conditions which were previously left to the chance and had acquired an independent existence over against the separate individuals”.
In such an association or community each individual will have the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions. All the members of the community will have abundant opportunities to develop their gifts or inherent qualities. This is the central idea of Marxist concept of liberty. What Marx and Engels have said in the above-noted passage is that for reaching the coveted goal of freedom a new community is essential and the proletarians will build it up by means of revolution.
Marx’s critical analysis of liberty bears the hallmark of capitalist society. He is correct when he says that bourgeois concept of liberty is partial in character. Only a microscopic fraction of capitalist society has the opportunity to enjoy liberty fully. It is also correct that without economic liberty political liberty has no real value.
But unfortunately the bourgeois philosophers have always been found to pay excessive importance to political freedom. This is the most unfortunate aspect of bourgeois theory of liberty. Most of the bourgeois thinkers see justice and worth is the negative freedom. But we, from our practical experience, can say that absence or restraints cannot constitute liberty in real sense. Even Berlin has admitted it in his book Four Essays on Liberty.
The exponents of liberty in the latter decades of the twentieth century find enough reason in the Marxist analysis of freedom. Some of them are Heywood, David Held etc. They believe that both political and economic liberties are required for the proper development of the individual’s inherent qualities. Prof. Laski threw light on this aspect in his many writings in the thirties and forties of the last century.
But Marx’s view on freedom is not above criticism. For the realisation of true freedom Marx suggested (particularly in The German Ideology, it is a joint product of Marx and Engels) that the creation of a new community/association (Marx and Engels have used alternatively) was essential and only proletarian revolution could do it.
We, in this respect, simply hold the view that it is sheer Utopian thought. During the last one century and half nowhere in the globe socalism has been established. Naturally Marxist freedom still remains far and far away.
During the last five or six decades capitalism has undergone sea changes and one such change is it has amended itself remarkably to make it suitable for new society, attitudes and outlooks. We can call it the credit of capitalism. This change has enabled it to meet some of the genuine demands of the working class for which Marx and Engels thought a lot and shed huge tears.
Many of the workers, due to change in policy have raised themselves to the status of white collar employees. Our point is all of them are enjoying sufficient freedom and this they are doing without forming a new association. Marx believed that freedom could be achieved, not in a capitalist society but in a socialist society.
We however, do not agree. It depends, to a large extent, upon the individuals themselves—we cannot say that Englishmen are enjoying less freedom. Who will say that the quantum of liberty enjoyed by Soviet people during the Soviet regime was much larger than the freedom enjoyed by the members of capitalist society?