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Voice of Vivekananda

Liberty Is The First Condition Of Growth

July 9, 2019 By VivekaVani

To prepare articles for this website we regularly need to study  Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda  and many other books, articles, journals. When I was preparing an article on Swami Vivekananda’s quotations on growth, I found the following quotation—

Liberty is the first condition of growth.

(Yes, I know that every person has “his” or “her” opinion), still, in my opinion, it is a terrific quote. In life, in society or in a country, “growth” of any individual or a group is just not possible if there is no “liberty”, no “freedom”.

Swami Vivekananda discussed this idea “Liberty is the first condition of growth” several times. In this article our attempt will be making a collection of these quotations.

Liberty is the first condition of growth

According to Swami Vivekananda—

  • Freedom is the only condition of growth; take that off, the result is degeneration. [Source]
  • Liberty is the first condition of growth. Just as man must have liberty to think and speak, so he must have liberty in food, dress, and marriage, and in every other thing, so long as he does not injure others. [Source]
  • There cannot be any growth without liberty. Our ancestors freed religious thought, and we have a wonderful religion. But they put a heavy chain on the feet of society, and our society is, in a word, horrid, diabolical. In the West, society always had freedom, and look at them. On the other hand, look at their religion. [Source]
  • What else can they be under the existing social bandages, especially in Madras? Liberty is the first condition of growth. Your ancestors gave every liberty to the soul, and religion grew. They put the body under every bondage, and society did not grow. The opposite is the case in the West — every liberty to society, none to religion. Now are falling off the shackles from the feet of Eastern society as from those of Western religion. (From a letter written to Alasinga Perumal dated 29 September 1894) [Source]
  • You must remember that freedom is the first condition of growth. What you do not make free, will never grow. The idea that you can make others grow and help their growth, that you can direct and guide them, always retaining for yourself the freedom of the teacher, is nonsense, a dangerous lie which has retarded the growth of millions and millions of human beings in this world. Let men have the light of liberty. That is the only condition of growth. [Source]

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Liberty (2nd edn)

Liberty (2nd edn)

Liberty (2nd edn)

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Liberty is the new and expanded edition of Isaiah Berlin’s Four Essays on Liberty , a modern classic of liberalism. These essays, of which the best known is ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, do not offer a systematic account of liberalism, but instead deploy a view of being, knowledge, and value which was calculated by Berlin to rule totalitarian thinking out of court. The new edition adds to the four, ‘From Hope and Fear set free’, which reinforces Berlin’s argument and which he wanted to include in the original edition. Three further essays, and three autobiographical appendices have been included, so that all Berlin’s principal statements on liberty are gathered together. The whole is introduced by Berlin’s editor, Henry Hardy.

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On Liberty: Positive and Negative

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essay about liberty is growth

  • Don A. Habibi 4  

Part of the book series: Philosophical Studies Series ((PSSP,volume 85))

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One century after the publication of On Liberty , Sir Isaiah Berlin delivered his celebrated Inaugural Lecture before the University of Oxford entitled “Two Concepts of Liberty.” 1 Berlin’s lecture is described by Ronald Dworkin as “the most famous modern essay on liberty” and praised by John Gray as developing “an argument of unsurpassed perspicuity.” 2 It is therefore understandable that scholars would consider it alongside the famous nineteenth-century essay On Liberty and apply Berlin’s ideas to those of John Stuart Mill. Unfortunately, imposing Berlin’s two concepts on Mill’s theory has been a source of confusion and has added to the misunderstanding that surrounds Mill. The goal of this chapter will be to clear up this confusion and thereby regain a better understanding of Mill’s theory of liberty.

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Mill’s On Liberty was first published in February, 1859. Berlin’s lecture took place on October 31, 1958, and was published later that year. All page references to Berlin are taken from Four Essays on Liberty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969). In addition to “Two Concepts of Liberty” (pp. 118–172), I will be citing Berlin’s “Introduction” (pp. ix-lxiii), and his essay “John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life” (pp. 173–206).

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Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), p. 267; John Gray “On Negative and Positive Liberty,” Political Studies 28:4 (1980), p. 508, reprinted in Gray’s Liberalisms: Essays in Political Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 46. Dworkin also praises Berlin in “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in Edna and Avishai Margalit, eds., Isaiah Berl in: A Celebration (London: The Hogarth Press, 1991), esp. p. 100; and, in the opening paragraphs of “Liberty and Pornography,” New York Review of Books ,August 15, 1991, reprinted as “Pornography and Hate,” in Freedom’s Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 214ff. More recently, Lesley A. Jacobs echoes Dworkin’s sentiment when he describes Berlin’s essay as: “The single most important and influential analysis of freedom by a modern political philosopher.” See An Introduction to Modern Political Philosophy: The Democratic Vision of Politics (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), pp. 72, 83. William L. McBride describes Berlin’s work as “a most unusually influential essay.” See “’Two Concepts of Liberty’ Thirty Years Later: A Sartre-Inspired Critique,” Social Theory and Practice , 16:3 (Fall, 1990), p. 298. See also Susan Mendus, “Tragedy, Moral Conflict, and Liberalism,” in David Archard, ed., Philosophy and Pluralism (Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 191–92.

Berlin, p. 121.

Ibid., pp. xliii, xlix, 122, 130, 132, 160, 166, (cf. p. 158).

According to J. P. Day, Plato was the creator of the concept of positive liberty. See “Individual Liberty,” in Of Liberty , A. Phillips Griffiths, ed. (Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 17. (Cf. Berlin, pp. xl, 129.) On page 18, Day also points out that Jeremy Bentham coined the term ‘negative liberty.’ For this see Bentham’s letter to John Lind (March/April, 1776), in The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham , vol. I, Timothy L. S. Sprigge, ed. (University of London: Athlone Press, 1968), letter #158, p. 310.

This has already been done by others. See for example William A. Parent, “Some Recent Work on the Concept of Liberty,” American Philosophical Quarterly , 11:3 (July, 1974). A good discussion is found in John Christman’s “Liberalism and Individual Positive Freedom,” Ethics , 101:2 (Jan., 1991). See also George G. Brenkert, Political Freedom (London: Routledge, 1991), ch. 1, sect. II.

Berlin, p. lvi.

Ibid., p. 127 (emphasis Berlin’s).

Ibid., pp. 122–23. Beyond negative liberty (and also social and political liberty), it is not clear if inabilities (such as not being able to fly) and unfulfilled wishes (such as not being a movie-star) would count as unfreedoms, since they are not caused by deliberate human interference. If we understand ‘freedom’ to mean the absence of constraint to actual and possible desires, and we understand a ’constraint’ to be whatever prevents satisfaction of an actual or hypothetical desire, then it follows that we are unfree to do what we are unable to do, regardless of the source of our inability. However, if we accept this reasoning, and consider any unfulfilled wish as unfreedom, then we run the risk of making freedom an ’utterly empty and unapproachable ideal.’ For a discussion on this point, see Joel Feinberg, Social Philosophy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973), ch. 1, esp. pp. 8–9, 12–14. Feinberg suggests that “We should think of freedom as related to actual and possible wants rather than idle wishes.” (p. 8.)

Ibid., pp. 121–22, 130.

Ibid., p. 144.

Ibid., p. xlvii.

Berlin takes the position that negative liberty is valuable in and of itself, and not just instrumentally as a requisite for positive forms of liberty. But he also points out, in his response to critics, that “The freedom of which I speak is opportunity for action, rather than action itself.” (p. xliii.)

Berlin, p. 131.

Ibid., pp. 122, 130. See also page xlvii.

Ibid., pp. lvii, 132, 144.

Unless otherwise stated, all citations in this paragraph and the following are from Berlin, p. xliv, or p. 132.

Berlin, pp. 132, 150.

