Mutual liberty is an idea first coined by Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1835 work Democracy in America. In effect, Tocqueville was referring to the general nature of American society during the 19th century. It appeared to him, at least on the surface, that every citizen in the United States had the opportunity to participate in the civic activities of the country. Another way to look at mutual liberty is by accounting for the collective free wills of every rational being in a community. Even though the notion of mutual liberty was introduced by Tocqueville, it was John Stuart Mill who greatly expanded it. Mill believed that the most proper occasion for mutual liberty was in a community governed by the consent of the governed, i.e., a republic. And according to Mill, it is only in a republic where members of all political factions can participate. It has been said that a republic is the form of government that divides people least. This statement pertains greatly to mutual liberty. Unlike positive and negative liberty, mutual liberty encompasses all citizens. It makes no distinction between political preference and social status. Mutual liberty pervades all sectors of society, from the homeless man on the street to the premier of the state. It is the process through which a general sense of morality gets exerted on the widest range of people in any given communal setting.
Mutual liberty on the whole can be viewed as being linked to the concept of social justice. In effect, social justice is where every person in a given community has equal access to the opportunities afforded to those who are the most privileged. And in a certain sense, this notion of privilege ought to be assigned in a manner such that those who are the least advantaged receive the most benefit from the economic inequalities in a society. This version of social justice has been discussed at length by academics such as John Rawls and clerics such as Óscar Romer. Where mutual liberty fits into the schemes of social justice is precisely in the creation of the social structure that would effectively permit the opportunities of the privileged to become available to all. Without a general aura of liberty, which is exactly what mutual liberty offers, then the possibilities of fostering social justice in a community are essentially shut out.
However, the underlying problem of directly linking mutual liberty to social justice is that in order to enact social justice, the liberty of others must be impeded.
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Bantam Books, 2000), 9–15.
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and Utilitarianism (New York: Bantam Books, 1993), 12–16.
- James McMillan, Modern France: 1880–2002 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 11.
- John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (New York: Belknap, 1971), 60.
- John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (New York: Belknap, 1971), 303.
- John Stuart Mill in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- In Search of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, information and resources about Alexis de Tocqueville.