Liberty and Authority

Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 15:1-15 (1983)
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Abstract

Everybody supports freedom—even authoritarians, though what they call freedom looks suspiciously like bondage. Rousseau begins The Social Contract with a flourish: ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.’ He ends up by trying to persuade us that the chains, the restraints of law and organized society, are necessary for true freedom. He wants us to believe that true freedom, the freedom essential for human existence, is not the happy-go-lucky freedom of Liberty Hall, do as you like, but the straight and narrow path of duty, of conformity to law. The universal popularity of the idea of freedom does not mean that everybody is really agreed about it. Plato, Rousseau, Hegel and his followers—they all talk of a true or genuine freedom, but they oppose this to Liberty Hall, to doing as you please.

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