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November 11, 2007

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dearieme

"Negative liberty" IS liberty. "Positive liberty" seems to mean, in practice, appropriating someone else's resources - or perhaps confiscating someone else's wealth - or, to be blunt, stealing someone else's money. "Getting grants" for Paul means paying coercive taxes by Peter. It may even be a good idea, but it's got fuck all to do with liberty.

Rob Knight

I can't agree with the first type of positive liberty (it seems too... illiberal), whereas the second type, which you propose, is something I could quite happily support. I'm still unsure as to which camp the majority of LC contributors are in, and worry that it may be the former.

I have in mind a Venn diagram, comprised of two overlapping sets. Set A contains the belief that the state must act to improve the lives of the people, and Set B contains the view that the state must not coerce citizens. As a liberal first and foremost, a I place a very slightly higher importance on Set B than Set A, but I recognise that both are important. For me, the objective of the 'liberal left' should be to discover those policies which exist in the intersection of A and B - those policies which enhance people's lives without coercing them (or others).

I see a few posts on LC which look to me like they'd fit happily in Set A, but do not also intersect with Set B. For this reason, I do have to question whether the use of the term 'liberal' is appropriate for them. But, as an optimist, I have to hope that those whose views lie in the intersection will prevail.

ortega

Liberty as Lotto with an asured price !
When someone tell me, 'just because you are .... (fill it as suits you: human being, european, so handsome,...)' we will give you money and you will have nothing to worry about, is when I start to worry myself.

steve_roberts

Quote "2. Rather than just scrap the minimum wage, a (high) basic income would give people the liberty to choose low-wage work or not."
Your thinking is confused; people have that choice whether or not they are given a basic income.

Planeshift

Yes they have the choice between taking low wage work, starving or benefit fraud (if you turn down jobs whilst on the dole and don't tell them you technically commit fraud). Withdraw benefits/welfare state, as the bloggertarians would like, and you reduce the options to low paid work, starvation or crime. So it isn't really choice.

Alex

Liberty!=low taxes. All kinds of places have inefficient revenue administrations, but they ain't maximally liberal. See: Somalia.

Paulie

"Such views can easily be caricatured as forcing people to be free."

That it is easy to caricature them as such doesn't mean it's often done very well. Simply scroll through the comments thread here if you need this point illustrating.

There is a form of liberalism that appears to work from the base assumption that collective action is neither possible, desirable or morally defensible.

I've never seen that position argued for. I've only ever seen it being asserted.

Katherine

God forbid I introduce such a cliched term, but could there not be a third way? It is not inevitable surely that negative liberties and positive liberties are entirely mutually exclusive.

Katherine

God forbid I introduce such a cliched term, but could there not be a third way? It is not inevitable surely that negative liberties and positive liberties are entirely mutually exclusive.

Rob Knight

Is that not what I said earlier? (Venn diagram and all that?)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venn_diagram

Neil Harding

“more than the absence of state coercion. It must imply the opportunity to positively control one's life, to make something of it.”

That is the best definition of liberty I have heard. Unfortunately it is not a definition that most of the 'bloggertarians' ascribe to. They are pushing the argument (as is the right wing press) that more state is always bad. This is obvious nonsense, and it is essential that we on the left do not lose this argument. We already have some ground to make up - because it has already entered the public's consciousness that the state is bad. There is a lot of heavy lifting for the left to do and LC will help. Well done!

Chris Bertram

Two points:

1. On my own view, to which you allude: I wasn't intending to advocate any particular policy recommendation, I was merely trying to say that if we consider freedom of speech as involving the freedom to participate as an equal citizen, then hate speech laws can look different to how they look when freedom of speech is considered as grounded in a right of the individual to expression. Whether or not any actual laws are justified would depend on a lot of further stuff.

2. Relatedly, you might want to include in your discussion the "republican" concept of liberty as defended by Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit. This involves guaranteeing the individual against dependence on the arbitrary will of particular others.

Trooper Thompson

Neil Harding,

"They are pushing the argument (as is the right wing press) that more state is always bad. This is obvious nonsense"

Presuming a starting point here and now (rather than in a country with no state)why is this 'obvious'?

Paulie,

"There is a form of liberalism that appears to work from the base assumption that collective action is neither possible, desirable or morally defensible"

And there is a common inability amongst left-wingers not to see a distinction between society and the state.

There's nothing in liberalism against collective action, as long as the collective is voluntary and the action is not anti-liberal.

reason

Trooper Thompson - ever heard of the free rider problem?

reason

dearieme
Have you read this:
http://nontrivialpursuits.org/Tax_Policy.htm
I don't think his argument is 100% correct, but he has a point. There is an element of money illusion in your view on taxes. The real cost of taxes is almost certainly lower than the monetary cost.
And as regards liberty - the question you really want to ask is "Who's liberty". The problem is in treating liberty as an absolute and not a relative concept.

Trooper Thompson

"Trooper Thompson - ever heard of the free rider problem?"

What's the relevance of this to anything I've said?

Cleanthes

Trooper Thomson,

Quite so: let's rephrase the question for reason:

If free-riders are a problem in voluntary collective action, why is this not a similar problem with state-coerced collective action?

Shuggy

"Rather than force people to stay in training at 16, they should get grants (EMA or basic income) which give them the real freedom to choose training if they want it. This shows the difference between the two conceptions of positive liberty."