Ibid., p. 148. Here, Berlin is commenting on Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Du Contract Social [1762], Bk. I, ch. 7, sect. 54) and other prominent thinkers who claim that paternalism actually liberates us. Martin Hollis makes an interesting point when he likens Mill to Rousseau on this matter. “The final comment on Mill’s expostulation that ‘the principle of freedom cannot require a man that he be free not to be free’ is Rousseau’s that, men, being born free and being everywhere in chains must be forced to be free.” “J. S. Mill’s Political Philosophy of Mind,” Philosophy , XLVII:182 (Oct. 1972). Cf. John Plamenatz, “On le forcera d’Être libre,” Annales de Philosophe Politique , vol. 5 (1965), reprinted in Maurice Cranston and Richard S. Peters, eds., Hobbes and Rousseau: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1972), pp. 318–332.

Ibid., p. 157. Here, Berlin quotes Immanuel Kant.

Ibid., p. 152.

Ibid., p. 154.

Ibid., p. 131, see also p. 144.

Ibid., p. 141.

Ibid., pp. 141–44.

Berlin connects negative freedoms with liberal political theory. See for example pp. 122–31 (esp. pp. 127–29), pp. 139, 163, 164.

Berlin, p. 134.

For example, Leslie Paul Thiele writes that Berlin thought positive liberty was treacherous. See hinking Politics: Perspectives in Ancient , Modern , and Postmodern Political Theory (Chatham, New Jersey: Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1997), p. 176.

Berlin, pp. 127, 128, 139, 155, 160–61, 163, 165. See also “John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life,” p. 197.

Ibid., p. 160.

Ibid., pp. 127–28.

The closest Berlin comes is when he notes that some of Mill’s reasons for desiring liberty have little to do with his conception of freedom as noninterference (p. 160). Still, it does not occur to Berlin that Mill might also advocate positive freedoms. See also the introduction to the Four Essays , where he suggests that Mill saw ‘democratic self-government’ (an aspect of positive liberty) as a means to the attainment of happiness (p. xlvii).

In addition to Berlin, a legion of writers view Mill exclusively or primarily as a proponent of negative liberty. Among them are: Anonymous, “Mill on Liberty” The National Review , v . VIII (April, 1859), p. 407; Matthew Arnold, “A Courteous Explanation” (1866), cited in Douglas Bush, Matthew Arnold: A Survey of His Poetry and Prose (New York: Macmillan, 1971), pp. 150–51; Alexander Bain, John Stuart Mill (London: Longmans Green, and Co., 1882), p. 104; Brian Barry, Political Argument (New York: Humanities Press, 1976), p. 42, pp. 141–45; Richard Bellamy, “T. H. Green and the morality of Victorian liberalism,” in Richard Bellamy, ed., Victorian Liberalism: Nineteenth-Century Political Thought and Practice (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 135; Fred R. Berger, Happiness , Justice , and Freedom (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 250–51 (cf. p. 229); Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 46–47; Howard Cohen, Equal Rights For Children (Totawa, NJ: Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1980), pp. 63–65; Stefan Collini “Liberalism and the Legacy of Mill,” Historical Journal 20:1 (March, 1977), pp. 237–38; Roger Crisp, Mill on Utilitarianism (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 198–99; Lawrence Crocker, Positive Liberty: An Essay i n Normative Political Philosophy (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1980), pp. 1, 71; J. P. Day (op. cit., endnote 5), pp. 19, 22, 29; Morris Dickstein, “Introduction: Pragmatism Then and Now,” in Morris Dickstein, ed., The Revival of Pragmatism: New Essays on Social Thought , Law , and Culture (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 1998), p. 14; Wendy Donner, The Liberal Self John Stuart Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy (Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 162; Gerald Dworkin, “Paternalism,” in Morality and the Law , Richard Wasserstrom, ed. (Belmont CA: Wadsworth, 1971), pp. 107–8; William Ebenstein, “John Stuart Mill: Political and Economic Liberty,” in Nomos IV: Liberty, Carl J. Friedrich, ed. (New York: Atherton Press, 1962), p. 94; James S. Fishkin, Justice, Equal Opportunity, and the Family (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), pp. 39–40; F. W. Garforth, Educative Democracy: John Stuart Mill on Education in Society (Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 9, and, John Stuart Mill’s Theory of Education (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1979), pp. 89, 165; James W. Garner, “Government and Liberty,” Yale Review XV (Feb., 1907), p. 364; Gerald F. Gaus, The Modern Liberal Theory of Man (London and Canberra: Croom Helm, 1983), pp. 164–65, 196 n. 5; Robert Goehlert, “Individuality and the Active Society: J. S. Mill’s Man as a Progressive Being,” Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University, 1981, pp. 27–29; James Gouinlock, Excellence in Public Discourse: John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and Social Intelligence (New York: Teachers College Press, 1986), pp. 47, 51; F. L. van Holthoon, The Road to Utopia (Assen, the Netherlands: Van Gorcum & Company, 1971), p. 24; Richard Holt Hutton, “Mill On Liberty,” The National Review, vol. 8 (1859), p. 407; Lesley A. Jacobs, An Introduction to Modern Political Philosophy: The Democratic Vision of Politics (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), pp. 69–75; Stewart Justman, The Hidden Text of Mill’s Liberty (Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1991), pp. 4, 25, 66; Charles E. Larmore, Patterns of Moral Complexity (Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 47; H. J. McCloskey, “A Critique of the Ideals of Liberty,” Mind 74:296 (October, 1965), p. 486 (cf. John Stuart Mill: A Critical Study [London: Macmillan, 1971], p. 104); C. B. MacPherson, Democratic Theory: Essays in Retrieval (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1973), essay V, and, review of On Liberty and Liberalism, Mill Newsletter, XI:1 (Winter, 1976), p. 23; Michael S. McPherson, “Mill’s Moral Theory and the Problem of Preference Change,” Ethics, 92 (January, 1982), p. 267; Robert H. Murray, Studies i n the English Social and Political Thinkers of the Nineteenth Century, v. II (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1929), ch. VII, p. 301; William Allan Parent, “Mill’s Conception of the Summum Bonum,” Ph.D. thesis, Brown University, June, 1970, pp. 390, 401–2; Philip Petit, “Negative Liberty, Liberal and Republican,” European Journal of Philosophy, 1:1 (April, 1993), p. 34; Peter Radcliff, ed., Limits of Liberty: Studies of Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1966), intro., p. 4, Berlin selection, pp. 74–81; Andrew J. Reck, review of Gouinlock’s Excellence in Public Discourse, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 27:1 (Jan. 1989), p. 166; J. C. Rees, Mill and His Early Critics (University College, Leicester, 1956), pp. 14, 39 (Cf. John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985], p. 49); Melvin Richter, The Politics of Conscience: T. H. Green and His Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 201; George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 3rd edition, 1961), p. 711 (cf. pp. 708, 715, 729); Vardaman R. Smith, “Friedman, Liberalism and the Meaning of Negative Freedom,” Economics and Philosophy , 14:1 (April, 1998), p. 78; David Spitz, preface to On Liberty (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1975), p. x; Leslie Paul Thiele, Thinking Politics: Perspectives in Ancient , Modern , and Postmodern Political Theory (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1997); Anthony Thorlby, “Liberty and Self-Development: Goethe and John Stuart Mill,” Neohelicon , 1:34 (1973), p. 93; David F. B. Tucker, Essay on Liberalism: Looking Left and Right (Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994), p. 3; W. L. Weinstein, “The Concept of Liberty in Nineteenth Century English Political Thought,” Political Studies , 13:2 (June, 1965), p. 145; Alan R. White, Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 138; Robert Wokler, “Rousseau’s Perfectibilian Libertarianism,” in The Idea of Freedom: Essays in Honour of Isaiah Berlin , Alan Ryan, ed. (Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 237, 245; and, The London Review , v . XIII (October, 1859), p. 274 (unsigned). I should point out that Berger, as well as Ebenstein, Garforth, Goehlert, the posthumous Rees, and Sabine recognize that elements of positive liberty are found in Mill’s writings, and therefore have a more balanced view of Mill’s theory of liberty. The ranks of those with a balanced view on Mill’s theory have grown significantly since I noticed the problem with applying Berlin’s two concepts to Mill. Among those who see both negative and positive liberty in Mill are: Christian Bay, The Structure of Freedom (Stanford University Press, 1958), p. 54; John N. Gray, “On Negative and Positive Liberty,” Political Studies , 28:4 (December, 1980), pp. 519, 523, and Liberalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), ch. 7; Alan S. Kahan, Aristocratic Liberalism: The Social and Political Thought of Jacob Burckhardt , John Stuart Mill , and Alexis de Tocqueville (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) ch. 4; Bruce Mazlish, James and John Stuart Mill: Father and Son in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Basic Books, 1975), pp. 384–85; Maria H. Morales, Perfect Equality: John Stuart Mill on Well-Constituted Communities (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996), p. 110; Peter Nicholson, “The reception and early reputation of Mill’s political thought,” in The Cambridge Companion to Mill (Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 484–88, 495 n. 84 (Nicholson points out that Thomas Green and Bernard Bosanquet construe Mill to be a negative libertarian); Richard Norman, Free and Equal: A Philosophical Examination of Political Values (Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 11, 12, 35; Alan Ryan, Property (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp. 39, 42; Roger Scruton, A Short History of Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Wittgenstein , second edition (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 228; John Skorupski, John Stuart Mill (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 343 (cf. p. 20); and, his “Introduction” to The Cambridge Companion to Mill (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 4; Paul Smart, Mill and Marx: Individual liberty and the roads to freedom (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1991), pp. 2, 9799; G. W. Smith, “The Logic of J. S. Mill on Freedom,” Political Studies 28:2 (June, 1980), pp. 244–47; Gail Tulloch, Mill and Sexual Equality (Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1989), p. 150; and, E. G. West, “Liberty and Education: John Stuart Mill’s Dilemma,” Philosophy 40:152 (April, 1965). See also Susan Mendus, Toleration and the Limits of Liberalism (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1989), pp. 47, 146.

