How Much Longer Can The Radical Right Ignore Positive Liberty?

Isaiah Berlin

Von Mises even went so far to insist that true democracy was via money spent and not votes. He effectively argued that “one dollar, one vote” was more effective and preferable than “one man (sic) one vote”. To sort of quote Mises: “a society in which every penny represents a ballot is a capitalist society”.

Think of the implications of that philosophy. That *is* what is believed by many powerful people in government today, from Scalia to Clarence Thomas to Paul Ryan to Alan Greenspan- that money *is* democracy.

It’s no wonder that they are in love with the Citizen’s United decision. It fulfills such a world view of what most people outside of their bubble would call a twisted idea of democracy. One where the more money one has, the more “freedom” one has to express oneself.

Yeah, I know…that’s nuts. But that’s what they believe.

These gentlemen of the Austrian school also argued that work is only useful if it produces goods that consumers wish to purchase. They despise the progressive principle that work is necessary for human dignity and that it can be a means of self-realization.

In fact, all of them – Friedman, Von Mises, Hayek, including today’s Alan Greenspan and his crop of libertarians, insisted and insist on recognizing only one kind of freedom – what Isaiah Berlin called “negative liberty”- the freedom to act without constraints.

The folks who adhere to this school of economic philosophy – of economic ideology, really,- insist that there is no such thing as another kind of liberty. The only liberty that exists to them is the one that means that they can act free from constraints. Or, to use GOP vernacular, “free from regulation”.

This *other* kind of freedom was recognized, effectively, by Aristotle, and for that matter, in the writings of Moses and expressed in ancient Judaic law. It was recognized and taught by greats such as Augustine and Aquinas. Yes, even the Catholic Church’s social teachings since the 1890s have recognized this liberty in its modern sense. FDR preached it, too, even reading aloud Catholic social justice tracts verbatim. The Protestant Social Gospel movements of the early 20th century recognized this non-negative freedom as well.

Isaiah Berlin termed it “positive liberty”.

It’s the freedom towards self realization that often comes from selflessly serving one another and society at large. Such self-realization requires available employment. It requires opportunity through affordable education. It requires health care for all so that people can work towards their personal goals.

It’s the freedom to work with a living wage- that is, to work a work week and be able to feed one’s family.

It’s the freedom to breath clean air and drink clean water.

These, and many others, are freedoms -liberties- too.

They’re positive liberties. And we must protect and cherish them. Guard them with all of our beings, if necessary.

Most libertarians hate even the concept of positive liberty, as after all, Ayn Rand wrote a book called “The Virtue of Selfishness”. Some libertarians do recognize it, but only as an inferior to their interpretation of negative liberty. It is assuredly *not* an inferior in any sense.

Positive liberty is the freedom towards self-realization that can only come from a healthy society. FDR, for example, described positive liberty in terms of “freedom from fear and freedom from hunger”

College students recognize it when they marched on Wall Street. They recognized that the greed of Wall Street is damaging their rights towards self realization. That the imbalances created by greed are badly infringing their positive liberties in the forms of self realization and opportunity.

Do the college kids use my words? No- but I bet they wouldn’t disagree with me.

It’s’ becoming more and more obvious that Wall Street’s grasping for more and more and more negative liberty is crowding out everyone else’s right for positive liberty.

As far as I’m concerned, another way to define “positive liberty” is, well, to use an old fashioned phrase, “the American Dream”. People can define that dream however they want- as an education, or as owning a house, or perhaps a successful business.

To me, though, all of those concrete desires come down to the positive concept of liberty, that is, the freedom of opportunity and of self realization.

That is why so many people perceive the “American Dream” as being in trouble. To use my words, they perceive that our positive liberties are endangered.

And they are quite correct in their perception.


About zghortaman
Attempting to navigate the modern day with every tool available

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