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AMONG the purposes of the people of the modern com- What is liberty? monwealth that which can most conveniently be considered next after justice is the one which the framers of the Federal Constitution put last: "to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." What, then, is liberty, this ultimate affair of state?


"There is no word," declared the great French political scientist, Montesquieu, "that admits of more various significations, and has made more different impressions on the human mind, than that of liberty." In Christian countries many people look to the Bible or to the church The for the most authoritative statement of their fundamental idea of ideas. They have not looked in vain for the definition of liberty liberty. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is," according to Paul the Apostle, "there is liberty." The members of those Christian churches which by their religion recognize the duty of each individual to put his own interpretation upon the Scriptures according to his own conscience have interpreted this passage variously. An interpretation which profoundly influenced the growth of political ideas in America was recorded by the great poet, John Milton, Latin Secretary to Oliver Cromwell and an active politician under the Puritan Commonwealth. "Know that to be free," he wrote, "is the same thing as to be pious, to be wise, to be temperate and just, to be frugal and abstinent, and lastly to be magnanimous and brave." This admoni

1 Montesquieu, L'Esprit des Lois, book x1, chapter IV. See also Francis Lieber, Civil Liberty and Self-Government, chapter II.

2 See II Corinthians, III:17.


Moral liberty

tion he inserted in his once well-known Second Defence of the People of England, an official polemic designed to justify the execution of Charles I and the overthrow of the Stuart Monarchy. Subsequently he put his idea of liberty into more durable form in one of his greatest dramatic poems.

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Yet he who reigns within himself, and rules Passions, desires, and fears, is more a king; Which every wise and virtuous man attains. Those who look to the officers of the church for the authoritative interpretation of the Scriptures will receive a similar answer. "That liberty is truly genuine," declared Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical letter on The Christian Constitution of States, "which in regard to the individual does not allow men to be the slaves of error and of passion, the worst of all masters." Although the Pope could speak with authority only for the apostolic Roman Catholic Church, he undoubtedly voiced an idea of liberty widely held by Christians.

Thus the idea of liberty becomes an ideal of personal conduct. Liberty, so conceived, can be secured only by constant striving and self-sacrifice. It cannot be enjoyed by people who, in the words of Milton, "cannot govern themselves, and moderate their passions, but crouch under the slavery of their lusts." Goethe makes the expression of this idea of liberty the culmination of his philosophic masterpiece, when Faust concludes the quest for an ideal life with the confession:

Yea, to this thought I cling, with virtue rife,
Wisdom's last fruit, profoundly true,

Freedom alone he earns as well as life,

Who day by day must conquer them anew.3

1 John Milton, "Paradise Regained," book 11, lines 466 ff.

2 Encyclical Letter Immortale Dei, November 1, 1885. See Ryan and Millar, The State and the Church, p. 19.

3 "Faust," Part II, Act v, lines 532-5.

The liberty acquired by such a conquest may be termed moral liberty. It is the most important element in the character of individuals and of states. Unless it is found in good measure among a body of people, their state can be no true commonwealth.

Nevertheless, the definition of liberty as an ideal of Political liberty personal conduct can afford no practicable guide to the statesman. The statesman must establish justice. He must prescribe rules of conduct to the individual, or at least must assume the responsibility for enforcing rules which his fellow citizens have prescribed by some tolerable process for themselves. When people undertake to enforce rules against one another, it is not enough that each should have a standard of conduct that satisfies himself. He must also be willing to conform to some standard that can command acceptance by others. Of course, the acceptance of a common rule of justice does not prevent individuals from setting up higher standards for themselves, provided that they do not fail to comply with that prescribed for others. But all must at least comply with the common rule. The kind of common rule which satisfies one man or group of men, however, may not satisfy others. Some may demand a higher standard for the administration of justice in the state than others wish to abide by. A choice must be made among the various possible standards, if a common rule is to be observed by all. That body of rules of conduct, which is chosen for the guidance of those who administer justice in the state, must be supported by the authority of the state as a whole. Thus the individual who prefers a different standard is confronted by the apparent conflict of authority with liberty. Can he be forced to be free? Or can there be no security for liberty in the commonwealth, unless the law derives its sanctity from the expressed consent of all? Must the freedom-loving individual choose between anarchy, on the

The apparent conflict between political liberty and authority

one hand, if he would avoid being forced to be free, and, on the other, in order to gain the advantages of law and order, absolute submission to the authority of established rulers? This is the dilemma that confronts every man who thinks of liberty, not merely as an ideal of personal conduct, but also as one of the ends which the commonwealth is organized to secure.

The apparent conflict between authority and liberty is the great tragedy of life in the modern state. Shall the unfortunate leper be suffered to go freely among his fellowmen, spreading a loathsome disease? Or shall he be exiled for life to a desolate island? Shall the gentle Quaker be allowed to dwell in his home in peace, while other men fight to save him and his family from a ruthless foe? Or shall he be conscripted for military service and forced, perhaps, to kill his fellow creatures? Shall the sincere Christian Scientist be free to act as if pain and disease did not exist? Or shall he be compelled to submit to the innoculation of his body with repulsive matter extracted from a diseased animal, to protect himself from risks which he is ready and willing to incur? Shall the honest Mormon be permitted to enjoy the aid of as many wives as he can support in fulfilling the scriptural mandate to go forth and replenish the earth? Or shall all but one of his wives be taken away and deprived of his love and care? Shall the wretched narcotic drug addict and dipsomaniac be free to relieve their exigent cravings? Or shall they be denied the consolation of the hypodermic injection and of the cup that cheers, though it also inebriates? Even when the results of the conflict are not tragic, they are likely to be vexatious. Why may we not resharpen our safety razor blades? Why may we not refill our patent refreshment bottles and tobacco packages? At every turn one encounters what must often seem to be unreasonable and improper restraints upon one's conduct.



The victim of a conflict with authority is prone to define The liberty as the right to do as one pleases. The unruly child, definition grudgingly submitting to parental authority, longs for of liberty liberty, the right to play as he pleases. The reluctant scholar, constrained to painful tasks by the discipline of the school, longs for liberty, the right to study as he pleases. The weary toiler, exhausted by the pace of the factory, longs for liberty, the right to work as he pleases. The anxious employer, harassed by restrictive labor legislation and trade union regulations, longs for liberty, the right to run his business as he pleases. The good citizen, burdened with taxes, jury service, political campaigns, unpopular laws, annoying administrative regulations, and generally unsatisfactory public services, longs for liberty, the right to live as he pleases. Such liberty means something tangible and real; namely, the absence of unwelcome interference with his personal activities and general conduct of life. To live and let live, that is a rule of freedom which makes a strong appeal to any fair-minded man. To the unhappy victim of authoritarian oppression and tyranny, whether in the home, in the school, in the workshop, in the business world, or in the state, this realistic view of liberty is bound to be attractive. A claim to such liberty is a justification for resistance to the oppressor and tyrant. If liberty means the right to do as one pleases, those who enjoy such liberty are free to disobey at pleasure the authorities who may be set over them. Rational beings presumably will disobey, whenever obedience is disagreeable, and disobedience does not seem likely to be even more disagreeable.

Those who hold this realistic view of liberty are Realistic liberty and incapable of solving the dilemma raised by the demand anarchy both for freedom and for the other ends which the modern state may serve. They cannot reconcile authority with

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