This is obviously (to me, anyway) preferrable to the course advocated by your friends over at the Illiberal Conspiracy but I don't think it overcomes Berlin's criticism of positve liberty - which was, lest we forget, that it isn't liberty at all. It would be probably true to say that people could enjoy liberty better with the measure you suggest - it's just that it is important to maintain the distinction. A welfare benefit is a welfare benefit. Might be good, desirable, economically-efficient, socially just or whatever - it's just that it isn't a liberty.

reason

"If free-riders are a problem in voluntary collective action, why is this not a similar problem with state-coerced collective action?"

Becaue it is coercive? Any difficult questions?

Trooper Thompson

"Becaue it is coercive? Any difficult questions?"

Your answer seems caste-based, and you don't seem bothered by the concept of coercion. Does it appeal? I suppose you want national service brough back?

reason

Ownership is also a form of coercion, it just depends on how you see things.

Have you ever played a team sport? Everybody may want to play center forward, but people accept less glamorous roles and sublimate their personal wants for a common purpose and the acchievement it brings. Somebody who throws a tantrum and walks off half way through is not much use. But if I get my vote in how the team is run, I may not mind so much. In the western world, emigration is allowed.

I actually, have begun to think that national service might be a good idea. But for everyone, at 16 and not necessarily in the military. Get some of those millionaire kids changing bedpans.

reason

Caste-based? Huh?

reason

I wish Libertarians would use normal words in their normal sense instead of speaking in code.

reason

Libertarians seem to me to play a dishonest game. Instead of just honestly saying "I don't like paying taxes" (hey, neither do I) they invent all sorts of pseudo-logic to justify it. Personal taste is OK, it is just that it isn't the same thing as morality.

Trooper Thompson

"Ownership is a form of coercion"

Meaningless blather. You need to check a dictionary, and follow your own advice and "use normal words in their normal sense instead of speaking in code"

Your example of team sport bears little resemblance to my experience in Sunday league football, where decisions were not made by ballot, but by the guvnor.

This team activity was an example of a wholly voluntary collective. Once entered into there were obligations, which I accepted (primarily to turn up on time). My attitude to dragging myself from bed on a Sunday morning would have been wholly different if I was required to do so by the state, notwithstanding the health benefits of all that fresh air.

"Libertarians seem to me to play a dishonest game"

Not at all. In any case, no one was talking about taxes. I see the state as a necessary evil. There are some functions it should be responsible for, and these should be its limits. It has grown far too large. You don't see it because you are at one with it.

Trooper Thompson

"In any case, no one was talking about taxes"

This is incorrect, I acknowledge.

reason

Ownership as a form of coercion...
Heard of right of way disputes or prosecution for poaching game? One man's freedom is another mans restriction. Life is subtle.

reason

Re sport - when I played, we mostly coached ourselves and made decisions at the pub after the games.

Trooper Thompson

Disputes over ownership of particular property have little to do with coercion.

"One man's freedom is another mans restriction"

Well, indeed. I read an interesting blog recently which argued that the best word to describe the libertarian position is consent, rather than the more obvious answers. Referring to an earlier dispute, your problem with such matters is that you are drifting around with no anchor. If you accepted the presupposition of natural rights, including life, liberty and property, then you can move on to agreeing a system by which individual rights are protected, and such disputes over property can be settled as judiciously as possible.

As for our various experiences of team sport, the important thing is that we both entered into this collective action of our own free will. Even if your team voted unanimously for something, I would not be bound by it. Likewise my team's guvnor couldn't tell you what to do.

reason

We can leave our country if we want. (I did, but not because I didn't like it, wanderlust is in my genes).

You misunderstood the issue of property restricting freedom. Ultimately, I am prevented from trepassing on a man's private property (which was given to him without my consent) by threat of violence. I don't see the difference with your demonisation of the state because property rights come from the same source. That doesn't mean I am against property rights au contraire, but I see the argument for them as a pragmatic one and not a matter of principle. As to the right to life, liberty and property, I think even you see all of those as conditional and not absolute (and none of them is actually easy to unambiguously define). I think you, and your fellow travellers, are trying to pretend you have differences of TYPE with the rest of us, when the difference are just mundane differences of degree. Tone down the rhetoric and maybe we will find we lots in common when things are reduced to small careful pragmatic changes. David Brin makes these arguments much better than I do.

reason

If you accepted the presupposition of natural rights, including life, liberty and property, then you can move on to agreeing a system by which individual rights are protected, and such disputes over property can be settled as judiciously as possible.

But I don't so where do we go from there?

You see I don't think even the founders did. After all they started a bloody revolution (natural right of life?), owned slaves (liberty?) and lived on land, much of which was stolen from the original inhabitants (property?). Show me where such rights exist in real nature (i.e. the natural world). Putting the label "natural" on something as every marketing executive knows is a great confidence trick.

Hugo

Forcing people to go to school? What's that got to do with liberty? Nothing.

Hugo

Further to the first comment, "Negative liberty" IS liberty":

I would be happy to use the phrases "positive rights" and "negative rights". Negative rights=liberty. Positive rights = state provision, e.g. right to education.

But "positive liberty" is NOT liberty, and we shouldn't call it liberty. Call it positive rights if you like.

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