Political Science: Meaning and Scope of Political Science: Concept of Liberty and Safeguards of Liberty

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Concept of Liberty

  • Derived from Latin word ‘liber’ which means free. Thus, liberty means freedom.

  • There are two concepts of liberty:

    • Negative liberty: Absence of restraints (supported by liberals earlier like John Stuart Mill)

    • Positive Liberty: Presence of reasonable restraints (supported by liberals later like Harold J. Laski)

Safeguards of Liberty

  • Declaration of rights of individuals in constitution

  • Impartial judiciary

  • Decentralisation of power

  • Rule of law or equality in eyes of law

  • Social justice

  • Well-knit party system

  • Vigilance on part of citizens

Justice and Its Relevance for Citizens and State

  • The term Justice is derived from the Latin word ‘jus’, which means a bond. Thus, the word Justice means joining or fitting.

  • E Barker, “Justice is the reconciler and the synthesis of political values.”

  • General definition- Justice is to “render to everyone his/her due.”

Aspects of Justice

  • Distributive justice forms an important aspect of justice. Distributive justice is a concept which answers the question of what is the proper way of distribution of income or social position in a given society.

  • There are two major conceptions of distributive/social justice:

    • Notion of merit

    • Need and equality


  • The first conception of notion of merit argues that each person’s social position and (material) wealth must be decided on the basis of merit.

  • How to measure merit?

    • Liberals- the price that someone can command in a free market is the reasonable indicator of his/her value to others.

    • Socialist critics- market receipts are often affected by chance and social background which have nothing to do with merit.

Need and Equality

  • The second conception views that goods, positions, etc. should be allocated on the basis of a person’s needs.

  • How to define needs?

    • Everybody agrees on food, shelter and clothing as basic needs.

  • Who can fulfil these needs?

    • Marxist says that communism can fulfil these needs.

    • Others say that welfare state and market are two forces who can fulfil needs.

Equality of Opportunity

  • Absence of privileges is important for maintaining equality of opportunity.

  • Equality of opportunity means everybody should have the same chance to access public position and office. Ex: Civil Services exam conducted by UPSC; every graduate has a fair chance.

  • Allied to the concept of equality of opportunity is equality of (starting) conditions.

  • Equality is closely connected to equity, i.e., even-handed treatment. Equity demands like cases to be treated alike.

Communitarian Justice

  • Another concept of justice is Communitarian Justice. John Rawl’s theory belongs to this category.

  • In his book A Theory of Justice he argues that inequalities in the allocation of goods are permissible if and only if those inequalities work to the benefit of the least well-off members of society.

  • He is supporting taxation, as taxes by well-off members of society do benefit the society as a whole.

  • On the other hand, scholars like Nozick opposes taxation and says everybody has certain entitlements (means established/conventional rights like right to property) which even the state cannot override. He is opposing the taxation charged by welfare states.

Justice and Its Relationship with Liberty and Equality

  • The nineteenth century scholars like Lord Acton and Alexis de Tocqueville considered liberty and equality as incompatible.

  • They thought too much stress on equality can dilute the concept of liberty. As was the case in taxation, they considered taxation as violative of the liberty of the propertied people. But money from taxes was important for helping the weaker sections and creating an egalitarian society.

  • In times of conflict like this, prevailing notion of Justice decides what should be the right mix of liberty and equality.

  • Thus, freedom and equality are two aspects of Justice.

  • The ultimate objective of both freedom and equality is Justice.

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