Freedom in Societies
Thesis Statement: Society should not be entirely free since this will result in chaos.
I-Total freedom is impossible in society because absolute individualism is against the principles of social life
A-Total freedom is only possible in the state of nature
B-Total freedom does not recognize the rights of others
C-Total freedom does not recognize the government or the state
II-Freedom is limited in society by the state for the good of the people
A-The state protects lives and property
B-The state organizes the affairs of society
C-The state prevents illegal behavior
III-When absolute freedom is demanded, the state collapses and chaos dominates
A-Civil war and chaos
B-Destruction of lives and property
Every human being wants to be free in his or her life. Every human being wants to enjoy life without letting others interfere in what they want or what they are doing. In its simplest form, liberty is the “right of individuals to act as they choose” (“Liberty”, 1998, p.1). Throughout history, many revolutions, uprisings and wars have been fought for and in the name of liberty. Today, many countries are democratic, believing in liberty and freedom. Liberty is therefore seen as the ideal for human societies, especially those that respect human rights, lives and properties. The problem, however is that absolute liberty or too much freedom can have very serious consequences on society. In fact, society should not be entirely free since this will result in chaos.
Many believe in absolute freedom, but in reality, absolute freedom for the individual is not possible to achieve. The reason is that absolute freedom is only possible in the state of nature. The state of nature is the state of life in the jungle where the strong eats the weak, and where only animals can survive. In the state of nature, animals hunt and kill each other in order to survive. In fact, only the strongest are free but not for long, because there is always another stronger one that will appear sooner or later. Thousands of years ago, human beings lived in the state of nature. Those who were physically stronger could take whatever they wanted. They ate the food they choose, took the women they liked, and killed their enemies or forced them away. Absolute freedom is only possible but only for a short time (Ebenstein, 1996, p.429). In reality, under the state of nature, absolute freedom is a threat for the individual’s life, property and happiness because the weak have no rights or freedom. The questions that have always concerned philosophers, politicians and thinkers in the past two hundred years are: “What kind of society should we form if we think of ourselves as autonomous individuals? What type of social bond can be established among free and equal men, since liberty and equality are the conditions of our autonomy?” (Furet, January 1998, p.65).
Since only the strongest can survive under the rules of absolute or total freedom, this means that only very few people will be able to enjoy such a freedom. In other words, those who cannot protect themselves with their own power will not have any rights. This includes the elderly, women, the sick, the handicapped and even many men who are not physically very strong. Hence, when only very few people will enjoy total freedom, the majority will be in a state of fear or even in a state of slavery. The state of absolute or total freedom is not appropriate because it cannot be applied fairly to everyone whereas freedom is a right that has to be enjoyed by every individual in society regardless sex, race, religion, or age.
Total freedom also means that the individual can do what he chooses without any interference or limitation from other sides or individuals. It simply means that the individual puts his own rules and laws. Individuals have different levels of mentality and wisdom, and therefore, very few people are actually capable of putting laws and regulations. However, if everyone will be allowed to make up his own laws and regulations, then others will suffer. Governments exist in order to put the laws and to regulate society so that all people will be equal in front of the law. However, if every person is going to put and apply his own rules, then government will be useless. In fact, total freedom does not recognize the state because every individual behaves as the lawmaker and the law enforcer.
Many people hate the government because they do not feel comfortable with so many rules and regulations around them. In fact, it is argued that people who believe in democracy and liberty are willing to accept an imperfect democracy rather than be ruled by an authority which controls their freedom, and even though the consequences are negative. This means that those who believe in full liberty want to be fully liberal even if it is bad for them (Ebenstein, 1992, p.75). While this is true, in reality, rules and regulations are made for the good of all people, and for the preservation of freedom at the same time. Freedom is limited because too much of it will not only harm the interests of the individual but also the entire society. Traffic laws for example are used to protect people from accidents. If everyone is going to drive according to his rules, as the case is sometimes in Lebanon, accidents happen, properties are destroyed, and lives are lost. Traffic laws are definitely a very simple example because there are numerous other aspects that need to be regulated by the law. For example, when a person decides to take the property of another person, he might be applying his freedom, but at the same time, he is violating the freedom of the victim. If freedom is to be applied correctly, it has to be applied to all people equally. Even the most liberal nation in the world, the United States, has imposed limitations on liberty in order to protect society. The Supreme Court has ruled over the years that practices which were considered unacceptable to the US throughout history, such as euthanasia, may not be allowed because they are against traditions and conventions. This decision simply implies that liberty is not absolute, but rather, it is relative (“Liberty & democracy,” August 5, 1999, p.2).
