Negative Liberalism

1873 Words8 Pages
All liberals agree that the state is necessarily a coercive power and therefore ought to be minimised lest it encroach on individual freedom, one of the key values in liberalism. However, liberals were also the first to seek a justification for the state on rational grounds, such as through consent theory, their predecessors having generally accepted the state as divinely ordained. This shows that the state is clearly not something to be completely opposed, as it is for anarchists, but rather is seen as necessary to perform certain functions. While liberals do not tend to believe human nature to be flawed, as conservatives do, they do believe that human self-interest needs to be tamed in order to protect us from one another and maintain law…show more content…
As delineated by Isaiah Berlin in 1958, negative liberty is a freedom from coercion, while positive liberty is a freedom to achieve something. Negative liberty is provided by a lack of coercive intervention in people’s lives, while positive liberty can be provided by a welfare state, having sufficient wealth and being free from inner constraints such as addiction or depression. Negative liberty is particularly endangered by a large state and it is this kind of freedom which most concerns classical liberals. Excessive taxation, paternalism, moralism and authoritarianism all threaten our negative liberty by imposing restrictions on what we can do. Liberals recognise that, at its core, the state is an instrument of coercion used to keep people in line. Therefore, the size of the state is inversely proportional to our negative liberty, and so the state should be minimised as far as possible. This is seen in early liberal opposition to high taxation, with William Gladstone twice attempting to abolish income tax, and attempts by neo-classical liberals such as the American Tea Party to reduce both taxation and government expenditure. It is also liberals who developed the idea of a system of checks and balances to make sure that the state does not grow too powerful. For example, the constitution of the United States was adopted on…show more content…
The most significant of these is the protection of private property, something which has concerned liberals from the ideology’s inception. Private property, be it land, items, money or one’s own body, can only be protected from outside interference with the help of a coercive state. A classical liberal view of freedom consists of the right to do as one wishes with one’s private property. Indeed, Locke went so far as to say that ‘where there is no law there is no freedom’, as without the rule of law we cannot be guaranteed security of our property. Maintenance of law and order, liberals argue, requires a state because people are naturally self-interested and, if they could, would look to exploit one another for personal gain. It is this function which liberals, whether classical or modern, often point to as most fundamental to a state. Indeed, many believe that other ‘rights’ are merely extensions of the right to private property. For instance, many liberals today such as Lib-Dem parliamentarians Baroness Brinton and Minister for Care Norman Lamb MP argue for the ‘right to die’ on the basis that we are the owners of our own lives and should therefore be able to choose what to do with them, leading them to back Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill. Similarly, rights relating to a democratic process or
Open Document