Image citation: La Liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix, licensed under Wikimedia Commons
The first to this piece focused on the role of the state, however the reality continues to remains flawed. The idea of constitutional rights continues to embark on the road of being at odds with the original legal inception of what the function of government should be, ideally be. We now know that the State must ensure our security, forming a police force who can prevent internal issues but also it must conform to an army which has to have the capacity to protect people against the force of foreign countries. The second function is to ensure justice in the face of rights violations against injured individuals. It must establish judges and courts that judge and enforce equality before the law and the rule of law.
Until previously, we talked about the justification of individual rights and the reasons for the State´s foundation. However, inside the liberal thought we can find difficult paradoxes that we need to resolve. Let’s start with the problems raised by Isiah Berlin. In his essay “Two Concepts of Liberty ” we can find the idea of negative liberty as “freedom from chains, from imprisonment, from enslavement by others. The rest is an extension of this sense, or else metaphor” (Berlin, 1958). This sense of freedom refers to the absence of coercion, absence of external restrictions on the individual’s actions . We are free when we are not tied to the will of another, when we can decide for ourselves what to do without anyone deciding for us; this is the idea of negative freedom: a freedom that demands that others do not interfere with our individual freedom, no other individual nor the State. Positive freedom, on the other hand, speaks of the ability to act according to our own will and self-determination. It not only implies the absence of external obstacles but also speaks to us about the self-realization of the person, oriented towards their aims and values. We have to have the possibility to choose not only between the options that we have, also that we have to choose between options that we want.
From both ideas arises a complex contradiction: the problem of understanding freedom as absence of coercion or as power of choice. These senses of freedom are not only different, but they are contrary and antagonistic. If I maintain that no one should interfere in my life and that I should be given total license to act – as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others – I will find myself in the uncomfortable situation of having to interfere in the lives of some to guarantee the freedom of choice of others. Positive freedom implies intervention because in order to choose or select among all the options available in the world, I need resources, and for the State to obtain those resources, it must take them from other people.
Let’s see it with a simple example: The State tells us that we all have the right to our private property and that no one can be arbitrarily deprived of it (negative freedom). At the same time, they tell us that we all have the right to access university education, and that allowing such access is the role of the State (positive freedom). Thus, the State decides to establish state-funded universities through taxes. However, education has not been the only service provision that the State has attributed to it as a presumed right; it also offers free medical care, financing for national films and plays, free football matches, and subsidies for purchasing airline tickets and hotel stays. Education and healthcare are a right, they say, but so are culture, national identity, and the well-known right to travel and relax on a good vacation. Obviously, none of this is free. Individuals as a whole will have to pay for it through high taxes or suffer the well-known consequences of inflation, seeing their right to private property dilute in the face of the advance of new positive rights.
There are others two paradox that we can introduce on this article: On one hand, if we decide to create a state strong enough to stop all individuals from performing certain actions that violate the life, liberty or property of others; if we give such strength to an entity and the access to a immense amount of resources, if we give it the monopoly of legitimate violence How do we ensure that such a State does not become the main violator of rights? How do we restrain it so that it limits itself to the fulfillment of its assigned functions? How do we strike a balance between anarchy and leviathan? This is one of the most difficult and important issues facing liberalism today, especially in the face of the rise of interventionist and totalitarian states.
Alexis de Tocqueville provided an answer to this complicated mess: a type of decentralized democracy, with individuals committed to their society and involved in civil associations that could solve common problems. Through democracy, we can either empower or contain this Leviathan. We empower it when we demand that the State participate in all the private problems and issues of citizens, giving it excessive power. We contain it if we understand its role and the importance of citizen participation in problem-solving and goal achievement. We can control the State through democracy, but we must not succumb to its degeneration: despotism, a situation where the State encompasses everything and there is no room for citizens’ liberties.
The second liberal paradox we may encounter is found in the very creation of a coercive entity as opposed to our pursuit of liberty. Great thinkers such as Hayek, Rand or Bastiat have dedicated their lives to the defense and promotion of individual rights; at the same time they have philosophically legitimized and assigned roles to the State. Do we liberals have an internal contradiction in upholding freedom and at the same time creating an entity that limits it? Is there such a thing as a natural or absolute freedom, or do we always oscillate between different degrees of freedom and coercion?
Of course, the debate or resolution of these complicated questions cannot be resolved in this brief reel. The defense of freedom and more precisely the battle for ideas confront us with these and other problems, inviting us to reflect and to rehearse some possible answers. Together we must think about these answers: the answers for freedom.