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Chapter: 11th Political Science : Chapter 3 : Basic Concepts of Political Science

Relation between Liberty and Equality

There is no value of liberty in the absence of equality.

Relation between Liberty and Equality

There is no value of liberty in the absence of equality. They are understood from different perspectives by political thinkers such as Lord Acton , De Tocqueville and Harold. J.Laski. Lord Acton and Alexis De Tocqueville were the ardent advocates of liberty. They were of the opinion that where there is liberty, there is no equality and vice versa.“The passion for equality made vain the hope for liberty.”- Lord Acton Professor H.J. Laski believed that liberty and equality should go together. If an individual is given unrestrained liberty to do whatever he likes, he may cause harm to others. Unrestrained liberty will bring only chaos in the society. In the nineteenth century, the Individualists wrongly interpreted the term Liberty. They did not attach any importance to economic equality and laid stresses on Laissez Faire to be adopted by the government said Laski.

Professor H.J. Laski in his remark said that ‘Where there are rich and poor, educated and uneducated, we always find a relation of master and servant’.

Laissez faire is an economic system in which transaction between private parties are free from government intervention such as regulation, privileges, tariffs and subsidies.

Adam Smith was the ardent supporter of the view that the Individualists maintained that there should be a free competition between the capitalists and labor leaders. They did not want the government to involve in the economic matters. Formula of Demand and Supply was adopted. It was expected that the economic difficulties will be removed by this formula, but resulted in dangerous consequences in Europe.

The capitalists exploited the opportunity to the core and as a result of it, the gap between rich poor got wider. The labor class was worst affected and the reaction against individualism resulted in the dawn of Socialism. Socialism rose to condemn and refute the principles of Individualism. The transition made clear that Liberty is meaningless in the absence of economic equality.

Individualism is a political and social philosophy that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual.

Socialism is a political and economic theory the advocates the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

Economic equality is essential for the existence of political freedom. Otherwise it will be a capitalist democracy in which the laborers will have right to vote but they will not get their purpose served. Hence liberty is possible only in socialistic democracy where liberty and equality go together. There is only one solution to liberty. It lies in equality. Thus liberty and equality are complimentary to each other said Pollard.

Problems with Equality

·              Variety of meanings: equal treatment, equal outcomes, equal opportunities (and lots of shades of meaning within these broad categories)

·              Conflicts between each type: equal treatment prevents equal outcomes; equal outcomes violates equal treatment.

·              Equal opportunities conceptually flawed by problem of regression: is education and training an outcomes or an opportunity? Is an entry level job an outcome or an opportunity?

·              Equal treatment reinforces difference in opportunities and lacks a theory of what should count as a relevant difference and irrelevant differences eg obesity.

·              Equal outcomes are not in fact generally desired as a goal: fairness rather than egalitarianism is the model of social justice being sought. Equality is an aspect of fairness, but also inequality is desired on the ground of fairness to reward ‘merit’ and to accommodate to choose a way of life.

How Equality can be promoted

The difference as we understood between liberals and socialist lead us to the desirable way of achieving the goal of equality. The wide debate on the means of promoting equality may lead us to few methods. They are,

·              Establishing formal equality

·              Equality through Differential Treatment

·              Affirmative action

Perspectives of various Ideologies on Equality by Andrew Heywood


Liberals believe that people are ‘born’ equal in the sense that they are of equal moral worth. This implies formal equality, notably Legal and political equality of opportunity, but social equality is likely to be purchased at the expense of freedom and through the penalizing of tablet. Nevertheless, whereas classical liberals emphasize the need for strict meritocracy and economic incentives, modern liberals have argued that genuine equal opportunities require relative social equality.


Conservatives have traditionally viewed society as natural hierarchical and have thus dismissed equality as an abstract and unachievable goal. Nevertheless, the new right evinces a strong industrialist belief in equality of opportunity while emphasizing the economic benefits of material inequality. 


Socialist regards equality as a fundamental value and in particular, endorse social equality. Despite shifts within social democracy towards a liberal belief of opportunity, social equality, whether in its relative (social democratic) or absolute (communist) sense, has been seen as essential to ensuring social cohesion and fraternity, establishing justice or equity and enlarging freedom in a positive sense.


Anarchists place a particular stress upon political equality, understood as an equality and absolute right to personal autonomy, implying that all forms of political inequality amount to oppression.

Anarcho-communists believe in absolute social equality achieved through the collective ownership of productive wealth.


Fascists believe that humankind is marked by racial inequality, both between leaders and followers and between the various nations or race of the world. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the nation or race implies that all members are equal, at least in terms of their core identity.


Feminists take equality to mean sexual equality, in the sense of equal rights and equal opportunities (liberal feminism) or equal social, economic power (social feminism?) irrespective of gender. However, some radical feminists argued that the demand for equality may simply lead to women being ‘male-identified’.


Ecologist advance the notion of bio centric equality, which emphasizes that all life forms have an equal right to ‘live and blossom’. Conventional notions of equality are therefore seen as anthropocentric, in that they exclude the interest of all organisms and entities other than humankind.


Heywood, Andrew. (2004) Political Ideologies: An Introduction, 4th ed. New York: Macmillan.

Ways of establishing formal Equality

Social, economic and political inequalities all over the world have been protected by customs and legal systems that prohibited some sections of society from enjoying certain kinds of opportunities and rewards. Poor were denied of right to vote. Women were not allowed to be a carrier oriented women in some part of the world. The caste system in india prevented people from the lower castes from doing anything except manual labour. In some countries only some families can occupy important positions. Equality cannot be achieved unless these privileges are stalled.

For ages these systems have the sanction of law, hence for achieving equality government intervention is needed by means of law. Our constitution as a fundamental or supreme law of the land does it. The constitution of India prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Our constitution also abolishes untouchability. Most of the modern states and democratic governments have incorporated in their constitution the principle of equality.


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11th Political Science : Chapter 3 : Basic Concepts of Political Science : Relation between Liberty and Equality |

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