On the Rule of the Road‘ is a famous and amusing essay by A.G. Gardiner. In this essay “The Rule Of The Road.” Gardiner strikes the bull ‘s eye when he declares that, in order to preserve the freedoms of all, it is necessary to curtail everyone’s freedoms. He points out what constitutes true liberty. Freedom and liberty have become the watchwords of today’s society and every action taken is in the interests of personal freedom. Liberty, both human and political, has acquired tremendous significance in the contemporary world of constructed social and political anarchy.

SUMMARY of The Rule of The Road

The essay starts with an amusing anecdote of a fat old lady walking down a busy street in Petrograd in the middle of the road. The traffic was, of course, confused and there followed a traffic block. When someone pointed out to her that pedestrians had to walk on footpaths, her answer was intriguing. She answered that she has the freedom to walk wherever she likes. Nothing can be said against this because it is a public road.

The author, busy the next paragraph, goes on to clarify the boundaries of personal liberty. He says these days people are liberty – drunk. On this point, the reader can not but agree with the author as we see today that everyone wants individual freedom. Over the course of time, the problem has become more acute and fighting for freedom begins early when children are very young. Independence and dependence took on many colours and shades.

The Rule of The Road

According to Gardiner, sacrifice seems to be the foundation of liberty because “in order that the liberties of all may be preserved, the liberties of everybody must be curtailed.” He gives the example of traffic police at a busy junction. The policeman may seem like a nuisance at first, but later we realize he’s actually a blessing. If everyone were driving wherever and whenever they wanted there would be utter chaos and no one could reach anywhere. So in a sense, in order to make the neighbours, a reality neighbours liberty is restricted.

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The author introduces freedom as a social contract not a personal. He says it’s an adaptation. If our freedom does not interfere with others, we can do as we please. He gives many instances where we do what we like to wear, what to eat, which religion to follow, which author to prefer, and many others.

We rule over a kingdom where we have all the freedom, but when we come into contact with the freedom of other people, both parties will have to restrict their own free lives. For this again he gives the instance of playing the Trombone. If he wishes to play it at midnight he will have to leave to the Everest or else his family and neighbours will object.

The author tells the reader that there are a lot of people in this world and adjustment is the key to liberty.

Gardiner points out that unfortunately, we are quicker to see the faults of others than our own. He says that consideration for the rights or feelings of others is the foundation of social behaviour.
He concludes saying that it is these small matters that decide whether we are civilized or uncivilised. Great moments of heroism and sacrifice are rare but our life is made up of these small adjustments which make it sweet.


Alfred George Gardiner is one of the most charming contemporary essayists. His selection of subjects as well as his treatment of subjects can explain the reason for his popularity. The style and language of Gardiner’s writing is beautiful. Its keynote is its simplicity. His economy of words and ideas make his essays a pleasure to read. His use of anecdotes and illustrations make the essay crystal clear and its elucidation simple.

Gardiner in this bewitching essay “The Road Rule” points out what constitutes true liberty. These days, even among small children, personal freedom or individual liberty is a very familiar concept. Gardiner has dealt with this subject almost prophetically in a diplomatic and mature way by offering a solution to today’s ‘ liberty – drunk ‘ mentality. Gardiner tells us that there will often be times when we must “submit to a curtailment of private liberty” if we want to live in a social order in which we really have liberty. So what he says may seem somewhat paradoxical. He says that in order to make our liberty a reality, we must give up some of our freedom.

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The idea of personal liberty as a social contract by Gardiner reflects the idea of ‘ social contract ‘ by the philosopher John Locke. Locke is one of the thinkers closest to the ‘ social contract ‘ idea. This idea says we are giving up some of our smaller freedoms so we can live in a society together. In return for doing so, our truly important rights are protected by society. Gardiner is trying to make this one major point in this essay.

Literally, when Gardiner refers to the “road rule,” he’s talking about the rules that tell you what you can do on the road. He refers to the anecdote of the Russian woman walking down the middle of the road and causing problems with traffic. That woman did not follow the rules telling us what we could do on the roads. But here too, there is a figurative meaning. Gardiner uses traffic laws as a metaphor for the rules that make society work (often unwritten and informal) and create community and solidarity in society.

The main point of this essay is that people need to consider how their actions affect others, not just what they want to do themselves, and how they affect society. The rules of the road in this sense are rules of politeness and altruism. They are rules like “do not play your trombone too loudly or at the wrong time” or “do not have loud public places conversations.”

The author concludes the essay by saying that both anarchist and socialist must be a judicious mix. We need to preserve individual liberty as well as social freedom. It is in the small matter of behaviour in observing the rule of the road, we pass judgment on ourselves and declare that we are civilized or uncivilised.

Rule of the Road Summary

“Rule of the Road” is an essay by one of the greatest International essayist A.G. Gardiner who wrote mostly under a pseudonym “Alpha of the Plough”. The essay is preceded by “ All About A Dog” as the two together convey the great message that laws are and should always be constituted for the welfare, wellbeing, and convenience of the general public. Laws need to be observed and followed in spirit rather than letter. However, some laws should be and can be winked at when the need arises.

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Laws are categorized as ones to be observed and followed at all costs. Rule of the road needs to be and should at all costs be followed strictly to ensure every body’s safety; to avoid chaos and confusion.

Breach of this rule is sure to result in loss of life, terrific inconvenience to all and all resulting derailing entire Social fabric. There are other laws like one’s choice of dressing at home, one’s hobbies and the like, one can and does enjoy a lot of freedom in this regard.

The essay bears upon its reader that he/she should consider others convenience superior to his/her own. Everybody has the right to live according to his/her will and one is free in most of the matters of life but everyone should remember that his/her freedom ends where another person’s freedom starts that

is why it is said that “you are free to walk down a street revolving your stick but your freedom ends where another person’s nose begins”. In short, it lays base, the fact that there is nothing like “absolute freedom” and that everyone should be contented with the curtailment of liberty in order to enjoy a happy, safe, fear-free social life which ushers in greater liberty though indirectly.

In Albert Como’s words “ you cannot be happy when all around you are sad”, you cannot even smile when you are surrounded by gloomy and sullen faces. Our joys and sorrows are determined not only by our personal conditions but mostly by the content of joy and sorrow experienced by people around us.

Thus when people around us are free in their private affairs, we also can have a similar amount of freedom and that is possible only when we follow laws of the society in every walk of life; when we conduct ourselves according to the norms set by our societies.

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