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Freedom Notes | Class 11 Political Science

The chapter introduces students to different aspects and dimensions of Freedom. This chapter analyses the reasons to put constraints on freedom and its value. We also highlight the concept of liberty and its positive and negative aspects. It also lists the J. S Mill harms Principle and Mahatma Gandhi's lookout on Swaraj.


Long Walk to Freedom - By Nelson Mandela

It is an autobiography by former South African President Nelson Mandela.

In this book, he talks about his personal struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, about the resistance of his people to the segregationist policies of the white regime, the humiliations, hardships and police brutalities suffered by the black people of South Africa.

For this freedom, Mandela spent twenty-eight years of his life in jail, often in solitary confinement.

Freedom from Fear - By Aung San Suu Kyi

Freedom from the Fear book is written by Aung San Suu Kyi. She was separated from her children, unable to visit her husband when he was dying of cancer because she feared that if she left Myanmar to visit him in England she would not be able to return.

For Aung San Suu Kyi, living a ‘dignified human life’ requires us to be able to overcome such fear.

“For me, real freedom is freedom from fear and unless you can live free from fear you cannot live a dignified human life”. ~Aung San Suu Kyi

What is Freedom?

Freedom is said to exist when external constraints on the individual are absent and when people can develop their creativity and capabilities to their fullest potential.

Dimensions of Freedom

Freedom has both negative and a positive dimensions depending upon the constraints and capabilities of an individual:

  • Negative Dimension: Freedom is said to exist when external constraints on the individual are absent.

  • Positive Dimension: Freedom in this sense is the condition in which people can develop their creativity and capabilities.

A free society would be one that enables all its members to develop their potential with the minimum of social constraints.

Should there be restrictions on Freedom?

No individual living in society can hope to enjoy the total absence of any kind of constraints or restrictions. We cannot live in a world where there are no constraints.

Some constraints are required to regulate the society in a decent manner as no constraints would lead society to descend into chaos.

So long as we are able to respect each other’s views and do not attempt to impose our views on others we may be able to live freely and with minimum constraints. We need some legal and political restraints to ensure that differences may be discussed and debated without one group coercively imposing its views on the other.

Could there be a free society without any constraints?

In a free society, we should be able to hold our views, develop our own rules of living, and pursue our choices.

The creation of such a society requires some constraints. At the very least, it requires that we be willing to respect differences of views, opinions and beliefs.

Sources of Constraints

Restrictions on the freedom of individuals may come from domination and external controls.

Constraints on freedom can also result from social inequality of the kind implicit in the caste system such restrictions may be imposed by force or they may be imposed by a government through laws that embody the power of the rulers over the people and which may have the backing of force.

Why is democratic government considered better for freedom?

In a democratic government, the members of a state could retain some control over their rulers. That is why the democratic government is considered to be an important means of protecting the freedom of people.

Why is freedom considered valuable?

Freedom is considered valuable because it allows us to make choices and to exercise our judgement. It permits the exercise of the individual’s powers of reason and judgement.

Swaraj: The Self Rule

What was Mahatma Gandhi's lookout on Swaraj?

For Gandhi, Swaraj was the same as freedom. He said that swaraj does not only mean freedom from British rule and making India independent, but it has other aspects too. swa’ means self and ‘raj’ means rule. So there needs to be self-rule.

It meant the rule of the self and rule over self:

  • Rule of self means that India needs to be ruled by its own people.

  • Rule over self means that every individual should live with respect and dignity.

Poverty and unemployment should be eliminated so that people can earn a living in a respectful manner and have access to a minimum standard of living. Rather than being forced to work, he/she should have self-responsibility for his/her work.

Mahatma Gandhi’s lookout at freedom:

  • Economic freedom means the removal of poverty and having employment.

  • Social freedom is where people from different castes and religions are not discriminated against and everybody is treated equally.

  • Cultural freedom where all religions and cultures are equally respected.

What constraints are justifiable? - J.S. Mill’s Harm Principle

“. .the sole end for which mankind is warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. ”- JS Mill

  • Self-regarding’ actions: Those actions that have consequences only for the individual actor and nobody else

  • Other - Regarding actions: Those actions that also have consequences for others. If your actions cause anyone else harm then they must be saved from such harm by some external authority. In this case, it is the state which can constrain a person from acting in a way that causes harm to someone else.

When should freedom be restricted?

Only in exceptional circumstances should it be restricted. The damage must be severe. Mill prefers social disapproval to legal punishment for minor infractions. They should not contact the authorities. To show their disapproval, they should refuse to greet the person.

Different lifestyles, viewpoints, and interests should be tolerated as long as they do not harm others. Hate campaigns endanger the freedom of others, and actions that cause "serious harm" can be punished. However, we must ensure that the restrictions imposed do not suffocate freedom.

In Indian constitutional debates, the term "reasonable restrictions" is used. If the restrictions are excessive or out of proportion to the action that is being restricted, they will infringe on society's overall freedom.

We must not become accustomed to imposing restrictions, as this is harmful to freedom.

Negative and Positive Liberty

Freedom has two dimensions: Freedom as the absence of external constraints, and freedom as the expansion of opportunities to express oneself. In political theory, these have been called negative and positive liberty.

Negative Liberty: ‘Negative liberty’ seeks to define and defend an area in which the individual would be inviolable, in which he or she could ‘do, be or become’ whatever he or she wished to ‘do, be or become’.

This connotes to the idea of ‘freedom from’

This is an area in which no external authority can interfere. It is a minimum area that is sacred and in which whatever the individual does, is not to be interfered with. Negative liberty tradition argues for an inviolable area of non-interference in which the individual can express himself or herself.

Positive and Negative Liberty

The arguments of positive liberty are concerned with explaining the idea of ‘freedom to’.

It is concerned with improving the conditions and nature of the individual-society relationship so that the development of the individual personality is less constrained. To develop one's potential, one must have favourable material, political, and social conditions.

Positive liberty recognises that freedom is only possible within society and strives to create a society that fosters individual growth.

Contrary to this, negative liberty is concerned with the inviolable zone of non-interference, not with the conditions in society. In general, they support each other, but tyrants may use positive liberty arguments to justify their rule.

Freedom of Expression

Voltaire’s statement — ‘I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it’.

What is Freedom of Expression?

Freedom of expression is a fundamental value and for that society must be willing to bear some inconvenience to protect it from people who want to restrict it. It is considered to belong to the minimum area of ‘non-interference

The book Ramayana Retold by Aubrey Menon and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was banned after protests from some sections of society.

Banning is an easy solution for the short term since it meets the immediate demand but is very harmful to the long-term prospects of freedom in society because once one begins to ban then one develops a habit of banning. Constraints of different kinds thus exist and we are subject to them in different situations.

If we willingly, or for the sake of pursuing our goals or ambitions, accept certain restrictions, our freedom is not limited.

While reflecting on such situations we need to realise that when constraints are backed by organised social-religious or cultural authority or by the might of the state, they restrict our freedom in ways that are difficult to fight against.

Four reasons were given by Mill for protecting freedom of speech and expression

1. No idea is completely false. What appears as false has some element of truth.

2. Truth does not emerge by itself. It is only through debates and discussion that truth emerges.

3. The conflict of ideas is important not only for the past but for the present and future also. only when the truth is exposed to constant criticism, it (truth) then becomes trustworthy.

4. We cannot be sure what we considered true is actually true. ideas which were true at one point in time are false at another point in time.


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