Individual liberty is not an absolute; it exists in a social context. Reasonable limits on behaviour are established by some combination of external compulsion and learned self-restraint.
Even John Stuart Mill recognised this:
"It is not because men’s desires are strong that they act ill; it is because their consciences are weak. [...]
"In some early states of society, [the strong desires and impulses of individuals] might be, and were, too much ahead of the power which society then possessed of disciplining and controlling them. There has been a time when the element of spontaneity and individuality was in excess, and the social principle had a hard struggle with it. The difficulty then was to induce men of strong bodies or minds to pay obedience to any rules which required them to control their impulses.
"To overcome this difficulty, law and discipline, like the Popes struggling against the Emperors, asserted a power over the whole man, claiming to control all his life in order to control his character-which society had not found any other sufficient means of binding.
"But society has now fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency, of personal impulses and preferences."
- "On Liberty" (1859), Chapter 3.
The slogans of individual freedom are used by rich and powerful persons and corporations to justify knocking down all obstacles - tax, law, regulation, restrictions on the international movement of capital and people - to their own advancement.
In the wake of their activities come economic uncertainty and cultural confusion, out of which arises growing social unrest which the governing power in each country or region is challenged to contain.
When the populace feels its collective identity crumbling, the State feels obliged to compensate for the weakening of individual psychological constraints by an increase in spying, legislation, police and armed forces.
If the "men of strong minds" cannot be persuaded or compelled to accept certain bounds to their impulses, their liberty will depend upon the progressive subjection of the majority.
The nation-state is not a restriction on liberty but that which gives liberty its form, just as the sonnet is not a cage for words, but its house and organising framework. "To enter in these bonds, is to be free," said John Donne; like life itself, freedom is a paradox, a balance of contradictory forces.
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