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Positive versus Negative Liberty

In the case of social and political liberty a problem arises that is not wholly dissimilar from that of social and historical determinism. We assume the need of an area for free choice, the diminution of which is incompatible with the existence of anything that can properly be called political (or social) liberty. Indeterminism does not entail that human beings cannot in fact be treated like animals or things; nor is political liberty, like freedom of choice, intrinsic to the notion of a human being; it is an historical growth, an area bounded by frontiers. The question of its frontiers, indeed whether the concept of frontiers can properly be applied to it, raises issues on which much of the criticism directed upon my theses has concentrated. The main issues may here too be summarized under three heads:

  1. Whether the difference I have drawn between (what I am not the first to have called) positive and negative liberty is specious, or, at any rate, too sharp.

  2. Whether the term `liberty' can be extended as widely as some of my critics appear to wish, without thereby depriving it of so much significance as to render it progressively less useful
  3. Why political liberty should be regarded as being of value

Before discussing these problems, I wish to correct a genuine error in the original version of Two Concepts of Liberty. Although this error does not weaken, or conflict with, the arguments used in The essay (indeed,if anything, it seems to me to strengthen them), it is, nevertheless, a position that I consider to be mistaken.23.In the original version of Two Concepts of Liberty I speak of liberty as the absence of obstacles to the fulfilment of a man's desires. This is a common, perhaps the most common, sense in which the term is used, but it does not represent my position. For if to be free-- negatively-- is simply not to be prevented by other persons from doing whatever one wishes, then one of the ways of attaining such freedom is by extinguishing one's wishes. I offered criticisms of this definition, and of this entire line of thought in the text, without realizing that it was inconsistent with the formulation with which I began. If degrees of freedom were a function of the satisfaction of desires, I could increase freedom as effectively by eliminating desires as by satisfying them; I could render men (including: myself) free by conditioning them into losing the original desires which I have decided not to satisfy. Instead of resisting or removing the pressures that bear down upon me, I can `internalize' them. This is what Epictetus achieves when he claims that he, a slave, is freer than his master. By ignoring obstacles, forgetting, `rising above' them, becoming unconscious of them, I can attain peace and serenity, a noble detachment from the fears and hatreds that beset other men-freedom in one sense indeed, but not in the sense in which I wish to speak of it. When (according to Cicero,s account) the Stoic sage Posidonius, who was dying of an agonizing disease, said, `Do your worst, pain; no matter what you do, you cannot make me hate you', thereby accepting, and attaining unity with, `Nature', which, being identical with cosmic `reason', rendered his pain not merely. inevitable, but rational, the sense in which he achieved freedom is not that basic meaning of it in which men are said to lose freedom when they are imprisoned or literally enslaved. The Stoic sense of freedom, however sublime, must be distinguished from the freedom or liberty which the oppressor, or the oppressive institutionalized practice, curtails or destroys.24 For once I am happy to acknowledge the insight of Rousseau: to know one's chains for what they are is better than to deck them with flowers.25 Spiritual freedom, like moral victory, must be distinguished from a more fundamental sense of freedom, and a more ordinary sense of victory, otherwise there will be a danger of confusion in theory and justification of oppression in practice, in the name of liberty itself. There is a clear sense in which to teach a man that, if he cannot get what he wants, he must learn to want only what he can get may contribute to his happiness or his security; but it will not increase his civil or political freedom. The sense of freedom, in which I use this term, entails not simply the absence of frustration (which may be obtained by killing desires), but the absence of obstacles to possible choices and activities--absence of obstructions on roads along which a man can decide to walk. Such freedom ultimately depends not on whether I wish to walk at all, or how far, but on how many doors are open, how open they are, upon their relative importance in my life, even though it may be impossible literally to measure this in any quantitative fashion.26 The extent of my social or political freedom consists in the absence of obstacles not merely to my actual, but to my potential choices to my acting in this or that way if I choose to do so. Similarly absence of such freedom is due to the closing of such doors or failure to open them, as a result; intended or unintended, of alterable human practices, of the operation of human agencies; although only if such acts are deliberately intended (or, perhaps, are accompanied by awareness that they may block paths) will they be liable to becalled oppression. Unless this is conceded; the Stoic conception of liberty (`true' freedom the state of the morally autonomous slave), which is compatible with a very high degree of political despotism, will merely confuse the issue.

