Author Archives: Geoffrey Lewen

Liberty, federalism and the conservative statesman

Isaiah Berlin

Good government in a free society keeps positive and negative liberty in balance. These two forms of liberty are out-of-balance today.

Positive and negative liberty – definitions

In his 1958 lecture, “Two Concepts of Liberty”, Isaiah Berlin established the modern framework for discussions of liberty, and with it a model for federalism based on positive and negative political liberty.

According to Berlin, negative liberty describes the extent to which one is free of obstacles to one’s actions.  Negative political liberty acts inwardly and restricts “the area in which a man can act unobstructed by others.”  Conversely, positive liberty refers not to “freedom from…”, but rather “freedom to…”, for instance, freedom to be in control of one’s destiny.   Such self-actualization is an expression of positive liberty, which by its nature acts outwardly.