The Rule of the Road By A.G. Gardiner

Introduction: In a witty piece of writing A.G. Gardiner brings out the essential difference between individual and social liberty and the need for adjustment between the two. He illustrates how unlimited freedom will only lead to disorder. Man is a part of society and he should always realize his social obligations.

Summary of The Rule of the Road

The essay starts with an anecdote of a fat old lady who created traffic disorder in Petrograd by not using the footpath on the pretext that she had the freedom to walk wherever she liked. The writer calls such people “liberty drunk”. The author clarifies that actually sacrifice seems to be the foundation of liberty. For example, a traffic policeman may seem like a nuisance at first, but later we realize he is actually a blessing because he stops everyone from driving wherever and whenever they want and saves us from utter chaos. The writer says that liberty is a personal affair only in matters which do not affect anyone else‘s liberty. The moment we step out of the kingdom of personal liberty, it becomes our duty to have consideration for the liberty of others. One can neither be a complete anarchist nor a complete socialist. A wise mixture of the two is the only solution. The moments of great sacrifice and heroism are rare. If a person is considerate to others, he is following the rule of the road. If he does not bother about the comforts and convenience of others, he is going against the rule of the road. One who follows the rule of the road is civilized in the real sense of the word.

Theme of The Rule of the Road

The theme of the essay is liberty, equality and control A.G Gardner explores the theme of liberty, both personal and social. Gardener 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 wherever she wants however in turn a bus or car has the right to drive on the pavement. The result will 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 seems obvious that people often take personal liberties to the extreme and disturb the status quo that society relies on. The result is that often the majority can become annoyed with the minority. 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. In reality, the individual is not necessarily free to do as they wish. There is a limit to what they can do. One is never completely free to outcast they please. There is always a consequence which may or may not be worth paying.


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