It is an interesting, but perhaps irrelevant, historical question at what date, and in what circumstances, the notion of individual liberty in this sense first became explicit in the West. I have found no convincing evidence of any clear formulation of it in the ancient world. Some of my critics have doubted this, but apart from pointing to such modern writers as Acton, Jellinek, or Barker, who do profess to find this ideal in ancient Greece, some of them also, more pertinently, cite the proposals of Otanes after the death of pseudo-Smerdis in the account given by Herodotus, the celebrated paean to liberty in the Funeral Oration of Pericles, as well as the speech of Nikias before the final battle with the Syracusans (in Thucydides), as evidence that the Greeks, at any rate, had a clear conception of individual liberty. I must confess that I do not find this conclusive. When Pericles and Nikias compare `the freedom of the Athenian citizens with the fate of the subjects of less democratic states, what (it seems to me) they are saying is that the citizens of Athens enjoy freedom in the sense of self government, that they are not slaves of any master, that they perform their civic duties out of love for their polis, without needing to be coerced, and not under the goads and whips of savage laws or taskmasters (as in Sparta or Persia). So might a headmaster say of the boys in his school that they live and act according to good principles not because they are.forced to do so, but because they are inspired by loyalty to the school, by `team spirit', by a sense of solidarity and common purpose; whereas at other schools these results have to be achieved by fear of punishment and stern measures. But in neither case is it contemplated that a man might, without losing face, or incurring contempt, or a diminution of his human-essence, withdraw from public life altogether, and pursue private ends, live in a room of his own, in the company of personal friends, as Epicurus later advocated, and perhaps the Cynic and Cyrenaic disciples of Socrates had preached before him. As for Otanes, he wished neither to rule nor to be ruled--the exact opposite of Aristotle's notion of true civic liberty. Perhaps this attitude did begin to occur in the ideas of unpolitical thinkers in Herodotus' day: of Antiphon the Sophist, for example, and possibly in some moods of Socrates himself But it remains isolated and, until Epicurus, undeveloped. In other words, it seems to me that the issue of individual freedom, of the frontiers beyond which public authority, whether lay or ecclesiastical, should not normally be allowed to step, had not clearly emerged at this stage; the central value attached to it may, perhaps (as I remarked in the penultimate paragraph of my lecture), be the late product of a capitalist civilization, an element in a network of values that includes such notions as personal rights, civil liberties, the sanctity of the individual personality, the importance of privacy, personal relations, and the like. I do not say that the ancient Greeks did not in fact enjoy a great measure of what we should today call individual liberty.27 My thesis is only that the notion had not explicitly emerged, and was therefore not central to Greek culture, or, perhaps, any other ancient civilization known to us.

One of the by-products or symptoms of this stage of social development is that, for instance, the issue of free will (as opposed to that of voluntary action) is not felt to be a problem before the Stoics; the corollary of which seems to be that variety for its own sake-- and the corresponding abhorrence of uniformity--is not a prominent ideal :or perhaps an explicit ideal at all, before the Renaissance; or even, in its full form, the beginning of the eighteenth century. Issues of this type seem to arise only when forms of life, and the social patterns that are part of them, after long periods in which they have been taken for granted, are upset, and so come to be recognized and become the subject of conscious reflection. There are many values which men have disputed, and for and against which they have fought, that are not mentioned in some earlier phase of history, either because they are assumed without question, or because men are, whatever the cause, in no condition to conceive of them. It may be that the more sophisticated forms of individual liberty did not impinge upon the consciousness of the masses of mankind simply because they lived in squalor and oppression. Men who live in conditions where there is not sufficient food, warmth, shelter, and the minimum degree of security can scarcely be expected to concern themselves with freedom of contract or of the press.

It may make matters clearer if at this point I mention what seems to me yet another misconception--namely. the identification of freedom with activity as such. When, for example, Dr. Erich Fromm, in his moving tracts for the times, speaks of true freedom as the spontaneous, rational activity of the total, integrated personality, and is partly followed in this by Professor Bernard Crick, I disagree with them.28 The freedom of which I speak is opportunity for action, rather than action itself. If, although I enjoy the right to walk through open doors, I prefer not to do so, but to sit still and vegetate, I am not thereby rendered less free. Freedom is the opportunity to act, not action itself; the possibility of action, not necessarily that dynamic realization of it which both Fromm and Crick identify with it. If apathetic neglect of various avenues to a more vigorous and generous life-- however much this may be condemned on other grounds--is not considered incompatible with the notion of being free, then I have nothing to quarrel with in the formulations of either of these writers. But I fear that Dr. Fromm would consider such abdication as a symptom of lack of integration, which for him is indispensable to-- perhaps identical with--freedom; while Professor Crick would look upon such apathy as too inert and timid to deserve to be called freedom. I find the ideal advocated by these champions of the full life sympathetic; but to identify it with freedom seems to me conflation of two values. To say that freedom is activity as such is to make the term cover too much; it tends to obscure and dilute the central issue--the right and freedom to act--about which men have argued and fought during almost the whole of recorded history.

