Liberty: A Paradox

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Liberty: A Paradox

Postby d0rkyd00d » Tue Jan 12, 2021 4:06 pm

Despite feeble minded attempts to reduce this subject into a simple dichotomy, I find the subject of liberty to be a fascinating one. I highly recommend reading the entire essay if you have time https://cactus.dixie.edu/green/B_Readin ... iberty.pdf , but here's enough to get the conversation kickstarted.

In his essay "Two Concepts of Liberty," Isaiah Berlin attempts to explore the meaning of liberty, despite Berlin's claim that the "meaning of this term is so porous that there is little interpretation that it seems able to resist." Forgive the formatting, but Berlin first outlines the concept of "Negative Freedom."

I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interferes with my
activity. Political liberty in this sense is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed
by others. If I am prevented by others from doing what I could otherwise do, I am to that degree
unfree; and if this area is contracted by other men beyond a certain minimum, I can be described
as being coerced, or, it may be, enslaved. Coercion is not, however, a term that covers every
form of inability. If I say that I am unable to jump more than ten feet in the air, or cannot read
because I am blind, or cannot understand the darker pages of Hegel, it would be eccentric to say
that I am to that degree enslaved or coerced. Coercion implies the deliberate interference of other
human beings within the area in which I could otherwise act. You lack political liberty or
freedom only if you are prevented from attaining a goal by human beings. Mere incapacity to
attain a goal is not lack of political freedom. This is brought out by the use of such modern
expressions as `economic freedom' and its counterpart, `economic slavery'. It is argued, very
plausibly, that if a man is too poor to afford something on which there is no legal ban--a loaf of
bread, a journey round the world, recourse to the law courts--he is as little free to have it as he
would be if it were forbidden him by law. If my poverty were, a kind of disease, which prevented
me from buying bread, or paying for the journey round the world or getting my case heard, as
lameness prevents me from running, this inability would not naturally be described as a lack of
freedom, least of all political freedom. It is only because I believe that my inability to get a given
thing is due to the fact that other human beings have made arrangements whereby I am, whereas
others are not, prevented from having enough money with which to pay for it, that I think myself
a victim of coercion or slavery. In other words, this use of the term depends on a particular social
and economic theory about the causes of my poverty or weakness. If my lack of material means
is due to my lack of mental or physical capacity, then I begin to speak of being deprived of
freedom (and not simply about poverty) only if I accept the theory. If, in addition, I believe that
I am being kept in want by a specific arrangement which I consider unjust or unfair, I speak of
economic slavery or oppression. `The nature of things does not madden us, only ill will does',
said Rousseau. The criterion of oppression is the part that I believe to be played by other human
beings, directly or indirectly, with or without the intention of doing so, in frustrating my wishes.
By being free in this sense I mean not being interfered with by others. The wider the area of noninterference the wider my freedom.

This is what the classical English political philosophers meant when they used this word. They
disagreed about how wide the area could or should be. They supposed that it could not, as things
were, be unlimited, because if it were, it would entail a state in which all men could boundlessly
interfere with all other men; and this kind of `natural' freedom would lead to social chaos in
which men's minimum needs would not be satisfied; or else the liberties of the weak would be
suppressed by the strong, Because they perceived that human purposes and activities do not
automatically harmonize with one another, and because (whatever their official doctrines) they
put high value on other goals, such as justice, or happiness, or culture, or security, or varying
degrees of equality, they were prepared to curtail freedom in the interests of other values and,
indeed, of freedom itself. For; without this, it was impossible to create the kind of association
that they thought desirable. Consequently, it is assumed by these thinkers that the area of men's
free action must be limited by law. But equally it is assumed, especially by such libertarians as
Locke and Mill in England, and Constant and Tocqueville in France, that there ought to exist a
certain minimum area of personal freedom which must on no account be violated; for if it is
overstepped, the individual will find himself in an area too narrow for even that minimum
development of his natural faculties which alone makes it possible to pursue, and even to
conceive, the various ends which men hold good or right or sacred. It follows that a frontier must
be drawn between the area of private life and that of public authority. Where it is to be drawn is a
matter of argument, indeed of haggling. Men are largely interdependent, and no man's activity is
so completely private as never to obstruct the lives of others in anyway. `Freedom for the pike is
death for the minnows'; the liberty of some must depend on the restraint of others. `Freedom for
an Oxford don', others have been known to add, `is a very different thing from freedom for an
Egyptian peasant.'


Berlin then goes on to contrast this with the "Notion of Positive Liberty:"

The `positive' sense of the word `liberty' derives from the wish on the part of the individual to be
his own master. I wish my life and decisions to depend on myself, not on external forces of
whatever kind. I wish to be the instrument of my own, not of other men's acts of will. I wish to
be a subject, not an object; to be moved by reasons, by conscious purposes, which are my own,
not by causes which affect me, as it were, from outside. I wish to be somebody, not nobody; a
doer--deciding, not being decided for, self-directed and not acted upon by external nature or by
other men as if I were a thing, or an animal, or a slave incapable of playing a human role, that is,
of conceiving goals and policies of my own and realizing them. This is at least part of what I
mean when I say that I am rational, and that it is my reason that distinguishes me as a human
being from the rest of the world. I wish, above all, to conscious of myself as a thinking, willing,
active being, bearing responsibility for my choices and able to explain them by references to my
own ideas and purposes. I feel free to the degree that I believe this to be true, and enslaved to the
degree that I am made to realize that it is not.

