9.2 Individual Freedom to Flourish

Individual freedom to flourish is an important component of governance acceptability, but collective needs must also be negotiated.

Freedom of the individual would be seen by many people as being of prime importance, yet ‘freedom’ is a contested word.  Individualists and collectivists have different perspectives (2.2).  The former see governance as potential interference and a threat to their liberty.  The latter argue that we are collectively responsible for ensuring, as far as possible, that everyone is free from hardship and has a reasonable opportunity to live a fulfilling life.

The American Declaration of Independence reflects this dichotomy:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The reference to “Liberty” is an individualist concern, but there is also a collectivist strand: the words that “Governments are instituted among Men” to secure the “equal” rights of “all men” to the “pursuit of Happiness”.  Bridging the gap between these opposing viewpoints requires negotiation, and individual freedom to flourish must be constantly renegotiated as circumstances change.  And the political system needs to enable negotiation (6.8.4).

Negotiations can only be constructive if people understand each other’s viewpoints and share a common language when they are trying to reconcile their differences.  The framework of ‘freedom with responsibility‘ that is offered in the following sections is an attempt to clarify the language:

●  Constant vigilance is needed to prevent those with power from abusing their privileges and oppressing the population (9.2.1).

●  The scope of governance should be limited (9.2.2). It needs to minimise the constraints on individual liberty, subject to everyone having some responsibilities.

●  Governance can ensure that everyone has meaningful opportunities to flourish (9.2.3).

●  A scope is suggested for people’s responsibilities to the society they live in (9.2.4).

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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/92.htm.