Individual Freedom And Rights Essay

“Is it most important to value one’s own life, happiness and interest or to obey the higher authority of the state?” This statement raises the question of the individual’s freedom and rights in comparison to the state’s control over individual’s life. In this paper I will be arguing against Socrates and Confucius view of placing the state ahead of the individual. This paper is constructed along my line of defense which looks at the issues and arguments around the individual freedom and rights.

This argument largely dwells on the concept of freedom from Socratic and Confucius philosophy, Christianity and individual freedom and also modern/postmodern thinking on this subject.

The concept of freedom and rights in ancient Greek Philosophy

Socrates and Confucius are two major philosophers who tried to develop the relationship between the individual freedom, rights and the state control (Philosophy study guide). According to Beck “both Confucius and Socrates lived in cultures where hereditary privilege was the main factor in social status.

Neither of them was extremely high-born, but they certainly were not peasants either” (Beck 2010:14) .Socrates contributed much on political discussion, he did not engage in political career. He was so much concerned with how state laws were implemented in city life style, which determined a healthy relationship between the citizens and the state. However, this relationship should not be forced or coerced on them rather it should come naturally.

Both Socrates and Confucius teachings’ were meant to prepare men for the world of politics. This is why they both “stressed the value and importance of ideals and portrayed the ideal state in the midst of various prevailing governments which were far from perfect. They criticized their unjust practices and diagnosed their problems. Socrates seems to have gone into more detail in delineating the different types of government” (Beck 2010:7). But Confucius went further by teaching about the importance of self control and temperature. It taught about the ideals of social controls and proper behavior.

Beck maintains that “for Socrates and the Greeks personal behavior was focused more on the individual as his own responsibility of self-discipline and did not extend so strongly into the social milieu. The rules of propriety were designed to bring harmony in relationships, while temperance is concerned with the harmony within the individual” (Beck 2010:5 ).This shows how individual freedom and rights played an important role in the mind of the Greeks. Of course, the State is important but too is individual liberty. However, both men emphasized the need for advancement of knowledge. This knowledge is to be taught in schools and public places.

Confucian philosophy it today, being practiced in Japan, Korea and China. It puts much emphasis on learning and educational values but imitating the master teacher’s words and deeds. Education is therefore, being used to correct some unbecoming behavior from the ethical perspectives (Philosophy study guide). The ideals of Confucius philosophy has been translated into human behavior and values in the Far eastern societies. Taking the lessons from the Socratic and Confucius ideology, this philosophy emphasizes the need to practice virtue and temperature at all times, thus avoiding friction and rash actions (Beck, 2010).

Christianity and individual rights

Christianity was born in Palestine at the time of Roman colonial rule. The relationship between Christianity and the State was somewhat not healthy, as these two entities often collided both in principle and practice. Being a Roman Citizen at the time would incorporate many responsibilities and roles which one needed to follow. However, the Romans were considered to be atheists for their insistence on emperor worship. Roman Citizens were commanded by the law to publicly follow and worship the cultic figures that represented the Roman gods. This worship was characterized through private and public worship and giving of sacrifices (Stumbaugh & Balch, 1996) in special places and temples.

However, for many years intellectuals and philosophers began to question this cultic worship. Roman Citizens were required to perform some rituals, prayers and sacrifice to company their worship. Through this worship all citizens were obliged to affirm their allegiance to the emperor. Christians refused to follow the demands of the state to follow the worship of demi gods of Roman religions. As a result, this refusal led to the persecution of Christians who insisted in worshipping their only God and Lord Jesus Christ. Christians decided to live in different set of life style which is different from the religious institutions of the Roman Empire and its social environment.

This shows the unhealthy relationship between the state and the church. This forced the Apostle Paul to address the issue of obeying the state laws and control in the Romans Chapter 13. The divine right of rulers has been disputed and discussed over the years. The question often asked is whether Christians are obliged to follows state laws and regulations. How far should Christians go to obey the laws of the state even when it is against their religion? For many years, Christian theologians and theologians have tried to grapple with the concept of the State and the Church. There are those who believe that the Church and State are mere sides of the same coin and therefore, Church leaders should be involved inn the affairs of the State. This view was largely developed by theologians such as Martin Luther, Zwingli and John Calvin (Stumbaugh & Balch, 1996).

