Political campaign billboard from the 1930s

A matter of trust

Is it ever OK to restrict personal freedoms for the greater good?

In our democratic society we place considerable emphasis on individual freedoms. But we also accept that these may need to be restricted ‘for the greater good’. If everyone chose for themselves which side of the road to drive on, for example, there would be chaos.

A growing emphasis on the rights of individuals presents challenges to this balance. We may resent what we feel is unwanted state interference. Or we may question why we have to make sacrifices for the supposed benefits of others.

Compounding this challenge is the lack of trust we now have in authorities and, in particular, politicians. This is borne out by annual surveys of public opinion. We are unconvinced that politicians are always telling us the truth and acting in our interests rather than their own. In turn, politicians may be reluctant to intervene in public life for fear of alienating individuals or being seen to promote a ‘nanny state’, with repercussions for their popularity at the polling station.

Lead image:

Political campaign billboard from the 1930s.

Boston Public Library/Flickr CC BY


Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Epidemics’ in September 2007 and reviewed and updated in January 2015.

Health, infection and disease
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development