Positive liberty

Positive liberty

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Freedom · Liberty
Negative liberty
Positive liberty

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Positive liberty refers to having the power and resources to act to fulfill one's own potential, as opposed to negative liberty, which refers to freedom from restraint.[1] Inherent to positive liberty is the idea that liberty is the ability of citizens to participate in their government, or in voluntary co-operation in the case of anarchists.

Although Berlin's 1958 essay "Two Concepts of Liberty", is typically acknowledged as being the first to explicitly draw the distinction between positive and negative liberty, Frankfurt School psychoanalyst and Marxist humanistic philosopher Erich Fromm drew a similar distinction between negative and positive freedom in his 1941 work, The Fear of Freedom, predating Berlin's essay by more than a decade. In fact, the concept as opposed to the name is probably as old as that of negative liberty, both referred to simply as "liberty" or "freedom".

The positive notion of liberty is the central idea of social liberalism (also simply called "liberalism" in the United States), and differentiates it from classic liberalism.[2][3][4] It has also been an influence on less-individualist philosophies, such as social democracy.



[edit] Overview

Positive liberty is often described as personal ability/entitlement to achieve certain ends, while negative liberty is described as freedom from being forcibly prevented from achieving those ends. In a description of positive liberty from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Put in the simplest terms, one might say that a democratic society is a free society because it is a self-determined society, and that a member of that society is free to the extent that he or she participates in its democratic process. But there are also individualist applications of the concept of positive freedom. For example, it is sometimes said that a government should aim actively to create the conditions necessary for individuals to be self-sufficient or to achieve self-realization.[5]

In "Recovering the Social Contract", Ron Replogle made a metaphor that is helpful in understanding positive liberty. "Surely, it is no assault on my dignity as a person if you take my car keys, against my will, when I have had too much to drink. There is nothing paradoxical about making an agreement beforehand providing for paternalistic supervision in circumstances when our competence is open to doubt."[6] In this sense, positive liberty is the adherence to an agreed upon set of rules formulated by all parties involved. Should the rules be altered, all parties involved must agree upon the changes. Therefore, positive liberty is a contractarian philosophy.[citation needed]

However, Berlin opposed any suggestion that paternalism and positive liberty could be equivalent.[7] He stated that positive liberty could only apply when the withdrawal of liberty from an individual was in pursuit of a choice that individual himself/herself made, not a general principle of society or any other person's opinion. In the case where a person removes a driver's car keys against their will because they have had too much to drink, this constitutes positive freedom only if the driver has made, of their own free will, an earlier decision not to drive drunk. Thus, by removing the keys, the other person facilitates this decision and ensures that it will be upheld in the face of paradoxical behaviour (i.e., drinking) by the driver. For the remover to remove the keys in the absence of such an expressed intent by the driver, because the remover feels that the driver ought not to drive drunk, is paternalism, and not positive freedom by Berlin's definition.[7]

Fromm sees the distinction between the two types of freedom emerging alongside humanity's evolution away from the instinctual activity that characterizes lower animal forms. This aspect of freedom, he argues, "is here used not in its positive sense of 'freedom to' but in its negative sense of 'freedom from', namely freedom from instinctual determination of his actions."[8] For Fromm, freedom from animal instinct implicitly implies that survival now hinges on the necessity of charting one's own course. He relates this distinction to the biblical story of man's expulsion from Eden:

Acting against God's orders means freeing himself from coercion, emerging from the unconscious existence of prehuman life to the level of man. Acting against the command of authority, committing a sin, is in its positive human aspect the first act of freedom.[...]he is free from the bondage of paradise, but he is not free to govern himself, to realize his individuality.[9]

Positive freedom, Fromm maintains, comes through the actualization of individuality in balance with the separation from the whole: a "solidarity with all men", united not by instinctual or predetermined ties, but on the basis of a freedom founded on reason.[10]

The idea of positive liberty is often emphasized by those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, whereas negative liberty is most important for those who lean towards the right, such as classical liberals. However, not all on either the left or right would accept the positive/negative liberty distinction as genuine or significant. For example, Gerald MacCallum believes Berlin is in error and that, "Whenever the freedom of some agent or agents is in question, it is always freedom from some constraint or restriction on, interference with, or barrier to doing, not doing, becoming, or not becoming something" and that what Berlin is referring to as freedom is not freedom at all.

Some conservatives also embrace some forms of positive liberty. For example, (though the labels conservative, liberal, left, and right are anachronistic to them) Christian Puritans such as Cotton Mather, who often referred to liberty in their writings, tended to focus on the freedom from sin (for example, freedom from errant sexual thought and actions) even at the expense of liberty from government sanction. So, for the Puritans, who considered society and society's government to be practically indistinguishable, the idea of modesty mores being societally enforced was an idea that supported and enhanced community liberty. Such communitarian liberty is not liberty that those that are called individualist or libertarian would recognize; it is positive liberty.

Many anarchists, and others considered to be on the left-wing, see the two concepts of positive and negative liberty as interdependent and thus inseparable; contrarily, those in the right-libertarian camp assert that the provision of positive liberty to one requires the abridgment of the negative liberty of another.