To return to concepts of liberty. Much has been made by my opponents of the distinction (regarded by them as specious or exaggerated) that I have tried to draw between two questions.: `By whom am I governed?' and `How much am I governed?' Yet I confess that I cannot see either that the two questions are identical, or that the difference between them is unimportant. It still seems to me that the distinction between the two kinds of answer, and therefore between the different senses of `liberty' involved, is neither trivial nor confused. Indeed, I continue to believe that the issue is a central one both historically and conceptually, both in theory and practice. Let me say once again that `positive' and `negative' liberty, in the sense in which I use these terms, start at no great logical distance from each other. The questions `Who is master?' and `Over what area am I master?' cannot be kept wholly distinct. I wish to determine myself and not be directed by others, no matter how wise and benevolent; my conduct derives an irreplaceable value from the sole fact that it is my own, and not imposed upon me. But I am not, and can not expect to be, wholly self-sufficient or socially omnipotent.29 I cannot remove all the obstacles in my path that stem from the conduct of my fellows. I can try to ignore them, treat them as illusory, or `intermingle' them and attribute them to my own inner principles, conscience, moral sense; or try to dissolve my sense of personal identity in a common enterprise, as an element in a larger self-directed whole. Nevertheless, despite such heroic efforts to transcend or dissolve the conflicts and resistance of others, if I do not wish to be deceived, I shall recognize the fact that total harmony with others is incompatible with self-identity; that if I am not to be dependent on others in every respect, I shall need some area within which I am not, and can count on not being, freely interfered with by them. The question then arises: how wide is the area over which I am, or should be, master? My thesis is that historically the notion of `positive' liberty--in answer to the question `Who is master --diverged from that of `negative' liberty, designed to answer `Over what area am I master?'; and that this gulf widened as the notion of the self suffered a metaphysical fission into, on the one hand, a `higher', or a `real', or an `ideal' self, set up to rule `lower', `empirical', psychological' self or nature, on the other; into `myself at my best' as master over my inferior day-to-day self; into Coleridge's great I AM over less transcendent incarnations of it in time and space. A genuine experience of inner tension may lie at the root of this ancient and pervasive metaphysical image of the two selves, the influence of which has been vast over language, thought, and conduct; however this may be, the `higher' self duly became identified with institutions, churches, nations, races, states, classes, cultures, parties, and with vaguer entities; such as the general will, the common good, the enlightened forces of society, the vanguard of the most progressive class, Manifest Destiny. My thesis is that, in the course of this process, what had begun as a doctrine of freedom turned into a doctrine of authority and, at times, of oppression, and became the favoured weapon of despotism, a phenomenon all too familiar in our own day. I was careful to point out that this could equally have been the fate of the doctrine of negative liberty. Among the dualists who distinguished the two selves, some-- in particular Jewish and Christian theologians, but also Idealist metaphysicians in the nineteenth century--speak of the need to release the `higher' or `ideal' self from obstacles in its path, e.g. interference by, `slavery to', the `lower' self; and some saw this base entity incarnated in institutions serving irrational or wicked passions and other forces of evil likely to obstruct the proper development of the `true' or `higher' self, or `myself at my best'. The history of political doctrines might (like that of some protestant sects) have taken this `negative' form. The point, however, is that it did so relatively seldom--as, for example, in early liberal,anarchist, and some types of populist writings. But for the most part,freedom was identified by metaphysically inclined writers, with the. realization of the real self not so much in individual men as incarnated in institutions, traditions, forms of life wider than the empirical spatio-temporal existence of the finite individual. Freedom is identified by such thinkers most often, it seems to me, with the `positive' activity of these institutional (`organic') forms of life, growth, etc., rather than with mere (`negative') removal of obstacles even from the paths of such `organisms', let alone from those of individuals--such an absence of obstacles being regarded as, at best, means to, or conditions of, freedom; not as freedom itself.

It is doubtless well to remember that belief in negative freedom is compatible with, and (so far as ideas influence conduct) has played its part in generating great and lasting social evils. My point is that it was much less often defended or disguised by the kind of specious arguments and sleights-of-hand habitually used by the champions of `positive' freedom in its more sinister forms. Advocacy of non-interference (like `social Darwinism') was, of course, used to support politically and socially destructive policies which armed the strong, the brutal, and the unscrupulous against the humane and the weak, the able and ruthless against the less gifted. and the less fortunate. Freedom for the, wolves has often meant death to the sheep. The bloodstained story of economic individualism and unrestrained capitalist competition does not, I should have thought today need stressing. Nevertheless, in view of the astonishing opinions which some of my critics have imputed to me, I should, perhaps, have been wise to underline certain parts of my argument. I should have made even clearer that the evils of unrestricted laissez-faire, and of the social and legal systems. that permitted and encouraged it, led to brutal violations of `negative' liberty-- of basic human-rights (always a `negative' notion: a wall, against oppressors), including that of free expression or association without which there may exist justice and fraternity and even happiness of a kind, but not democracy. And I should perhaps have stressed (save that I thought this too obvious to need saying) the failure of such systems to provide the minimum conditions in which alone any degree of significant `negative' liberty can be exercised by individuals or groups, and without which it is of little or no value to those who may theoretically possess it. For what are rights without the power to implement them? I had supposed that enough had been said by almost every serious modern writer concerned with this subject about the fate of personal liberty during the reign of unfettered economic individualism--about the condition of the injured majority, principally in the towns, whose children were destroyed in mines or mills, while their parents lived in poverty, disease, and ignorance, a situation in which the enjoyment by the poor and the weak of legal rights to spend their money as they pleased or to choose the education they wanted (which Cobden and Herbert Spencer and their disciples offered them with every appearance of sincerity) became an odious mockery. All this is notoriously true. Legal liberties are compatible with extremes of exploitation, brutality, and injustice. The case for intervention, by the state or other effective agencies, to secure conditions for both positive, and at least a minimum degree of negative, liberty for individuals, is overwhelmingly strong. Liberals like Tocqueville and J. S. Mill, and even Benjamin Constant (who prized negative liberty beyond any modern writer), were not unaware of this. The case for social legislation or planning, for the welfare state and socialism, can be constructed with as much validity from considerations of the claims of negative liberty as from those of its positive brother; and if, historically, it was not made so frequently, that was because the kind of evil against which the concept of negative liberty was directed as a weapon was not laissez-faire, but despotism. The rise and fall of the two concepts can largely be traced to the specific dangers which, at a given moment, threatened a group or society most: on the one hand excessive control and interference, or, on the other, an uncontrolled `market' economy. Each concert seems liable to perversion into the very vice which it was created to resist. But whereas liberal ultra-individualism could scarcely be said to be rising force at present, the rhetoric of `positive' liberty, at least in its distorted form, is in far greater evidence, and continues to play its historic role (in both capitalist and anti-capitalist societies) as a cloak for despotism in the name of.a wider freedom.

