EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY INSTITUTE
LANGAGE ET POLITIQUE
LANGUAGE AND POLITICS
Edited by Sous la direction de
Maurice Cranston - Peter Mair
1 9 8 2
I.S.B.N. 2-'027/0294/7 Bruylant
Copyright 1982 Institut Universitaire Européen
Nuova Grafica Filreritina - Firenze
Manufactured in Italy - Imprimé en Italie
THE LANGUAGE OF LIBERTY
The language of liberty has long been the despair of exact thinkers. The words "liberty" and "freedom" have been used in a multitude of senses, sometimes inconsistent, often confused, always emotive. But whereas many have thought to deal with similar inexactitude in the use of the word "democracy" by banning it altogether from the vocabulary of politics, few have dared to do so with "liberty" and "freedom". The words are too important and what they stand for is too precious for us to be able to dispense with them altogether, and, rather than ban them, we tend to define them, choosing those definitions that reflect our owi,. predilections or will yield the consequences which will best advance our argument. I am subject to the same temptations myself, and in trying to elucidate the language of liberty, I am viewing it from a definite philosophical standpoint, and may be unwittingly distorting what I see. In particular, I am trying to give a more unitary account of the concept than perhaps the variegated uses of language will admit of, and shall seek to show how the different facets of freedom all stem from the same fundamental concern, and that although we can properly distinguish "freedom to" from "freedom from", and perhaps both from "freedom of', and although the distinction between "negative freedom" and "positive freedom" made famous throughout the Englishspeaking world by Sir Isaiah Berlin's inaugural lecture as Chichele Professor in the University of Oxford 1 is a real and important one, nevertheless the relation between them is not merely a contingent or psychological one, but a logical one, connecting different aspects of a single concept.
We can start with etymology. Both the Romance and the Teutonic roots reveal certain significant affinities. The Latin word "li-
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ber" means both a free man and a child. The English word "free", along with the German "frei", the Old Saxon and the Old High German "fri" and Gothic "freis" are connected with "friend" and its cognates and meant originally dear. The two roots have develope in opposite directions - the Roman paterfamilias described his children as liberi because they were the freed men of his household, those whom love had emancipated from his absolute sway, whereas the Teuton recognised as free those whom he held dear to him, those who were his friends - but the end result is the same: freedom was originally a matter of status; to be free was not to be free from legal restraint nor to be free to do what one liked, but to be recognised as a full member of the community, a person who counts, an enfranchised member of society. I may not be able to do as I please. I may be subjected to the critical scrutiny of my peers in even my most private fife. But if I am made to believe that I count, that I am not the mere recipient of orders but am a fully accredited agent of the community, whose views deserve respect and are regularly accorded it, then I shall regard myself as more of a person, more held in esteem, more a recognised scion of society, and therefore possessed of greater freedom and more liberated than if, through neglect of indifference, 1 am left uninterfered with to stew in my own juice. Hence the paradox, which all liberals find distressing, of countries in the Third World which have lost important liberties that the Colonial powers used to secure for them, and yet believe that they are more free. 2 What is revealed is not so much a paradox as a regression. The negative liberties which the liberal prizes are a fairly advanced manifestation of liberty under somewhat sophisticated conditions, and under the more primitive conditions of the underdeveloped countries the search for status takes a less developed form.
Within the small and intimate circle of a family, a group of friends, a monastery, perhaps a university department or a college, I can feel myself a full member without any formal structure of decision-procedures, and under stress of war, excitement of nationalism or caught up in some movement of the age I may feel myself represented by Churchill, Castro or Chomsky. My own views may actually be known and taken into account, or I may be swept along so much by the current of group dynamics that I cease to hold any opinion that runs counter to the general tide. And in such cases I can identify with every decision taken, regard it as my own, and see it as an exercise of my own liberty of action. But in larger societies not under the
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sway of some charismatic leader, there will be differences of opinion about what ought to be done, and not every decision will be taken by some plenary sovereign whose decision can plausibly be represented as the decision of each and every citizen. There will be questions of who decides what. And then questions of liberty, in the liberals' sense of the word, begin to arise.
