CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK
LIBERTY is defined as a state of freedom; a state in which one Lhinks and acts and speaks as one pleases, at such times and places as one chooses.
What goes on in a person’s mind cannot be known except in so far as this can be inferred from his actions or words. But since it is possible by means of education, display of power, propaganda, etc., to influence or control people’s minds and hence their actions and words, it is important that a definition of liberty should include the faculty to think as well as to act and speak as one pleases.
Liberty thus defined must of necessity be a speculative abstraction. If everyone in a family or community did and said what he liked at such times and places as he chose, the chaos that would result would be unimaginably frightful, and life would be unbearable for all the members of such a family or community.
Even political philosophers who have spoken of natural liberty—that is, the kind of freedom here defined—have confined the enjoymentof such liberty to the state of nature. This is also a speculative abstraction, because such a state, where, according to Hobbes, man is said to have lived a ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ life, has never existed anywhere at any time since the emergence of homo sapiens some forty thousand years ago. Even rf the so-called state of nature had existed, it would still not have been possible for man to enjoy absolute freedom in it.
His thoughts, actions, and words as well as the times and places for ‘their exercise, would have been largely influenced or even controlled by geography, by his .environment, and by his physical constitution and mental development.
From what we have said, absolute freedom in any condition whatsoever is an impossibility, and its enjoyment in a family or community must of necessity be a veritable bane to all concerned.
In practice, therefore, liberty is worthwhile and beneficial only when its enjoyment is relative. That is to say, when it is enjoyed by a person, with due and strict regard to its enjoyment by other persons. A legal maxim puts this principle in a different way: ‘sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas’, meaning ‘You are to enjoy that which is yours in such a manner as not to do hurt or injury to others’.
By his very nature, man is a social animal. He was never and could never have been ‘solitary’. In order to procreate offspring and propagate his species, he must marry. He must also devote some years to the rearing of the issue of the marriage until they have reached such a state of physical maturity as to enable them to fend for themselves, and eventually raise their own families.
It is, therefore, safe to assert that at all times in his career man is a member of a family. As such, he must, as we have noted, exercise his liberty with due regard to similar exercise by the other members of the family. In other words, for the common good, all the members of the family must subject the exercise of their individual freedom to some sort of order which is ascertainable and consistent.
In all history and in different parts of the world, the affairs of the family are presided over by the paterfamilias, the materfamilias, or by both of them in some sort of esoteric partnership. Customs in this regard vary from place to place. But in Nigeria, and in most parts of Africa, it is the paterfamilias, sometimes advised and assisted by the materfamilias and the other adult members of the family, that keeps the reins of the family in his firm control. He it is who, having regard to the common interests of the family, lays down the rules by which the conduct of the members of the family will be governed, adjudicates all disputes among them, and punishes any offender. He it is also who, if necessary with the assistance of some members of the family, administers and executes all rules laid down by him. In short, subject to the injunctions of the family gods, he is the maker and executant of the family laws, as well as the dispenser of justice.
Because of marriage and blood affinity, the affection which exists within the family is such as to make the other members of the family trust the paterfamilias completely. Consequently, the exercise ofliberty within the family unit is not difficult to regulate.
Within the limits set by the paterfamilias, the members of the family enjoy all the rights and freedoms which are now summed up and known as FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS. These limits are neither harsh nor discriminatory nor arbitrary. They are partly dictated by superstitious beliefs and by the injunctions of the family gods. In so far as the limits proceed from the rational conscious thoughts of the paterfamilias, they are invariably motivated by affection for, and the best interests of, the entire family.
The administration of the family unit, though simple and rudimentary, is worthy of notice. The parents devote some 16 years or so to the care and nurture of the young ones. The parents are never in doubt as to their inescapable obligations to feed, clothe, shelter, educate, and protect the lives, rights, and freedoms of their offspring. More often than not they are ready to discharge these obligations at the expense of their own personal comforts, or lives.
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK
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