One question raised by the launch of Liberal Conspiracy has been: what’s liberal about it? Here, we must draw two distinctions.
The most obvious distinction is Berlin’s, between positive and negative liberty. To classical liberals and right libertarians, liberty means negative liberty - the absence of state coercion.
However, as I said here, most LC-ers think liberty, to have value, means “more than the absence of state coercion. It must imply the opportunity to positively control one's life, to make something of it.”
This, though, raises a second, more overlooked distinction - if you like, there are two types of positive liberty.
One type is expressed by Ed Balls' and Mike Ion’s support for compulsory post-16 education and training, or by Chris Bertram’s support for laws against hate speech. In this, state coercion can be used to increase people’s (net) control over their lives. Banning hate speech can give minorities more effective freedom by increasing their ability to participate in public life on equal terms. Enforced training can give people more opportunities in later life.
Such views can easily be caricatured as forcing people to be free.
But there’s a second type of positive freedom, which is what I had in mind when I wrote those lines. It’s that people must be empowered to control their lives - they must have real liberty, as well as formal liberty.
This means, for example, greater direct democracy in local and national government, worker control and a no-strings-attached basic income.
Two examples will illustrate this.
1. 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.
2. Rather than just scrap the minimum wage, a (high) basic income would give people the liberty to choose low-wage work or not. This is the difference between negative liberty and liberty-as-empowerment.
I signed up to LC because I support liberty as empowerment.