Isaiah Berlin sees negative and positive freedom as answering two different questions: "What is the area within which the subject... is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other personsy' and "What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?" 3 He is right to put the questions thus in characterizing the phenomenology'of freedom, but in explicating the concept we need to answer both questions in both cases. We need, that is, to be able to say who decides what issues, and, although it is often convenient within limits to reverse the order, the second interrogative the what - needs to be answered before we can address ourselves to the first - the who. When we know what the issue is - whether to declare war, whether to build a multi-storey car-park on the site of the Cathedral, whether Johnny should go to a school where they teach Greek or to the local comprehensive, whether Jack should marry Jill - we can have opinions about who should decide. In many cases the decision affects few or only one person, and we go a second mile with Marsilius of Padua and say that they are the persons to decide. In the extreme, but conunon case, where one person alone is concerned, he alone is the proper person to decide. Negative liberty begins to appear as a special case - the unit case, so to speak - of liberty, in which we recognise a man's standing by delegating to him those decisions that are properly his, giving him discretion to act in his own provincia, minding our own business and allowing him to mind his, all in accordance with the ancient adage to ta hautou prattein, which Plato took as a definition of dikaiosune, not eleutheria. But this is only a beginning, and negative liberty goes well beyond a simple delegation of decision-making. There are few decisions that have no effect on anybody but the decision-maker. It matters greatly to Jill whether Jack marries her or not, and she should have some say in the business. It matters to the school whether Johnny goes to it or not, and the nose of the Local Education Authority may suffer severe dislocation if clever boys spurn socially integrated schools for the sake of mere book-leaming. Many
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decisions affect more than one person, and therefore even if we accept the principle of delegation, there are bound to be demarcation disputes. To resolve these we adopt two, opposed policies. In the first place, we include all those who will be seriously affected by a proposed decision, and give each of them a veto. Jack cannot marry Jill against her wishes. Johnny cannot go to Manchester Grammar School if Manchester Grammar School does not want him, nor need he go to Moss-Side Comprehensive if he and his parents object. This at once introduces an asymmetry into certain sorts of decisionmaking: where more than one person is involved, all must agree for it to be decided one way, and any dissentient voice is enough to decide it the other. Each man has a veto, and therefore the project cannot go ahead without his consent. He is free from its being done against his wishes. I am free from being imprisoned, assaulted, operated on, having unwelcome strangers come into my room, or being conscripted to serve as President, Prime Minister, Archbishop, ViceChancellor or Proctor. I may immure myself in a convent cell, I may play football, I may undergo plastic surgery to restore my youthful looks, I may have friends dropping in, I may be honoured to be appointed to onerous offices, but in every case it is with my consent. I can say No. And therefore in planning my future life, l can, if I want, count on these things not happening. My dreams may not come off, and I may not be the popular success I had hoped: but my nightmares cannot come true; I cannot wake up to find myself married to Winifred Frump, with a large bulbous nose, locked up in the Maze, making a speech in the House of Lords, or conferring degrees at Encaenia, for these things cannot happen vithout my having previously taken steps to make them possible. Many states of affairs that are or might be unwelcome cannot come to pass without the consent of him to whom they are, or might be, unwelcome. For them to be brought about without his consent is seen as an interference with him, and from such interferences he is free.
Freedom from is fail-safe, but frustrating. I know that nothing very nasty can be done to me, but at the cost of nothing at all being done, because there is always someone to object, even to my just en)oying myself on my own. Besides including people, we need to exlude them, or nobody will ever be able to do anything. Although an action may impinge on other people, may even cause them harm, that is not a conclusive reason for their being entitled to forbid it. My sporting with Amaryllis even though done in the decent obscurity of
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the shade, may break Winifred's heart, but not all actions should be forbidden on account of the fragility of other people's feelings. Even where the damage done is financial rather than psychological, it should not always be prevented. I may damage you by competing successfully for the job you were after, by undercutting you, by writing a frank reference for you, by voting for your rival. Only certain sorts of damage can be guaranteed against - I can be guaranteed not to be married unwillingly to Winifred only if she is not given a guarantee against relucant spisterhood - and only certain sorts should be guaranteed against. For although it is important to know in our waking hours that nightmares are only nightmares, it is also important not to know that dreams are only dreams: we need to be able to do things, as well as not to suffer them; we are rational agents, not merely sentient patients; and therefore we need to sacrifice the prospect of an entirely anodyne life, so far as the actions of other human beings go, in order to have the opportunity of achieving some of our aims in spite of the neighbours' disapproval or the bad consequences they may have.
