Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/451

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.



FEBRUARY, 1892.




PERSONAL LIBERTY.

By EDWARD ATKINSON, assisted by EDWARD T. CABOT.

IN dealing with many of the questions which come within the domain of the student of political economy or of social science it becomes expedient to refer to the decisions of the courts, especially among the English-speaking people. The paramount question at issue to-day is the maintenance of personal liberty. The precepts upon which personal liberty rest have become incorporated in the common law, and when personal rights are impaired by statute law the complainant may appeal to the courts and may establish his own control over all the factors that are necessary or conducive to his support as a matter of right, so long as he does not infringe the equal rights of others. Among such factors is the right to control one's own time.

One of the most profound changes which has occurred in the relations of men to each other has been the change from status to contract. In ancient days, under ancient law, the place which a man could hold in society was fixed by the condition of his birth, by his relation to his father, his family, or his gens or his class. His individuality was absolutely subordinate to the condition in which he had been born. From the dawn of history contract may have been found in existence, but its fulfillment depended upon its form rather than upon any moral engagement. Sir Henry Maine observes that "the conception" (of contract) "when it first shows itself is rudimentary. No trustworthy primitive record can be read without perceiving that the habit of mind which induces us to make good a promise is as yet imperfectly developed, and that acts of flagrant perfidy are often mentioned without blame, and sometimes described with approbation. In the Homeric literature the deceitful cunning of Ulysses appears

vol. xl.—31