Positive freedoms

Read an interesting interview with Francis Fukuyama about the difference between “negative freedoms” (freedom from) and “positive freedoms” (freedom to), and the challenges faced by modern liberal societies.

The practical problem is whether you can generate a set of values that will politically serve the integrating liberal purposes you want. This is complicated because you want those values to be positive and mean something, but you also can’t use them as the basis for exclusion of certain groups in society.

It is possible that we could succeed at doing one without the other. For example, the grounds of success of the American political experiment is that it has created a set of “positive” values that served as the basis for national identity but were also accessible to people who were not white and Christian or in some way “blood and soil” related to Anglo-Saxon Protestant founders of the country.

These values are the content of the American Creed—belief in individualism, belief in work as a value, belief in the freedom of mobility and popular sovereignty.

Samuel Huntington calls these “Anglo-Protestant values,” but at this point they have become de-racinated from these roots. You can believe them no matter who you are or where you came from.

As kind of a practical solution to the positive value problem, it works pretty well.

As someone “ ‘blood and soil’ related to Anglo-Saxon Protestant founders of the country,” I can’t really comment on whether the values he lists have become de-racinated, but I think he has captured the core “positive freedoms” of America.

(From NPQ—New Perspectives Quarterly—via A&LD)

One Reply to “Positive freedoms”

  1. I remember making fun of Milton Freedman’s concept of freedom (his book “free to choose”) as being “freedom to shop”. It’s quite possible to see this as a positive freedom. The right to consume one of a selection of alternatives that one can afford. I find myself a little horrified by this concept — it means, mainly, being a passive recipient of stuff, and being satisfied with the rules and limits set by others.

    Contrast this with the freedom to create, including and inevitably to create oneself. What is the difference between a Second Life chair you create and give to friends vs. a chair you buy at the virtual mall? The difference might (or might not) be that the bought chair is far better crafted and good looking than a chair you make for yourself. Someone who learns to make chairs not only gets the product of their work but also learns something about who they are as a maker.

    The value of individualism in shopping mode is far inferior to the value of making things, learning to make things, and just plain learning. And its the empowerment of the freedom to create that ends up helping to build democratic institutions.

    Historically US communities, like those in many other parts of the world often banded together to build a school or meetinghouse, to raise a barn or fight disease. It really is the freedom to create (and create oneself) both individually and collectively that is the valuable thing in US heritage. Fortunately US society did not originate has no monopoly on those values.

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