Freedom to is the condition of rational agency, being able to make decisions, in the first person, about what to do. lt is no guarantee of success, only a licence to try. I may not be able to do what I want, but if I am free to, I am entitled to consider whether to make the attempt. As often, the negative case shows the logic most clearly. I say I am not free to do something when there is a conclusive reason against. I am not free to go to San Gimignano this afternoon, because we have got a further session of the conference. I am not free to punch Professor Cranston's nose because the laws of ltaly prohibit it. I am not free to stay on in Florence next week, because of my obligations to my pupils in Oxford. As these examples show, there are different sorts of freedom as there are different sorts of reason. I may be legally but not morally free - in many Twentieth Century countries I am legally free to commit adultery - morally, but not socially free - e.g. in some cultures to marry the wife of my choice; socially but not legally free - in time past to engage in duelling, and too often in contemporary societies to drive while drunk. Hence the many different sorts of freedom, and its perpetual elusiveness. I think of doing something, and see at once that it is ruled out as being prohibited by law. I agitate successfully for a change of the law, and think again of doing it, only to find that although now legal it is still severely frowned on by public opinion, and I shall incur a social os-
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tracism so complete as to make life insupportable. Although legally free, I am still not really free. So I join a campaign to change social attitudes, and write sociological articles for The Guardian, The Observer and New Society and create a permissive atmosphere in which almost anything goes. But then, I find that although neither the law nor public opinion will condemn me if I do it, my conscience will. Even if I become morally free to do it, I may not be psychologically free, and even if there is no direct prohibition either of conscience or the subconscious, I may stih have to put it out of mind, on account of other ties of obligation or affection I acknowledge, or simply through lack of titne or money. Freedom is a first-personal concept, but the view of the first person changes with his situation. When I am considering what course of action to pursue, I am free to do something if that course is not ruled out by some prohibition, if there is no No Entry sign at the beginning of the avenue. But even if there is no such sign at the beginning of the avenue, there may well be others 1 shall find if I explore it. It is only after I have been through one door that I discover that the next one is shut. And since there are many reasons against doing things, we often discover them, or come to recognise their full force, only after going a good way towards deciding to do them, and so feel cheated, because we were pipped at the post. Freedom, we feel, is illusory. When we had not got it, we fought hard for it, but now we have got what we fought for, we still cannot do what we want. This feeling, however, is irrational. We have got what we fought for. We are no longer legally - or socially, or psychologically - forbidden from doing it. We are free, so far as the law - or society or our psyche - goes to make the decision whether or not to do it. lt respects our judgement. But, of course, in giving us the decision, it does not, and cannot normally, make the decisions a matter of indifference to us, or cost-free. There are bound reasons that weigh with us, consequences that matter to us, and often the balance of reason or of advantage is so clear that no further deliberation would be called for, and a decision forces itself on us. But it is a different sort of force. The cogency of argument is quite unlike the coercion of the State. Although I seldom can experience the liberty of indifference in deciding what to do, I can still be glad that it is I who am deciding it, rather than having the decision taken for me by some external authority.
