Meaning of Liberty and Equality – Types, Kinds and Relationships

Meaning of Liberty and Equality

Liberty and Equality

Meaning of Liberty

The word ‘Liberty’ was derived from the Latin word “Liber” which means free. In this sense, liberty means freedom from restraints and the freedom to act as one likes. Simply liberty means the absence of interference. Liberty is the absence of restraints, interference and control of others.

In a civil society, liberty means the freedom to enjoy rights and at act freely but only in such a way and to that extent as does not endanger or injure equal freedom and rights of others. Liberty means freedom of action but within limits and without harming the equal freedoms of others in a society.

G.D.H. Cole – “Liberty is the freedom of the individual to express, without external hindrances, his personality.”

Laski – “Liberty is the eager maintenance of the system of rights, and without it there can be no real rights.”

  1. H. Green – “Liberty is not mere absence of restraints. It is the positive power of doing or enjoying things worth doing and enjoying.”

Two Types of Liberty

  1. Negative Liberty: Negative liberty means non-interference in the affairs of an individual, especially a lack of interference from the state. In this sense, liberty is taken to mean an absence of restraints and the freedom to do as one likes. In this type of liberty individual is supreme and there is no one to prevent him from doing anything. However, such a meaning of liberty is not accepted in a civil society. The negative conception of liberty however stands rejected in contemporary times.
  2. Positive Liberty: Positive liberty means freedom under rational and logical restraints. It means liberty under law i.e. liberty under the rational and necessary restraints imposed by the law. Liberty is not merely the absence of restraints but also includes the power and enjoying something worth doing in conjunction with others. Positive liberty demands intervention by the state and society to ensure those conditions that are necessary for self-realization. The positive view of liberty stands fully and universally recognized as the real accepted, recognized and productive view of liberty.

Different kinds of Liberty

Liberty has various kinds and some of these kinds are discussed below:

  1. Natural Liberty: Many scholars think that liberty is available to individuals from nature itself. Since liberty is a gift of nature, it is available to us before the existence of the state and society. State and society then, have no right to interfere with the freedom of individuals. This kind of liberty is unlimited and unrestrained freedom to do whatever we want to do in a society. Rousseau, an advocate of such natural liberty said, “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chain”. It is believed that man has inherited the right to liberty from nature. However, such a conception of liberty is now considered to be an imaginary one.
  2. Civil Liberty: The liberty which is enjoyed by every member of the society is called civil liberty. Civil liberties are those rights and privileges which the state maintains and provides to its citizens. All enjoy equal freedom and rights in a society without any discrimination. It is enjoyed only under restrictions imposed by the state and society. Rights that ensure freedom for citizens and are available within a society are the right to life, the right to hold and dispose of property, freedom of expression and speech, the right to education, etc. Civil liberties are essential conditions for civilized existence.
  3. Political Liberty: The opportunity to enjoy political rights and to take part in political affairs by the people is defined as political liberty. When the people have the freedom to participate in the political processes, it is held that they enjoy political rights. This type of liberty involves the exercise of such rights – the right to vote, the right to contest elections, the right to hold public offices, the right to criticize the government, etc. Laski observes “Political Liberty means the power to be active in the affairs of the state”.
  4. Economic Liberty: Economic liberty ensures freedom from hunger, starvation and economic deprivation. The grant of economic liberty to the people means the grant of the right to work, the right to reasonable wages, adequate opportunities for earning one’s livelihood, the right to rest and leisure, and the right to economic security in old age and sickness. Laski writes, “By economic liberty, we mean security and opportunity to find reasonable significance in the earning of one’s daily bread”.
  5. National Liberty: It means freedom from foreign and alien rule for any nation. When a nation is free to make all its political, economic and social decisions without interference and external control, it is free. It means that the people of the nation have the freedom to have a constitution of their own, to organize any form of government freely, and to be free from the external control of any foreign state.

National Liberty does not mean absolute liberty, in contemporary times; each nation is subjected to rules and regulations of International Law.

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Meaning of Equality

Equality means that all men should be treated equally and should be shared equally without any discrimination. Equality demands the grant and guarantee of equal rights and freedom to all people. , equality means equality before the law i.e. equal protection for all.

Equality stands for three (3) basic features:

  1. Equality is the absence of special privileges.
  2. Equality implies the presence of adequate and equal opportunities for all.
  3. Equality means equal satisfaction of the basic needs of all.

