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The two perspectives of Liberty

Updated on July 6, 2017

One may ask, what is liberty? Why is liberty important? Why should we be concerned about it? To answer these questions, we are going to look in depth in this paper what liberty is why we should be concerned about it. According to a definition by Rawls (1971), Liberty is state of being free from restrictions that are oppressive, imposed by the authority on a person’s behavior, political views or way of life. It is derived from the natural law idea; that is, it is based on a moral obligation about human nature. What is important is for us humans is our capability to think, choose, reason and value as individuals. Kant, (2011) refers to this aspect as our rationality and freedom. What this means, is that individuals are important parts of the moral discourse. The value of a human being is the capability of taking individual responsibility for for own lives, and our choices. Each person has equal responsibility and it’s from this argument that forms the basis of equal responsibility.

One’s liberty is, therefore, his ability to choose what they want without external interference; unless that interference is to further a person’s interests. However, if the person’s choice affects the people around, then that choice is not worth pursuing. In essence, liberty is a relation among people. Nonetheless, liberty on the hand, can be violated when it is interfered with by an external force. The inference is not always a bad thing; in fact, it can sometimes be hindering a person for their own sake, protecting them from self-destruction. Therefore, in light of this, it can be construed that liberty is from two perspectives; that is when used well can lead to the attainment of individual interests, but when misused can lead to a person’s downfall or destruction.


In The Huffington Post (21 July 2009) Jacob talks about how the church, has championed the “Culture of Life”, since the visit of catholic Pope John Paul II in 1993 in the United State. In particular, the church is against the use of condoms, capital punishment, euthanasia, and abortion. However, some social conservatives have claimed that these will infringe on their right. For example, abortion should be accepted on demand, gay marriages should be allowed, and diversity in sexual practices and a person has the right to take his or her own lives through a doctor’s assisted suicide.

Jacob continues to add on that, that the society needs a profound social transformation. For instance, one cannot understand the agony of a child who is unable to help a debilitated parent end his suffering, or the pain of gay couples who have had to be separated by the discriminatory laws, or a woman who has to endure the pain of carrying an unwanted child. Yet the majority of the Americans who do not support to the basic presumption of the Culture of Life movement, have failed to come up with an alternative as a united front. There is a clear rift between the supporters of legalized assisted suicide, sexual liberation, and absorption rights activists as each has had to champion their issues by themselves yet they are all dealing with human rights issues.

Jacob, acknowledge the need to have checks and balances in these Liberties, more so, where the general public safety or matters economy are concerned. Even the culture of Liberty activists will have to deal with loopholes, for instance, mandatory vaccination, and quarantine, where private choices may affect the public welfare. Jacobs says that most people are too concerned about having control of their own bodies instead of petitioning Congress to address these loopholes in the constitution (Fried, 2005).

According to Berlin (1969), Liberty includes both the positive and negative liberty. A person has negative liberty in the sense that his actions are available to a negative sense. Positive liberty, on the other hand, is the possibility of acting in such a way that a person is able to take control own life and realize the own fundamental purpose. Negative liberty is normally associated with individual agents, positive liberty attributed to collectivities or to individuals considered to be primary members of given collectives. The two liberties are a complete opposite of one another. In fact, the way the term liberty is defined and interpreted can have political and social implications. For instance, political liberalism normally presupposes a negative definition of liberty. They claim that strong limitations should be placed on state activities if one is in favor of personal liberty. But the critics argue that the pursuit of this liberty is on self-determination or self-realization scale can still require authorities’ intervention.

Berlin (1969), came up with a two concept of liberty: negative and positive, where one thinks of liberty as the absence of obstacles that can influence agents. That is, one is free to do anything if no one is there to stop them, but on contrary, to be completely free, one must be able to be self-determined. In other words, they must control their own destiny according to their own interests. But this is far from reality, as no individual can have a complete control of his or her own destiny. One’s liberty is, therefore, is his ability to choose what he or she wants in life and no one has the right to influence that choice. This is unless the choice influences their lives too, what is commonly called the right of mutual noninterference Theorists working on the measurement of freedom usually ignore the distinction between negative and positive liberty. Most are concerned with liberty understood as the availability of options. The idea of liberty as the availability of options is completely wrong according to Berlin’s sense at least where two conditions are met: actions one is unfree or free to perform are weighted in some value- neutral way and the sources of obstacles of liberty are limited to the actions of other agents( Pitkin, 1988).

