I will choose to define Liberty as the condition in which human beings are able to govern themselves, to behave according to their own free will and take responsibility for their actions. Using the above definition the paper will help understand what liberty actually stands for in the 21st Century. In The Constitution of Liberty (1978) Hayek described liberty as the absence of coercion of a people as a whole. Early this year, Tunisia, a county in North Africa demonstrated their free will. They held demonstrations and protested against the current government and their leader Ben Ali and actually forced him to resign. They referred to his regime as oppressive and subjective. It is through such events that we begin to question ourselves that have we achieved freedom and are we at liberty to do as we please and take responsibility for our actions.
From the definition of Liberty given above, the first part was achieved; which is to act according to own free will. However, what about the constitution that governs Tunisia? Don’t they hold elections? What about the President’s tenure? Since he was re-elected for a five year term in 2009. It would be pointless to have a constitution in place and violate it the next minute or day it stops favoring you. How about the second part, which is to take responsibility for their action? Protests and demonstrations are usually marred with burning or torching of stores and cars, breakings and lootings. Did the oppressed take responsibility for their actions? I think not. It is new regime that will compensate the affected business persons as well as the injured. Though as much as we would love to believe that we are completely liberalized in the 21st Century, we are still lacking in the part for taking responsibility for our actions.
Further, in The Constitution of Liberty (1978) Hayek explains a different meaning of liberty as that inner or metaphysical freedom. It refers to the extent to which a person is guided in his actions by his own considered will, by his reason or lasting conviction rather than by momentary impulse or circumstance. Wikileaks is a website that has taken the world by surprise. Julian Asange the founder of the website a free man by the above definition by Hayek. Being guided in his actions and inner convictions, Asange built a website that contains confidential documents for various governments that he calls leaks. The leaks often provide very confidential information about any country and can be a threat to diplomatic ties. The leaks often lean toward breaking the ties rather than build them. One therefore can begin to wonder is this what we call liberty. Is the website able to govern itself? As far as behaving according to own free will, we know that the website is doing tremendously well.
How about taking responsibility for their own actions? Any website is capable of governing itself, I am confident that their governance structure is defined together with their objective goal. The objective goal of any website is either to advertise or to make money. For wikileaks, it is to make money through ‘generous’ donations. What about the content they decide to leak on the website. Is it governed? And finally, is the website willing to take responsibility for their actions? For argument purposes and diplomatic relations I will choose not to mention names. If Country X and Country Y, Country X a super power and Country Y know for having Islamist activists have diplomatic ties with each other. Then wikileaks leaks a confidential document from Country X’s Embassy in Country Y. The report simply says that the government of Country Y is secretly funding the Islamist radicals in the area and is corrupt and many more damaging remarks to Country Y.
In my own opinion I do not think that Country Y will take the leak lightly. They could even start a war with Country X. For the hard question; if a war broke out between the two countries; will wikileaks take responsibility for their actions? I think not. Their answer would be plain and simple. The two countries decided to go to war on their own accord. They would further claim that their work is to put up information on the website, what you decide to do with the information is up to you. For the above definition of Liberty to be complete, wikileaks must take responsibility for some action. Is it possible to be at Liberty to do anything and not be responsible for your actions? As it seems, in the 21st Century or in the modern world we do have issues and institutions that can term themselves free or liberal and do not take responsibilities for their own actions.
Or is it possible that we find a term to describe structures or institutions that can govern themselves, act according to own free will and do not take responsibility for their own actions. Still on the same book, Hayek (1978) says that whether a person is free or not does not depend on the range of choice but on whether he can expect to shape his course of action in accordance with his present intentions or whether somebody is else has power to manipulate the conditions as to make him act according to that person’s will rather than his own. Freedom thus presupposes that the individual has some assured private sphere, that there is some set of circumstances in his environment with which other cannot interfere.
In Two Concepts of Liberty (1958) Berlin Sought to explain the difference between two different ways of thinking about political liberty which had run through modern thought, and which, he believed were central to the ideological struggles of his day. The two conceptions of liberty were negative and positive. Berlin defined negative liberty as freedom from. This is the absence of constraints as the agent imposed by other people. Berlin defined positive liberty as freedom to. This is the ability to pursue and achieve willed goals and also as autonomy or self rule as opposed to dependence on others. Using Berlin’s definition of Liberty it may contradict my definition of liberty since with Berlin’s definition it is either positive or negative.
