On the Rule of the Road by A.G. Gardiner
In On the Rule of the Road by A.G. Gardiner we have the theme of liberty, frustration, equality and control. Taken from his Leaves in the Wind collection the reader realises after reading the essay that Gardiner may be exploring the theme of liberty, both personal and social. Gardiner finds it difficult when an individual’s personal liberty impinges on the liberty of the majority and gives the case of the old woman walking down the middle of the road. The woman has every right to walk where she wants however in turn a bus or car has the right to drive on the pavement. The result as Gardiner suggests would be obvious chaos and anarchy. There needs to be some boundaries put in place to ensure that a person’s personal liberties do not impinge on others. It is okay to play the trombone in your house but not necessarily on the street where it will become a nuisance to your neighbours. This seems obvious however people often take personal liberties to the extreme and disturb the status quo that society relies on. The result being that often the majority can become annoyed with the minority.
What is also interesting about the essay is that Gardiner may possibly be suggesting that when it comes to personal liberties an individual has to be receptive of others and not impose on the personal liberties of others. The example with the trombone being a perfect example. Gardiner also argues that liberty is not a personal affair but more of a social contract. A contract between the individual and others (society). It is simply not possible to allow another person’s personal liberties to override the liberties of society. True one might feel infringed by an individual’s actions and as such the majority have the rule of law behind them. So in many ways some might suggest that personal liberties do not really exist. However they do and the fact is should they be abused there are consequences. The woman in the middle of the street for example may feel she is doing nothing wrong. Yet she is possibly causing injury to not only herself but to others too. Should the bus driver or car driver invoke their personal liberties and drive on the pavement. As mentioned the result would be chaos. It is for this reason that the individual has to take into consideration how others might feel. Something that the man on the train does not do. He becomes a frustration to Gardiner because Gardiner is unable to read his book.
Just as there has to be rules for travelling on the road. Likewise society needs rules when it comes to an individual’s personal liberties. One cannot simply do as they please for their own enjoyment or rebellion. By doing so they will inevitably become outcasts or worse victims to the law. There has to be a control mechanism in place to ensure the majority are not disturbed by the minority. Regardless of the minorities’ belief in their personal liberties. Liberties after all as mentioned are a social contract between the individual and society. At no stage can an individual’s personal whim be allowed to dictate as to how others might feel. Each man and woman is equal and answerable to adhering to the same social contract. Regardless of their social standing or their income or trade. Each person is equal when it comes to the issue of liberties. Something that is not necessarily understood by the minority of society.
All it takes is one person to disturb or frustrate the status quo and the outcome may not necessarily be pleasant. Though Gardiner does not suggest violence can occur by overstretching personal liberties. There is every chance that harm may come to an individual should they not adhere to the social contract that exists. Also an individual who breaks the social contract will not only frustrate their neighbours but will also become an outcast. Just as a man or woman who walks down the street in unusual attire may. Though in this case the individual has every right to dress as they see fit. They may however not recognise the consequences to their actions. In reality the individual is not necessarily free to do as they wish. There is a limit to what they can do. Which may infringe on their personal liberties but not tie up the liberties of others. One is never completely free to do as they please. There is always a consequence which may or may not be worth paying.