`Positive' liberty, conceived as the answer to the question, `By whom am I to be governed?', is a valid universal goal. I do not know why I should have been held to doubt this, or, for that matter, the further proposition that democratic self-government is a fundamental human need, something valuable in itself, whether or not it clashes with the claims of negative liberty or of any other goal; valuable intrinsically and not only for the reasons advanced in its favour by, for example, Constant--that without it, negative liberty may be too easily crushed; or by Mill, who thinks it an indispensable means--but still only a means--to the attainment of happiness. I can only repeat that the perversion of the notion of positive liberty into its opposite--the apotheosis of authority--did occur, and has for a long while been one of the `most familiar and depressing phenomena of our time.For whatever reason or cause, the notion of `negative' liberty (conceived as the answer to the question `How much am I to be governed?'), however disastrous the consequences of its unbridled forms, has not historically been twisted by its theorists as often or as effectively into anything so darkly metaphysical or socially sinister or remote from its original meaning as its `positive' counterpart. The first can be turned into, its opposite and still exploit the favourable associations of its innocent origins. The second has, much more frequently, been seen, for better and for worse, for what it was; there has been no lack of emphasis, in the last hundred years, upon its more disastrous implications Hence, the greater need, it seems to me, to expose the aberrations of positive liberty than those of its negative brother.

Nor do I wish to deny that new ways in which liberty, both in its positive and its negative sense, can be, and has been, curtailed have arisen since the nineteenth century. In an age of expanding economic productivity there exist ways of curtailing both types of liberty--for example, by permitting or promoting a situation in which entire groups and nations are progressively shut off from benefits which have been allowed to accumulate too exclusively in the hands of other groups and nations, the rich and strong--a situation which, in its turn, has produced (and was itself produced by) social arrangements that have caused walls to arise around men, and doors to be shut to the development of individuals and classes. This has been done by social and economic policies that were sometimes openly discriminatory, at other times camouflaged, by the rigging of educational policies and of the means of influencing opinion, by legislation in the sphere of morals, and similar measures, which have blocked and diminished human freedom at times as effectively as the more overt and brutal methods of direct oppression--slavery and imprisonment--against which the original defenders of liberty lifted their voices.30

Let me summarize my position thus far. The extent of a man's negative liberty is, as it were, a function of what doors, and, how many, are open to him; upon what prospects they open; and how open they are. This formula must not be pressed too far, for not all doors are of equal importance, inasmuch as the paths on which they open vary in the opportunities they offer. Consequently, the problem of how an over-all increase of liberty in particular circumstances is to be secured, and how it is to be distributed (especially in situations, and this is almost invariably-- the case, in which. the opening of one door leads to the lifting of other barriers and the lowering of still others), how, in a word the maximization of opportunities is in any concrete case to be achieved, can be an agonizing problem, not to be solved by any hard-and-fast rule.31 What I am mainly concerned to establish is that, whatever may be the common ground between them, and whichever is liable to graver distortion, negative and positive liberty are not the same thing. Both are ends in themselves. These ends may clash irreconcilably. When this happens, questions of choice and preference inevitably arise. Should democracy in a given situation be promoted at the expense of individual freedom? or equality at the expense of artistic achievement ; or mercy at the expense of justice; or spontaneity at the expense of efficiency; or happiness, loyalty, innocence at the expense of knowledge and truth? The simple point which I am concerned to make is that where ultimate values are irreconcilable , clear-cut solutions cannot, in principle, be found. To decide rationally in such situations is to decide in the light of general ideals, the over-all pattern of life pursued by a man or a group or a society. If the claims of two (or more than two) types of liberty prove incompatible in a particular case, and if this is an instance of the clash of values at once absolute and incommensurable, it is better to face this intellectually uncomfortable fact than to ignore it, or automatically attribute it to some deficiency on our part which could be eliminated by an increase in skill or knowledge;32 or, what is worse still, suppress one of the competing values altogether by pretending that it is identical with its rival--and so end by distorting both. Yet,it appears to me, it is exactly this that philosophical monists who demand final solutions--tidiness and harmony at any price--have done and are doing still. I do not, of course, mean this as an argument against the proposition that the application of knowledge. and skill can, in particular cases, lead to satisfactory solutions. When such dilemmas arise it is one thing to say that every effort must be made to resolve them, and another that it is certain a priori that, a correct, conclusive solution must always in principle be discoverable--something that the older rationalist metaphysics appeared to guarantee.

