Individuals must be free

We Indians have been free from the British rule for 73 years now. But national freedom from foreign rule doesn't mean anything if the individual citizens don't have the liberty. An authoritarian government can easily create an illusion of freedom while taking it away from the individuals.

It's a big day for us and it's traditional to muse on the concept of freedom and the history of freedom fighters on this day. However, I have decided to put my thoughts on individual liberty in words. One thing to note here is that I'm still working on my understanding of personal liberty and I would be grateful if you share your own opinion on the matter, especially if it contradicts mine.

National Freedom and Individual Liberty

National freedom is quite straightforward. The country is governed by its own countrymen without being under the influence of any foreign power. There are two ways to lose this national freedom. We already experienced one of them, foreign occupation by the British empire for about two centuries. The second one is more subtle, being under the influence of a foreign power so strongly as to effectively become a puppet state. I would argue that we have managed to avoid this fate till now and hopefully will retain our national freedom in the foreseeable future.

But national freedom has little meaning to an individual citizen if the government running the nation is authoritarian. Being authoritarian means dictating what a citizen should and shouldn't do in almost every aspect of their lives in the name of maintaining order. It's like overbearing parents who believe their children are incapable of making decisions on their own.

But that's simply not true. Individuals deserve their chances of free will and responsibility for their own acts. The state shouldn't have to control everyone's lives in order to remain functional.

The choice

Citizens should have the right to make their own choices regarding their personal matters. The job of the state has is to run the state, not to say what a citizen should or shouldn't do.

Freedom is the right to choose.

But examples are necessary to make my point —

  • Free speech: Free speech is perhaps the most important component of individual liberty. What's the point of having a sovereign nation if you can't criticize your government?
  • Narcotics use: The use of narcotics is a healthcare issue, it shouldn't be a legal issue. Send the addicted people to the hospital, not the prison.
  • LGBTQ issue: The choice of sexuality is entirely in the domain of a person's personal preference. The state doesn't have any right to interfere as long as it's consensual.

By the way, I must mention that the refusal to wear a mask is NOT included in the freedom to choose, because it endangers others and violates their right to stay healthy.

The state

However, the state has an important role to play as well. The state needs to maintain the social cohesion without damaging individuals' rights. It would be naïve to think that people, in their current state, can coordinate perfectly by themselves. If that was the case then there wouldn't be any mass lynching, crime or corruption.

The role of the state is to ensure that the liberty of one person is not encroached upon by another.

State must have limited authority to protect the liberty of every citizen.

But it's necessary to limit the power of the state. Power has a tendency to corrupt even good people. If a government becomes too powerful it's bound to threaten the liberty of the citizens. This is why a decentralization of power may be a good idea to preserve the liberty.

Welfare state

Although unfortunate, we can't ignore the fact that not everyone in this world has access to equal opportunities and resources. If we refuse state intervention regarding this matter, it will be an injustice to the poor and the needy. It's true that philanthropic individuals can financially assist them but that's not nearly enough. They need to be uplifted from poverty so that they no longer need that assistance and it's hard to accomplish without intervention by the state.

In my opinion, the state needs to intervene in the following cases —

  • Universal healthcare: Healthcare is a right of the citizens and no one should go bankrupt in order to meet their medical bills and no one should suffer without medical attention simply because they can't afford the expense. I absolutely love the fact that India has free healthcare in thousands of government funded hospitals.
  • Public education: Education makes the nation better, not just an individual. In my opinion free public education of good quality is extremely important.
  • Universal basic income: I must confess that I'm not entirely sure in this matter but it appears that the institution of universal basic income to every citizen would help in uplifting the poor and to ensure their dignity by not having to accept donations from others.

Human rights

Human rights is the most sacred entity in this world and any government who violates it deserves nothing but contempt.

I will not talk about India in this matter right now. But it is unfortunate that the violation of human rights has become commonplace all over the world. From the self-proclaimed American bastion of democracy to the dystopian nightmares of China, violation of human rights is becoming a rule rather than an exception.

I honestly don't know what to do about it and this is a source of great distress to me.

My impression

  • Human rights are paramount.
  • Individuals must be free to make their own choices.
  • State intervention is justified only when the freedom of a citizen is endangered by others.
  • State needs to uplift the less fortunate individuals.

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E-mail: mondal@agnibho.com