Monthly Archives: May 2014

Relationship between Equality and Liberty

Relationship between Equality and Liberty

Emphasis on liberty:

The ideals of liberty and equality have inspired men to establish a new society in every age. But the controversy that has been going on for a long time about their mutual relationship has not died down till today. The slave system being prevalent in ancient Greece and Rome, all men were not considered to be equal. So, the place of liberty was then much higher than that of equality.

Similarly, the value of equality was totally neglected in the medieval period. Even Locke, the representative thinker of the rising bourgeoisie, identified three types of natural rights where there was no mention of the right to equality. He regarded the right to life, liberty and property as the natural rights.

Equal emphasis on liberty and equality:

Utopian social like Thomas More, Campanella, Winstanly, Munster, Leveler, Digars, Simon, Charles Fourier, Robert Owen and others gave an emphasis on removing inequalities. Some of them, for example, Simon, advocated proper coordination between liberty and equality. He considered any type of domination of man over man to be detrimental to liberty.

Actually in the Declaration of Rights in Virginia of America (1776) and in the Declaration of French Human Rights (1789), the importance was given first to make a balanced coordination between liberty and equality. The declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) issued by the National Assembly of France said, “Men are born, and continue, free and equal in respect of their rights.”

Equality antithetical to liberty:

There is a great controversy among the modern scholars of political science about the relationship between liberty and equality. In 19th century, the advocates of individualism demanded liberty for the sake of free competition and their ideas went against the theory of equality.

Some scholars thought that the concept of equality and liberty are against each other.

Lord Acton commented that the passion for equality ‘made vain the hope of freedom’. By liberty he wanted to mean unrestrained right to satisfy the appetite for wealth and power. He had the apprehension that the establishment of equality would impose restrictions on the freedom of the wealthy people, and so he considered equality to be antithetic to liberty. Thinkers like Tocqueville, Spencer and Begihot also expressed the same view.

Close relation between liberty and equality:

John Stuart Mill thought that liberty and equality are complementary to each other. He analyzed liberty from the perspective of social welfare. For this reason, Mill opined that economic equality is necessary for establishing liberty.

In the 20th century, Hobouse, Laski, Barker, Tawney, Pollard and others considered that equality and freedom are complementary to each other.

Even Rousseau argued in the 18th century that freedom is impossible without equality.

Analyzing the correlation between liberty and equality, Barker observes that equality is not a detached principle. It stands in favour of the principles like liberty and fraternity. So, what is needed is the proper coordination between equality, liberty and fraternity. So, it may be said that equality and liberty are not antithetic to each other; they rather supplement each other.

Opinions of Laski and the Marxists:

Equality and liberty are both a legal concept. For, the state implements the concept of liberty and equality with the help of law. Both the concepts are closely associated with the idea of development of the capacities of the individuals.

Liberty implies a social atmosphere where each and every person can freely develop his own capacities. Needless to say, this social atmosphere means the atmosphere of equality. Again we can analyze the relation between liberty and equality from another aspect. Both the principles of liberty and equality aim at achieving fullest development of the capacities of the citizens. The state paves the way for this development through the laws. But if society is marked by the presence of equalities and disparities, it becomes impossible to establish liberty.

Laski in his Grammar of Politics, thus, commented that liberty without economic equality is meaningless. Economic equality demands abolition of private property.

The Marxists also believe that in an unequal society, the so-called liberties become meaningless in the absence of economic equality. In this class-divided society the state and its legal imperatives act as an instrument of the possessing class. As a result, it cannot ensure economic liberty of the ordinary citizens.

So, the Marxists consider establishment of economic equality to be the precondition of liberty According to them, only in the socialist society liberty and equality can really supplement each other.