S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
By liberty I do understand neither a liberty from sin, misery, servitude, nor violence, but from necessity, or rather necessitation; that is, an universal immunity from all inevitability and determination to one.
Liberty, such as deserves the name, is an honest, equitable, diffusive, and impartial principle. It is a great and enlarged virtue, and not a sordid, selfish, and illiberal vice. It is the portion of the mass of the citizens, and not the haughty license of some potent individual or some predominant faction.
Edmund Burke: Letter to Richard Burke on Prot. Ascend. in Ireland, 1793.
With the enemies of freedom it is a usual artifice to represent the sovereignty of the people as a license to anarchy and disorder. But the tracing up of the civil power to that source will not diminish our obligation to obey; it only explains its reasons, and settles it on clear and determinate principles; it turns blind submission into rational obedience, tempers the passion for liberty with the love of order, and places mankind in a happy medium between the extremes of anarchy on the one side and oppression on the other; it is the polar star that will conduct us safely over the ocean of political debate and speculation,the law of laws, the guide for legislators.
As it is in the motions of the body, so it is in the thoughts of our minds: where any one is such that we have power to take it up, or lay it by, according to the preference of the mind, there we are at liberty.
Though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license; though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself.
If to break loose from the conduct of reason, and to want that restraint of examination and judgment which keeps us from choosing or doing the worst, be liberty, true liberty, madmen and fools are the only freemen.
It is the character of such revolutions that we always see the worst of them at first. Till men have been some time free, they know not how to use their freedom. The natives of wine countries are generally sober. In climates where wine is a rarity, intemperance abounds. A newly-liberaled people may be compared to a northern army encamped on the Rhine or the Xeres. It is said that when soldiers in such a situation first find themselves able to indulge without restraint in such a rare and expensive luxury, nothing is to be seen but intoxication. Soon, however, plenty teaches discretion; and, after wine has been for a few months their daily fare, they become more temperate than they had ever been in their own country. In the same manner, the final and permanent fruits of liberty are wisdom, moderation, and mercy. Its immediate effects are often atrocious crimes, conflicting errors, scepticism on points the most clear, dogmatism on points the most mysterious. It is just at this crisis that its enemies love to exhibit it. They pull down the scaffolding from the half-finished edifice; they point to the flying dust, the falling bricks, the comfortless rooms, the frightful irregularity of the whole appearance; and then ask in scorn where the promised splendour and comfort is to be found. If such miserable sophisms were to prevail, there would never be a good house or a good government in the world.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Milton, Aug. 1825.
Ariosto tells a pretty story of a fairy, who, by some mysterious law of her nature, was condemned to appear at certain seasons in the form of a foul and poisonous snake. Those who injured her during the period of her disguise were forever excluded from participation in the blessings which she bestowed. But to those who, in spite of her loathsome aspect, pitied and protected her, she afterwards revealed herself in the beautiful and celestial form which was natural to her, accompanied their steps, granted all their wishes, filled their houses with wealth, made them happy in love and victorious in war. Such a spirit is Liberty. At times she takes the form of a hateful reptile. She grovels, she hisses, she stings. But woe to those who in disgust shall venture to crush her! And happy are those who, having dared to receive her in her degraded and frightful shape, shall at length be rewarded by her in the time of her beauty and her glory!
There is only one cure for the evils which newly-acquired freedom produces; and that cure is freedom. When a prisoner first leaves his cell, he cannot bear the light of day: he is unable to discriminate colours or recognize faces. But the remedy is, not to remand him into his dungeon, but to accustom him to the rays of the sun. The blaze of truth and liberty may at first dazzle and bewilder nations which have become half blind in the house of bondage. But let them gaze on, and they will soon be able to bear it. In a few years men learn to reason. The extreme violence of opinion subsides. Hostile theories correct each other. The scattered elements of truth cease to contend, and begin to coalesce. And at length a system of justice and order is educed out of the chaos.
Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition that no people ought to be free until they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever.
For stories teach us that liberty sought out of season, in a corrupt and degenerate age, brought Rome itself to a farther slavery: for liberty hath a sharp and double edge, fit only to be handled by just and virtuous men; to bad and dissolute, it becomes a mischief unwieldy in their own hands: neither is it completely given but by them who have the happy skill to know what is grievance and unjust to a people, and how to remove it wisely; what good laws are wanting, and how to frame them substantially, that good men may enjoy the freedom which they merit, and the bad the curb which they need.
None can love freedom heartily but good men: the rest love not freedom, but license, which never hath more scope or more indulgence than under tyrants. Hence it is that tyrants are not oft offended by, nor stand much in doubt of, bad men, as being all naturally servile; but in whom virtue and true worth is most eminent them they fear in earnest, as by right their masters; against them lies all their hatred and corruption.
To do what we will is natural liberty; to do what we will consistently with the interests of the community to which we belong, is civil liberty; that is to say, the only liberty to be desired in a state of civil society.
I should wish to act, no doubt, in every instance as I pleased; but I reflect that the rest also of mankind would then do the same; to which state of universal independence and self-direction I should meet with so many checks and obstacles to my own will, from the opposition and interference of other mens, that not only my happiness but my liberty would be less than whilst the whole community were subject to the domination of equal laws. The boasted liberty of a state of nature exists only in a state of solitude. In every kind and degree of union and intercourse with his species it is possible that the liberty of the individual may be augmented by the very laws which restrain it; because he may gain more from the limitation of other mens freedom than he suffers from the diminution of his own.