Positive and Negative Freedom

There is a distinction in political philosophy between positive and negative freedom:

We commonly think of freedom as existing where there is no external restriction or coercion: you are free so long as there is no obstacle preventing you from doing what you want to do. This is what Berlin calls ‘negative freedom’. In considering the circumstances in which it is permissible for society to curtail such freedom, Berlin supports the ‘harm principle’ associated particularly with the Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill. This stipulates that individuals should be left free by the state to act in any way that does not damage the interests of others. In this way an area of individual freedom can be defined, a private space that should remain sacrosanct and immune to outside interference. Freedom in this sense is always a compromise between individuals living together in society. ‘What freedom means,’ wrote the British dramatist Tom Stoppard in 2002, ‘is being allowed to sing in my bath as loudly as will not interfere with my neighbour’s freedom to sing a different tune in his.’

Now imagine a person who has liberty in this negative sense but lacks the wealth, education or other resources, mental or physical, to act upon it. Is such a person fully free? Suppose that there is some course of action that you should take, and would take if you were not prevented by want of the necessary material means or by a deficiency in character or vision. What you lack in this case is what Berlin calls positive freedom: a form of empowerment or autonomy that allows you to fulfil your potential or to meet your destiny.

Dupré, Ben (2011-04-27T23:00:00+00:00). 50 Political Ideas You Really Need to Know (50 Ideas You Really Need to Know series) (Kindle Locations 96-100). Quercus. Kindle Edition.

The belief in my good and evil destinies, both types of positive freedom, supposes that those in authority are allowed to promote my better side, even if it is evil.  I have my destiny in mind, the one I find good.  The authorities have my destiny in mind, the one I find evil. I then am an agent of the state in one view of my positive freedom, and an agent of license and deviance in the other, more evil view of my positive freedom.  Am I free to choose which destiny is mine, when one is supported by the government and one is not?  Am I free to choose deviance, when it suits my particular view of life, but not the view of those in power over my life?  Am I free to choose the more meaningful of the two?  Am I able to use my choice for personal transformation and self-realization?  Or am I forced to accept blindly which is the more lucrative and powerful position?  This resembles in my mind that scene from The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader is tempting the temporarily defeated Luke Skywalker to join him and rule the galaxy together as father and son. It is certainly Luke’s positive freedom to do so. That would coincide with Darth Vader’s choice, however.  And it carries consequences. Luke would have to give up his idealism, his friendships, and his power as an individual, in order to become just like his father, and ignore the potential for self-transformation and self-realization of being a Jedi Knight.  To say one is better than the other supposes a view on the nature of freedom.

It seems that the government offers select people the option to buy into their corporate self.  What freedom is that?  Is there a special hat that we get to wear too?

I submit this quote for consideration:

‘Those who have ever valued liberty for its own sake believed that to be free to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an inalienable ingredient in what makes human beings human.’

– Isaiah Berlin, 1969