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John Stuart Mill on Individual Liberty Essay

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Essay on Liberty: Importance and Meaning

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Importance of Liberty:

From the very beginning both man and the state have been making efforts for the security of their freedom. Freedom is a very precious condition without which neither the state nor the individuals can make any progress. We remember very well how cruelly the absolute monarchs ignored the claims of liberty in England in ancient and medieval ages.

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These absolute monarchs did not pay any attention to the liberty of the individuals and acted according to their will. But people could no longer tolerate it. They rose in revolt and continued their struggle against the absolute monarchy of these cruel rulers till they got their freedom.

As a result of this constant revolt and struggle against absolute monarchy, Emperor John had to bow down before the public and had to ensure freedom to his subjects. After that Tudor and Stuart emperors tried to continue their absolute monarchy. It resulted in the outbreak of the Civil War in their regime.

King Charles I was beheaded and Oliver Cromwell succeeded him. Even in the regime of Cromwell when people failed to attain their freedom, the British continued their struggle for freedom. This resulted into the outbreak of Glorious Revolution in the regime of Charles II and James II.

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As a result of it, people succeeded in attaining the absolute monarchy of their cruel rulers for a long period. This long struggle resulted in the outbreak of the famous French Revolution in 1789. But even this political upheaval could not help people in attaining their long desired liberty. The successors of Napoleon behaved like absolute monarchs. At last after the fall of Napoleon III, Third Republic was established and people succeeded in attaining their liberty in the real sense of the term.

After the fall of Third Republic in 1940 and Fourth Republic in 1958, Fifth Republic was established in France. Just as people struggle for individual liberty for a long period of time, so slave countries also go on struggling against the foreign yoke till they succeed in attaining independence.

In nineteenth century, Italy and m twentieth century, India, Algeria and many other countries made untold sacrifice for the noble cause of attaining their independence. These sacrifices bear a testimony to the fact that the slave countries have been attaching a very great importance to their national liberty or independence.

Meaning of Liberty:

The term ‘liberty’ has been derived from the Latin word ‘Liber’ which free from all shackles? The Latin word ‘Liber’ denotes the absence of all restraints. It means one can do whatever one likes, regardless of all conditions. But as a matter of fact liberty does not permit a person to do whatever one likes. Liberty, in the sense of a complete absence of all restraints is not possible. Such liberty cannot exist. The fundamental maxim of liberty is that law is the condition of liberty.

Professor Barker has beautifully pointed out that just as the absence of ugliness does not mean presence of beauty so that absence of all restraints does not mean the presence of liberty. “Liberty is possible only in an ordered state, a state where the legal and political aspects of sovereignty coincide or nearly coincide”.

“Historic experience”, says Professor Laski, “has evolved for us rules of convenience which promote right- living; and to compel obedience to them is a justifiable limitation of freedom”. He defines liberty as “the eager maintenance of that atmosphere in which men have the opportunity to be their best selves”.

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