Liberty and associated aspects

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Liberty and associated aspects

  • Isaiah Berlin, in his seminal essay, “Two Concepts of Liberty’, speaks of two senses of freedom.
  • The first is “negative liberty” which revolves around the existence of a private sphere where an individual can do as they please, free from any interference.
  • The second is “positive liberty”, which refers to the act of taking control over one’s life and realising its fundamental purposes.


  • Freedom is defined as the lack of constraints, allowing an individual's creativity, sensibility, and capacities to fully flourish, whether in sports, science, art, music, or exploration.
  • Furthermore, a free society allows people to follow their goals with the least amount of restrictions.
  • While the political left has supported positive liberty, the political right and libertarians support negative liberty.
  • The notions of negative and positive liberty broadly determine how governments function.
  • If a Government increases the provision of its welfare services, it means that it is cutting down on the economic freedoms of some classes in order for others to access certain goods and services.

Negative Liberty

  • It aims to define and protect a space in which the person is unaffected, in which he or she is free to 'do, be, or become' whatever he or she wishes.
  • This is a zone where no outside authority can intervene.
  • It is a sacrosanct minimum region in which the individual's actions are not to be interfered with.
  • It is a non-interfering zone in which the person can freely express himself or herself.

Features of negative liberty

  • Individuals' natural rights to life, liberty, and property are inalienable rights.
  • In political and economic activity, the sphere of individual action is defined and delineated.
  • Individual liberty is defined as freedom from state intervention or external regulation—negative liberty.
  • Individuals as proprietors of their personalities and capacities, self-sufficient and owing nothing to anybody or society—this is the concept of an atomic or possessive individual (Hobbes, Locke and Smith).
  • State as a ""necessary evil"" (Paine), a utility provider for the largest number of people's satisfaction (Bentham), and a state with a minimum and limited purpose.
  • Individually self-regulated economic activity is the best guarantee of general prosperity, according to laissez-faire or economic liberalism.
  • The political system is based on a capitalist market economy and a liberal democratic political system.

Positive Liberty

  • Positive liberty recognises that one can only be free in society (not outside of it) and thus strives to make society such that it allows for individual development, whereas negative liberty is only concerned with the inviolable area of non-interference and not with the conditions in society outside of this area.

Features of Positive liberty

  • Individual liberty is the state of self-development and moral development—rather than the lack of interference and external restriction - positive liberty.
  • It is necessary to strike a balance between liberty and equality, as well as economic freedom.
  • The state is not a necessary evil, but rather an agent for the general good and welfare. * Government intervention and social and economic control
  • More focus on ""moral liberty,"" ""distributive fairness,"" ""public good,"" and ""capability expansion.""

Challenges related to liberty

  • State vs Individual: Sometimes, in the name of national security, the government seeks to limit individual liberty, for example, when authorities abuse section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with sedition charges.
  • Aadhar Act: The public divulges personal information to authorities. Individual dignity is intimately tied to this data. Furthermore, authorities may abuse this information, which is a violation of liberty.
  • State vs religion: The state sometimes restricts individual freedom in the name of secularism, such as when the French government outlawed the burkha. As a result, minorities' rights are under jeopardy.

Way forward

  • Liberty, which entails our ability to make the best decisions, weigh available options rationally, and take responsibility for our acts, must be developed via education and the development of judgement just as much as it must be maintained by restricting the state's and society's power.
  • Libertarians argue that there should be a minimum area of personal freedom which must on no account be violated. However, negative liberty must be restricted sometimes for the sake of other values, such as equality and justice.