Different reasons for not doing something reflect differently upon my status as a rational agent if my reason for not doing some-
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thing is that my master has told me not to, it shows that I am a slave, subject to the opaque commands of an external will. If, however, I am not free to do it because I have told myself not to, it shows that, far from being a slave, I am master of myself, a self-determining agent of high status, a person whose decisions count. If my reason for not doing something stems from myself, or from God, or from Reason itself, or indeed from any other highly esteemed source, then I need not lose status either in my own eyes or in those of other people's in conforming my actions to such eminently good reasons. "l am not free to come to the theatre with you tonight, much as I would like to; I promised to go to a meeting with Tim, and I am a man of my word". "I am not free to have an affair with you; I am a Christian, and am bound by God's commandments". "I am not free to take on this well-paid job; I am obliged to devote all my time and energy to my art" - these are boasts, not confessions of servitude; they show me to be a man of honour, a person of consequence, a recipient of instructions from the most high, a bearer of a great commission, one of the chosen few with a message for mankind. Since in each case the reason for not doing something is internalised, and the authority issuing the prohibition is accepted and made my own, I suffer no derogation of authority in abiding by it, but rather an enhancement, and therefore feel not less of a person but rather more of one, and so, in the original sense of the word, more free. The officer, who holds the Queen's Commission, is under many more obligations than the private, who only has to do what he is told to do, and is otherwise free to pursue his private ends as he pleases. So, too, in the Middle Ages:
"The higher one rose towards Liberty, the more the area of action was covered by law... Law was not the enemy of freedom; on the contrary, the outline of liberty was traced by the bewildering variety of law which was slowly evolved during our period... High and low alike sought liberty by insisting on enlarging the number of rules under which they lived... It was only when the quality of freedom was articulated by being attached to the status of knight, burger or baron that it could be observed, analysed and measured... Liberty is a creation of law and law is reason in action; it is reason which makes men, as we should say, ends in themselves" '. 4
Law, that is, if seen by me as reasonable, ceases to be an external restraint on my freedom, and becomes instead a reason I myself adopt, and it shows what an important man I am that I act as an offi-
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cial of the law, applying it in the circumstances in which I find myself in, without having to be told what to do. Whereas the Russian serf is merely the recipient of a ukase from the sovereign to whom he is subject, I am a citizen who shares in law as a common possession, and in observing the law show myself a fully enfranchised member of society and fully accredited agent of it.
In large part, as Professor Cranston observes, 5 our different understandings of freedom stem from different understandings of the self. In as much as I see myself as an entirely rational agent, I shall not see myself as lacking liberty when I am not free to do something on account of a reason I fully understand and accept. In as much as I find my identity as a member of some corporate group, I shall want to do what they want to do, and shall not feel my freedom fettered by the need to make my actions fit in with theirs: although in one sense I am not free, when playing in an orchestra, to disregard the conductor's beat, nor, when speaking the English language, to say "between you and I, I do not construe these restrictions as derogations of my freedom, but simply as rules we have for achieving a common purpose or for constituting a joint activity. Nor is this merely a psychological change of feeling. Rather, it is implicit in the characterization of the action or activity that it is one I can do only in a certain capacity. I cannot play in an orchestra all on my own. I cannot speak the English language and make any noises I happen to like. To play in an orchestra is to do something corporately, something describable only in terms of what the whole orchestra is doing. To speak the English language is to engage in a rule-governed activity in which only certain locutions are correct. Implicit in the answer to the question what (see above) is a partial answer to the question who: if what is being done is a corporate or rational activity, the agent naturally sees himself as having a corporate identity or as being a rational agent. Hence, although it is often largely a matter of psychology, how people see themselves and thus whether they feel free or not, it is also a question of what actions and activities are at issue, and how they are characterized.
Many human actions require co-operation. I cannot dance with you if you will not dance with me. We cannot have a meeting unless we congregate in the same place at the same time. We shall not avoid a collision unless either we each move over to his left-hand side of the road, or we each move over to his right. These rules - coordination norms as they are called in the Theory of Games 6 - un-
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derlie the logic of many social activities, where success comes only if we each act in a way that fits in with what the others do. This introduces a fundamental dependency into our decision-making, which runs counter to the idea of autonomy set forth by Kant and Liberal Protestantism. In the first place, and most obviously, what I do depends on what you have done or are doing. I need to position myself opposite you, or the dance will not begin. Secondly, and more fundamentally, what I am to do next depends on what you are going to do, and vice versa, and this is something neither of us can know by the light of nature: I need to put my right foot where yours is not going to be, or dancing will not be much fun. But your will is free and so is mine, and I cannot predict what you are going to do nor you what I shall do unless we either explicitly indicate our intentions or imphcitly accept some convention. Drivers need to signal clearly and to conform to some Highway Code. The stoic picture of the individual occupying some position in Nature and simply performing the duties of his station is inapplicable to the many situations where there is no one thing that is naturally right, but a variety of possible customs or conventions, any one of which will do so long as everybody else does so too. There is an ineliminable rational opacity about conventions, which spreads out into most of our social life. No law of nature can tell us whether we should drive on the left hand side of the road or the right hand side; it is equally irrational that I should not be free to drive on the right in England or on the left in France; I cannot in either case accept the rational necessity of the rule, and therefore, as the advocates of positive freedom would have me conclude, say that it is no loss of freedom that I cannot drive wherever I want. What I shall say, rather, is that there is a need for some rule or other, and that if the rule is, as it happens to be in England, to drive on the left, then I should drive on the left, and if, as in continental Europe or America, to drive on the right, then to drive on the right. What the Romans do is a contingent matter, not capable of being discovered by pure a priori reason alone: but the injunction "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is a purely rational policy in the light of our necessarily imperfect information about other men's future actions and our need to co-ordinate our actions if corporate endeavours are to achieve success.