According to Kelley (1984), liberty and liberalism have the same source that is, reflecting the commitment of the initial liberals of a free society. But as time passed, liberalism has been associated with political position especially when it came to sacrificing liberty in the economic terms for the sake of collective welfare and equality. This is as a result of those who may want to affirm the initial purpose of liberalism. Libertarians; those who champion for personal and economic freedom not forgetting the intellectual matters, spend most of their time advocating for the right to everyone own property. Together with other Libertarians, Kelly argues that the traditional American individual freedom were used to undermine their own freedom, for instance, the idea of this welfare rights which according to him was suspicious as they were meant to take advantage of the poor workers: case in point, one’s right to welfare payments as a single mother, for instance, is dependent on the coercion transfer of the money from its rightful owners, the taxpayers. On contrary, the natural rights of liberty, life, and property do not infringe in other peoples. What makes welfare rights questionable is that in the process of their implementation, liberty of rights will be violated.

These welfare state initiatives were a result of the need for change during the industrial revolution. In the new economy, bad luck, chance, and impulse of economic cycles, played a significant role in people’s lives. The workers desired reassurance from these risks: Unemployment, factory accidents, sickness, old age, was some of the things the workers could not afford. Kelly admits that these risks are real though the sees no reasons to develop welfare state as most the issues were being addressed by the insurance, friendly societies, and other charitable associations. Moreover, this transformation from private to public provision of assistance could have serious effects on the economy. Strong critics of individualism believe that welfare state is an insult to liberty. Ideas such as the morality of self-interest and efficacy of reason were done away with.

In his conclusion, Kelly argues that his criticism of the welfare state is on a better note. Accordingly, he hopes that the authorities use this as a way to correct and deal with the shortcomings in the system. According to him, welfare state may be another white elephant, like the communism, which promised work’s paradise through its myth, but eventually collapsed.

According to Dworkin (2011), integration of; ethical and moral values, personal and political morality, and law and morality by developing accounts of the essential conditions of living well, like human dignity that includes: authenticity and self-respect, along the shield of responsibility and free will, in addition to morality concerning duty, obligation and harm, that includes associative and political obligations; for a collaboration between democracy. By reviewing this concerns about political morality, which includes legal, human rights and political and doing a revision on his stand on equality, liberty, and democracy. Lastly, by reviewing the relationship that exists between morals and the law in the first three chapters of his books, Dworkin, (2011), argues that the government must work towards making the life of its citizens better. The citizens on the hand must also work to better the life of each other. On democracy, he believes that democracy can work together.

According to him, democracy is one way of distributing power equally through a democratic decision. The relationship between democracy and liberty is; democracy is a set of items for producing results of the right sort. He is quick to take precaution that democracy can never exist in its pure form, but at least provides the best alternative that suits liberty, and free of will. On politics, free speech and the Dimensions of democracy, He says that the meaning democracy itself can be understood in two different ways depending on one’s interpretation: one group may argue that it means the government by the majority. In this, democratic ideals lie on the match between political decisions and the will of the mass opinion.(Dworkin, 2011). The other group may argue that democracy means government by partnership meaning working together as equal partners in a collective agreement of self-government. He points out the important and relevant difference between these two conceptions of democracy (Dworkin, 2011).

The idea of negative liberty or liberty as the absence of barriers is described as liberty within a private cycle, within which a person’s freedom is from influence and interferences from the political activities. According to Berlin, no one is completely free to do anything they wish without their actions influencing others in the process. Therefore, the idea of private liberty is a fallacy.


In conclusion, there is no doubt that liberty is important to a person’s life, but there is no such thing as total freedom. A person cannot choose to do something what will affect others around him in the process, just because it is within their right to do. For instance, one can claim that they have the freedom over their own life, and decide not to take good care of their hygiene because it’s their own body can choose to do anything with it. Consequently, people around will be affected either directly or indirectly by the unhygienic circumstance. In light of this, free will should be exercised with your environment in mind, if a person’s action hurt their environment, then those liberties are put into question. Therefore, the benefits of liberty depend on how well that freedom is utilized.


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      12 months ago

      Inward and outward.


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