Gerald MacCallum, in a footnote, challenges Berlin for lumping philosophers into positive or negative camps; however, he pays no special attention to Mill. “Negative and Positive Freedom,” Philosophical Review , 76:3 (July, 1967), p. 321. R. J. Halliday criticizes commentators for saying that Mill adopts a negative notion of liberty, but he cites only George H. Sabine’s A History of Political Theory , ch. 32, for evidence. Sabine does not actually say this; he develops his interpretation of Mill along different lines. Halliday goes on to suggest that the positive/negative distinction did not exist during Mill’s lifetime. John Stuart Mill (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), p. 115.

As far as I know, only five writers call Mill a positive libertarian. See Richard Vernon, “John Stuart Mill and Pornography: Beyond the Harm Principle,” Ethics , 106:3 (April, 1996), pp. 623–24; H. S. Jones, “John Stuart Mill as Moralist,” Journal of the History of Ideas , 53:2 (April-June, 1992), p. 299; D. D. Raphael, Justice and Liberty (London: Athlone, 1980), p. 56, and Moral Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 83; Michael St. John Packe, The Life of John Stuart Mill (New York: Macmillan, 1954), p. 403; and, Bernard Semmel John Stuart Mill and the Pursuit of Virtue (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), pp. 14, 166, 170–71, 196–97. While Semmel emphasizes positive liberty, he does recognize the negative dimension to Mill’s theory of liberty.

Berlin, p. 161. See also pp. xlvi, 163, 165, where Berlin places Mill squarely in the liberal tradition.

Mill did approve of authoritarian rule for underdeveloped countries, but only insofar as it promoted individual improvement and social progress. (On Liberty , p. 224.) I shall discuss Mill’s views on dominion and authority in chapters six and seven.

Berlin, p. 202. See below, endnote 40.

For instance, Berlin is mistaken when he writes of Mill that “His father brought him up in the strictest and narrowest atheist dogma.” (p. 203.) James Mill was an ordained Presbyterian minister who later turned to agnosticism. In his Autobiography ,Mill writes of his father: Finding, therefore, no halting place in Deism, he remained in a state of perplexity, until, doubtless after many struggles, he yielded to the conviction, that, concerning the origin of things nothing whatever can be known. This is the only correct statement of his opinion; for dogmatic atheism he looked upon as absurd; as most of those, whom the world has considered Atheists, have always done. Autobiography of John Stuart Mill (New York: Columbia University Press, 1924), p. 28 (Collected Works I, p. 41). Others make a similar oversight. See, for example, Geoffrey Scarre Utilitarianism (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 83; William Stafford, John Stuart Mill (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London: Macmillan Press, 1998), pp. 10, 19 [cf. pp. 26, 45, 64]; and, J. Salwyn Schapiro, “John Stuart Mill, Pioneer of Democratic Liberalism in England,” Journal of the History of Ideas , 4:2 (April, 1943), p. 128. [Cf. James E. Crimmins “Bentham on Religion: Atheism and the Secular Society,” Journal of the History of Ideas , 47:1 (Jan-Mar., 1986), p. 99, n. 21; Crimmins’ Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990); and, Crimmins’ “Introduction: Secular Utilitarian Critics of Organized Religion,” in Utilitarians and Religion (Bristol, England: Thoemmes Press, 1998), pp. 263ff.] As far as J. S. Mill’s beliefs are concerned, he denies atheism in his correspondences to Charles Westerton (June 21, 1865), and Frederick Bates (November 9, 1868), Collected Works XVI, pp. 1069, 1483. [Cf. the closing of Mill’s letter to the newspaper Republican (January 3, 1823), p. 26 (Collected Works XXII, p. 9).] Mill’s most substantial work on theology is his Three Essays on Religion (Collected Works X). The interested reader should also see Alan Millar, “Mill on religion,” in John Skorupski, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Mill (Cambridge University Press, 1998); David Berman, A History of Atheism in Brita in: From Hobbes to Russell (London: Croom Helm, 1988), pp. 235–47; Jim Herrick, Against the Faith: Essays on Deists , Skeptics and Atheists (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1985) pp. 170–75; George C. Kerner, Three Philosophical Moralists: Mill , Kant , and Sartre (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990); Bernard Lightman The Origins of Agnosticism: Victorian Unbelief and the Limits of Knowledge (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987); and, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: 1872–1914 (Vol. 1) (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), pp. 47–48.

Berlin seems to see Mill through rose-colored glasses. Writing on Mill, he asks: “Can anyone doubt what position he would have taken on the Dreyfus case, or the Boer War, or Fascism, or Communism? Or, for that matter, on Munich, or Suez, or Budapest, or Apartheid, or colonialism, or the Wolfenden report?” (p. 202.) I have many doubts about what position Mill would take on some of these events and institutions. Mill’s record on colonialism is mixed at best. He did criticize the British government’s colonial policies on certain occasions; nevertheless, he was among the chief architects of colonial policy in India for over thirty years. He lived during the heyday of the ‘Empire’ and he thought that colonization could be useful for easing England’s economic and political problems, relieving overpopulation, spreading ’civilization,’ and stimulating progress. His impression of most non-Western peoples was unflattering. It is therefore reasonable to doubt Berlin on what stand Mill would have taken on colonialism, Suez, and the like. Several works bring out this darker side of Mill. See Eileen P. Sullivan, “Liberalism and Imperialism: J. S. Mill’s Defense of the British Empire,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 44:4 (Oct.-Dec., 1983); Lynn Zastoupil, John Stuart Mill and India (Stanford University Press, 1994); Jeanne Clare Blarney, “Savages and Civilization: References to Non-Western Societies in the Theories of John Locke and John Stuart Mill,” Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, June, 1983; E. D. Steele, “J. S. Mill and the Irish Question: Reform, and the Integrity of the Empire, 1865–70,” The Historical Journal ,13:3 (1970), pp. 435–36. Cf. Abram L. Harris, “John Stuart Mill: Servant of the East India Company,” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science , 30:2 (May, 1964). I will take up the issue of Mill on colonialism in greater detail in chapter six below. Unfortunately, Berlin is not the only reputed scholar guilty of projecting his political opinions on to Mill. See, e.g., John Gray, Liberalisms (op. cit., endnote 2), pp. 2–3.