It is relatively painless to accommodate negative and positive liberty when co-ordination norms are being applied. If I am pressed, I agree that I am not at liberty to drive on the right in England or on
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the left in France - there is a law against it, and I should soon fall foul of it if I failed to observe it. But what I really want is not to drive on the right or to drive on the left, but simply to drive unimpededly and without fear and collision; and that I am free to do, both in England and in France. I have lost one negative freedom but have secured another, which I can be assumed to value more highly. Similarly, in an orchestra, I give up my freedom to tootle tunelessly at will, as a condition of our being able to concert harmonious symphonies. It is implicit in the description of the latter that I should forgo the former. Merely by using the words "play in an orchestra" I adopt certain goals and espouse certain values, and show the sort of things I want to be free to do, and the sort of unfreedoms I readily accept.
It is different with other rules. Not to be free to play out of tune or out of time is a trfling restriction, but other restrictions are real limitations on my choice. As a husband, I am not free to spend three months in a monastery on Mount Athos; as a father, to throw up my job and write a novel while living on Social Security; as an academic to leave my prejudices unexamined or to give myself over to the apolaustic life. In each of these case I have a variety of different values and desires, not all compatible; it may be that some are better than others, but it is not always a foregone conclusion which should be sacrificed for the sake of which, and even less so which actually will be. Our desires continue obstinately to exist even when we - or our mentors - think they should give way to better ones. Rousseau, Hegel and their successors were greatly at fault in allowing their language to override the recalcitrant individuality of the actual case. It may be that qua citizen, I do not want to frustrate the General Will, just as qua husband I do not want to be separated from my wife, or qua father to abandon my children: but I cannot be adequately described simply as a citizen, a husband, a father. I am each of these, but I am more than these, and have desires that do not disappear simply on account of the way I am talked about. Although I may so much desire what I ought to desire, that all incompatible desires lose their attraction, I may be less single-minded in my pursuit of one goal, and may continue with an unreconstructed self to hanker after other goods, e ven though they are incompatible with it. This is particularly likely in those political situations where we are in a "Prisoners'Dilemma". Prisoners'Dilemmas arise where two or more people will all do better if each forbears to maximise his own individual ad-
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vantage. We all can track down books in the library if each takes the trouble to enter his own borrowings in the register. We all enjoy the benefits of a public transport system if each refrains from fare-dodging or from using his private motor car. We all enjoy the benefits of civil society if each refrains from murdering, raping and stealing.
Protagoras, Plato and Hobbes saw this as the rationale of the State, and although they over-emphasize the importance of Prisoners' Dilemma norms to the neglect of co-ordination norms, they are right in seeing the former as peculiarly pertinent to the problem of political obligations. For the very reason which makes me ready to enter into some social contract, or abide by some custom, or help the law, makes me anxious also lest others may go back on it, abandon it, or break it, and inclines me for my part to do likewise. Whereas in the orchestra there is very little temptation to break ranks and do my own thing, the laws and customs which enable us collectively to break out of the Prisoners' Dilemma inevitably appear to each one of us individually as a restriction on his freedom. It is not a question of the greater value overriding the lesser. The same value is being appealed to throughout. The rationale is one of self-interest - I do .not want to be wronged (adikeisthai) and therefore agree with others not to wrong (adikein) one another - and although there are arguments both of enlightened self-interest and of justice for not going back on the agreement, or abandoning the custom, or breaking the law, it is often difficult to internalise these, and we feel that our freedom is seriously circumscribed. In such cases it is wrong to pretend otherwise. Although some people are sufficiently enlightened, or sufficiently sensitive to the interests of others to feel no temptation to take books without signing for them, to dodge paying taxes, to use a car when they could use a bus, or sometimes to break the law, many are not, and we show inadequate respect for their status as independent entities, if we insist on reconstructing them and their desires according to what we - perhaps correctly - think they ought to be and want. We should accept them as being what they are and respect their wishes as being what they actually are even if not what they ideally should be. That is not to say that we should always allow them to do what they want, but only to acknowledge that if, for good reason, we insist on everyone's forgoing some advantage in order that we all may benefit, we should describe it in just those terms. "You are not free to do it", we say, "even though you might
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well want to do it. It is a real sacrifice of freedom, but a justifiable one. By giving up your freedom to do this, you secure something more valuable - a freedom from others doing it to you, or a freedom to do something else".
