The Political System and Civil Liberties: Theory and Practice

The Concept of Civil Liberties and Human Rights

An important topic in political science concerns the provision of civil liberties and the practice of human rights in modern nation states. It goes without saying that in dictatorships, civil liberties are curtailed, and human rights are nonexistent. Hence, our focus in this article is on the theory and practice of civil liberties in democracies and the mixed political system states like China. For instance, in the west, there are lots of provisions for free speech and freedom of expression along with the right to practice one’s religion and have recourse to law for the citizens. This is the scenario where in the West, both the theory and the practice of civil liberties is followed zealously and the institutions like the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the civil society are in agreement that individuals and their human rights are paramount. While many conservative critics in the West claim that this is excessive and too permissive leading to everyone saying everything about everybody, the fact remains that the broad consensus on civil liberties and human rights are both theoretical and practical as far as the protection of citizen rights are concerned.

Contrast between the West and the East

This is not the situation in the East (especially in the democracies of South East Asia and the market-based economy with communist government in China) where the gap between theory and practice of civil liberties is indeed huge. Even in the world’s largest democracy, India, sometimes the practice of protecting human rights and safeguarding civil liberties becomes controversial though the body polity is fairly permissive. The point here is the West (the US and the Europe, in particular) have a degree of individual freedom that is derived from the Enlightenment period and which has stood the test of the time. Whereas in the East, the institutions and the mechanisms of governance are based on ideas borrowed from the West and hence, they are at variance with the social structure that is rigid and conservative. This is the reason why there are frequent controversies in countries like India where the law guarantees free speech and freedom in many spheres but in practice, the need to maintain social harmony and social order often leads to action being taken against citizens who speak out too freely or express themselves too controversially.

Examples from Scandinavian Countries and Arab Countries

The other aspect of civil liberties and human rights across the world is the rather idealistic model followed in the Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, where the individual and his or her rights are paramount before other considerations. In contrast, the Arabian countries and the other Islamic countries have strict laws that prohibit people from expressing their opinions freely, which are justified on religious grounds. The point here is that each region and country has its own dynamics and hence, there cannot be a universal model for human rights and civil liberties.

Closing Thoughts

Having said that, it must be remembered that the basic rights of individuals are nonnegotiable and hence, they must be common to all countries. This is the key theme that this article is discussing and in recent years, this has been the plank on which human rights activists are pressurizing the governments of the world in protecting the basic rights that individuals have. Further, it is also the case that the state has a duty to protect its citizens in as much as the citizens have a duty and responsibility to follow the law. In other words, the citizens have to follow the law and the state has to uphold the law. In the absence of either or both, we would have the situations like the Arab Spring in 2011 where people took to the streets in West Asia to protest authoritarian regimes.


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Political Science