An individual living on his own on a deserted island can easily claim that he is totally free, especially if he can go and come when and wherever he wants. However, the problem is that the ultimate majority of human beings do not live on deserted islands. They live together in human communities. The state was invented to organize the affairs of these communities, and to provide protection to the individual from violations against his rights. In fact, people prefer to have their rights protected and to live under limited freedom rather than live in total freedom and fear because anyone is free to hurt, kill or violate them. Through its agencies and ministries, the state is capable of providing all kinds of services to all human beings and citizens. The state levies taxes in order to provide equality, to offer public service and to maintain security and order in society. Aspects such as equality, security and order are important aspects of freedom, not only for the individual but also for the entire society. Therefore, freedom cannot be absolute. In a democratic country, those who are in power are usually the majority but they cannot abuse their freedom to rule. They have to take into consideration the opinions of others. Therefore, democracy is a compromise since absolute freedom cannot be practical as all people cannot agree on what they want (Ebentstein, 1992, p.77).
Security is one of the most important services that the state provides for society. If total freedom is allowed, people will turn into criminals and violators. They will not respect the lives, properties or rights of others. The state, on the other hand, makes and imposes laws so as to prevent any individual from committing violations against others. An individual who violates the law is deprived of his freedom and sent to prison. This is a way of punishment developed in order to protect society from individuals who abuse their freedom or from individuals who think that they can practice total freedom.
Many argue that the state of nature is a theory, and that nothing is really known about how it is like to be in the state of nature because there are only examples of life under civilization. In fact, this is not true. There are many examples where absolute freedom became prevalent. In such situations, the state disappears and each individual lives and fights for himself. In such circumstances, civil wars take place as the case in Lebanon was. During the civil war, everyone was responsible for himself. Those who had the arms and guns were able to impose their rules and freedoms on others. When freedom becomes unlimited, it gets out of control. In the name of liberty, people think that they have the right to impose their opinion on everybody else. Each group starts thinking that it can do what it wants and tell others that what they are doing is not right. In other words, when liberty is unlimited, society goes into chaos because everybody thinks that he or she is right and that others are wrong (“Liberty & democracy,” August 5, 1999, p.1). India is another example of the collapse of the state due to the demand for absolute freedom. The ethnic groups, Muslims and Hindus wanted to enjoy absolute freedom against each other. In 1947, India was divided as a result of this desire, and the State of Pakistan was formed. The civil war that resulted cost between 200,000 and 500,000 lives. This is not to mention 12 to 15 million people who were forced to leave their homes forever (Varshney, July 1998, p.44).
When the state disappears, a minority of strong and armed people take over. These are the only ones who actually enjoy total freedom. They can kill, rob and punish and no one can stop them. Those who did not have the arms and guns cannot protect themselves and can only watch their lives, properties and rights violated in front of their eyes, as the case was in Lebanon when the state collapsed in 1975. Today, many Lebanese believe that they do not have enough freedom, but they also believe that this situation is much better and more acceptable than the situation of war when their did not have any security or order. Lives, properties and lives will continue to suffer, especially as revolutions are fought in the name of liberty and total freedom. The west sees revolution as necessary to get more liberty. Communism sees it as necessary as a means to make society stronger and free. Fascism aimed at destroying everything in the name of freedom in order to achieve the powerful rule of one man. In other words, freedom is a utopia on which revolutions are built and based, but in most cases, it only results in chaos, destruction and wars (Furet, January 1998, pp. 78-79).
Freedom is one of the most important aspects of life in society. It is one of the most important rights that a human being can enjoy, because when human beings are born, they are born free. However, freedom must have limits, and its limits should be clear and regulated by the law and the state. The reason is that too much freedom will not only destroy society and put it in chaos, but it will also result in violating the lives, properties and rights of individuals. Total freedom is not only impossible, but also unacceptable.
Ebenstein, William. (1992). “Democracy.” Collier’s Encyclopedia, vol. 8. New
York: Macmillan Educational Company: pp. 75-83.
Ebenstein, William. (1996). Great Political Thinkers. New York: McGraw Hill,
Furet, François. (January 1998). “Democracy and utopia.” Journal of
Democracy, vol. 9, n.1: pp. 65-79.
“Liberty and democracy.” (July 4, 1997). St. Louis Dispatch, online: Access
Date: August 5, 1999: pp.1-2.
“Liberty.” (1998). Encyclopedia Encarta97, CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation:
Varshney, Ashutosh. (July 1998). “Why democracy survives.” Journal of
Democracy, vol. 9, n. 3: pp. 36-50.
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