International Journal of Anarchism

ifa-Solidaritet - folkebladet - ISSN 0800-0220 - electronic issues ISSN 1890-9485 since 2009 - no 1 (44) editor H. Fagerhus

Bulletin of the Anarchist International

The freedom concept defined and related to anarchism etc.

by A. Quist 04.01.2008- Updated.

In general there are positive freedom and negative freedom.

Positive and Negative Freedom/Liberty

Negative freedom/liberty is the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints. One has negative freedom/liberty to the extent that actions are available to one in this negative sense. Positive freedom/liberty is the possibility of acting — or the fact of acting — in such a way as to take control of one's life and realize one's fundamental purposes. While negative liberty is usually attributed to individual agents, positive liberty is sometimes attributed to collectivities, or to individuals considered primarily as members of given collectivities, in anarchism collectivities/communes organized in a horizontal way.

The idea of distinguishing between a negative and a positive sense of the term 'liberty'/'freedom' goes back at least to Kant, and was examined and defended in depth by Isaiah Berlin in the 1950s and '60s. Kant defined anarchy as right/justice and freedom without violence [except in self defense]. Discussions about positive and negative liberty/freedom normally take place within the context of political and social philosophy. They are distinct from, though sometimes related to, philosophical discussions about free will. Work on the nature of positive liberty often overlaps, however, with work on the nature of autonomy.

As Berlin showed, negative and positive liberty/freedom are not merely two distinct kinds of liberty; they can be seen as rival, incompatible interpretations of a political ideal. Since few people claim to be against liberty/freedom, the way this term is interpreted and defined can have important political implications. Political liberalism, of which "anarcho"-capitalism is the most extreme form, tends to presuppose a negative definition of liberty: liberals generally claim that if one favors individual liberty one should place strong limitations on the activities of the public sector, be it 1. anarchist or 2. state. Critics of liberalism, both 1. anarchists and 2. statists, often contest this implication by contesting the negative definition of liberty: they argue that the pursuit of liberty understood as self-realization or as self-determination (whether of the individual or of the collectivity) can require in case 1. use of a horizontally organized public sector, in case 2. state intervention, both normally not allowed by liberalists, including "anarcho"-capitalists.

Many authors prefer only to talk of positive and negative freedom. This is only a difference of style, and the terms ‘liberty' and ‘freedom' can be used interchangeably. Although some attempts have been made to distinguish between liberty and freedom, these have not caught on. Neither can they be translated into other European languages, which contain only the one term, of either Latin or Germanic origin (e.g. liberté, Freiheit, frihet), where English contains both.

It must be said that both positive and negative freedom can be interpreted in a libertarian way on the one hand, and an authoritarian way, on the other. Negative freedom has been used to defend property, i.e. theft, and positive freedom has been used to defend state socialism. Neither are correct interpretations from anarchist point of view. Berlin says cearly, "I am in a position to ignore the actual wishes of men or societies, to bully, oppress, torture in the name, and on behalf, of their ‘real' selves, in the secure knowledge that whatever is the true goal of man ... must be identical with his freedom" [Berlin, I., 1969, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty', in I. Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty, London: Oxford University Press. pp. 132-33]

Freedom, i.e. free people, freedom without damaging the freedom of other people .

Thus freedom on others' expense is not freedom, but repression/coercion.

Degrees of freedom

It is illogical to define freedom only identical to absolute freedom.

The only logical is that

1. The degree of freedom = absolute freedom - the degree of unfreedom <=>

2. The degree of freedom = 100% - the degree of unfreedom.

Thus when the degree of unfreedom is 0%, the person is 100% free, i.e. absolutely free. I would say that a degree of freedom above 50% is significant freedom, i.e. freedom, and a degree of freedom less than 50% is significant unfreedom, i.e. unfreedom.

By defining freedom only identical to absolute freedom you have a logical problem: What if the unfreedom is only 1%? Absolute 100% freedom - 1% unfreedom, is 99%. What is this this 99%? Cheese? No, it must be freedom.

Proudhon, Kropotkin, Malatesta and Bjørneboe mean that 100% absolute freedom/anarchy/anarchism is unrealistic. Thus a definition of freedom identical to absolute freedom, is unrealistic and utopian: Then freedom cannot, realistically seen, happen in practice.

Thus logically freedom, introducing the concept "absolute freedom", it is not an either-or concept, 100% or nothing. Freedom is about degrees. Anything else is illogical.

Freedom has both economical and political/administrative aspects.

Freedom is one of the basic principles of anarchism, perhaps the most basic. It has both economical and political/administrative aspects:
See http://www.anarchy.no/anarchism.html and http://www.anarchy.no/a_e_p_m.html and search for "freedom", within these files

An aspect of economical freedom - positive freedom

I don't agree that freedom per definiton is only "the absence of force and coercion" although corcion and force may limit freedom. Say, if everybody except one have zero real income, the gini-index is 100, the situation is unfree and coercive for everybody except the one having all the income, although there may be no physical coercion and force involved. Being rich indicates economical freedom, a large freedom of choice, i.e. a positive freedom. Being poor means less economical freedom, less freedom of choice. Even if the gini-index is 0, and if everybody has ca 0 real income, the economical freedom = ca 0 for all.

Resolution, decided with general consent, by:
The International Anarchist Congress
The 12th Anarchist Biennial 24-25.11.2012
International Congress-Seminar on Anarchism

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