It is through this theological thought that led to State Churches such as the Church of England and Lutheran Churches that are commonly found in the Scandinavian countries. On the other hand, there are those theological views which holds that Church is supreme over the State because it subscribes to the higher heavily powers. It is this divine authority which makes many churches to argue that they subjected to divine power and not state control. Those theologians who subscribes to this thought argue that the State is in subsidiary position to Church. Through out the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church view developed the notion that Church and State must be separate or remain separate entities. This thought also advocates that State and Church that must not just remain separate but is also independent of one another (Bramsted, 1978).

Most of theologians hold the view that Church and State different entities and have different origins. The Church owes its origin and allegiance to God and therefore Christian followers need to express their allegiance from God. Whereas the State, is seen as the divine institution that has been put in place by God for human Society to exercise power and authority of human beings. However, the Church has no control over men, but can only appeal to their minds, hearts and consciences. As a result, those who have accepted to be under the rule of the Church must adhere to Cannon laws, rules and regulations (Stumbaugh & Balch, 1996). In this case, the church would exercise authority over them, control their behavior patterns, thoughts and lives. The Church also has the power to correct, admonish or even discipline those who contrary to the rules of their faith.

The concept of freedom and rights in modern European philosophy

Modernity is considered to be the period between 1750 to late 1960s. The development of ideas in the western world is closely connected with the philosophical thoughts of their day. This period was associated with enlightenment thought often associated with scientific progress, technological advancement and industrial revolution. This new thinking permeated social thinking, values and relations. One those of those philosophers who contributed greatly to the development of enlightenment thinking in relation to individual freedom and rights were Jean Jacques Rousseau. Jean Jacques Rousseau, who lived between 1772 to 1778, is one of those philosophers who committed his life to follows the ideal of liberty during his political career. He followed the political line of republican persuasions and sympathized with the Republican ideals. He argued that the advent of western civilization corrupted the goodness of human nature (Friend, 2004).

He emphasized that progress in the arts and sciences contributed to moral degeneration and the decay of modern societies. He argued that human beings existed because they live social groups that later produced inequality. And therefore, once people begins to live in fixed relations like social groups, the quest for freedom begins to emerge because they want to free themselves from social bondages and oppressive social contracts. Therefore, this is the beginning of social inequalities and oppressions. Concerning Civil Society, Rousseau argues that it was founded by the person or people who emerged by enclosing people in groups. Then it claimed ownership over the piece of land. Therefore, civil society has been used by individuals to justify and maintain relations in property, which is based on inequality and associated moral decays (Friend, 2004).

However, although people have the will to choose what is right for them, it is important for everybody to set aside their own personal and ethno-cultural interests for the common good of others. Although, the concept of common goal is important, most scholars believe that it leads to a form of dictatorial leadership or authoritarian leadership. It also leads to dictatorship of the majority. The other European who developed this concept of the rights of man is Thomas Paine. He advocated for the rights of man theory was about the defense of the Principles of French Revolution.

The other philosopher who contributed to the development of individual freedom was Thomas Pain. According to Paine, human beings are born with equal, human rights even though they do not live isolation with others in the society. Every human being has the right to live in freedom and enjoy the benefits of cooperation with others in the society. However, this is not often realized, in our societies because these principles are often violated because human beings are not perfect. They have imperfect and naturally deprived nature that always wants to do evil.

Paine argued therefore, that the natural rights of all people can only be secured when people learn to deposit those rights which they cannot uphold as individual human beings. Nevertheless, the state has the overall of the individual’s life especially when it comes to addressing the issues of violence against humanity. The state also has the overall rights over the protection against the harm of others. To him, it is only the state that has the mandate to ensure the stability of our societies. This means that a legitimate government must be based on the concept of people rule for the sake of the people (Friend, 2004). This type of government is what is often refereed to as democracy. It is only the democratic government that can be considered as a legitimate form of government which represents the rights of the people. Democratic governments are meant to defend and protect the rights of individual human beings and secure the security of all citizens (Bramsted, 1978).

The concept of freedom and rights in the post modern world views

Much of the western culture resulted from the matrix of the enlightenment period. It promoted the attitude of tolerance towards others and relative view towards belief of any time. The Enlightenment doctrine promoted then doctrine of individualism, purporting that individuals are free, emancipated and must act in autonomy. The basic principles democracy is based on the notion of government consent, in other words, it is about people centered government that is elected by people for the people. The power given to people derives from the electorates. The concept of individual rights to freedom has attracted lots criticism from the intellectual communities and philosophers. The Marxist philosopher argues that the rights of individual go contrary to social progress because they are not in line with cultural or historical relativity (Bramsted, 1978).