[edit] Positive Liberty in Various Thinkers

Rousseau's theory of freedom, according to which individual freedom is achieved through participation in the process whereby one's community exercises collective control over its own affairs in accordance with the ‘general will’.[5] Some interpret the Social Contract to suggest that Rousseau believed that liberty was the power of individual citizens to act in the government to bring about changes; this is essentially the power for self-governance and democracy. Rousseau himself said, "the mere impulse to appetite is slavery, while obedience to law we prescribe ourselves is liberty."[11]

However, this is only one interpretation of Rousseau's work. This view is not really describing the General Will in terms of its more modern interpretations. Rather, it is describing more the 'Will of All' (in Rousseau's terminology). The Will of All contrasts to the General Will in that the prior comprises the composite desires and appetites of those who make up society and the latter the reasoned, objective opinions and beliefs of those who see themselves as part of a nation and of a group of men. A law cannot be said to be of the General Will unless it is general in its origins and applications. Particular wills cannot be homogeneous in the way which the General Will requires. However, this does not mean that Rousseau's liberty is incompatible with positive liberty. Rather, we have to remove the implication that positive liberty requires collective control over affairs which is derived from the conscious and expressed decisions of men. The task which Rousseau gives 'The Lawgiver' in the Social Contract is that of deciphering the General Will from the mass of particular wills. If The Lawgiver, whatever form this may take, is able to do so, then the individuals who comprise a society have truly participated (via their real, reasoned and tempered will) in the collective control of their own affairs. As the extract above says, government by the Will of All is slavery. Rousseau's usual solution to how the Lawgiver may be able to do this is cultural homogeneity on the one hand and physically small states on the other. These two themes recur within Rousseau's works often with the view to homogenising inharmonious particular wills.

According to Hegel, "Freedom is the fundamental character of the will, as weight is of matter... That which is free is the will. Will without freedom is an empty word."[12]

[edit] Criticism

As Isaiah Berlin noted, positive liberty is interested in action by citizens in the government. This is why he called it positive liberty, for pro-action. Berlin distinguished between two forms or concepts of liberty – negative liberty and positive liberty – and argued that the latter concept has often been used to cover up abuse, leading to the curtailment of people's negative liberties "for their own good".

Berlin believed that positive liberty nearly always gave rise to the abuse of power. For when a political leadership believes that they hold the philosophical key to a better future, this sublime end can be used to justify drastic and brutal means.[1]

While he described the concept of positive liberty, Isaiah Berlin argued that the unbridled pursuit of positive liberty could lead to a situation where the state forced upon people a certain way of life, because the state judged that it was the most rational course of action, and therefore, was what a person should desire, whether or not people actually did desire it.[13]

Individualist philosopher David Kelley argues against positive liberty, saying that it requires that persons be guaranteed positive outcomes which often requires the coercion of others to provide it. Meaning, positive rights "impose on others positive obligations to which they did not consent and which cannot be traced to any voluntary act".[14] Kelley notes that positive liberty evolved out of economic and natural risks such as poverty and old age.[15] Rising living standards contributed to a visible difference between those improving their life and those left behind. Economic progress increased population size and allowed many to live who otherwise would have died, including many who could now live into old age.[16]

From an anarchist perspective, positive liberty means every individual having the right to fully develop themselves, their abilities and exercise their freedom. This means things such as the right for workers to own and control the means of production, the right to democratic decision-making power within the workplace, the right to equal decision-making power in a self-management and direct democratic regime and the right to equal condition. To anarchists, positive liberty does not mean the right to bind others to obligations against their will or the need for a government to step in and provide rights since anarchists believe that liberty can only come from below rather than from above (and anarchists believe government action would violate negative liberty). Anarchists would argue that any freedom handed down from a government is not liberty but an allowance from established power which also has the power to take those same allowances away should it change its mind.

[edit] Bibliography

  • Isaiah Berlin: Four Essays on Liberty (especially Two Concepts of Liberty)
  • Charles Taylor: What's Wrong With Negative Liberty
  • Rousseau: The Social Contract
  • Dent: Rousseau

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Berlin, Isaiah. Four Essays on Liberty. 1969.
  2. ^ McGowan, J. (2007). American liberalism: An interpretation for our time. Chapel Hill, NC: North Carolina University Press.
  3. ^ Starr, P. (2007). Freedom's power: The true force of liberalism. New York: Basic Books.
  4. ^ Schwartz, J. (2005). Freedom reclaimed: Rediscovering the American vision. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
  5. ^ a b "Positive and Negative Liberty" article by Ian Carter in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  6. ^ Replogle, Ron. Recovering the Social Contract. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (June 28, 1989). pg 164.
  7. ^ a b http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/mod/resource/view.php?id=170287
  8. ^ Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1966):26.
  9. ^ Ibid., 27-8.
  10. ^ Ibid., 29.
  11. ^ Replogle, Ron. Recovering the Social Contract. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (June 28, 1989)
  12. ^ Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Philosophy of Right. 1821.
  13. ^ Berlin, Isaiah. Four Essays on Liberty. 'Two Concepts of Liberty'. Oxford University Press: 1969, p. 134.
  14. ^ Kelley, David E. 1998. A Life of One's Own. Cato Institute Press. p 23-24
  15. ^ ibid, 32
  16. ^ ibid. 33-34

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