What is the Relationship between Liberty and Equality?

Liberty, as we defined it, is moral freedom, and equality is essential to it, for without equality, the price of liberty for me might be the denial of liberty for you.

Liberty and equality both go together in claims to fundamental rights. But the two have not always and everywhere been claimed with equal fervour.

On the whole, the Anglo-Saxons have seemed to place more emphasis on liberty, while the French have always sought, first and foremost, to secure recognition of the principle of equality.

This difference of emphasis may be explained as the result of different political evolutions or of different national characteristics. It is also possible to explain it by saying that, in reality, one or the other has to be chosen, because the two demands are really incompatible, that, as Lord Acton said, “the passion for equality makes vain the hope of freedom.”


Whether equality is a condition of liberty or is in reality incompatible with it is a question which need clearly be answered, as it affects our whole conception of rights and duties. According to the Marxist thesis conditions of economic equality alone make possible the necessary conditions of liberty. Economic equality, it asserts, can only be achieved through revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat.

The dictatorship of the proletariat uses all the power at its disposal to destroy Capitalism and to establish in its place Socialism, that is, to re-distribute material benefits which hitherto were enjoyed by some, the capitalist class, at the expense of others, the working class. For constructing a Socialist society the dictatorship of the proletariat may be invested with oppressive and autocratic powers.

It may even regiment the faculties of men to a particular way of life. Once Socialism has been established, the State becomes superfluous and it must ‘wither away’. The emerging society is a stateless and classless society where men will really be free. Equality is, therefore, an end to which men are led by a revolution.

But in a democratic State means cannot be divorced from the end, or to put it in simple language, “democracies assume that, in so far as it is humanly possible, they must not do evil that good may come.”


Freedom, therefore, is something that can be created by free men and the citizens themselves decide both what constitutes their freedom and also the means which they will employ to achieve their end. Good means must be adopted for a good end and for the attainment of liberty a considerable measure of equality is necessary.

Unrestrained freedom for every individual to satisfy his appetite for wealth and power is not the condition of liberty. Whenever and wherever such a freedom has existed it resulted in the degeneration of the social order. Great inequalities make impossible the attainment of freedom for the less fortunate.

Those who are wealthy and possess the means to control the government constitute a class of vested interests and they use their authority and privileges for perpetuating inequalities. This hampers the freedom of those who are deprived of the opportunities they need for their self-expression and self-development.

Freedom means security and security demands the removal of those inequalities that place the weak at the mercy of the strong. Equality, which aims to end this glaring contrast, is, therefore, the true basis of liberty.


Without equality, liberty is a mere mockery. Civil liberty can only be ensured when all are equal in the eyes of law, the same law for all and no privileged classes or individuals exempt from its provisions.

Political liberty provides equal status for all citizens and equal opportunities for their participation in the affairs of the State. It raises the common man on the pedestal of political glory.

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A society in which there exist gross inequalities in property can assure neither civil nor political liberty. Liberty consists in reciprocity, or, as Aristotle has said, friendship. There can be no friendship, that is, fellow-feeling, among people having unequal standards of living, education and culture.

“If liberty means the power of expansion in human spirit, it is rarely presented save in a society of equals. Where there are rich and poor, educated and uneducated, we find always masters and servants.” There can be no liberty for servants who are ever recipients of orders.

Inequalities of property also inevitably bring inequalities of treatment and right. There is no justice for the poor in a society of unequals. Equality in justice is a primary condition of justice.

A magistrate who convicts a poor thief but acquits the one who is rich, ascribing the guilt of the latter to a nervous disease does so because of differences in the economic status of the two, though the nature of offence in both the cases is the same.

Such differences in the administration of law are dependent, not upon the law itself, but the social results of the inequality of wealth. Things seem wicked in the poor which are not wicked in the rich.

Only a movement towards the equality of wealth can remove such injustices. All those countries which have moved towards the attainment of real liberty have, in fact, striven to remove economic inequalities.

The Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Indian Constitution declare the ideal of the Welfare State and emphasise that the regulatory State of the past has given place to the service State of today.

Article 38 of the Constitution clearly prescribes that “the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.”

The State shall, in particular, direct its policy so that wealth, its sources of production and its means of distribution shall not be concentrated in the hands of the few, but shall be distributed as to sub-serve common good. But nothing tangible has been achieved so far and the yawning disparities still plague the Indian Society.

In the United States discrimination against blacks is longstanding and pervasive. The officials of the National Institute of Health told the Post Office and Civil Service Subcommittee on July 14, 1993, that the Institute had clustered black employees in low-paying jobs with little chance of advancement.

Allegation of crimes against women had earlier been made against National Institute of Health by a consultant’s report, but no one had ever been disciplined for racial bias.

Liberty and equality are, therefore, not incompatible. Equality is an aid to liberty. Tawney has aptly said that “a large measure of equality, so far being inimical to liberty, is essential to it.” Even Lord Acton did not find equality incompatible with liberty. What he found incompatible was “the passion for equality.”

And if the equalitarian communities, Utopian or Communist, have been found unworkable and subjected to criticism, it is because equality is regarded as an end rather than a means to an end. If equality becomes a passion instead of an instrument, then liberty may be diminished by equalitarian measures as Marxism suggests.

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