Define Freedom, Your Political Philosophy Follows

Most people have an idea in mind of which party or which principles they gravitate towards the most and, under their own justifications, a logical reason as to why.

However, all theories are based on a set of assumptions; if or when those underlying assumptions change, the corresponding built theories should also be modified, rectified or removed.

To this day, I can’t think of any more fundamental assumption in politics than the basic definition of “Freedom” (or the synonymous “Liberty”). In the US from the time a student first enters elementary education, warm sentiments towards freedom are cultivated without much concern for how we define that word. It’s even engrained in American media with such films as Braveheart – with it’s famous closing yell – and in any war film depicting American soldiers as defenders of Freedom like Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, or the upcoming Lone Survivor. That one word is a constantly permeating element of American cultural entitlement, and often cited as what defines the nation morally or ethically – but little attention is given to defining that assumption, leaving most people oblivious to the deep seated philosophical differences in defining the word which gives rise to a an essential political separation.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“The idea of distinguishing between a negative and a positive sense of the term ‘liberty’ goes back at least to Kant, and was examined and defended in depth by Isaiah Berlin in the 1950s and ’60s…

As Berlin showed, negative and positive liberty are not merely two distinct kinds of liberty; they can be seen as rival, incompatible interpretations of a single political ideal. Since few people claim to be against liberty, the way this term is interpreted and defined can have important political implications. Political liberalism tends to presuppose a negative definition of liberty: liberals generally claim that if one favors individual liberty one should place strong limitations on the activities of the state. Critics of liberalism often contest this implication by contesting the negative definition of liberty: they argue that the pursuit of liberty understood as self-realization or as self-determination (whether of the individual or of the collectivity) can require state intervention of a kind not normally allowed by liberals.

Many authors prefer to talk of positive and negative freedom. This is only a difference of style, and the terms ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ are normally used interchangeably by political and social philosophers.” [1]

The difference can be summed up as negative liberty being the absence of (most often government) constraints, and positive liberty being the ability to control and therefore change one’s life (with the associated financial requirements).

Both definitions are valid, but when maximizing freedom is preached by a politician, it’s not often made apparent to the public what that truly means.

A word of caution: Stanford Encyclopedia mentions political liberalism is associated with negative liberty, while in America those ideas are associated with conservative groups such as libertarians – not the most commonly used form of the word “liberal” regarding political left party affiliation. Modern American left leaning politicians favor positive liberty, and recommend increasing it through social welfare programs (rival by nature to negative liberty).

So with all of this discussed, consider what you personally believe to be Freedom (aka Liberty), as an underlying assumption in your political beliefs. It may lead to a broader, more understanding perspective of your current political rival, and should further help evolve the basis of your own platform preferences.

Work Cited:
1. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberty-positive-negative/

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