First, we have the concept of natural liberty. It is generally used to identify it with the unlimited right of man to do whatever he likes.
Natural liberty is supposed to have been enjoyed by man independently of and antecedent to, the existence of the State. With the emergence of the State absolute freedom of doing whatever one liked to do disappeared.
While analysing his theory of Social Contract, Rousseau said, “What a man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to anything that tempts him, which he can obtain.”
But, as explained earlier, such a condition of liberty is impossible. It is licence rather than liberty, as natural and unlimited liberty of one encroaches upon the natural rights of others. True liberty can only be realised in the State and not without it.
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The liberty of one is not a contravention of the liberty of another. It is, according to Herbert Spencer, freedom for every man “to do that which he wills provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.”
The doctrine of natural liberty, though earlier in origin, is closely connected with the idea of the law of nature. According to the Romans, Natural Law or Law of Nature was the law of reason which bound together men in social bonds under common rules of life.
The theologically-minded Middle Ages identified this Natural Law with the Law of God and of the Church. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it became a dogma of political obligation.
Locke, in particular, emphasized the connection between Natural Law and freedom, and his ideas were embodied in the American Declaration of Independence in which the equality and freedom of man are postulated. It received a still more vigorous treatment at the hands of Rousseau and provided a basis for the French Revolution:
Rousseau’s political standard was the state of nature in which all men were equal. Natural equality, thus, became the essential principle of Natural Law and it conferred upon man certain inalienable rights. The eighteenth century Encyclopedia stated, “Natural equality is that which exists between all men by the very constitution of their nature.
It is founded upon the human nature which is common to all men who are born, grow, live and die in the same way.” Therefore, each must treat all others as equal to himself.
The consequence of this is: first, that all men are naturally free; secondly, that we are to treat our inferiors as by nature our equals; thirdly, no one may claim any particular right above the rights of others unless he has acquired it.
This is the true meaning of equality and if natural liberty confers such basic rights, which we may call natural rights, it is beyond doubt acceptable. But it is wrong to hold that natural rights confer the right to absolute freedom. Rights, as previously said, carry with them corresponding obligations.