The definition given above is neutral as it fence sitting and neither gives positive or negative. Berlin regarded both concepts of liberty as centering on valid claims about what is necessary and good for human beings; both negative and positive liberty were for him genuine values, which might in some cases clash, but in other cases could be combined and might even be mutually interdependent. Modern America embraces and reverses the ideals above. This leaves modern liberalism with the chore of expanding these concepts. The focus has shifted from attainment of these concepts to the perfection of them. From the above statement it can be clarified from the quote below: A man who was poor, uneducated, ill-housed, and subjected to the fluctuations economic cycle could not be considered free though he lived in a nation whose government abided the tenets of laissez-faire. True liberty, liberals began to contend, required the ability of man to use his talents and energies in a constructive fashion-it meant the positive freedom to achieve and accomplish. This combined with the right to resist encroachments on this independence make up the legitimacy behind the revolution. The Declaration of Independence embodied these thoughts precisely and clearly. When Thomas Jefferson wrote about the inalienable rights which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? This is what he was referring to very many years ago. Therefore, two concepts of liberty and Berlin’s liberalism are therefore not based on empiricism and pluralism against collectivism, holism, rationalistic metaphysics and monism.
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In Berlin’s account, the main connection between pluralism and liberalism is the centrality of choice to both. Berlin had argued that the conflicts between values and ways of life that matter of pluralism require people to make choices. These choices are of the uttermost importance, because they involve the most basic and essential questions of human life what one is to be and do. Those who make such choices are therefore likely to care about them, and to want some say in making them. Pluralism then for Berlin represents an argument that both undermines one of the main rationales for violation freedom of choice and vindicates the importance and value of being able to make choices freely. It could be interpreted that Berlin’s vindication of the freedom to choose, while it rests in part on his pluralism, also requires the addition of moral principles, ideas and assumptions external to pluralism. It could also be argued that Berlin’s liberalism can also be deduced from his pluralism alone.
At the same time, while pluralism is an important ingredient in Berlin’s argument for the importance of liberty, it also modifies and moderates his liberalism and prevents Berlin from being an unqualified classical liberal. Negative and positive liberty are both genuine values which must be balanced against each other; and against each other; and liberty of any sort is one value among many, which it may conflict, and against which it needs to be balanced. Therefore Berlin was more sensitive than many classical liberal or libertarian thinkers to the possibility that genuine liberty may conflict with genuine equality, or justice, or public order, or security, or efficiency or happiness and therefore must be balanced with, and sometimes sacrificed in favor of, other values.
Hayek (1978) further states that the coercion which a government must still use for this end is reduced to a minimum and is made innocuous possible by restraining it through known general rules. Coercion according to known rules, which is generally the result of circumstances in which the person to be coerced has placed himself, then becomes an instrument assisting the individuals in the pursuit of their own ends and not a means to be used for the ends of others. One can term this to refer to the economic situations we have in the country. During the credit crunch when people lost jobs because investment banks and financial institutions collapsed. The government or what we call the Federal Reserve in America had to step in to bail the financial institutions from going under. Can one possibly term this as liberty or freedom?
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Most of the countries round the world that were significantly affected by the dip in the Market follow the Capitalist trend. This simply in rouge language means power to those who make the most money. They will take responsibility for their actions as long as the situations favor them. What now happens when the situation changes goal posts? Are they able to take action for their responsibilities? Or they simply run to the Federal Reserve for cheap loans to continue staying in business. One simple concept of business is that if money is being lost one end, somebody somewhere is making it on the other end. Therefore in this case where the government takes an extra step into bailing out financial institutions and investment banks can be viewed as what Hayek was referring in his text. Coercion can be used as instrument in assisting individuals in pursuit of their own ends. In this case it is the citizens of America being assisted to earn a living and take a pay cheque home to support their families.
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From our definition of liberty, it encompasses the term own free will. In comparison with Hayek (1978) definition of liberty, his definition has the word coercion. Hayek has a variety of definitions of coercion. In one particular text, he refers to coercion as evil, because it eliminates an individual as a thinking and valuing person and makes him a bare tool in the achievement of the ends of another. Given the case where we have the government stepping in to sort out issues can be viewed as or is coercion. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to refer to coercion as evil. Take for example where we have farmers growing wheat. However, the wheat that the farmers grow is insufficient to cater for the whole country. This makes the country import wheat from neighboring countries to feed its people. In the event they find out that buying imported wheat is cheaper than what they produce in the country.
What happens to the citizens of the country? Should the government care about making the life of the consumers cheaper by encouraging cheap imports? Or the government cares about the farmers and fills their pockets with coin so as not to kill farming and agriculture in the country? Most governments will always support the latter. This is not to kill farming and agriculture in the country. How does it do so? By the using of quota systems. This is an act of coercion. Where individuals are somehow limited in what they are doing. For people struggling to make ends meet, buying imported wheat would be the way forward. Are they not allowed to act out of own free will? Or are they allowed to act out of own free will but limited to a certain degree?
Is there a measure of determining how much own free will people are required to exhibit? Also, is there a gauge in measuring to what extent someone or human beings are required to account for responsibility? Or are we supposed to act according to own free will and change the definition of freedom and liberty to satisfy ourselves? Whatever we do, we need to remember that in order to be at liberty: we must govern ourselves, act out of own free will and finally to take responsibility for our actions. Then and only then can we be able to say that we are at liberty.