Hence, when Mr. Spitz33 maintains that the frontier falls not so much between positive and negative liberty, but `in determination of which complex of particular liberties and concomitant restraints is most likely to promote those values that, in Berlin's theory, are distinctively human', and, in the course of his interesting and suggestive review, declares that the issue depends on one's view of human nature, or of human goals (on which men differ), I do not dissent. But when he goes on to say that, in my attempt to cope with the relativity of values, I fall. back on the views of J. S. Mill, he seems to me mistaken on an important issue. Mill does seem to have convinced himself that there exists such a thing as attainable, communicable, objective truth in the field of value judgments; but that the conditions for its discovery do not exist save in a society which provides a sufficient degree of individual liberty, particularly of inquiry and discussion. This is simply the old objectivist thesis, in an empirical form, with a special rider about the need for individual liberty as a necessary condition for the attainment of this final goal. My thesis is not this at all; but that, since some values may conflict intrinsically, the very notion that a pattern must in principle be discoverable in which they are all rendered harmonious is founded on a false a priori view of what the world is like. If I am right in this, and the human condition is such that men cannot always avoid choices, they cannot avoid them not merely for the obvious reasons which philosophers have seldom ignored, namely that there are many possible courses of action and forms of life worth living, and therefore to choose between them is part of being rational or capable of moral judgment; they cannot avoid choice for one central reason (which is, in then ordinary sense, conceptual, not empirical), namely that ends collide; that one cannot have everything. Whence it follows that the very concept of an ideal life, a life in which nothing of value need ever be lost or sacrificed, in which all rational (or virtuous, or otherwise legitimate) wishes must be capable of being truly satisfied--this classical vision is not merely utopian, but incoherent. The need to choose, to sacrifice some ultimate values to others, turns out to be a permanent characteristic of the human predicament. If this is so, it undermines all theories according to which the value of free choice derives from the fact that without it we cannot attain to the perfect life; with the implication that once such perfection has been reached the need for choice between alternatives withers away. On this view, choice like the party system, or the right to vote against the nominees of the ruling party, becomes obsolete, in the perfect Platonic or theocritic or Jacobin or communist society, where any sign of the recrudescence of disagreement is a symptom of error and vice. For there is only one possible path for the perfectly rational man, since there are now no beguiling illusions, no conflicts, no incongruities, no surprises, no genuine, unpredictable novelty; everything is still and perfect in the universe governed by what Kant called the Holy Will. Whether or not this calm and tideless sea is conceivable or not, it does not resemble the real world in terms of which alone we conceive men's nature and their values. Given things as we know them, and have known them during recorded human history, capacity for choosing is intrinsic to rationality, if rationality entails normal ability to apprehend the real world. To. move in a frictionless medium, desiring only what one can attain, not tempted by alternatives, never seeking incompatible ends, is to live in a coherent fantasy. To offer it as the ideal is to seek to dehumanize men, to turn them into the brainwashed, contented beings of Aldous Huxley's celebrated totalitarian nightmare. To contract the areas of human choice is to do harm to men in an intrinsic, Kantian, not merely utilitarian, sense. The fact that the maintenance of conditions making possible the widest choice must be adjusted--however imperfectly-- to other needs, for social stability, predictability, order, and so on, does not diminish their central importance. There is a minimum level of opportunity for choice--not of rational or virtuous choice alone--below which human activity ceases to be free in any meaningful sense. It is true that the cry for individual liberty has often disguised desire for privilege, or for power to oppress and exploit, or simply fear of social change. Nevertheless the modern horror of uniformity, conformism, and mechanization of life is not groundless.

As for the issue of relativity and the subjective nature of values, I wonder whether this has not, for the sake of argument, been exaggerated by philosophers: whether men and their outlooks have differed, over wide stretches of space and time, as greatly as has at times been represented. But on this point--how unchanging, how `ultimate', how universal and `basic' human values are--I feel no certainty. If values had varied very widely between cultures and periods, communication would have been harder to achieve, and our historical knowledge, which depends on some degree of ability to understand the goals and motives and ways of life at work in cultures different from our own, would turn out to be an illusion. So, of course, would the findings of historical sociology from which the very concept of social relativity largely derives. Scepticism, driven to extremes, defeats itself by becoming self-refuting.

As for the question of what in fact are the values which we regard as universal and `basic'--presupposed (if that is the correct logical relation) by the very notions of morality and humanity as such--this seems to me a question of a quasi-empirical kind. That is to say, it seems to be a question for the answer to which we must go to historians, anthropologists, philosophers of culture, social scientists of various kinds, scholars who study the central notions and central ways of behaviour of entire societies, revealed in monuments;forms of life, social activity, as well as more overt expressions of belief such as laws, faiths, philosophies, literature. I describe this as quasi-empirical, because concepts and categories that dominate life and thought over a very large portion (even if not the whole) of the globe, and for very long, stretches (even if not the whole) of recorded history, are difficult, and in practice impossible to think away; and in this way differ from the more flexible and changing constructions and hypotheses of the natural sciences.

