- What is freedom? There are different degrees of it.
- What does history say about freedom?
- Is any man entirely free?
- Freedom is always limited by the need to consider the rights of others.
A very old English poet wrote:
Ah! freedom is a noble thing!
Freedom makes man to have liking.
By the second line, we are to understand that freedom gives a man zest and relish for life. He can enjoy himself. This is largely true. The worker who has a holiday, the schoolboy in vacation time, both say, “I am free for a time.” They mean that the results and checks of their usual life have been lifted for the time being. There are fewer. rules to be observed; one has to be at the mill at seven thirty a.m., and the other has not to be in class exactly to the minute.
In early days, it was thought that large sections of the population could not be free. The vaishas in early India, the ‘serfs under the feudal system in England, and similar classes were born to serve nobles and landowners. But the nobles were not exempted from service, for they had duties and obligations to the king. In some cases, the European kings owed service to an emperor, and the emperor possibly had to regard the wishes of the Pope. The Pope was bound strictly by the laws of God, so no man is free.
How could we have a school or a factory in which the pupils or the workers are entirely free? Can we say that a man may come into his work or stay away, just as he likes? Can we say that a school boy may enter his class in time or late, according to his pleasure? Clearly not. It would mean a break-down of all organised institutions. Man lives in a society, a community. He is not solitary. When men are gathered together, there must be discipline. If a number of men are on some work they will get together and elect a captain or a leader, and will submit to him. In a sense they are giving up some of their freedom, because there will be a unity under a leader. Without a leader, there will be disputes and disagreements. In society, we have to submit to government, and we elect our leader. There must be law, and it must be enforced.
An English writer, Mills, was a great supporter of freedom for the individual. He was an enemy of State control. He found it difficult to settle such questions as “Should a man be at liberty to drink liquor, or is the State justified in prohibiting it?” Mill decided that a man who wants to drink should be allowed to drink, provided that there is nothing in his acts that is a trouble or annoyance to others. In other words, a man can do what he likes with his own body and mind but must not trespass on the rights and claims of others. All will not agree with this but may feel that the duty of a good government is to consider the weakness of the poor man, and to prevent him from getting liquor. There will always be two schools of thought on the subject.