Politics in Minutes (2016)

Concept of liberty

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famous statement that ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’ was the rallying cry of revolutionary movements in the 18th and 19th centuries. Yet it harked back to the concepts of liberty and slavery that underpinned classical ideas of democracy – rule imposed on citizens is a restriction of freedom and the mark of the slave. Rousseau believed that laws and systems of government had evolved primarily to protect property, and restricted the natural freedom of people. But exactly what are the freedoms that we want to enjoy, and how can they be protected?

Without some restrictions, it is impossible to maintain order, as freedoms can be open to abuse. One person’s liberty may impinge on another’s freedoms. And there are different aspects of liberty, such as economic and social freedoms. Replacing the old order of monarchies offered the opportunity to rethink ideas of liberty, and a number of libertarian options emerged as an alternative to conservative authoritarianism.