Those who originally raised the slogan of liberty and fought for it, actually wanted the recognition of their civil rights. But it was soon realised that mere recognition of civil rights was not sufficient to protect them against the exercise of despotic authority.
It, accordingly, came to be maintained that the people must also possess the power to compel the government to accept their point of view and ultimately to replace it, if it continued to act in violation of their will. This transfer of the ultimate authority of retaining or changing government into the hands of the people came to be known as their political liberty. Political liberty now, signifies:
1. The right of citizens to vote and to elect their representatives. But all citizens do not enjoy the right to vote. Political expediency demands that some proportion of the population of the State be denied this right.
In general, aliens, lunatics, children, and in some countries even women, generally Islamics, are excluded from the right to vote, although the modem tendency is to extend this right to all adults, men and women;
2. The right to be elected. That is to say, every citizen who possesses the right to elect representatives must also possess the right to get himself elected;
3. The right to hold any public office provided a citizen possesses the requisite qualifications as prescribed by the laws of the State. The right to remain in office cannot, however, be held permanently or for an indefinite period of time. Representatives must be elected periodically, and so do the holders of offices in the government; and
4. The right of the citizens to be well-informed about all public matters and to freely discuss and criticise the policy of government. The citizens should be sufficiently vigilant about public affairs, as eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
It will appear that political liberty is realised in countries which are democratically governed. It is another name for self-government and refers to political rights possessed by the people, that is, the share of governing authority which the State confers upon certain of its inhabitants. Political liberty is also the necessary complement of civil liberty. In the absence of political liberty, civil liberty is only an illusion.
Political liberty, according to Laski, “must not be regarded as something to be attained as an end in itself. It is to be attained for the higher moral end of the perfection of humanity, and as such its course must be marked by the gradual enlightenment of the citizens.”
For political liberty to be real, Laski says, two conditions are essential. First, there should be adequate facilities for all and each one should have equal access to education. But the system of education which provides separate institutions for the children of the rich and the poor is to be highly deprecated, as it trains the former to habits of authority and the latter to habits of deference.
Such a division of attitude amongst citizens can never produce political freedom. Those who are consciously trained as a privileged class will be imbued with the spirit of governing others who are trained to submit to their authority.
The second condition of political liberty is the presence of an honest and free press. The press disseminates information and knowledge.
For the enjoyment of political liberty it is essential that the news supplied by the press should be honest, straightforward, and unbiased, so that both the electors and the representatives may have truthful material to rely upon and decide issues. But this is not the real fact. Our press skillfully omits relevant facts and deliberately perverts news.
When facts are deliberately perverted and reason is choked, our judgment will be unrelated to truth. A people deprived of reliable news are deprived of the very basis of freedom. “For, to exercise one’s judgment in a miasma of distortion is ultimately to go disastrously astray.”