In one passage, Berlin writes: “I am not in agreement with those who wish to represent Mill as favoring some kind of hegemony of right-minded intellectuals. I do not see how this can be regarded as Mill’s considered conclusion.” (p. 206n.) Of course, Mill never advocated a dictatorship of the intellectuals, but he endorsed and relied on the ‘instructed classes’ to educate and lead society. To support his view, Berlin points out that Mill warned against Comte’s elitist despotism. It is true that Mill opposed Comte’s plan for the distribution of power, but this was because it involved the wealthiest members of society, was based on governmental coercion and a controlled press, and was ’so liable to perversion.’ Mill’s ideas on elitism and a clerisy differed greatly from Comte’s. See Mill’s August Comte and Positivism , Collected Works X, pp. 302–3, 313–15, 326–27, 352. See also, Mill’s Autobiography , pp. 148–49 ( Collected Works I , p. 219). For a discussion on Mill’s disagreements with Comte’s elitism, see Maurice Cowling, Mill and Liberalism (Cambridge University Press, 1963), pp. 22–23.

Peter P. Nicholson, The Political Philosophy of the British Idealists: Selected Studies (Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 120–26.

Ibid., esp. p. 126. Nicholson makes the point about Green’s sparing use of the term ‘positive liberty’ on p. 121, and he cites Green’s Lecture on Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract (1881), in Works of Thomas Hill Green , R. L. Nettleship, ed. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1906), Vol. III, pp. 372, 384. For other scholars who follow Berlin’s lead in misconstruing Green’s theory of freedom, see Nicholson’s endnotes, particularly note 31 on p. 269, and note 9 on p. 270.

Philosophical Review , 76:3 (July, 1967), p. 314. MacCallum was not the first to conceptualize liberty in this fashion (see his endnote 2, p. 314). Francis W. Garforth develops a similar format in his article, “The ‘Paradox of Freedom,”’ ( Studies in Education , 3:4 [July, 1962]). I should point out that MacCallum and his predecessors do not focus their attention on Mill; rather, they approach the subject of liberty from a general point of view. For another viewpoint advocating a single concept of liberty, see Stanley I. Benn, A Theory of Freedom (Cambridge University Press, 1988). See also Rodger Beehler, “For One Concept of Liberty,” Journal of Applied Philosophy , 8:1 (1991), and Kristjan Kristjansson, “For a Concept of Negative Liberty—but which Conception?” Journal of Applied Philosophy , 9:2 (1992). Kristjansson’s Social Freedom: The responsibility view (Cambridge University Press, 1996), offers a thoughtful analysis of negative liberty. For a critique of MacCallum, see Tom Baldwin, “MacCallum and the Two Concepts of Freedom,” Ratio 26:2 (1984), pp. 125–42.

Responding to MacCallum, Berlin rejects his triad on the grounds that “A man struggling against his chains or a people against enslavement need not consciously aim at any definite further state. A man need not know how he will use his freedom; he just wants to remove the yoke.” (p. xliii, n. 1.) See also Claude J. Gallipeau, Isaiah Berlin’s Liberalism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), chapter 4, esp. pp. 91–93. In other words, negative liberty can be an end in itself. As a limited case, Berlin’s (and Galipeau’s) point makes sense, however, in the context of Mill , negative liberty is never an end in itself, and so Berlin’s objection has little relevance here.

Collected Works XVIII, p. 217.

Ibid., p. 293.

Ibid., pp. 226, 294.

Berlin, pp. 127, 139.

See John Stuart Mill’s Theory of Education , pp. 89, 165. Garforth repeats himself, practically verbatim in Educative Democracy , pp. 103–4. (Both books are cited above in endnote 33.)

John Stuart Mill: A Critical Study, pp. 104–5.

William Parent, “Mill’s Conception of the Summum Bonum,” p. 399 (op. cit., endnote 33.)

Autobiography , p. 170 (Collected Works I, p. 249).

Lawrence Crocker, Positive Liberty: An Essay in Normative Political Philosophy (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1980), p. 1.

Ibid., pp. 69–74. Crocker recognizes Mill’s enthusiasm for diversity, however he fails to understand how this complements Mill’s theory of liberty. This is because he does not recognize that Mill’s conception of liberty extends beyond the absence of restrictions. Crocker follows the common interpretation and classifies Mill as a strict negative libertarian. He therefore figures that Mill’s enthusiasm for diversity must be an exception. (p. 71.) Like Berlin and Garforth (and most everyone else), Crocker is guilty of analyzing Mill and On Liberty too narrowly, and this leads him to overlook some basic features of Mill’s theory of liberty.

On Liber ty , pp. 262–63.

Berlin, pp. 150–52. As mentioned above, Berlin goes further to connect positive liberty and elitism with paternalism, authoritarianism, and other forms of despotism.

See above, endnote 41.

The discussion in the remainder of this paragraph follows On Liberty , pp. 266–69. The two quotations that are not marked by endnotes are taken from page 267. Numerous examples of Mill’s elitism can be found throughout his writings. Garforth offers scores of references to Mill’s elitism in chapter four of his Educative Democracy (op. cit., endnote 33). See also, Joseph Hamburger Intellectuals in Politics: John Stuart Mill and the Philosophic Radicals (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), pp. 81–107; F. L. van Holthoon, The Road to Utopia (Assen, the Netherlands: Van Gorcum & Company, 1971), chapters four and five.

“Sedgwick’s Discourse,” London Review , April, 1835 (Collected Works X, p. 66). For a further analysis of Mill’s views on elitism, see below, chapter seven.

Many writers overlook this point, and charge that Mill’s elitism neglects the common man. See Manfred Weber, Verbesserung Der Menscheit: Untersuchungen zum politischen Denken John Stuart Mills (University of Munich, 1971), pp. 170–71; Paul Smart, Mill and Marx: Individual liberty and the roads to freedom (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1991), pp. 97, 104, 108ff; and, Judith N. Shklar, The Faces of Injustice (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990), p. 92. Maurice Cowling, whom I discuss in the following paragraphs, takes a similar view. These critics fail to consider Mill’s concern for the development of everyone and the elites’ role in elevating the masses. They do not account for important passages in On Liberty (e.g., pp. 243, 270). For other discussions demonstrating Mill’s concern with advancing the interests of the common people, see his letter to D’Eichthal (Nov. 7, 1829), Collected Works XII, p. 40, and The Early Draft of John Stuart Mill’s “Autobiography , ” Jack Stillinger, ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961), pp. 188–89. See also, Wendy Donner, The Liberal Self John Stuart Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy (Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 129, 159ff, and “Mill’s Utilitarianism,” in John Skorupski, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Mill (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 271.

Mill and Liberalism , pp. 86–93. (In 1990, Cambridge University Press published a second edition of Cowling’s work.)

Ibid., chapter 1. Cowling describes Mill’s works as a “morally insinuating, proselytizing doctrine.” Continuing, he writes: Mill was a proselytizer of genius: the ruthless denigrator of existing positions, the systematic propagator of a new moral posture, a man of sneers and smears and pervading certainty. It is in this respect that he has now to be considered. (p. 93.) For another critical interpretation of Mill advocating an intolerant, proselytizing ‘militant liberalism,’ see Aleksandras Shtromas, “Ideological Politics and the Contemporary World: Have We Seen the Last of ’Isms’?” in Aleksandras Shtromas, ed., The End of “Isms”? Reflections on the Fate of Ideological Politics after Communisms’s Collapse (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), pp. 193–94.

