Skip to main content


Liberty and Security

Conor Gearty

ISBN: 978-0-745-64719-7 March 2013 Polity 160 Pages


All aspire to liberty and security in their lives but few people truly enjoy them. This book explains why this is so. In what Conor Gearty calls our 'neo-democratic' world, the proclamation of universal liberty and security is mocked by facts on the ground: the vast inequalities in supposedly free societies, the authoritarian regimes with regular elections, and the terrible socio-economic deprivation camouflaged by cynically proclaimed commitments to human rights.

Gearty's book offers an explanation of how this has come about, providing also a criticism of the present age which tolerates it. He then goes on to set out a manifesto for a better future, a place where liberty and security can be rich platforms for everyone's life.

The book identifies neo-democracies as those places which play at democracy so as to disguise the injustice at their core. But it is not just the new 'democracies' that have turned 'neo', the so-called established democracies are also hurtling in the same direction, as is the United Nations.

A new vision of universal freedom is urgently required. Drawing on scholarship in law, human rights and political science this book argues for just such a vision, one in which the great achievements of our democratic past are not jettisoned as easily as were the socialist ideals of the original democracy-makers.

Acknowledgements vi

1 Introduction 1

2 Struggling Towards the Universal 7

3 The Global Stage 30

4 The Enemy Within 50

5 A Very Partial Freedom 72

6 Cultural War 95

7 Returning to Universals 108

Notes 117

Index 139

"Conventional lawyers in particular may see Gearty's book as controversial, but this is precisely what makes it essential and compelling reading."
Times Higher Education

"Encompasses hugely important, wide-angled themes and does so with tremendous erudition, lucidity, assuredness and power."
Global Policy

"Not just a profound analysis of the implications of security practices for democracy and the rule of law, but a brilliantly articulated indictment of such practices by an author who has experienced at first hand and as a lawyer, in the context of Northern Ireland, what it means for the democratic state to target populations in the name of security."
LSE Review of Books

"It is breathtaking for a 146-page book to have as wide a sweep as it does. The book is served exceedingly well by the unwavering focus of Conor Gearty."
Hindu Times

"In prose that flows like a good conversation, Conor Gearty contends that modern states, by collapsing freedom into security, are undermining the premises of democracy and the rule of law. Are liberty and security necessarily antithetical? Can they - should they - dovetail? If security protects some rather than all, does the same become true of liberty? Gearty advances profound answers to some important questions."
Stephen Sedley former Lord Justice of Appeal

"A compelling and subtle study, offering profound reflection on the necessary intersections between the rule of law, proper respect for human rights, and the sustenance of true democracy. A brilliant and important book."
Richard English, University of St Andrews

"The book is a fascinating reconceptualization of the concepts of security and liberty within a democratic framework and shows how they can both be ensured to all. It cuts through much confusion in this muddled and ideologically loaded debate and offers a new perspective."
Bhikhu Parekh, University of Westminster and House of Lords


"Liberty and security is a compelling read, which makes an impassioned argument for a more expansionist vision of liberty than most modern states entertain."
Ruth Blakeley, University of Kent

" will certainly be intrigued and entertained, if not even inspired by this clear and spare but perfectly-formed read. In Gearty’s work, law and politics and research and rhetoric come together to provide a book of thought and history and our times and beyond. I have no doubt that will be read by all human rights’ folk, whether in robing or common rooms for many years to come."
Shami Chkrabarti, Director of Liberty

  • A major new book examining the interconnections between freedom and security, and the way these are affected by ever-increasing inequalities. The theme is explored in relation to both old and new democracies and the growing division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’
  • Argues for a version of liberty and security that moves toward a democratic government, the rule of law and respect for human rights, and the necessity that everyone must be subject to the same laws
  • Maintains the necessity of the human rights movement and a commitment to an egalitarian vision of the world, one in which we all should have a right to the freedoms that were once assumed to be the privilege of the few
  • Drawing on scholarship in law, human rights and political science, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars, journalists and policy-makers, as well as the interested general reader