Negative and Positive Freedom, How these two Concepts are related to Different Notions of the State and Democracy

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Negative and Positive Freedom, How these two Concepts are related to Different Notions of the State and Democracy

POLS 1000

Ammad Mustafa


Government is often viewed as the enemy of individual freedom, while others argue government action is needed to provide the basis for people to be free to develop their individuality (Mintz, Close, and Croci, 2011, pg.60). Individual freedom in a democracy is having the right to act as we please, having the freedom to do as we may with our government. Freedom is often defined in terms of the ability to act as one wants without interference, restraints, or coercion (Mintz, Close, and Croci, 2011, pg.53). Freedom can be understood in two different aspects, positive and negative.

Negative freedom entails having no physical or legal restraints on the actions of individuals (Mintz, Close, and Croci, 2011, pg.60). Negative freedom in a state, is the freedom of government interference. An individual may do as he may, without having to deal with any legal or physical implications. Before the establishment of government it was widely believed that individuals had been free, but lacking in the settling of disputes (John Locke 1632-1704). Advocates of negative freedom believed the role of government should be minimal and limited in its powers (Mintz, Close, and Croci, 2011, pg.53). Freedom in this perspective was achieved, when government would provide protection of life, liberty, and property. But, was removable by the people, if it was to break the rights it was supposed to protect (Mintz, Close, and Croci, 2011, pg.53).

Positive freedom in contrast to negative freedom is freedom from internal constraints, such as fear or ignorance. Advocates of positive freedom believe the pursuit of the higher self allows individuals to reach their potential, thus making them more free (Salfiti, 2002). While, the lower self is basic and follows instinct. The capacity to do something worth doing or enjoying (Mintz, Close, and Croci, 2011, pg.60). Positive freedom entails having the freedom to be in control of one’s own life, or being one’s own master. Basically, individuals should be allowed to develop their own individuality. In contrast to the negative view, advocates of the positive view promote state intervention to ultimately help us make the decisions best for us (Mintz, Close, and Croci, pg.53). In effect, freedom may be positive in that it stands for effective power, self-realization, self-mastery, or moral or ‘inner’ freedom (Isaiah Berlin 1909-1997).  

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Advocates of the positive view of freedom believe that state intervention is necessary, to ensure individuals make the appropriate decisions so that he or she may promote the higher self (Mintz, Close, and Croci, pg.60). In this view state intervention is often required to level the playing field, so that everyone may have an equal chance at reaching their true potential. State intervention is required in some cases to help provide equal opportunities for individuals residing in a state. The state often ensures that an equal chance is given to all individuals to get ahead in life, regardless of personal ...

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