Liberalism and Freedom

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1. To what extent do liberals disagree over freedom?

Liberals believe that human beings are first and foremost, individuals, endowed with reason. This implies that each individual should enjoy the maximum possible freedom consistent with a like freedom for all. Belief in the supreme importance of the individual leads naturally to a commitment to individual freedom.

Isaiah Berlin distinguished between a ‘negative’ theory of liberty and a ‘positive’ one. Early liberals have believed in Negative Freedom. It is the absence of external restrictions and constraints upon the individual, usually understood as non-interference. It is often associated with freedom of choice and importance of privacy. However, classical liberals feared that ‘free’ individuals may exploit others for their own interest and advantage hence why law and government are necessary. Negative freedom is therefore upheld primarily through checks and balances proposed by Montesquieu on government power through codified constitutions and bills of rights. Examples of negative freedom include civil liberties, such as freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of religious worship.

Modern liberals, on the other hand, believed that the unrestrained freedom promoted by classical liberalism has brought about new forms of poverty and injustice. T.H. Green challenged the classical liberal notion of liberty. Negative freedom merely removes external constraints on the individual, giving the individual freedom of choice. He proposed the idea of POSITIVE FREEDOM in the place of negative freedom. Freedom that allows the individual to develop and attain individuality as well the opportunity to realize their potential, attain skills and knowledge and achieve fulfilment.

Although Modern liberals revised classical liberalism version of liberty, they did not fully abandon the core liberal beliefs. Modern liberals do share the classical liberal preference for self-reliant...
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