There is one further point which may be worth reiterating; It is important to discriminate between liberty and the conditions of its exercise. If a man is too poor or too ignorant or too feeble to make use of his legal rights, the liberty that these rights confer upon him is nothing to him, but it is not thereby annihilated. The obligation to promote education, health, justice, to raise standards of living, to provide opportunity for the growth of the arts and the sciences, to prevent reactionary political or social or legal policies or arbitrary inequalities, is not made less stringent because it is not necessarily directed to the promotion of liberty itself, but to conditions in which alone its possession is of value, or to values which may be independent of it. And still, liberty is one thing, and the conditions for it are another. To take a concrete example: it is, I believe, desirable to introduce a uniform system of general primary and secondary education in every country, if only in order to do away with distinctions of social status that are at present created or promoted by the existence of a social hierarchy of schools in some Western countries, notably my own. If I were asked why I believe this, I should give the kind of reasons mentioned by Mr. Spitz,34 e.g. the intrinsic claims of social equality; the evils arising from differences of status created by a system of education governed by the financial resources or the social position of parents rather than the ability and the needs of the children; the ideal of social solidarity; the need to provide for the bodies and minds of as many human beings as possible, and not only of members of a privileged class; and, what is more relevant here; the need to provide the maximum number of children with opportunities for free choice, which equality in education is likely to increase. If I were told that this must severely curtail the liberty of parents who claim the right not to be interfered with in this matter--that it was an elementary right to be allowed to choose the type of education to be given to one's child, to determine the intellectual, religious, social, economic conditions in which the child is to be brought up--I should not be ready to dismiss this outright But I should maintain that when (as in this case) values genuinely clash, choices must be made. In this case the clash arises between the need to preserve the existing liberty of some parents to determine the type of education they seek for their children; the need to promote other. social purposes; and, finally, the need to create conditions in which those who lack them will be provided with opportunities to exercise those rights (freedom to choose) which they legally possess, but cannot, without such opportunities, put to use. Useless freedoms should be made usable, but they are not identical with the conditions indispensable for their utility. This is not a merely pedantic distinction, for if it is ignored, the meaning and value of freedom of choice is apt to be downgraded. In their zeal to create social and economic conditions in which alone freedom is of genuine value, men tend to forget freedom itself; and if it is remembered, it is liable to be pushed aside to make room for these other values with which the reformers or revolutionaries have become preoccupied.

Again, it must not be forgotten that even though freedom without sufficient material security, health, knowledge, in a society that lacks equality, justice, mutual confidence, may be virtually useless, the reverse can also be disastrous. To provide for material needs, for education, for such equality and security as, say, children have at school or laymen in a theocracy, is not to expand liberty. We live in a world characterized by regimes (both right- and left-wing) which have done, or are seeking to do, precisely this; and when they call it freedom, this can be as great a fraud as the freedom of the pauper who has a legal right to purchase luxuries. Indeed, one of the things that Dostoevsky's celebrated fable of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov is designed to show is precisely that paternalism can provide the conditions of freedom, yet withhold freedom itself.

A general consideration follows. If we wish to live in the light of reason, we must follow rules or principles; for that is what being rational is. When these rules or principles conflict in concrete cases, to be rational is to follow the course of conduct which least obstructs the general pattern of life in which we believe. The right policy cannot be arrived at in a mechanical or deductive fashion: there are no hard and fast rules to guide us; conditions are often unclear, and principles incapable of being fully analysed or articulated. We seek to adjust the unadjustable, we do the best we can. Those, no doubt, are in some way fortunate who have brought themselves, or have been brought by others, to obey some ultimate principle before the bar of which all problems can be brought. Single-minded monists, ruthless fanatics, men possessed by an all embracing coherent vision, do not know the doubts and agonies of those who cannot wholly blind themselves to reality. But even those who are aware of the complex texture of experience, of what is not reducible to generalization or capable of computation, can, in the end, justify their decisions only by their coherence with some over-all pattern of a desirable form of personal or social life, of which they may become fully conscious only, it may be, when faced with the need to resolve conflicts of this kind. If this seems vague, it is so of necessity. The notion that there must exist final objective answers to normative questions, truths that can be demonstrated or directly intuited, that it is in principle possible to discover a harmonious pattern in which all values are reconciled , and that it is towards this unique goal that we must make; that we can uncover some single central principle that shapes this vision, a principle which, once found, will govern our lives--this ancient and almost universal belief, on which so much traditional thought and action and philosophical doctrine rests, seems to me invalid, and at times to have led (and still to. lead) to absurdities in theory and barbarous consequences in practice.35