Ibid., p. 117, p. xii.

See Gertrude Himmelfarb, On Liberty and Liberalism: The Case of John Stuart Mill (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), chapters 2 and 3, esp. pp. 64–71; H. J. McCloskey, John Stuart Mill: A Critical Study , p. 97; and, Shirley Robin Letwin, The Pursuit of Certainty (Cambridge University Press, 1965). See also, Stewart Justman, The Hidden Text of Mill’s Liberty (Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1991), p. 122ff.

C. L. Ten offers a thoughtful refutation of Cowling’s thesis in Mill On Liberty (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), pp. 144–51. See also, Graeme Duncan, Marx and Mill: Two Views of Social Conflict and Social Harmony (Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 276–80.

Berlin, p. xliv (see text above, corresponding to note 17).

In Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore Jr., and Herbert Marcuse, A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965), pp. 86, 93, 106.

Ibid., p. 83. The interested reader might find it interesting to read Ariel Dorfman’s, “The Infantilizing of Culture,” in Donald Lazere, ed., American Media and Mass Culture: Left Perspectives (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987). This is excerpted from Dorfman’s The Empire’s Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger , Babar , and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983).

Ibid., p. 111.

Ibid., pp. 112–13.

Ibid., pp. 84, 90. For a liberal’s response to Marcuse, see David Spitz’s “Pure Tolerance: A Critique of Criticisms,” Dissent , 13:5 (Sept-Oct., 1966), pp. 510–25 [reprinted in The Real World of Liberalism (University of Chicago Press, 1982), ch. 4]; and Alasdair Maclntyre, Herbert Marcuse: an Exposition and a Polemic (New York: The Viking Press, 1970). The interested reader should also see Alex Callinicos, “Repressive toleration revisited: Mill, Marcuse, Maclntyre,” in Aspects of Toleration: Philosophical Studies , eds., John Horton and Susan Mendus (London and New York: Methuen, 1985), pp. 53–74.

I believe that Mill’s vagueness was intentional. On this point I disagree with Brenda Almond, who writes that in On Liberty , Mill “argued that a clear line could be drawn in answering such questions between the parts of a person’s conduct that concern or affect only that person, and those which also affect others.” The Philosophical Quest (London: Penguin Books, 1988), p. 55. See also Stephen Holmes, Passions and Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 182; Gertrude Himmelfarb, On Looking Into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), pp. 76ff; and, H. J. McCloskey, John Stuart Mill: A Critical Study , p. 107.

See, for example, Robert Paul Wolff, The Poverty of Liberalism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), p. 24; J. R. Lucas, The Principles of Politics (Oxford University Press, 1966), pp. 174–75, 345; and, J . A. Hobson, The Social Problem: Life and Work (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1901), pp. 88–89. See also John Allet, New Liberalism: The Political Economy of J. A. Hobson (University of Toronto Press, 1981) pp. 185–86.

See for example, Lord Patrick Devlin, The Enforcement of Morals (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), ch. 1 (cf. ch. 6). See also James Fitzjames Stephen, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (Cambridge University Press, 1967).

Autobiography, p. 177. (Collected Works I, p. 259.)

The Subjection of Women (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1869), p. 1 (Collected Works XXI, p. 261).

Ibid., p. 27 (p. 271).

Ibid., p. 98 (p. 302).

Ibid., p. 178 (p. 336). In this context, Mill writes: “After the primary necessities of food and raiment, freedom is the first and strongest want of human nature.

Ibid., p. 114 (p. 309).

Ibid., p. 182 (p. 338).

See, for example, James Fitzjames Stephen (op. cit., endnote 75), p. 167; Willmoore Kendall, “The ‘Open Society’ and Its Fallacies,” American Political Science Review, 54:4 (1960) [reprinted in both the Norton Critical Edition of On Liberty, David Spitz, ed. (op. cit., endnote 33), and Limits of Liberty, Peter Radcliff, ed. (op. cit., endnote 33)]; Gertrude Himmelfarb, On Liberty and Liberalism: The Case of John Stuart Mill, pp. 33, 272, and On Looking into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society, ch. IV, esp. pp. 76ff, 104ff; James Gouinlock, Excellence in Public Discourse: John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and Social Intelligence (New York: Teachers College Press, 1986), pp. 47, 75; Max Lerner, introduction to Essential Works of John Stuart Mill (New York: Bantam, 1961), p. xxviii; Oskar Kurer, John Stuart Mill: The Politics of Progress (New York: Garland Publishing, 1991), p. 192; James A. Colaiaco, James Fitzjames Stephen and the Crisis of Victorian Thought (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983), ch. 7, esp. p. 134; Stephen Holmes, Passions and Constraint (op. cit., endnote 73), pp. 185, 195–96; and, Thomas Hurka, Perfectionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 148.

At least, this is what Mill claims. Several writers have challenged Mill’s claims and contend that he was not a utilitarian or that he does not argue for liberty in a utilitarian way. For reasons given in chapter three, I do not subscribe to this view.

The Letters of John Stuart Mill, Hugh S. R. Elliot, ed. (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1910), Appendix A, p. 379 (Collected Works XXVII, p. 661).

For instance, Willmoore Kendall, who never notices Mill’s message of growth, finds it easy to conclude that extending the freedoms Mill advocates in chapter two will “constitute a major onslaught against Truth.” (American Political Science Review [op. cit., endnote 83], p. 979.) In this egregious article (which has been reprinted several times in anthologies on and about On Liberty) , Kendall attributes an extremist position to Mill, against which he then argues. He claims that Mill confronts the reader with a choice between ‘unlimited freedom of speech or all-out thought control.’ On Kendall’s interpretation, Mill’s over-enthusiasm for liberty (and disregard for truth and improvement) blind him to the dire consequences that unrestricted freedom brings. Kendall writes: a society as Mill prescribed, “that regards unlimited free speech as its primary value,” will descend ineluctably into ever-deepening differences of opinion , into progressive breakdown of those common premises upon which alone a society can conduct its affairs by discussion, and so into the abandonment of the discussion process and the arbitrament of public questions by violence and civil war. (p. 978.)

I do not wish to imply that liberty or individuality serve no other functions. To be sure, liberty is highly valued for numerous reasons beyond making individual expression possible. Individuality is highly valued as well. (See, for example, On Liberty ,p. 261.) For those who construe Mill’s utilitarianism in a narrow way, this is puzzling. Garforth offers a thoughtful discussion of the value Mill places on individuality in Educative Democracy (op. cit., endnote 33), pp. 82–84.

Utilitarianism (Collected Works X, p. 216). See also Mill’s review of the second volume of Democracy in America (Collected Works XVIII, p. 169) and Principles of Political Economy , Bk. V, ch. xi, s. 6 (Collected Works III, p. 943). Several of Mill’s critics seem not to notice that he balances the principle of individuality with other values. See, for example, Frederic Harrison, “John Stuart Mill,” Nineteenth Century , 40:235 (July-December, 1896), pp. 493, 504; Henry D. Aiken, “The Justification of Social Freedom,” in Nomos IV: Liberty , p. 124; Susan Mendus, Toleration and the Limits of Liberalism (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1989), pp. 44, 71; Michael Freeden, The New Liberalism: An Ideology of Social Reform (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. 23, 30, 216; and, Benjamin Schwartz, In Search of Wealth and Power: Yen Fu and the West (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1964), pp. 133, 141. See also Gertrude Himmelfarb, On Looking into the Abyss (op. cit., endnote 73), pp. 79ff; and, James T. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought , 1870–1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 52.

On Liberty, chapter four, p. 277.

