Back to: Tamil Nadu Class 12 English Guide & Notes
In ‘On the Rule of the Road’ Gardiner emphasizes the necessity of certain constraints on individual liberty, if society is to function in a truly civilized manner. According to him, liberty is not a personal affair only, it is also a social contract. A.G. Gardiner defines the “Rule of the Road” in the following way:
It means that in order that the liberties of all may be preserved, the liberties of everybody must be curtailed.
In other words, each person must have some limits on his or her freedom in order to enjoy the freedom that comes from social order. The author concludes the essay by saying that both anarchist and socialist must be a judicious mix. We need to preserve individual liberty as well as social freedom. It is in the small matter of behaviour in observing the rule of the road, we pass judgment on ourselves and declare that we are civilised or uncivilised.
On The Rule of The Road by A.G. Gardiner is a witty essay in a comic style that deals with one’s public responsibilities and civic sense. The central idea of the essay is that the protection of every person’s freedom involves the limitation of the liberty enjoyed by all. Liberty is not chaos, and it is not unbridled freedom. A.G. Gardiner gives us the meaning of true liberty, and how it necessitates a measure of control.
The essay is characterized by its simplicity, and the relevance of the content at the time of its publishing meant that it would catch the eye of many. An old lady was walking carelessly in the middle of the road, and when told that she should walk on the pavement, she responds that because she has liberty, she has the power to do anything she likes.
However, if that were true, then the world would be chaos. Anarchy would exist over liberty because if everyone was free to do as they pleased, nobody would have any kind of protection. So, it is essential to not lose ourselves in the concept of liberty and understand what the rule of the road is.
Also understand that law enforcement is what allows a semblance of order to exist in the world, which in turn supports true liberty. We can see that liberty is a social contract, an acceptance of everyone’s needs and an accommodation of them.
In this text, a single example is used as a thread throughout the essay, that is, the titular “Rule of the Road”. This single example is used to explain liberty, and it is a metaphor for all the regulations that exist to protect one’s liberty. This seemingly insignificant rule or example has a big impact in the big picture, as it represents the little things each person must adhere to in order to support the structure of life.
Liberty exists when a person is free from oppression from authority and free from restrictions imposed on their behaviour, political views, decisions, and so on. It gives people the power to act as they want to, and this is how they become “liberty-drunk”. People reach a point of not being able to relinquish their freedom, even at the cost of someone else’s freedom.
Liberty for the civilized is a willingness to restrain or restrict themselves out of consideration for the comfort and needs of another person. Anarchy exists when there is an absence, or ignorance, of rules or controls. It is a political ideal of absolute freedom of every individual, without a care for the needs of others. It is, colloquially, a state of confusion due to the absence of any regulation.
The rule of the road means that in order “to preserve the liberties of all the liberties of everybody must be curtailed”. When the policeman put out his hand at Piccadilly circus street, we must not think that our liberty has been violated.