Simon Marriott

Liberty

The question of liberty and where to place the limit between individual independence and social control is as vital now as it ever was. It is a cause for serious concern and no surprise that it is now a matter for such public and private debate, not least because there is so much to be done in order to maintain and protect our basic freedoms, which are being removed without our consent. Our elected (and our appointed) representatives might be responsible for introduing the rules of conduct which are imposed by law but the question is – what ought these rules to be? The various opinions on what is considered to be good or bad are informed either by prejudice or self interest, whether it be legitimate or otherwise; that the interests of society have had a share of moral sentiment, is less a matter of reason than as a consequence of the sympathies and antipathies which grew out of them. And as such, the weight of these opinions has become well established as a moral frame of reference, secure and resolute with the absolute confidence and sanction of the law. There remains however, a considerable amount of feeling against any attempt of the law to extend control over individuals with little discrimination as to whether or not the matter is within the legitimate sphere of legal control. We are in desperate need of just such a confederation of voices, loose though it might be, to stand in opposition to the authoritarian approach of the executive. There are those who encourage the government to take action, when it seems there is an issue on which something ought to be done, while others are prepared to tolerate almost anything as a means of avoiding more state control; and opinion is ranged on one or the other side, according to sentiment or to the degree of interest in the particular thing which it is proposed the government ought to do – and one side is often as wrong as the other. There is an argument that suggests the only purpose for which power can be exercised over any member of a civilized community is to prevent harm to others – the good of the individual either physical or moral is not a reason for interference by the state. There are however, many positive things which each of us can do for the benefit of others, such as to give evidence in a court of law or to share in whatever work might be considered useful to the peaceful and progressive interests of society. And although there are often good reasons for not holding people to such responsibilities, these reasons must arise from the particular circumstance of each case – either because an individual would be inclined to act better when left to their own discretion, or because an attempt to exercise control would cause more problems than those which it would prevent. It would seem that at the root of human liberty is consciousness – to be allowed the freedom to think and to feel as we want, on whatever matter we choose. Equally, the liberty of expressing our opinions via public forums, through both published and broadcast media, is of no less importance than the liberty of thought itself. We ought to be free to live our own lives according to our own needs, even though our conduct might seem foolish, or wrong to those who do not share our views. We would be well placed to continue the pursuit of our own happiness if we could allow each other the freedom to conduct ourselves as seems most appropriate, instead of compelling individuals to live in a manner considered to be for the good of the rest. Only in a society where such freedoms are respected, can there be true liberty and where people can legitimately call themselves free; no matter what the form of government might be. It is unfortunate then, that we are continuing to see the state expending much effort in an attempt to compel people to conform and to live their lives according to the often confused, competing and contradictory whims and ideals of numerous social, cultural and political groups. There is a deepening sense of unwanted and unwarranted intrusion and likewise, no small amount of evidence to show an increasing inclination to extend the powers of society over the individual, no matter what the cost or the consequences for each of us. We ought to be concerned about such developments, whatever opinions we hold and whatever side of the debate we consider ourselves to be on, not least because this encroachment looks set to grow. The question of liberty is vital indeed, so much so that if we fail to preserve it now, there is a danger we will be without it when we need it most.

Simon Marriott

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