[Marxism] South Africa and *Two Concepts of Lib erty*

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Wed Dec 28 08:21:32 MST 2005

On Wed, 28 Dec 2005 08:57:27 -0500 "Michael Hoover" <hooverm at scc-fl.edu>
> >>> borhyaenid at yahoo.com 12/27/05 1:24 PM >>>
> Isaiah Berlin, in "Two Concepts of Liberty" outlined
> the classic bourgeois critique of what he called
> positive liberty, and found in Rousseau the
> theoretical forefather of 20th century
> totalitarianism. 
> <<<<<>>>>>
> believe that j. t. talmon suggested above re. rousseau some years
> prior to berlin's essay, see talmon's _origins of totalitarian 
> democracy...
> re. berlin, i've always thought he was not quite as 'unfriendly' to 
> 'positive liberty' as conventional readings have made him out to
> be...   michael hoover

Berlin rejected positive liberty as a social ideal but he
did not hold that 'negative liberty' ought to be
our exclusive social ideal either. As part of his
famous "pluralism," Berlin argued that we
can and should embrace a multiplicity of
social ideals, while recognizing that we might
have to make tradeoffs between them, which
could not be reduced to any sort of a simple
algorithm. So while embracing 'negative liberty,'
Berlin also recognized equality as a valid social
ideal too as a requirement for a decent society,
and that we would inevitably have to accept that
there would be tradeoffs between the requirements
of these two ideals. Thus, in contrast to the libertarians,
who adhere exclusively to the ideal of 'negative liberty,'
Berlin embraced the post-WW II welfare state that
emerged in the UK.

As I understand Berlin, he thought that his pluralism
would make allowances for the valid claims of
the proponents of 'positive liberty,' while avoiding
what he believed to be the dangerous totalitarian
implications of that ideal.

Karl Marx in his youthful essay, "On the Jewish
Question," famously critiqued 'negative liberty'
as a social ideal when he wrote:

"None of the so-called rights of man, therefore, go beyond egoistic man,
beyond man as a member of civil society – that is, an individual
withdrawn into himself, into the confines of his private interests and
private caprice, and separated from the community. In the rights of man,
he is far from being conceived as a species-being; on the contrary,
species-like itself, society, appears as a framework external to the
individuals, as a restriction of their original independence. The sole
bond holding them together it natural necessity, need and private
interest, the preservation of their property and their egoistic selves."

"It is puzzling enough that a people which is just beginning to liberate
itself, to tear down all the barriers between its various sections, and
to establish a political community, that such a people solemnly proclaims
(Declaration of 1791) the rights of egoistic man separated from his
fellow men and from the community, and that indeed it repeats this
proclamation at a moment when only the most heroic devotion can save the
nation, and is therefore imperatively called for, at a moment when the
sacrifice of all the interest of civil society must be the order of the
day, and egoism must be punished as a crime. (Declaration of the Rights
of Man, etc., of 1793.) This fact becomes still more puzzling when we see
that the political emancipators go so far as to reduce citizenship, and
the political community, to a mere means for maintaining these so-called
rights of man, that, therefore, the citoyen is declared to be the servant
of egotistic homme, that the sphere in which man acts as a communal being
is degraded to a level below the sphere in which he acts as a partial
being, and that, finally, it is not man as citoyen, but man as private
individual [bourgeois] who is considered to be the essential and true

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