The term liberty is derived from the Latin word liber meaning free. Thus liberty means freedom. Freedom is of paramount importance for the development of an individual’s personality.


Negative Liberty

Historically speaking, the term liberty was initially defined as absence of all restraints on an individual. This is known as the negative concept of liberty. Early liberalism championed negative liberty. John Stuart Mill, the nineteenth century English political philosopher, described, “Restraint as an evil”. Mill was especially worried about the restraints coming from the state and society.


Positive Liberty

However, since individuals live together in a society, complete absence of restraints would be neither possible nor desirable.

Further, differentiating between the self-regarding and other-regarding action is not always possible. It has been very aptly said that your liberty to swing your arm ends there where my nose begins. For liberty to be enjoyed by everyone, it should have reasonable restraints. This is the concept of positive liberty. This concept further means freedom to be a master of one’s own self. Harold J Laski supported this concept.

Freedoms are opportunities which history has shown to be essential to the development of personality. The freedom of many requires restraint of law on the freedom of some. Later liberals supported the positive liberty.


Safeguards Of Liberty

  • Declaration of rights of the individuals in the Constitution is considered as an important safeguard of liberty. This way the government can be prevented from encroaching upon the freedoms of the people.
  • Impartial judiciary is rightly called the watchdog of liberty. Without it the liberty of the individuals would be meaningless.
  • Decentralization of powers is another important safeguard of liberty. History is witness to the fact that concentration of power has very often led to despotism.
  • Separation of powers, i.e. the executive, the legislature and the judiciary being separate, is a great ally of liberty. Montesquieu said, “Power should be a check on power.”
  • Rule of law or equality in the eyes of the law is also an important safeguard of liberty. This is the bulwark against discrimination based on caste, class, colour, creed, etc.
  • A large measure of social justice or diffusion of social and economic privileges is a prerequisite for liberty. If privileges become the prerogative of the select few, then effective liberty would be denied to a vast majority.
  • A well-knit party system is also indispensable for the preservation of liberty.

All these institutional safeguards are inadequate to preserve liberty if the citizens themselves do not possess the proud spirit to preserve it. People should always be on their toes to ensure that their liberty is not encroached upon. Eternal vigilance, it has been rightly said, is the price of liberty.



Bibliography : NIOS – Political Science

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