Postmodernism rejected the enlightenment views that characterized much of then 18th to 19th century. Post modernism promoted the notion of pluralism, individualism and relativism. It rejected the notion of one blue print or overall dominant theme that dictates the thinking of man. Instead, it calls for the plural form of human relations. It opposes the notion of meta-narratives and calls for one many narratives in expanding human story. Contrary to the Enlightenment theory, post modernism attacks this concept of development or progress or the so called notion of forward match of history. Therefore, the principles of justice, freedom and rights in the postmodern world view are very much fragmented. It is also socially constructed depending on the social, economic, cultural and political contexts. The World western mostly exercise liberalism which is based on freedom and rights of individual human beings. This is why post modernism is often in loggerhead with modern enlightenment theory (Bramsted 1978).

However, the Liberal individualism which subscribes to Liberal democracy promotes the ideals of civil and political liberties. Civil liberty is big movement in the USA that pressures for the rights of Citizens. The theory of rights advocates for the rights of others and as well as their own. Such rights include life and liberty of others. This view has developed into human rights movement that taken centre stage in the world of politics advocating for universal human rights. Liberalism emphasizes the value of universal freedom and cosmopolitan citizenship. This view argues that individuals are allowed to display distinctive commitment to their personal lives but not to enforce them others. Civil liberties also argue that the government has no right to infiltrate into their personal lives. This means that we all have the rights to live a peaceful and free life without interference from the state (Bramsted, 1978).

Personal Opinion

Freedom is some thing which we all cherish and hold on to ideally. But individual freedom is something that is socially constructed. The concept of freedom has been misinterpret and misconceived. These views of freedom are erroneous in nature. Some people think that freedom is the absence of laws, regulation and restrictions. I have personally heard a teenager shouting back saying that they want to be free from their parents’ rules and regulations. Some even think that freedom is without anarchy or live a life without rules and regulations or rules. Many people and especially young people think that freedom is about living irresponsibility, without being responsible or being accountable to any body.

For some people freedom is about the avoidance of work and obligation. This equates to laziness and being slack. But from my own understanding, freedom demands much of our time and work than when in bondage. When your are bound, you are well looked after by your captors for instance when you are in prison, it is the responsibility of the prison authorities to look after you. Further I have heard some people saying that freedom is retiring from responsibility. But is not true because one cannot separate freedom from responsibility these are two sides of the same coins. Indeed, some extend, say that freedom is about relaxation from social boundaries and rules, but this is misconception. One does have to relax because they are free. By and large, some even argue that freedom is being released from external control. They argue that it is about being left alone to do what they want or like without control from the parents, employers or even the government.


This paper has attempted to answer the question whether it most important to value one’s own life, happiness and interest or to obey the higher authority of the state. It is question which address the question of individual freedom and rights. Individual freedom and rights are two concepts that are intertwined together. One cannot do without the other. The concept of freedom is often associated with being released from the external controls whereby one thinks that they are not held accountable or responsible to the others. These two views have been very contentious for many years as scholars contend with them. Beginning with the Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Confucius, individual freedom and rights were discussed in more details. These philosophers taught that although we are free agents were are still subjected to human control and governance. This means that we are still obliged to follow the rules and regulations of the state.

However, the issue of obeying the state and its decrees is what caused much friction between the church and the state. For many years, the first century were persecuted by the Roman governments for now disobeying the emperor’s orders on cultic worship. This factor was taken board by theologians for many years latter as to whether the church is free from the powers of the state. This is also implied as to whether indeed Christians are free from following the rules and regulations ordered by the state.

During the enlightenment period various thoughts began to emerge concerning the issue of individual freedom and right from modern Europe philosophers. These discourse produced further debates on liberalism, democracy and human rights. Following the end of modernity the postmodern paradigm began to emerge to give different views to those ones held by modernity thinkers. The post modern mind view argues that there is one met narratives, that we all have our stories of what is right and wrong, we should follow what is appropriate for us. I would not subscribe to any of these views but a mixture of both. I would like to argue that individual freedom is there, but we have to be accountable to what we do to others. Our concept of freedom, rights and happiness must be inline with the laws of our societies.

Still stressed from student homework?
Get quality assistance from academic writers!