On Liberty, p. 266.

Ibid., p. 267; see also Autobiography p. 179 (Collected Works I, p. 260).

Ibid., p. 261. In an article entitled “The Negro Question,” Mill writes: “spontaneous improvement, beyond a very low grade,—improvement by internal developement, without aid from other individuals or peoples—is one of the rarest phenomena in history.” (First published in Fraser’s Magazine, XLI [Jan., 1850], p. 29 [Collected Works XXI, p. 93].)

Ibid., p. 270.

See Principles of Political Economy, Bk. IV, ch. vii, s. 6–7 (Collected Works III, pp. 790–96); see also pp. 768, 942.

On Liberty, p. 274.

Ibid. See also Mill’s letter to De Tocqueville (May 11, 1840), in Collected Works XIII, p. 434. For brief discussions of Mill’s “Sinophobia,” see Edward Alexander, “The Principles of Permanence and Progression in the Thought of J. S. Mill,” in John M. Robson and Michael Laine, eds., James and John Stuart Mill/Papers of the Centenary Conference (University of Toronto Press, 1976), p. 134; and, Susan Mendus, Toleration and the Limits of Liberalism, pp. 49, 67.

See, for example, James Fitzjames Stephen, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (Cambridge University Press, 1967), pp. 80, 84; and, Susan Mendus, Toleration and the Limits of Liberalism, p. 27. See also, John Gray, Mill on liberty: a defence (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), p. 87.

On Liberty, p. 272. For a different view on ‘custom,’ see Principles of Political Economy, Bk. II, ch. iv.

John Stuart Mill: A Critical Study, p. 104.

Of course, Mill would agree that the freedom to make mistakes is indeed freedom. On this point, see Berlin, p. 148, note 1, and p. 192; and, F. A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (University of Chicago Press, 1960), p. 18. See also below, chapter seven.

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Habibi, D.A. (2001). On Liberty: Positive and Negative. In: John Stuart Mill and the Ethic of Human Growth. Philosophical Studies Series, vol 85. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-2010-6_4

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  • Published: 14 August 2018

Individual liberty and the importance of the concept of the people

  • Regina Queiroz 1  

Palgrave Communications volume  4 , Article number:  99 ( 2018 ) Cite this article

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Through publically agreed laws that correspond to a common set of public restrictions, the ‘people as a sovereign body’ serves to protect against violations of individual liberty and despotic power. Where no such common body exists, individuals are deprived of this protection. In such cases, individuals must obey without liberty, while those in power command under a state of license. Neoliberal theorists maintain that any common personality, with its corresponding set of public and arbitrary positive and negative restrictions on liberty, undermines individual liberty. Neoliberal theory only allows for private restrictions on liberty. Against these neoliberal assumptions, we argue that rejecting public restrictions on liberty does not promote individual liberty. To the contrary, it creates conditions in which free individuals become servile and political inequality becomes entrenched, where citizens are divided into those who obey and those who command. Tracing the consequences of neoliberalism, we argue that unless we take seriously both the people as a political category and the right to equal and reciprocal coercion, individual liberty will be at risk. The article argues that neoliberalism ultimately leads to the total exclusion of certain citizens under the veil of full liberty . With the vanishing of the people’s will comes the utter disappearance of certain citizens , who live in a spontaneous society as if they were stateless or lawless persons. To better understand the connections between the rejection of the concept of the people, private restrictions on liberty and the fostering of the servile citizen, this paper considers the political philosophy of Hayek and Nozick. It also considers key ideas from Locke and Kant—theorists who, despite the differences between their philosophical perspectives, and despite the fact that they both provided crucial inspiration for Hayek’s political economy and Nozick’s libertarianism, stressed the protective role of the people with regard to individual liberty.

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Introduction.

Through publically agreed laws that correspond to a common set of public restrictions, the ‘people as a sovereign body’ serves to protect against violations of individual liberty and despotic power (Locke, 1679 (1960); Kant, 1793 (1977)). Where no such common body exists, individuals are deprived of this protection. In such cases, individuals must obey without liberty, while those in power command under a state of license, i.e., a state of unrestricted liberty. Neoliberal theorists maintain that any common personality, with its corresponding set of public restrictions on liberty, undermines individual liberty (Hayek, 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ). Therefore, in addition to promoting the idea of private, atomized individuals and denying the existence of “the people” (Hayek, 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ), neoliberal theory permits only private restrictions (positive and negative) on liberty (Hayek, 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ).

Against this neoliberal assumption (Hayek, 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ), we shall argue that rejecting the concept of the people and public restrictions on liberty while preserving the general law, its protective function, and coercive institutions and instruments for enforcing neoliberal law poses a serious threat to individual liberty and ultimately risks reducing the majority of free individuals to servile—and in some cases lawless—persons.

The literature has already demonstrated the incompatibility between neoliberalism and the notion of the people as a political category and reality (Brown, 2015 ; Dean, 2008 ). The impact of neoliberalism’s exclusion of the people and its reliance on the concept of publicity without a public has also been demonstrated (Queiroz, 2017 ). Related to this, the literature has addressed how neoliberalism fosters the development of a docile and disciplined citizenry (Foucault, 2008 ). Nonetheless, the political consequences of the exclusion of the people and the protective role it plays in the preservation of the political state—namely the transformation of free individuals into servile, and ultimately lawless, persons—has yet to be addressed, in particular from a political-philosophical point of view.

The importance of this issue is clear. There has been much emphasis on the economic nature of neoliberalism, which has obscured the fact that, more than an economic position, neoliberalism is a political outlook and reality (Bruff, 2014 ). Although neoliberalism has become deeply tied to economics (Hall, 2011 ; Read, 2009 ), this is mainly due to the fact that its theoretical understanding of the state as a political institution is made in analogy with the economic market and the subsequent political redefinition of the latter’s aims and scope (Foucault, 2008 ). Thus, without neglecting the significance of neoliberal economic analysis, in shifting the focus to neoliberalism’s political character we aim to disclose its political-philosophical foundations and to translate its allegedly purely economic aspects to the political sphere. As we will see, the imposition of fiscal equilibrium, fiscal consolidation, cuts to social security, the privatization of public property, the liberalization of collective bargaining, and the shrinking of pensions (Barro, 2009 ) are connected not only to the rise of poverty and inequality but also to the transformation of free citizens into dependent and servile persons.

The underlying philosophical principles formulated in Hayek’s political economy, political philosophy and legal theory, as well as in Nozick’s libertarianism, have spilled over into politics. Although, as empirical studies frequently show, there is always a gap between theoretical statements and practical reality, these principles now provide, at a national and international level, the law’s substantive content (Brown, 2015 ; Gill, 1998 ; Hall, 2011 ; Klein, 2007 ; Overbeek, 1993 ).

For these reasons, we do not intend to evaluate the “exegetical” value of Hayek’s and Nozick’s philosophical views (for example Hayek’s mistaken reading of Kant’s ethical and political philosophy; Gray, 1989 ). At the same time, we cannot here explore the important material basis of neoliberal ideology, namely concrete neoliberal activities, processes and powerful neoliberal social and political forces, such as multinational corporations (Brown, 2015 ; Gill, 1998 ; Hall, 2011 ; Harvey, 2005 ; Klein, 2007 ; Overbeek, 1993 ). Instead, we aim to show that the philosophical assumptions underlying Hayek’s political economy and Nozick’s libertarianism allow us to clarify the connection between the exclusion of the people as a political category and neoliberalism’s promotion of a servile citizenry.

