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Politics Short Questions Miss Atwal
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
individuals who take responsibility for their own lives. Freedom ultimately consisted in individuals
acting morally. The state could not force people to be good but merely provide condition in
which individuals can make more responsible moral decision. Thus, the essential difference is the
recognition that this can only occur if social conditions are conducive to it. The central thrust of
modern liberalism is therefore to help individuals to help themselves.