The fundamental sense of freedom. is freedom from chains, from imprisonment, from enslavement by others. The rest is extension of this sense, or else metaphor. To strive to be free is to seek:to remove obstacles; to struggle for personal freedom is to seek to curb interference, exploitation, enslavement by men whose ends are theirs, not one's own. Freedom; at least in its political sense, is co-terminous with the absence of bullying or domination. Nevertheless, freedom is not the, only value that can or should determine behaviour. Moreover to speak of freedom as an end is much too general. I should like to say once again to my critics that the issue is not one between negative freedom as an absolute value and other, inferior values. It is more complex and more painful. One freedom may abort another; one freedom may obstruct or fail to create conditions which make other freedoms, or a larger degree of freedom; or freedom for more persons, possible; positive and negative freedom may collide; the freedom of the individual or the group may not be fully compatible with a full degree of participation in a common life, with its demands for co-operation, solidarity, fraternity. But beyond all these there is an acute issue: the paramount need to' satisfy the claims of other, no less ultimate, values: justice, happiness, love, the realization of capacities to create new things and experiences and ideas, the discovery of the truth. Nothing is gained by identifying freedom proper, in either of its senses, with these values, or with the conditions of freedom, or by confounding types of freedom with one another. The fact that given examples of negative freedom (especially where they coincide with powers and rights)--say the freedom of parents or schoolmasters to determine the education of children, of employers to exploit or dismiss their workers, of slave-owners to dispose of their slaves,. of the torturer to inflict pain on his victims--may, in many cases,be wholly undesirable, and should in any sane or decent society be curtailed or suppressed, does not render them genuine freedoms any the less; nor does that fact justify us in so reformulating the definition of freedom that it is always represented as something good without qualification--always leading to the best possible consequences, always likely to promote my `highest' self, always' in harmony with the true laws of my own `real' nature or those of my society and so on, as has been done in many a classical exposition of freedom, from Stoicism to the social doctrines of our day, at the cost of obscuring profound differences.

If either clarity of thought or rationality in action is not to be hopelessly compromised, such distinctions are of critical importance . Individual freedom may or may not dash with democratic organization, and the positive liberty of self-realization with the negative liberty of non-interference. Emphasis on negative liberty, as a rule, leaves more paths for individuals or groups to pursue; positive liberty, as a rule, opens fewer paths, but with better reasons or greater resources for moving along them; the two may or may not clash. Some of my critics are made indignant by the thought that a man may, on this view, have more `negative' liberty under the rule of an easy-going or inefficient despot than in a strenuous, but intolerant, egalitarian democracy. But there is an obvious sense in which Socrates would have had more liberty --at least of speech, and even of action--if, like Aristotle, he had escaped from Athens, instead of accepting the laws, bad as well as good,enacted and applied by his fellow citizens in the democracy of which he possessed, and consciously accepted, full membership. Similarly, a man may leave a vigorous and genuinely `participatory' democratic state in which the social or political pressures are too suffocating for him, for a climate where there may be less civic participation, but more privacy, a less dynamic and all-embracing communal life, less gregariousness but also less surveillance. This may appear undesirable to those who look on distaste for public life or society as a symptom of malaise, of a deep alienation. But temperaments differ, and too much enthusiasm for common norms can lead to intolerance and disregard for the inner life of man. I understand and share the indignation of democrats; not only because any negative liberty that I may enjoy in an easy-going or inefficient despotism is precarious, or confined to a minority, but because despotism is irrational and unjust and degrading as such: because it denies human rights even if its subjects are not discontented; because participation in self-government, is, like justice, a. basic human requirement, an end in itself. Jacobin `repressive tolerance' destroys individual liberty as effectively as a despotism (however tolerant) destroys positive liberty and degrades its subjects. Those who endure the defects of one system tend to forget the shortcomings of the other. In different historical circumstances some regimes grow more oppressive than others, and to revolt against them is braver and wiser than to acquiesce. Nevertheless, in resisting great present evils, it is as well not to be blinded to the possible danger of the total triumph of any one principle. It seems to me that no sober observer of the twentieth century can avoid qualms in this matter.36

What is true of the confusion of the two freedoms, or of identifying freedom with its conditions, holds in even greater measure of the stretching of the word freedom to include an amalgam of other desirable things--equality, justice, happiness, knowledge; love, creation, and other ends that men seek for their own sakes. This confusion is not merely a theoretical error. Those who are obsessed by the truth that negative freedom is worth little without sufficient conditions for its active exercise, or without the satisfaction of other human aspirations, are liable to minimize its importance, to deny it the very title of freedom, to transfer it to something that they regard as more precious, and finally to forget that without it human life, both social and individual, withers away. If I have been too vehement in the defence of it--only one, I may be reminded, among other human values--and have not insisted as much as my critics demand that to ignore other values can lead to evils at least as great, my insistence upon it in a world in which conditions for freedom may demand an even higher priority does not seem to me to invalidate my general analysis and argument.

Finally one may ask what value there is in liberty as such. Is it a response to a basic need of men, or only something presupposed by other fundamental demands? And further, is this an empirical question, to which psychological, anthropological, sociological, historical facts are relevant? Or is it a purely philosophical question, the solution of which lies in the correct analysis of our basic concepts, and for the answer to which the production of examples, whether real or imaginary, and not factual evidence demanded by empirical inquiries, is sufficient and appropriate? `Freedom is the essence of man'; `Frey seyn ist nichts, frey werden ist der Himmel' (to be free is nothing, to become free is very heaven); `Every man has a right to life, liberty, and a pursuit of happiness.' Do these phrases embody propositions resting on some empirical foundation, or have they some other logical status? Are they propositions or disguised commands, emotive expressions, declarations of intent or commitment? What role, if any, does evidence--historical, psychological,' sociological-- play in establishing truth or validity in these matters? Could it be the case that if the evidence of the facts should go against us, we should have to revise our ideas, or withdraw them altogether, or at best concede that they--these propositions if they are propositions--hold only for particular societies, or particular times and places, as some relativists claim?37 Or is their authority shown by philosophical analysis, which convinces us that indifference to freedom is not, compatible with being human, or, at least, fully human--whether by human beings we mean the average members of our own culture, or men in general, everywhere , at all times? To this it is sufficient to say that those who have ever valued liberty for its own sake believed that to be free. to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an inalienable ingredient in what makes human beings `human and that this underlies both the positive demand to have a voice in the laws and practices of the society in which one lives, and to be accorded an area, artificially carved out, if need be, in which one is one's own master, a `negative? area in which a man is not obliged to account for his' activities to any man so far as this is compatible with the existence of organized society.

