The principle of freedom is deep-seated, and has been expressed in great historical declarations such as the Magna Carta, the Declarations of the American and French revolutions, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. How, then, does the principle of freedom measure up in a liberal democracy?
Individual freedom is not absolute – it can only be truly exercised in consideration of the equal rights of one’s fellow citizens. In an ideal world there should be a balance of rights and responsibilities through the sacrifice of individual self-interest, so contributing to the “common good”. From a moral perspective the common good, being the good of the Whole, should apply not only to the citizens of a liberal democracy but also to all peoples on the planet. Therefore, the freedom exercised by a citizen in one part of the world should not work against the freedom of someone elsewhere. While this may seem idealistic, it’s only when a higher progressive vision is sensed that new, more enlightened ways of thinking emerge into human minds.
Today, there is a sense that everything is much more closely connected than in earlier times – hence the metaphor of the global village.However, in a world of global trading, energy and financial markets, can the individual citizen be truly free when financial disaster may occur at the whim of a bank trader? Yet, true democracy is not founded on materialism or consumerism; rather, it is an impulse flowing from the spirit of humanity, which releases finer values and the energy of goodwill into human consciousness.
Nevertheless, the spiritual and material worlds must come together and interconnect; for they are two sides of the same coin. Thus, spiritual values and principles have to be grounded and applied to life in all its various aspects. After all, the great humanitarian and welfare movements, and those many individuals and organisations that continue to work to alleviate human suffering, have their roots in higher values and the sacrifice of self-interest. Now, the environmental crisis is providing an added impetus towards more altruistic behaviour and is forcing humanity to think imaginatively of ways to live more in harmony with the planet. The many individuals and groups whose motives are founded on a spirit of mutual co-operation and responsibility-in-action are living testament to the finer values that underpin true democracy. It is challenging to consider that in a time of high intellectual achievement, the next step ahead for humanity is to become more receptive to those higher values that will enlighten the material world.
One of the fundamental pillars of democracy is freedom of speech and expression, and we are seeing quite revolutionary developments at this time, with citizens in many countries being able to post their thoughts on the Internet on any subject under the sun. There are countless weblogs as well as a rapid upsurge of social networking sites. National and local governments are also opening up to the idea of e-democracy, and there are discussions about voting online with citizens now able to petition Governments by email. While the Internet is a positive development, citizens have to take care to exercise freedom of communication responsibly in a spirit of mutual tolerance, otherwise conversations may sink to a low level. The Internet, like the human mind, has its higher and lower aspects – it can be used as a creative tool to further true democracy, but it can also be a destructive weapon serving self-interest by furthering harmful gossip and innuendo.
All people of goodwill who demonstrate a spirit of inclusiveness and tolerance are helping to break down barriers and encourage true democracy. The energy of goodwill brings tolerance for the views of others and creates a mental atmosphere based upon compassion and shared understanding. This is an energy that will lead humanity more towards wise compromise when it is needed and mutual cooperation for the good of the Whole.