Negative and Positive Freedom

885 Words4 Pages
Individual freedom is often seen as the core value of Liberalism. Nevertheless, freedom can be divided into two categories: negative and positive. Negative freedom, which is traditionally associated with Classical Liberalism, advocates the belief in non-interference, the absence of all external constraints upon the individual. This implies that individuals should be free to pursue their own interests free from outside restrictions or pressures. Nonetheless, negative freedom does not mean that individuals should have absolute and unrestricted freedom. Classical liberals, such as J.S. Mill, believe that if freedom is unlimited it can lead to “license”, namely the right to harm others or to infringe their “natural” rights to “life, liberty and property”. In this way, Classical Liberals often support minimal restrictions on the individual so as to prevent individuals from inflicting harm upon each other. However, it should be borne in mind that Classical Liberals do not accept any constraints upon the individual that prevent him from damaging himself, physically or mentally, since the individual still remains sovereign. Such a view of freedom means that classical liberals generally advocate the establishment of a minimal or “nightwatch” state, whose role is limited to the protection of individuals from other individuals. Tom Paine described the state as a “necessary evil”. It is necessary in that it establishes order and security and ensures that contracts are carried out. Yet, it is “evil” since it enforces collective will upon society, thus constraining individual freedom. Negative freedom also supports economic freedom. Classical Li... ... middle of paper ... ...cting beliefs and interests should be free to develop, pluralism and toleration allow these groups to co-exist peacefully, accepting each other’s different beliefs. Toleration and pluralism thus allow humans, who are all unique and individual, to express their various beliefs and ideologies freely within society. It should also be noted that Liberals support pluralism since it promotes distribution of political power. With power widely and evenly dispersed in society, rather than concentrated in the hands of the elite, pluralism complements democracy and ensures that those in charge respect the concerns and interests of the individual. In conclusion, it can be seen that pluralism and toleration are widely supported by liberals since they promote individual sovereignty whilst benefiting society at the same time.
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