Freedom has been described by many as” the absence of any constraints” to an individual and the public in general, both external and internal. In essence, “political freedom regards the matter of the relation of power”, which exist and are held “between individuals, and between the individuals and the state” (McHugh, 2006). Within the realm of political theory, the state may impose such constraints against the self realization and actualization of its citizens. The concepts of both negative and positive freedom have never been sufficiently or fully distinguished, on which of the two is “most worthwhile” or suitable, on the basis of the many arguments proposed in support if either (JSTOR, 2011).
The concept of positive freedom can be simply described as “the freedom to do something rather than freedom from interference” (McHugh, 2006). This in contrast to negative freedom would refer to “the matters” where the individual has “the right to actually do” (McHugh, 2006). All the doors in this regard are open to the individual, who is given discretion by the state to act upon the issues involved, without any impositions and constraints. The concept behind negative freedom is centered on freedom from any interference on the individual by the state. It raises the personal areas of the individual’s life and the rights that the state should not interfere with or impose laws governing such.
These include freedom of speech, the rights to fair trial, rights to private property, freedom of worship and religion and rights to access to public facilities among others. The negative freedom of the individual is restricted, when the authoritative state by use of its power, impedes and restricts the number of personal choices and decisions that can be made regarding their life. This kind of freedom in essence would refer to the matters where the individual is a not allowed to act (McHugh, 2006). A balanced approach in their application by the state would be of benefit to its citizens, as it would be impractical for either one to exist without the other (Wempe, 2004).
Negative freedom spells out the acceptable limits of interference in the individual life, reduces the personal choices that can be made by an individual. This limits the chances that they have in “the process of self realization”, subsequently impeding personal development. The concept also proposes the fact that these choices have different status and significance in the lives of the citizens. Some choices have more impact on the people while others are regarded to be of a lesser impact in influencing their lives, as generally agreed by the state. Freedom of worship is an important freedom as compared to the freedom of having to choose from between a wide variety of a given basic commodity such as soap. Using this kind of freedom (negative), the state uses its power and mandate in “determining the type of choices” that are presented, limiting those deemed sensitive to its cause. This situation ends “up locking doors” of opportunity to individual progress and subsequent progress as a nation ().
It can be easily noted in countries around the world, on how such constraints on individuals and the public in general, impose limits in the growth of essential sectors of a country (Draughton, 2003). The limiting of freedom of speech in some countries such as North Korea, has greatly curtailed other areas of development like media and foreign investment. Negative freedom reduces and denies individual the opportunity to act, rather than constraining their actions. Many can easily say that it is of no benefit to the individual’s lives, but a deeper look past the surface can reveal its importance to the security and right to enjoy life, of each citizen. Many states have legislations imposing that all cars should have seatbelts (in good conditions), and that all individuals should “wear seatbelts while driving.”
This kind of “constraint on the individual driving the car”, and the other occupants, is by far “for their own safety”, and much less to the state’s benefit. According to McHugh (2006), only “the restrictions imposed by other people affect an individual’s freedom”. The political freedom of the individual is limited and curtailed by the actions others (Draughton, 2003). The state in imposing night curfews may target at reducing the cases of mugging and robbery in a given location. The individuals who have the intention to cause harm to others are the ones likely to break these curfews and subsequently violate the others’ freedom fro violent crimes that the imposed curfew is promoting. Such individuals would limit the freedom available to other individuals and not the state.
Positive freedom presents control to the individual, over their lives as opposed to negative freedom. This increases the freedom available to each citizen ensuring that all can realize their individual dreams and goals in life without limiting barriers to their success. The state may in this case not impose any external limitations, but the individual may on personal level, face other forms of constraints in their lives. The positive freedom granted by the state on the individuals to take charge of their lives, is of great benefit to growth, both to the state and its citizens. This is the best kind of freedom in regard to individual lives, but it would depend on the kind of choices that each one makes concerning their lives. The state provides education to its entire people, but it will be upon each person to make the decision on whether to take the provided education or not. Each individual who has taken the given education will only depend on their choices to work hard in achieving their desired grades and not on any impositions made by the relevant authorities (JSTOR, 2011). All the types of choices and decisions are freely made accessible to all, and in some cases, the state may choose to widen the scope of choices in areas that are perceived to be of primary relevance to their lives.
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With this type of freedom (positive), it is the individual who has the mandate on deciding what choices are significant to their lives. This forms the basis for the actions taken in the lives. Positive freedom provides opportunity to all individuals without government or state imposed restrictions to personal growth. This political freedom would only work within the confines of acting for beneficial reasons to other individuals in the society, community and state as well. The state does indirectly impose restrictions in this freedom, as one would not be allowed to negatively cause any kind of harm to others by the choices of actions they take (Silier, 2005). States have laws to protect each individual’s right to live, which may accidently be taken away by another individual’s right to engage in the sport of game shooting. The state has to impose legislations in regulating individual relations and such an overlap of negative freedom by the state into the freedom of choice, is a common feature between the two types of freedoms. Positive freedom is by comparison of great benefit to individual life but this can be refuted on the basis of careless and inconsiderate choices being made by others in regard to the safety of others.
Of great note is that it presents each individual with the “opportunity of taking advantage” of having “the control over their lives” by making the most appropriate choices. Within the “concept of negative freedom”, the opportunities presented to the individuals by the state determine the “extent of their political freedom”, whereas positive freedom befits all opportunities to the individual, who all have equal chances, but will depend on “personal capacity to take rational options“ in bettering their lives (Warburton, 2004). In achieving “true freedom” regardless of the state and other factors, the individual must have the capacity to take over the control of their own impulses. According to McHugh (2006), “positive freedom may only be achievable” when people are able “to constrain their lower selves (impulses) in their actions” (). This can also be reflected in “emphasizing collective control” of all citizens, “over the common life” within the state (Silier, 2005).
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There also exist other factors, outside the state, that present constrains to an individual’s positive freedom. These may be internal obstacles can be lack of appropriate education, having personality problems, the presence of disease or even the individual’s own lack of personal motivation in making their lives better among others (Draughon, 2003). External factors not related to the state such as the physical environment and general poverty, also greatly present obstacles in the individual’s lives, who may fail eventually to realize their given freedom (McHugh, 2006).
The concept of having an ideal state of positive freedom is apparently unachievable in regard to the different perspectives that may be held different individuals and variety of groups within a given state. This forces the political concept of positive freedom to have the need for some restrictions to be imposed by the state (Warburton, 2004). The state, having the mandate of ensuring that all the citizens’ rights are safeguarded, requires using the concept of negative freedom, in constraining actions that are deemed to be harmful to others. Both types of political freedom are essential in their relevant application by the state. I hold the personal opinion that positive freedom has a superior disposition as it offers favorable circumstances each individual to succeed without placing any limits. At the same time, the state should ensure that each person’s freedom is not infringed upon by others.
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