To better understand this connection, this paper will consider the Lockean and Kantian concepts of the people. Despite the differences between Locke’s and Kant’s political philosophies (Gray, 1989 ; Williams, 1994 ), for both thinkers the people serves the function of protecting individual liberty against despotic power, a condition which is commonly referred to as political obligation under liberty. Hayek and Nozick explicitly refer to the Lockean and Kantian foundations of their views, for example the Kantian universalization test for establishing the validity of the abstract rules of the market state (Hayek, 1976 ). Nozick’s use of the Kantian understanding of the person as an end in itself to justify the rejection of substantive principles of justice (Nozick, 1974 ) provides an additional reason to consider Locke’s and Kant’s conceptions of the people in detail.

There are of course important differences between our current social, political and technological context, which is characterized by globalization, and Locke and Kant’s modern nation states. We ought also to consider the differences between how we conceive of the people, e.g., whether we define peoples in terms of national commonality (Miller, 2000 ) or whether we ought to stress the role of democratic politics in creating this sense of political belonging (Habermas, 2008 ). Equally significant is the fact that, contrary to neoliberalism, Locke’s liberalism depends on homo politicus and juridicus rather than homo economicus , which generates significant tensions between his rights-based view and modern views based on interests (Foucault, 2008 ). Equally, we wish to overlook neither Locke’s and Kant’s controversial statements and practices, for example Kant’s exclusion of non-property-owners from the social contract (Kersting, 1992 ), nor the limits of Locke’s and Kant’s theoretical constructions of political personality (Badiou, 2016 ). The weaknesses of past democracies, expressed in the exclusion of woman from equal citizenship, the existence of slavery, and contemporary populist perversions of democracy, do not entail that we must abandon the ideal of democratic political power, however. The negative aspects of Locke’s and Kant’s political philosophies should not erase their strong commitment, from a liberal perspective, to the importance of the concept of the people when it comes to protecting individual liberty.

Finally, we do not wish to ignore past conceptions of the people, such as Greco-Roman conceptions, republican conceptions (Cicero, 1999 ; Habermas, 2000 ; Rousseau, 1762 (1964)), Marxist conceptions (Badiou, 2016 ), and other current alternatives. Despite their differences, they share certain features with the liberal approach, such as assigning a protective role to the people. In the face of the political consequences of neoliberalism’s exclusion of the people, we should appeal to what Rawls ( 1993 ) calls overlapping consensus, i.e., agreement on the people as a political category on different grounds.

The paper is organized as follows. Section 1 provides a brief presentation of the main concepts and neoliberalism’s rejection of public restrictions on liberty and the right to equal and reciprocal coercion. In the second section, we show that, contrary to neoliberal assumptions, far from fostering individual liberty, the exclusively private restriction of liberty implies a political distinction between those who obey and those who rule. It also entails the division of citizens into those who obey and those who command, where the latter are given unequal protection by the government and thus an unequal share in the public coercive power. Similarly, it involves the introduction of two familiar political categories, originally deployed in neoliberal political society: self-serfdom on the one hand and invisible, voiceless citizenship on the other. At the end of the paper, we provide a brief account of the protective role of the people as a political body when it comes to individual liberty. We show that by ensuring the equal and reciprocal right of coercion, the people as a body protects individual liberty.

The people vs. the private coercion of liberty under neoliberalism

As an imprecise and nebulous concept, there is no single “pure” form of neoliberalism. Instead, there are varied articulations that make up an extraordinarily messy amalgam of neoliberal ideas and policies at multiple sites (Latin America, Europe, China; Harvey, 2005 ), on multiple scales (national, international, transnational, global; Brown, 2015 ; Hall, 2011 ; Klein, 2007 ; Overbeek, 1993 ), and within the many versions of the welfare state (Kus, 2006 ). Additionally, according to England and Ward’s ( 2016 ) taxonomy, neoliberalism can be thought of as a form of statecraft that promotes the reduction of government spending while increasing economic completion (Mudge, 2008 ), or as a form of governmentality that comprises social, cultural and economic practices that constitute new spaces and subjects (Foucault, 2008 ). In addition, neoliberalism can be seen as a reaction to the disenchantment identified by Weber, ( 1978 ) following the rise of bureaucracy. Neoliberalism expresses a kind of re-enchantment with the exclusively individual rational actor, who claims a non-alienable space of liberty against a bureaucratic “iron cage”. Although some see neoliberalism as a privatized version of economic and bureaucratic despotism (Lorenz, 2012 ) or as a totalizing global bureaucracy (Hickel, 2016 ), this re-enchantment can explain the enthusiastic endorsement of neoliberal principles by a wide spectrum of political and ideological forces, for example by the Labour party under Blair in Great Britain, the SPD under Schröder in Germany, and followers of Pinochet in Chile.

Finally, neoliberalism has been viewed as a conception of the world, or a “total view of reality” (Ramey, 2015 , p. 3), which is meant to be applied to the political realm and the entirety of human existence. Integrated into common sense, its main ideas stem from the everyday experience of buying and selling commodities on the market, a model that is then transferred to society. As a total view of reality, neoliberalism entails “a new understanding of human nature and social existence [and] the way in which human beings make themselves and are made subjects” (Read, 2009 , p. 28; see also Foucault, 2008 ).

While acknowledging the disparate criteria for defining and assessing neoliberal theory and practice, we maintain that neoliberalism is a political outlook and reality (Bruff, 2014 ) which has evolved in part in accordance with the framework of the theoretical premises of Hayek’s, ( 1976 ) political economy and Nozick’s, ( 1974 ) philosophical libertarianism. For instance, neoliberal theoretical principles now provide, at a national and international level, substantive content to political constitutions (McCluskey, 2003 ), the establishment of laws governing the executive (Foucault, 2008 ; Read, 2009 ), and the reformulation of laws governing citizens (LeBaron, 2008 ; McCluskey, 2003 ; Supiot, 2013 , p. 141; Wacquant, 1999 ). They also shape our comprehension of the world and ourselves (for example the reduction of the citizen to an entrepreneur; Peters, 2016 ). Thus, although there is no purely neoliberal society or state—neoliberalism evolves within various societies in different ways (see Harvey, 2005 )—neoliberal political theory allows us to clarify the political premises that underlie the disparate versions of neoliberalism.

In preserving the political state, neoliberal individualistic premises do not accommodate the notion of the people , i.e., the citizens of a given political community or a unitary political body ( demos or populus ), understood as an ultimate intentional lawmaker or sovereign (Locke, 1679 (1960)). The category of the people is a political criterion, which refers to the main act of the people’s sovereignty: their giving law to themselves, in the form of rights and duties (Locke, 1679 (1960); Kant, 1793 (1977); Rousseau, 1762 (1964); Sieyes, 1789 (1989)). Putting to the side the relationship between political (Dahl, 1998 ; Rawls, 1999 ; Sieyes, 1789 [1989]) and ethnic (Habermas, 2000 , 2008 ) criteria, this act unifies individuals who belong to different ethnicities, cultures, and linguistic traditions. The results of this act are the civic, political and social human rights which have traditionally been the privileged content of the laws of peoples (Locke, 1679 (1960); Kant, 1793 (1977); Marshall, 1950 ; Rawls, 1971 , 1999 ).

It is true that women and slaves have historically been excluded from the category of the people. It is also undeniable that such exclusion has not been completely overcome and that new categories of exclusion have emerged, such as ageism and digital exclusion. Important political differences within peoples on the axes of class (Badiou, 2016 ), gender (Elstain, 1981 ), race (Wilson, 2012 ), and citizenship remain. Nonetheless, the content of the laws of peoples has provided political criteria for denouncing and reducing, if not eliminating, these exclusions (e.g., in South Africa with the end of Apartheid).

Despite the complexity of the relationship between the state and the sovereignty of the people (Habermas, 2008 ), the political criterion stresses the subordination of the state to the sovereign people. It also points to the reformulation of the powers of states, “specifying that their legislators must not make certain laws, or must advance certain objectives” (Pyke, 2001 , p. 205). For example, instead of exclusively preserving peace or economic and financial efficiency, states ought to ensure the well-being of their citizens. In the absence of such restrictions, the overestimation of states’ economic goals (such as low inflation, the removal of trade barriers and foreign currency control, and minimal regulation of the economic labor market) can result in the undermining of welfare at the national (Brodie, 2007 ) and international level (Beck, 2002 ).

