9.2 Negotiating the Freedom of the Individual
Freedom of the individual would be seen by many people as an important component of the acceptability of governance, 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 latter support the notion 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 continual negotiation as circumstances change.
Negotiation is a mechanism whereby a society can seek “the consent of the governed” – despite the inherent differences in people’s values, needs and views. The negotiations can only be constructive if people understand each other’s viewpoints and share a common language, such as the framework of ‘freedom with responsibility’ that is offered below:
- Averting threats to freedom (9.2.1).
- The scope of governance should be limited to the need to protect the rights and freedoms of other people (9.2.2).
- Governance can protect people’s ‘freedom’, in all senses of the word (9.2.3).
- Freedom depends upon everyone behaving responsibly (9.2.4).