Liberty as a social value or social idea is a relatively recent phenomenon. It truly is. Sure, we’ve all heard about the ancient Greeks’ idea of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ but these words ring hollow if you factor in the reality of Athens in ancient times. Athenian society features a small group of truly free people and lots of slaves who fueled the economy. Of course, women couldn’t vote and were relatively voiceless. Hardly the model of freedom and democracy, right? Moreover, as our collective political philosophy matured in the centuries after the Greeks, we have come to realize that there is actually a conflict between individual liberty and democracy. You have to remember that democracy simply means majority rule. This is a problem for the individual minority. This is a problem for unpopular subgroups in a larger population. This is a problem for people who live among a large number of people who expect their societies to be homogenous. Why? Let’s put it this way, if you are one of a handful of sheep among an army of wolves, you can bet who will be served up for lunch whenever a vote is called.
This is why individual liberty is so important. It protects individuals from the tyranny of the majority. It establishes a base level of intellectual, philosophical, spiritual, and economic diversity that ensures that there is enough free play of ideas in a society for the best solution to shine through. Individual liberty is extremely important to any society looking to move ahead whether economically, philosophically, spiritually, or materially. Here are just some of the many reasons why liberty is important to any society.
Free societies lead to better economies
Societies that focus on individual liberties, free societies, often produce economic freedom. This leads to better economies. When there are more choices in a market, there is a tendency for lower prices at higher quality levels for products and services. When individual liberties against government control, monopolization, and standardization are protected, individuals are encouraged to experiment and offer different products and services which can benefit society as a whole since there are more choices available. The more choices people have, the better for the economy. By protecting individual businesses from arbitrary government action, the economy benefits since there are more solutions and more economic diversity.
Freedom leads to more stable societies
When people feel that they can freely express their frustrations and feel that they petition the government regarding their grievances, they don’t feel ‘pushed’ to take matters into their own hands. Instead of taking up arms, heading for the hills, and waging guerilla war against the central government, disaffected people can take to the airwaves. They can take out ads, and they can participate in the political discourse. When governments give a proper forum for dissenting voices, the society as a whole is more stable because people and dissenting groups don’t feel so disaffected, marginalized, or suppressed that their only option in bringing about change is through violent revolution or regime change brought about by military means.
High levels of liberty lead to more contented citizens
When people feel that they can express themselves without being sued into silence or thrown in jail, they can take more risks artistically. They can write books or build websites on philosophy, art, religion, and theory without having to worry about the government stepping in to muzzle them. When people feel they can freely express themselves, they feel more contented. They don’t feel frustrated. They don’t feel bottled up. They don’t feel ‘held down.’ The sky is the limit in terms of artistic expression. When people are exposed to the free artistic and cultural expression of their fellow citizens, they feel at ease. They feel contented. They feel they truly have the opportunity to focus on the finer things in life. They get the opportunity to focus on things that go beyond and go higher than simple raw existence.
Greater political liberty often leads to greater cultural expression
The lines between political liberty and cultural expression are quite clear and definite. When people don’t feel afraid for letting their hair down and truly explore the full limits of their political rights, this fosters artistic expression. When people aren’t under threat of being jailed because they wrote the ‘wrong’ poems or novels or created the ‘wrong’ paintings and sculptures, people can more readily explore the furthest reaches of their artistic limits. These only benefits the society as a whole since the arts is the highest expression of any culture’s dreams, aspirations, and expression.
Political liberty is the foundation of personal transcendence
Finally, when it comes to a truly personal need-personal transcendence-political liberty can open gateways. It is very hard to think of higher spiritual matters and question the core of human existence and spiritual realities when one is worried about getting thrown into prison because one is not a believer in ‘official’ dogma or orthodoxy. When the government guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of expression, people have the raw materials they need to question, to seek, to challenge, and to truly come to an understanding of the deep and profound mysteries of human existence. According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the highest human need, after all the needs for sex, shelter, food, ego, and other lower needs have been filled, is the need for transcendence. A society can foster a higher level of personal transcendence when individual liberties are protected and guaranteed. When dissenting opinions and dissenting lifestyles are are not just tolerated but encouraged, a society can lay the groundwork for a rich ferment of spiritual conceptualization and expressions that can result in a higher level of spiritual exploration, philosophical adventures, and personal transcendence.
Make no mistakes about it-high levels of personal liberty can benefit any society. From increasing economic choices which can lift countries out of poverty to increasing opportunities for cultural expression and artistic excellence, political liberties lay important seeds that lift societies on many levels. The biggest benefit of liberty, however, is truly personal. With the right political, cultural, economic, and social framework rooted in liberty, societies can lay the groundwork for people truly exploring and pursuing the highest levels of personal, spiritual, and philosophical transcendence.