The three concepts—rights, liberty and equality—are as old. as political theory. Even the people of Greek city-states were conscious of these three basic concepts of political theory and their consciousness is evident from their eagerness to participate, in a direct manner, in the affairs of the state—in fact, the Greek city- states were blessed with direct democracy.
Even today while we mention about any form of direct democracy (such as referendum, initiative, participation in open assembly etc.) we refer to the Greek system that prevailed in the functioning of city- states. The vital aspects of direct democracy are three basic principles of democracy that is rights, liberty and equality.
The democratic messages of Greek city-states were almost buried in oblivion during the Roman period and middle ages. But the messages found a new lease of life in the hands of Rousseau (1712-1778). In recent years the scholars have interpreted Rousseau’s thought in different ways and at least on one message there is a broad-based agreement and it is liberty (freedom) is the most valuable and coveted thing.
We feel that Rousseau is still remembered by the students of political science (other students of social sciences also read him seriously). But his theory of freedom is well-linked with two other concepts—rights and equality. It is especially evident in his open assembly concept wherever one participates.
Origin of the Concepts:
There is a famous comment of Prof. Ernest Barker. Once he said—Human consciousness postulates liberty, liberty involves rights and rights demand the state. Though this comment does not include equality we can unhesitatingly add equality to it. It is a common sense idea that without equality liberty cannot exist at all. Rights, liberty and equality are closely linked and work together. Though the historicity of the social contract theory is very often questioned by political scientists.
The fundamental truth that comes out of the doctrine is that for greater amount of rights, liberty, equality and their protection the people of the state of nature decided to lay the foundation of civil body with a government whose chief function would be to provide protective net for the democratic principles. All the three exponents (Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau) of the Social Contract did not conceal their view or motive.
People of the state of nature spontaneously decided to set up civil society which implies that they had freedom and while making agreement or contract all of them were on the same footing. It means that all of them enjoyed equality and liberty.
The concept of rights also comes out of the contract theory. How? When they took the decision there was no sign of resistance and by exercising their right to do anything for greater benefit. Hence it is quite manifest that Social Contract theory embodies these three principles of political theory.
Purpose of the Three:
A close scrutiny of the three principles (many political scientists—as for example Barker—call rights, liberty and equality as principles of democracy) reveals that their purposes are same. The chief aims are the overall development of the inherent qualities of individuals and establish justice in the society. Laski’s definitions of rights and liberty are not very much different.
Defining rights he observes that rights are the condition of social life which is essential for the development of best self of a man. He calls liberty an atmosphere in which men will have the opportunity for the attainment of best selves. In the background of this we can reasonably say that rights and liberty are just two ways to reach the coveted goal for development of best selves.
How rights and liberties are protected? Laski has said that a state does not create rights, it simply recognizes them. Before the emergence or creation of state there existed rights. It is, so to say, the duty of the state is to protect the rights by enacting new laws or amending the old ones.
It is to be noted here that not all rights come under the purview of the state because all the rights may not be conducive to the development of individuals’ personalities. The state is obliged (both legally and morally) to recognise those rights which are clearly helpful for the realisation of the best qualities of men. Naturally state shall proceed to their protection. Here we find that the state has a very crucial role in regard to the protection.
Rights and liberties are not separate concepts. Since, liberty means the maintenance of an atmosphere in which men will have the scope to fulfill their good aim Viewed from this angle liberty can reasonably be regarded as the product of rights. He continues “without rights there cannot be liberty, because without rights, men are the subjects of law unrelated to the needs of personality”. Let us explain the relationship between rights and liberties in the following simple way.
An individual has the right to pursue his own objective in his own way, to develop his noble qualities without doing any harm to others, to lead a good and peaceful life and many others. The point is, the individual concerned has rights to do all these. But rights alone are not sufficient. To have right and the scope for their implementation are two separate issues and need careful treatment.
Laski and almost all political scientists are of opinion that rights require for them an atmosphere and this is liberty. So we can say that both rights and liberty are closely linked. To put it figuratively, they are the two sides of the same coin. The existence of rights practically will not carry any weight if they are not made to accompany liberty. Man can claim rights but, at the same time, he must have liberty to exercise right.
A man may have political rights but without economic liberty he will not have the scope to exercise the rights to which he is legally entitled. It is particularly evident in countries where emphasis is always given to political rights and economic liberty is neglected. It is alleged that it particularly happens in the USA and other liberal democracies.
Rights have been called a special type of guarantees; at least Prof. Harold Laski thinks so. The guarantees must emanate from the government. It must assure the citizens that they have the full freedom to enjoy all the liberties without creating any disadvantage or harm to fellow citizens. Guarantees generally came from the authority in the form of law or policy or decision. It is also to be noted here that guarantees are made for all and do not allow special privileges.
Rules are the best and most powerful guarantors of rights and, simultaneously of liberty. When there is a rule of law it will be obvious that the liberty of one will never be dependent on the pleasure or whims of some other persons. Thus, both rights and liberty rule out the presence of special privileges.
The term guarantee, law and absence of special privileges induce us to think about equality. In our analysis of equality we have endeavoured to show that equality does not recognise the presence of special privileges, rather it abhors it because special privileges violate the equality. When the freedom of one depends upon the pleasure of another, Laski remarks, it cannot be freedom in real sense.
One will not have the scope to dictate the life and activities of others. Equality denotes that all the privileges shall be allotted to all. This is the basic principle of equality and in this principle is also implicit both rights and liberty. How? Everyone has this right to have privileges and he can claim it. To have rights is not all, for its implementation a congenial atmosphere is needed and this is liberty. We, thus, find that rights, liberties and equality are closely connected.
Both for rights and liberty the control of state or the intervention by government is essential. Here two points must be duly considered. One is, state intervention does not mean the state will intervene “at every turn and twist of individual life”. If the authority decides to control the behaviour of individual or every trifling matter that will make life unbearable and entail loss of liberty.
It will also lead to non-implementation of rights. However, it cannot be said definitely how much intervention by state will be helpful for rights and liberty. It depends on manifold factors. Our second point is. “The incidence of state action is unbiased”. The activities of the state must be impartial. Partiality will undoubtedly violate the basic norms of equality. Partiality means the abnegation of rule of law. Our practical experience teaches us different lesson. No state authority is hundred percent impartial. Assuming this situation, it has been suggested that the state should try to be impartial as far as practicable.