The Inversion of Liberty: Isaiah Berlin and Coercion in the Name of Liberty
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
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.
romanticism, enlightenment, autonomy, authenticity, psychology, values, repression, tolerance
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
Research subject Political Science
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-159136OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-159136DiVA: diva2:442661
ProjectsThe Impact of Religion