I should like to add one final qualification. Nothing that I assert in the essay on two concepts of liberty about the frontiers of individual liberty (and this applies to the liberty of groups and associations too) should be taken.to mean that freedom in any of its meanings is either inviolable, or sufficient, in some absolute sense. It is not inviolable, because abnormal conditions may occur, in which even the sacred frontiers of which Constant speaks, e.g. those violated by retrospective laws, punishment of the innocent, judicial murder, information laid against parents by children, the bearing of false `witness, may have to be disregarded if some sufficiently terrible alternative is to be averted. Mr. McFarlane38 urges this point against me, correctly it seems to me. `Nevertheless, the exception proves the rule: precisely because we regard such situations as being wholly abnormal, and such measures as abhorrent, to be condoned only in emergencies so critical that the choice is between great evils, we recognize that under normal conditions, for the great majority of men at most times, in most places, these frontiers are sacred, that, is to say, that to overstep them leads to inhumanity. Conversely, the minimum area that men require if such dehumanization is to be averted, a minimum which other men, or institutions created by them, are liable to invade, is no more than a minimum; its frontiers are not to be extended against sufficiently stringent claims on the part of other values, including those of positive liberty itself. Nevertheless the proper concept of degrees of individual liberty still seems to me to consist in the extent of the area in which choices are open. This minimum area may be incompatible with arrangements required by other social ideals, theocratic or aristocratic or technocratic and the like, but this claim is what the demand for individual liberty entails. Least of all does it call for abdication by individuals or groups from democratic self-government of the society, after their own nicely calculated corner has been made secure and fenced in against others, leaving all the rest to the play of power politics. An indefinite expansion of the area in which men can freely choose between various possible courses of action may plainly not. be compatible with the realization of other values. Hence,things being as they are, we are compelled to adjust. claims, compromise, establish priorities, engage in all those practical operation that social and even individual life has, in fact, always required.

If it is maintained that the identification of the value of liberty with the value of a field of free choice amounts to a doctrine of self-realization, whether for good or evil ends, and: that this is closer to positive than to negative liberty, I shall offer no great objection; only repeat that, as a matter of historical fact, distortions of this meaning of positive liberty (or self-determination) even by so well-meaning a liberal as T. H. Green, so original a thinker as Hegel, or so profound a social analyst as Marx, obscured this thesis and at times transformed it into its opposite. Kant, who stated his moral and social `position a good deal less equivocally, denounced paternalism, since. self determination is precisely what it obstructs; even if it is indispensable for curing certain evils, it is, for opponents of tyranny, at best a necessary evil; as are all great accumulations of power as such. Those who maintain39 that such concentrations are sometimes required to remedy injustices or to increase the insufficient liberties of individuals or groups tend to ignore or play down the reverse of the coin: that much power (and authority) is also, as a rule, a standing threat to fundamental liberties. All those who have protested against tyranny in modem times, from Montesquieu to the present day, have struggled with this problem. The doctrine that accumulations of power can never be too great, provided that they are rationally controlled and used, ignores the central reason for pursuing liberty in the first place--that all paternalist governments, however benevolent, cautious, disinterested, and rational, have tended, in the end, to treat the majority of men as minors or as being too often incurably foolish or irresponsible; or else as maturing so slowly as not to justify their liberation at any clearly foreseeable date (which, in practice, means at no definite time at all). This is a policy which degrades men, and seems to me to rest on no rational or scientific foundation , but, on the contrary, on a profoundly mistaken view of the deepest human needs.

I have, in the essays that follow, attempted to examine some of the fallacies that rest on misunderstanding of certain central human needs and purposes--central, that is, to our normal notion of what it is to be a human being; a being endowed with a nucleus of needs and goals, a nucleus common to all men, which may have a shifting pattern, but one whose limits are determined by the basic need to communicate with other similar beings. The notion of such a nucleus and such limits enters into our conception of the central attributes and functions in terms of which we think of men and societies.

I am only too fully conscious of some of the difficulties and obscurities which my thesis still contains. But short of writing another book, I could do no more than deal with those criticisms which seemed to me at once the most frequent and the least effective, resting as they do on an over-simple application of particular scientific or philosophical principles to social and political problems. But even here I am well aware of how much more needs to be done, especially on the issue of free will, the solution of which seems to me to require a set of new conceptual tools, a break with traditional terminology, which no one, so far as I know, has yet been able to provide.


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