How much freedom is sufficient? Laws should be as least restrictive of freedom as possible, but each person’s freedom restricts every other person’s exercise of freedom. The ideal lies in a balance between individual need and the greater good. John Stuart Mill stated that freedom should be limited only by the ‘harm’ principle: individuals should be free to do anything which does not harm self or others, but actions which do harm to self or others must be restricted by society. Definitions of ‘harm’ vary widely, and it has become the difficult task of courts to interpret such definitions.
Enlightenment philosophers felt man is ‘born free.’ Their definitions of natural rights (now called human rights) differed widely. The term natural rights continues to be problematic because the idea of human life in a state of nature has always been hypothetical. Human rights include freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of one’s body from ownership, and the right to use it in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In democratic societies, freedoms flow from civil rights guaranteed by a Constitution. The power of government is limited by respect for individual rights and by the consent of the governed. Democratic systems offer the most opportunity for attainment of one’s potential while protecting minority rights. Patriotism is love of country, its way of life, and its outward symbols of freedom; however, patriotism may lack awareness of deeper principles embodied within a Constitution.
If you are actively involved in the defense of human and civil rights, you are dedicated to the necessary ingredients of freedom. You are promoting the most basic, universally desired human ideals and aspirations, and demonstrating the most virtuous human behavior.