Positive and Negative Liberty a Discussion

Chapter One, Introduction:

Just prior to Berlin’s death Adam Swift (2001:   ix) notes a letter Tony Blair wrote seeking clarification on the link between the two concepts of liberty.   In this letter, Blair argues that positive conceptions of liberty do not have to lead toward tyranny (Blair on http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk ).   Throughout his life, Berlin has been a significant figure in contemporary political philosophy.   He is known for his numerous political writings amongst other things.   However, he is most recognisable for his inaugural lecture at Oxford titled “Two Concepts of Liberty” (Berlin69).   The lecture was given in the context of the rise of Stalinism with the Iron Curtain and with the dismantling of the British and other empires, Berlin who saw himself as a “cold warrior” (Ignatieff1998:231) gave the lecture as a warning to the soon to be ex-colonies (Ignatieff1998:227).   In the essay, Berlin addresses the question of the “permissible limits of coercion” (Berlin1969:121).   He labels the ‘two concepts’ ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ liberty.   Berlin suggests that value pluralism is an important aspect of liberty and that it is best promoted in circumstances of negative liberty.   This is contrasted with positive liberty.   Positive liberty argues Berlin is a dangerous theory because it can promote value monism.   In doing this, positive liberty has been accused of leading to tyranny with to great an ease (Berlin1969:134).   However, Berlin runs many forms of liberty together.   In this paper, I will clarify these conceptions of ‘positive’ and ‘negative liberty showing that when isolated they may be made compatible without necessarily leading to tyranny.

Berlin uses the terms liberty and freedom interchangeably and as such, this paper shall do the same. Moreover, Berlin conceptualises a form of freedom as “freedom as reason” this is to be termed rationalised liberty or freedom.   Furthermore, regular reference to tyranny is made in the essay as such it is to...