Summary, Analysis and Questions of On The Rule of The Road by Gardiner

Summary, Analysis and Questions of On The Rule of The Road by Gardiner


A.G. Gardiner’s famous and amusing essay ‘ On the Rule of the Road ‘ strikes the bull’s eye when he declares that everyone’s liberty must be curtailed in order to preserve the liberties of all. He points out what constitutes true freedom in this essay “The Rule Of The Road.” Liberty and freedom have become watchwords of today’s world, and every action taken is for the sake of personal liberty. Liberty, both individual and political, has gained tremendous importance 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. 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.

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.

Questions of On The Rule of The Road

Note: The Solved Questions will be added soon.

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