The freedom which consists in being one's own master, and the freedom which consists in not
being prevented from choosing as I do by other men, may, on the face of it, seem concepts at no
great logical distance from each other--no more than negative and positive ways of saying much
the same thing. Yet the `positive' and `negative' notions of freedom historically developed in
divergent directions not always by logically reputable steps, until, in the end, they came into
direct conflict with each other.

One way of making this clear is in terms of the independent momentum which the, initially
perhaps quite harmless, metaphor of self-mastery acquired. `I am my own master'; `l am slave to
no man'; but may I not (as Platonists or Hegelians tend to say) be a slave to nature? Or to my
own `unbridled' passions? Are these not so many species of the identical genus `slave'--some
political or legal, others moral or spiritual? Have not men had the experience of liberating
themselves from spiritual slavery, Or slavery to nature, and do they not in the course of it
become aware, on the one hand, of a self which dominates; and, on the other, of something in
them which is brought to heel? This dominant self is then variously identified with reason, with
my `higher nature', with the self which calculates and aims at what will satisfy it in the long run,
with my `real', or `ideal', or `autonomous self, or with my self `at its best'; which is then
contrasted with irrational impulse, uncontrolled desires, my `lower' nature, the pursuit of
immediate pleasures, my `empirical' or `heteronomous' self, swept by every gust of desire and
passion, needing to be rigidly disciplined if it is ever to rise to the full height of its `real' nature.
Presently the two selves may be represented as divided by an even larger gap: the real self may
be conceived as something wider than the individual (as the term is normally understood), as a
social `whole' of which the individual. is an element or aspect: a tribe, a race, a church; a state,
the great society of the living and the dead and the yet unborn. This entity is then identified as
being the `true' self which, by imposing its collective, or `organic', single will upon its
recalcitrant `members', achieves its own, and therefore their, `higher' freedom. The perils of
using organic metaphors to justify the coercion of some men by others in order to raise them to a
`higher' level of freedom have often been pointed out. But what gives such plausibility as it has
to this kind of language is that we recognize that it is possible, and at times justifiable, to coerce
men in the name of some goal (let us say, justice or public health) which they would, if they
were more enlightened, themselves pursue, but do not, because they are blind or ignorant or
corrupt. This renders it easy for me to conceive of myself as coercing others for their own sake,
in their, not my interest. I am then claiming that I know what they truly need better than; they
know it themselves. What, at most, this entails is that they would not resist me if they were
rational and as wise as I and understood their interests as I do. But I may go on to claim a good
deal more than this. I may declare that they are actually aiming at what in their benighted state
they consciously resist, because there exists within them an occult entity--their latent rational
will, or their. `true' purpose-- and that this entity, although it is belied by all that they overtly feel
and do and say, is their `real' self, of which the poor empirical self in space and time may know
nothing or little; and that this inner spirit is the only self that deserves to have its wishes taken
into account. Once I take this view, I am in a position to ignore the actual wishes of men or
societies, to bully, oppress; torture them in the name, and on behalf, of their `real' selves, in the
secure knowledge that whatever is the true goal of man (happiness, performance of duty,
wisdom, a just society, self-fulfilment) must be identical with his freedom--the free choice of his
`true', albeit often submerged and inarticulate, self.


I haven't read criticisms or rebuttals to Berlin's thoughts and arguments here, but it seems to me he is making a legitimate point.

I'll update this thread with more from the essay and reflections on the subject, but would like to hear other thoughts on the matter.
"So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men." -Voltaire

"If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do."
-Bertrand Russell
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Re: Liberty: A Paradox

Postby d0rkyd00d » Tue Jan 12, 2021 4:09 pm

apologies for the weird formatting stuff in there....
"So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men." -Voltaire

"If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do."
-Bertrand Russell
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Re: Liberty: A Paradox

Postby phoneutria » Tue Jan 12, 2021 4:26 pm

the intersection of the positive and the negative notions of liberty
is citizenship
affiliation to a sovereign state
which awards equal rights to all members
aiming at an equality of opportunity
and the prevention of a situation
in which the liberties of one individual
might infract on another's

the flaw in current systems being
that affiliation should be voluntary
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Re: Liberty: A Paradox

Postby iambiguous » Wed Jan 13, 2021 12:49 am

phoneutria wrote:the intersection of the positive and the negative notions of liberty
is citizenship
affiliation to a sovereign state
which awards equal rights to all members
aiming at an equality of opportunity
and the prevention of a situation
in which the liberties of one individual
might infract on another's

the flaw in current systems being
that affiliation should be voluntary


We'll need an actual context of course.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

Start here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=176529
Then here: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=185296
And here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=194382
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