Restriction of Individual Rights and FreedomsJune 28, 2021
We have mentioned in other headings the reasons why democracy is the most preferred form of government today. But can democracy provide unlimited freedom to all its citizens?
This question also requires us to ask questions such as what is freedom, does it have limits, is it possible for everyone to be free to the extent they want, without any limitations. In today’s conditions, in societies that exist under the umbrella of a state, it is not possible to talk about the right of everyone to do what they want whenever they want. The value of democracy manifests itself in giving the individuals the right to elect the people who will govern them, and in securing their fundamental rights and freedoms such as directing their private lives as they wish, owning property and protecting the properties they have acquired, provided that elected politicians comply with the legal arrangements made through the legislature.
So, “Where does the freedom of the individual living in the society begin and where does it end?”, “To what extent is the intervention of the state or state-affiliated institutions legitimate or can it be?” Asking questions seems inevitable. For political philosophers who put these important problems on their agenda and seek solutions, there is no single answer or one solution. Now let’s take a look at the different approaches that have been put forward on the axis of the restriction of the freedoms of the individual.
The first of the two main views that can be called liberal and republican has found support in more English-speaking cultures since the British philosopher John Locke’s publication of Two Treatises of Government. It was developed by thinkers such as Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin in the th century. Here, we will focus on a distinction put forward by Berlin and we will discuss the problem of the limits of individual freedom through this distinction. According to Berlin, it is possible to understand freedom in two ways, one being negative and the other positive (Berlin 2008, p. 52). Negative or, as Berlin uses, negative freedom is that the individual is not hindered in his actions by groups of other people. In this sense, political freedom is the state of being able to act without being hindered by others (ibid.). Positive freedom, on the other hand, results from the individual’s desire to be his own master. Positive freedom is the desire for one’s own life and decisions to be based on oneself, not on any external force. While negative freedom is not being hindered in one’s actions, positive freedom is being the subject of one’s decisions and actions, and the determination in one’s actions comes from oneself, not from the outside.
By negative and positive freedom, I. Berlin means that individuals should not be hindered in their actions by others and that they should be the subjects or determinants of their own actions.
In negative freedom, as can be understood from the question raised above, the absence or ineffectiveness of the human-made barriers that hinder the actions of the individual, namely the actions of institutions, including the state, or of other individuals, come to the fore. In short, by negative freedom, it is understood that the individual is free from something-someone. In positive freedom, the understanding that the individual is the master of his own destiny, in other words, that the individual is free to do something, is the subject of his decisions; but here, as mentioned before, the impact of other individual or institutional mechanisms that affect the individual’s preferences comes into question.
While negative freedom focuses on the question of the extent to which an individual can be protected from interference and restraints, positive freedom focuses on the question of what factors control or determine an individual’s action in this or that direction.
Another important thinker of the 20th century, Jürgen Habermas (1929-), compared liberal and republican views in the context of negative and positive freedom, and came to the conclusions that we will now discuss. According to Habermas, the liberal view limited the task of the democratic process to the programming of state administration in accordance with the interests of society. Accordingly, the political will of the citizens first brings together personal interests, and then defends these interests against an administrative apparatus composed of politicians specialized in using political power for collective purposes for the administration of society (Habermas 1999, p. 37). However, according to the republican view, politics, used in the sense of the political will of the citizens, is much more than an interest-oriented individual-state mediation by liberals and forms the basis for the processes in society as a whole (ibid.).
According to Jürgen Habermas, liberal viewers tend to understand and explain the democratic process more in terms of negative freedom, and republican views more in terms of positive freedom.
This assessment of Habermas gives us the essentially liberal view of negative freedom articulated by Isaiah Berlin.