The French Declaration of Rights – “Men are born and always continue to be free and equal in respect of their rights”.

Barker – “Equality is equal rights for all the people and abolition of all special rights and privileges”.

Two Types of Equality

  1. Negative Equality: Negative equality means non-discrimination between human beings. It means that no one should be discriminated against based on their identity – caste, colour, religion, sex, place of birth, etc. All men are born free and should be treated equally. This type of equality does not determine what an individual can achieve. It does determine an individual’s strength, capabilities, psychological traits, etc. Negative equality implies the abolition of special privileges and facilities which may be available only to some classes and some people in society.
  2. Positive Equality: A positive aspect of equality, means that equal rights should be made available to all people without any exception or discrimination. But it stands for equitable distribution of resources among all, equal opportunities for development with due recognition of merit, abilities and capacities of different persons. It means equal opportunities for all but according to one’s capacities, abilities, intelligence, strength and other records. Therefore, such equality cannot be granted and rewarded and treatment cannot be ensured.

Kinds of Equality

Different kinds of equality are discussed in the following heads:

  1. Natural equality: It means that nature has created all humans as equal. Despite their differences in physical features, psychological traits, mental abilities and capacities, all humans are to be treated equally. All are to be considered worthy of enjoying all human rights and freedom. Negative equality stands for the abolition of man-made artificial inequalities which are present in society.
  2. Social Equality: It stands for equal rights and opportunities for the development of all classes of people without any discrimination. It means no discrimination based on race, colour, creed, caste, religion, etc. It simply means that all citizens are entitled to enjoy equal status in society and no one is entitled to special privileges. Every individual must have an equal opportunity to develop his personality.
  3. Civil equality: It means that all laws should apply to all civilians. It stands for equal treatment to all in the eyes of the law. There should not be any distinction based on social and official status. The President, Ministers, and other high-ranking officers should be treated with the same laws that apply to every ordinary man. There should not be any special laws for the high-class people.
  4. Political Equality: It stands for equal opportunities for the participation of all in the political processes. Equal right to vote, to get elected and to influence the decision of a state. The right to vote should be available to all citizens without any discrimination based on caste, colour, creed, race, sex, etc. Political equality guarantees the right to contest elections and hold public offices for every member of a society on an equal basis. It also allows citizens to criticize the government and seek redress for their grievances. It simply means equal opportunities to take part in political affairs.
  5. Economic equality: It ensures and secures the fulfilment of the basic needs of every member of society – food, clothing and shelter. It provides for fair and equal opportunities to all for work and earning their livelihood. It also ensures that each member of a society must receive equal pay for equal work without discrimination based on their case, colour, race, sex and place of birth. It also provides security for individuals against old age, sickness, and unemployment.

Relationship between Liberty and Equality

Lord Acton is of the opinion that liberty and equality are antagonistic and antithetical to each other. He thought that there is an inverse relationship between liberty and equality, that is more liberty means less equality and vice versa. However, most of the contemporary scholars do not accept the logic of the view given by Lord Acton and others.

Liberty and Equality are related and compatible to each other. There will be no liberty without equality. Equality is a necessary condition for liberty. If people are not free to do what they consider best and rational for them then, equality is useless. Freedom is meaningful only when it is equally available to each member of a society.

Without adequate and equal opportunities, freedom will have no value. If a child with natural talent is not able to develop his personality due to his poor family background, both liberty and equality will be meaningless.

Both liberty and equality have a common goal which is the personality development of an individual and the progress of the society.

Liberty without economic equality cannot be enjoyed by a few people. In the absence of economic equality, the poorer and weaker sections of society are bound to remain incapable of enjoying their liberty. Hence, liberty is an essential part of equality. Both liberty and equality go side by side.

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People have been given equal opportunity to take part in the political affairs of the state and also been given political liberty to contest elections, the right to vote, the holding of public offices, etc.

As such it can be concluded that liberty and equality are closely related. Without liberty there can be no equality and without equality there can be no liberty. So liberty and equality are indeed necessary for society to maintain a balance in governing. Since liberty and equality go side by side, liberty and equality cannot be separated from each other.

Therefore, there is a sentence which makes liberty and equality a true friend, Liberty and Equality are related and compatible to each other. There will be no liberty without equality. Equality is a necessary condition for liberty.

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