The Concept of Liberty Today

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Lord Robert Chorley
Lord Robert Chorley (1895 – 1978)
Baroness Barbara Wootton
Baroness Barbara Wootton (1897 – 1988)
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at Conway Hall 21 April 1953. Chaired by Baroness Barbara Wootton and presented by Lord Robert Chorley.

Liberty means a person’s being able to live his life in his own way; it ensures a situation under which a maximal amount of action may be performed. Life is action (based on thought and belief) and action is liberty. Liberty, then, is much more than the mere absence of external restraint.

But liberty is not solely a matter of individual action. The individual is always part of society, in harmony with which he fulfills himself. Hence there is no inevitable antagonism between liberty and law, provided the latter is made by those who are subject to it. Thus liberty and democracy are inter-dependent. There must be freedom for minorities as well as majorities.

The exercise of liberty and rights is premised on having the wherewithal for that exercise: chiefly, adequate education and economic security. These are things which society must provide: a point emphasised by advocates of the welfare state. However, a problem with the welfare state is that, in seeking the wellbeing of the citizen through the use of power and bureaucracy, it may sap individual initiative, and substitute legislation for rational persuasion. Such persuasion is indispensable to genuine democracy.

Finally, liberty is antithetical to totalitarianism and its warped concepts of freedom.

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