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The Inversion of Liberty: Isaiah Berlin and Coercion in the Name of Liberty
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Government.
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This article reconstructs Isaiah Berlin’s ’inversion thesis': the notion that positive liberty leads to coercion in the name of liberty. Previous research has understood Berlin as analysing the logical implications of positive liberty; or, alternatively, as observing a mere historical fact with no apparent explanation. This paper suggests that there is a third, psychological, layer to Berlin’s argument. The inversion of liberty, I argue, is best understood as a psychological process intimately linked to Berlin’s insistence on the treacherous, at times dangerous, power of ideas over our actions – even when these actions are not logically justified but only appear so to us. My reading implies that the numerous examples of positive liberty which Berlin provides are united by a pattern that he believes makes these ideals more liable than others to lead their advocates to the fallacious conclusion that coercion is an act of liberation. I show that Berlin traced this risk to two elements in positive liberty: their focus on freedom from internal rather than external constraints to the self, and their interest in preference formation rather than preference enaction. Finally, I show that Berlin’s warnings are not exhausted by the Enlightenment notion of liberation by reason, the popular target among contemporary theorists concerned with repression in the name of liberty. My reading shows that Berlin saw romantic ideals of liberty, such as authenticity and self-realization, as equally vulnerable to this inversion – the very ideals of liberty, one might add, that are currently on the rise in public opinion.

Keyword [en]
romanticism, enlightenment, autonomy, authenticity, psychology, values, repression, tolerance
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
Research subject
Political Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-159136OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-159136DiVA: diva2:442661
Projects
The Impact of Religion
Available from: 2011-09-22 Created: 2011-09-21 Last updated: 2011-11-04
In thesis
1. Treacherous Liberties: Isaiah Berlin's Theory of Positive and Negative Freedom in Contemporary Political Culture
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Treacherous Liberties: Isaiah Berlin's Theory of Positive and Negative Freedom in Contemporary Political Culture
2011 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Förrädiska friheter : Isaiah Berlin's teori om positiv och negativ frihet i samtida politisk kultur
Abstract [en]

Contemporary attitudes in affluent Western societies are characterised by a growing emphasis on individual freedom. What, then, does this commitment to liberty entail for our openness to diversity; and ultimately for liberal democracy? Previous research on popular attitudes, for example by Ronald Inglehart, tends to assume that valuing freedom entails an encouragement of a plurality of life-styles. This thesis, by contrast, argues that there are several ideals of freedom in public opinion; ideals that may have opposing consequences for our permissiveness towards ways of life that differ from our own.

The introductory essay in this book suggests that Isaiah Berlin’s theory of positive and negative freedom provides a fruitful analytical framework, which helps theorise and empirically nuance our picture of popular ideals of freedom. Essay I goes on to present a novel, psychological, interpretation of Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty. This essay also suggests that Berlin was critical not only of enlightened ideals of positive liberty, but also of romantic ones, which might be even more widespread today. Essay II then applies Berlin’s framework to contemporary survey data. Through confirmatory factor and regression analyses, this essay demonstrates that Berlin’s negative-positive distinction does in fact hold also in popular opinion; and that the two dimensions have rather different effects on moral and legal permissiveness. Essay III, finally, revisits a recent example of disrespect in the name of liberty: the Danish cartoon controversy. This essay develops the concept of ‘romantic liberalism’, thereby deepening our knowledge of romantic ideals of positive liberty, and their particularly disrespectful tendencies.

Drawing on Isaiah Berlin, and his critique of positive liberty, the essays in this thesis together suggest that it is crucial for liberal democracy to recognise the existence of treacherous liberties: ideals that lead their supporters to ridicule, condemn, or even prohibit ways of life that differ from their own – all in the name of liberty.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2011. 130 p.
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 73
Keyword
freedom, liberty, values, autonomy, authenticity, tolerance, liberalism, permissiveness, Romanticism, Enlightenment, diversity, Inglehart, political culture, civicness, factor analysis
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
Research subject
Political Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-158848 (URN)978-91-554-8165-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2011-11-04, Brusewitzsalen, Statsvetenskapliga institutionen, Gamla Torget 6, Uppsala, 13:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Projects
The Impact of Religion
Available from: 2011-10-14 Created: 2011-09-18 Last updated: 2011-11-04Bibliographically approved

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