Since his appearance on the earth, man has instinctively longed for liberty, an ideal which has inspired revolts and revolutions throughout the long history of the human race.
The yearning for liberty or freedom is not restricted to man alone. Even animals, birds and all living creatures love the freedom that God has given to them. Like men, these creatures will never submit to captivity without resistance. Neither will they cease to make tenacious efforts to escape, once they are captured.
In the early days of their existence, men were free to pursue their own affairs, within the limits of their own ability. They moved from place to place in small isolated groups and families in search of food which consisted of edible plants, fruits and the flesh of animals. The pursuit of the means of survival was their only occupation, and the things that restricted their freedom of movement, to some extent, were their own fears of the unknown and natural barriers such as mountains, dense, forests, and rivers. These were no restraints imposed upon them by human institutions, and they enjoyed their liberty.
Gradually, men learned to live in communities and various institutions were established, which soon curtailed their liberty to a great extent. Rules were made for the cohesion of each community and obedience to those rules was secured by the threat of punishment. This element of compulsion imposed upon the conduct of the individuals in the community restricted the liberty of the people; but the greater security that men enjoyed in community life provided the incentive to partial sacrifices.
Soon, however, conflicts developed among the various communities. The stronger one conquered the weaker one and in the contest for power and domination, hundreds of people lost their liberty completely. The enslavement and suppression of one group of people by another provided the stimulus for numerous revolts and revolutions for liberty which have not ceased till this day. Even in the same community, sometimes, there were divisions. The rulers, who came to be known as kings, with the development of the communities into countries, were at variance with their subjects. To maintain their status and to assert their authority, kings developed their own theories of kingship, and many of them ruled in the most despotic manner. Defiance of the king’s authority was punished by death and imprisonment. What constituted defiance was decided arbitrarily by the king or his ministers, and thousands of people were deprived of their liberty.
Eventually, however, despotism aroused the fury of political thinkers and writers in many countries. A crusade then began against oppression and despotism, and the cry for liberty was heard everywhere. Revolutions erupted; despotic rulers were overthrown, and new rulers were compelled to rule with the consent of the people. The French Revolution of the eighteenth century is the best example of the extremity to which people were prepared to go to retain or regain their liberty, which is claimed to be the birth-right of every man.
But liberty does not mean license. In other words, men’s liberty of action should not be excessive. The French Revolution is, unfortunately, also the best example of how men may lose their sense of proportion and justice, in their attempts to assert their liberty. In that revolution hundreds of innocent men, women, and children lost their lives at the hands of those who took full advantage of the anarchy that then prevailed in France, to assert their liberty of action. Such actions are indeed licentious.
Thus, it may be argued that liberty will remain the battle-cry of all oppressed people, but those who have it should not use it to hurt or offend others or to deprive others of their liberty.
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