It is easy to say that a sacrifice is justifiable, difficult to prove it. In the case of the Prisoners' Dilemma it is peculiarly difficult to prove it, because it is always in a sense, false - it would always be better to enjoy the advantages of others' forbearance without forgoing the further advantage of not forbearing oneself. The hardline liberal position that each man is always and necessarily the best judge of his own interests would mean that no solution of the Prisoners' Dilemma could survive: we must be able to insist that a would-be renegade keeps in line, either on the score of paternalism, that it would be against his long-term interests to break ranks, or on the score of justice, that it would be unfair of him to do so. In either case we are abridging his freedom without his consent, and are appealing from what he actually wants to what he ought to want, were he animated by enlightened self-interest or a disinterested concern for justice. Although we may, in a sense, be forcing him to be free, in as much as, by abridging his freedom to do one thing, we are conferring on him the freedom to do something else, we are, none the less, forcing him, and must face Berlin's second question "What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?".
Contrary to the Contract Theories, we cannot ground all control, all political obligations, on the free choice of the individual. And, as4we have now seen, we cannot eliminate all heteronomous features, as the advocates of rational freedom used to hope, and we do not really respect a man if we presume an agreement he actually disavows. We can, however, respect him in other ways. Although we limit his liberty of action in some respects, we do not do so in all, and when we impose some limitations we do so for good reasons which are prepared to address to him, even if they fail to satisfy him, and although we cannot always defer to his actual preferences, we take them into account and fall in with them where we can. In these ways, although he does not have sole say about what should happen, and could not conceivably in any society in which there were other people with minds of their own, he does have some say. He is not just ordered about, and the laws which limit his liberty of action are ones which he could if he wishes enter into and understand their ra-
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tionale, and which he can criticize and seek to change if he does not like them.
The language of liberty is complex. It arises from deliberation about what ought to be done by a community and who ought to take the decision. For the man or men taking the decision, it sets the boundaries of internal dialogue or debate. If I am not free to do it, I discuss it no longer. It is therefore systematically ambiguous, since there are different contexts of debate with different boundaries, and what may be legally permissible may be morally out of the question, and vice versa. Freedom often, therefore, appears elusive, and the question of whether we are really free to do something seems intractable. In large part this depends on what the action in questions is, and in particular on how it is described. Under different descriptions an action is characterised as part of a social activity or a rational endeavour, and the question whether I am free to do it is the question whether I, as a member of some community, or I, as a rational agent, am free to do it; and the different capacities in which I consider doing it set different contexts of deliberation and therefore determine different boundaries of debate. Hence the interplay between positive and negative liberty. We must be careful, however, not to let our language smooth out too completely conflicts of value between one person and another or within the confines of one man's own deliberations. Although in a certain capacity I should not want to do something, and in many cases do not want to do it, in other cases I may still want to do it. The language of liberty should be scrupulous in recognising the actuality of the individual's choice. It often can indicate a collective or rational point of view from which a restriction that formerly appeared onerous now is acceptable, but it cannot always do so, and where there are unreserved conflicts, the language of liberty should articulate them. How they are ultimately to be settled is a matter not for the language of liberty but for free political institutions. As regards the working of these, all the language of liberry can do is to set the general tone, the background terms in which particular questions are discussed. And the mask of a free society is that the question that comes up for discussion is not "Why should he?" but "Why shouldn't he?".
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1. Two Concepfs of Lliberty (Oxford, 1959); reprinted in Isaiah Berhn, Four Essays on Liberty, (Oxford, 1963).
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