Finding a Balance Between Individual Liberty and Man’s Role in the Societal Structure

As in most things, humanity attempts to simplify its understanding of life by adopting a one-sided approach that sets up an “either/or” dichotomy.  In the very subtle dynamic between individual freedom and responsibility or obligation placed on the individual within the scope of society, there are adherents on each side of this issue.  On the one hand, some claim the individual should have virtually absolute liberty and government should be scaled back to the minimum possible role so as to not infringe the inherent freedom of the individual.  On the other hand there are those who hold that the individual has no special value other than as an element or cog in the machinery of society, and thus, can be dispensed with, controlled, and regimented as the society determines it requires.  We have here a classic case of a dialectic which calls out for an answer that finds a way to balance and harmonise these two extremes in a new synthesis.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “True, his life and growth are for the sake of the world, but he can help the world by his life and growth only in proportion as he can be more and more freely and widely his own real self.  True, he has to use the ideals, disciplines, systems of cooperation which he finds upon his path; but he can only use them well, in their right way and to their right purpose if they are to his life means towards something beyond them and not burdens to be borne by him for their own sake or despotic controls to be obeyed by him as their slave or subject; for though laws and disciplines strive to be tyrants of the humans soul, their only purpose is to be its instruments and servants and when their use is over they have to be rejected and broken.  True it is, too, that he has to gather in his material from the minds and lives of his fellow-men around him and to make the most of the experience of humanity’s past ages and not confine himself in a narrow mentality; but this he can only do successfully by making all that his own through assimilation of it to the principle of his own nature and through its subservience to the forward call of his enlarging future.  The liberty claimed by the struggling human mind for the individual is no mere egoistic challenge and revolt, however egoistically or with one-sided exaggeration and misapplication it may sometimes be advanced; it is the divine instinct within him, the law of the Self, its claim to have room and the one primary condition for its natural self-unfolding.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pp 67-68