Friday, April 30, 2010

Negative Liberty vs. Po$itive Liberty

I had some time today and found this interesting essay over at Western Hero.

Negative Liberty

Many "freedoms" are documented in our Constitution, specifically in The Bill of Rights: freedom of religion,speech, the press, assembly, petition, the right to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. These "freedoms" are clearly documented limitations on the ability of government to interfere with the individual; they are political freedoms protecting the sovereignty of the individual from coercion by the state. The freedoms in the Constitution are termed "negative liberties" or the freedom from restraint. These freedoms are somewhat unique in that once they are possessed they are generally retained at little to no cost. Defending them may have significant cost, but the freedom of religion in and of itself costs us practically nothing.

Po$itive Liberty

Lately on the left you have been hearing a lot about freedom and rights; freedom from poverty (housing, clothing, transportation, possessions?), freedom from illness (right to medical care), freedom from starvation (right to food). These freedoms are termed "positive liberties", and generally involve power. The power to achieve self-realization or the ability to fulfill one's potential. Positive liberty is often described as the ability or entitlement to achieve one's ends, while negative liberty is described as the freedom from being forcibly prevented from achieving those ends. Positive liberties generally come at a significant monetary cost to society at large, in that the group must pay for the individual.

The distinction between positive and negative liberty is perhaps the clearest distinction between social liberals on the left and classical liberals on the right. The minimalist government established by our founding fathers was one of negative liberty. Government was seen as a necessary evil and established within a framework of checks and balances designed to enforce its restrictions and limit its actions. The governments of FDR's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society were ones of positive liberty, a paternalistic government whose main objective was in taking care of its members.
Blogger Finntann also makes the following point about how we can become condition to desiring po$itive liberties:
Paternalism is hard to argue against, each paternalistic action in and of itself is predominately good, is made with ostensibly the best of intentions. Your parents after all were, or should have been, paternalistic...
Read the entire essay HERE.


Dag said...

That's well done. My book in progress, A Genealogy of Left Dhimmi Fascism, has a large and long chapter on economics, in which I discuss negative freedom. You post gives me some good insight on ways to improve my presentation when I sit down to revise and edit it properly. Thanks.

Always On Watch said...

Glad that you find this posting helpful!