Some argue that nation states provide a criterion for determining political belonging (Miller, 2000 ). However, the political criterion points to the fact that one’s relation to a given nation state should be based on common laws, not ethnic or cultural differences. Rawls’s, ( 1999 ) liberal approach to international relationships argues against cosmopolitan principles of justice that are blind to the political (and moral) differences between peoples, for example the difference between liberal and decent peoples, where the former is based on an individualistic tradition and the latter on a ‘corporative’ tradition. Despite the perils of extending sovereign power to the global order (e.g., populism) and people’s incomprehension of the full import of economic and political factors, this order should respect the sovereignty of peoples. Neoliberalism’s “global policy of boundary removal” (Beck, 2002 , p. 78) undermines the sovereignty of the people (Beck, 2002 ; Overbeek, 1993 ). Indeed, the growth of international law affects domestic legal systems, limiting the political choices of legislators and voters, and competition in globalized markets does not allow nations or states to regulate their industries and workplaces. As Hickel notes, for example, financial liberalization creates conditions under which “investors can conduct moment-by-moment referendums on decisions made by voters and governments around the world, bestowing their favor on countries that facilitate profit maximization while punishing those that prioritize other concerns, like decent wages” (Hickel, 2016 , p. 147).

Peoples are the main ‘actors’ in the international and global arena, their sovereignty, along with their constitutional power, cannot dispense with common laws. Despite the crucial issue of the existence of mechanisms for enforcing those laws, human rights such as freedom from slavery and serfdom, mass murder and genocide can provide their content (Rawls, 1999 ). Although the political manipulation of the law by national-hegemonic principles (Beck, 2002 ) and the enforcement issue (Lane, et al. 2006 ) must be kept in mind, the human rights approach is relevant to Locke’s and Kant’s concepts of the people. There is a difference between the national order underlying Locke’s and Kant’s approaches to the sovereignty of the people and our contemporary international and global order, human rights can create, at the national, international and global level, a sense of political belonging (Habermas, 2008 ; Lane et al. 2006 ; Rawls, 1999 ). As political criteria, human rights preclude resolving persistent political conflicts on the basis of ethnic or national criteria, as occurs with populism and nationalism, respectively.

Given this intricate theoretical framework, as well as the complexity of the notion of a sovereign people (Butler, 2016 ; Morgan, 1988 ; Morris, 2000 ), we stress that whatever its scope, the sovereign people plays a protective role with regard to citizens’ liberties in general and against despotic power in particular (Locke, 1679 (1960); Kant, 1793 (1977)). Locke, ( 1679 (1960)) and Kant, ( 1793 ([1977)) assume that the sovereign people guarantees individual liberty in any human association. Both thinkers hold both that human associations (or societies) of free persons cannot deny the political facts of power, obedience and command (Locke, 1679 ([1960); Kant, 1793 (1977)) and that, in natural (rather than political) conditions, individual liberty is unrestricted. Since in the state of nature it is possible for one to obey unconditionally, having only duties, while the other in turn commands unconditionally, having only rights, the unrestrictedly obedient enjoy no protection against unrestricted power, at least concerning their right to life (Locke, 1679 ([1960); Kant, 1793 (1977)). From this perspective, i.e., from the perspective of individual liberty, the practical (as opposed to theoretical) challenge consists in conceiving of an alliance between individuals that does not undermine their individual liberty. The people as a political body expresses precisely this alliance: an inter-protective construction that replaces the state of unconditional obedience and command.

Following the controversial model of the contractual act (Gough, 1957 ), individuals transfer to the political power their unrestricted natural right to liberty. This transfer transforms them into “one people, one body politic” (Locke, 1679 (1960), II, p. 89). As members of the people, individuals equally consent to restricting their liberty under a political order and to preserving an equal coercive power, which prevents them from being reduced to servile persons and, correlatively, prevents any one of their numbers from becoming a despotic lord (Locke, 1679 (1960); Kant, 1793 (1977)). As such, they establish public law —a system of laws for a people, i.e., an aggregate of human beings, or an aggregate of peoples (Kant, 1793 (1977))—which allows them to live in a lawful state.

Through public law, i.e., laws based on their will, the people provides to each individual a unique set of liberties with regard to the use of material goods and imposes on each a unique set of restrictions (Locke, 1679 (1960); Kant, 1793 (1977)). When pursuing their personal well-being, as members of the people, individuals cannot ignore this common set of rights and restrictions. When pursuing their well-being, individuals are also, but not exclusively, bound to demands that are independent of their individual interests.

Public vs. private law

Neoliberal theory and practice does not preclude a common law (Buchanan and Tullock, 1962 ; Hayek, 1976 ). The common law that it involves is not, however, a law of the people that provides liberties (rights) and imposes a unique set of restrictions (Buchanan and Tullock, 1962 ; Hayek, 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ). Indeed, neoliberal political theory does not allow for the transformation of individual personalities or isolated natural selves into a collective or single public, viewed as the ultimate intentional lawmaker, which is the model we find, for example, in Locke, ( 1679 (1960)), Kant, ( 1793 (1977)), and Rawls, ( 1971 ). In Nozick’s political theory, when private persons establish a contract to govern their use of the possessions over which they have a private right (Nozick, 1974 )—this conception of rights includes both material possessions and natural talents—they are always separate units that remain separate even when they form associations (Nozick, 1974 ). They do not constitute a common person subject to common legislation that defines and regulates political authority and applies equally to all persons. This mirrors Hayek’s suggestion that it is absurd to speak of rights as claims which no one has an obligation to obey, or even to exercise (Hayek, 1976 ). On this view, human rights result from personal interests, and persons cannot be bound to claims that are independent of their private interests. These claims presuppose a public obligation (or the possibility of coercion), which involves a political organization in which decision-makers act as collective agents: as members of a people rather than individuals. Yet on the neoliberal conception, collective deliberation of this sort limits, and even undermines, individual liberty (Buchanan and Tullock, 1962 ; Hayek, 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ), leading to oppression (Buchanan and Tullock, 1962 ), if not to serfdom (Hayek, 1960 ).

Viewed from the neoliberal standpoint as a meaningless or mystical political category (Buchanan and Tullock, 1962 )—“a fairy tale” (Hayek, 1960 , p. 35)—the political deliberation of the people imposes obligations on individuals, undermining their liberty and well-being. The people as a political body is based on the supposition that someone (the people) can intentionally prevent or promote certain results, which, via end-rules, guiding organizations can compel individuals to attain. In addition to their “epistemological impossibility” (Gray, 1993 , p. 38), however—individuals’ multiple interactions produce unpredictable and unforeseen results—end-rules interfere with individual liberty and worsen the positions of all (Hayek, 1976 ), in particular those who are better off (Nozick, 1974 ). Interference (or intervention), which is “by definition an […] act of coercion” (Hayek, 1976 , p. 129), is “properly applied to specific orders [that aim] at particular results” (Hayek, 1976 , p. 128). Moreover, interference and intervention occurs “if we changed the position of any particular part in a manner which is not in accord with the general principle of its operation” (Hayek, 1976 , p. 128).

The general principle of the operation of the spontaneous society is negative liberty, or “the absence of a particular obstacle—coercion by other men” (Hayek, 1960 , p. 18) in one’s pursuit of maximal individual well-being. Requiring that the situation of the less well off be improved via the principle of the equality of opportunity, for example, involves restricting individual liberty in order to improve the situations of others (Hayek, 1960 , 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ). This improvement is thought to be unacceptable because, in addition to presupposing that we can determine the circumstances under which individuals pursue their aims, binding persons to claims that are independent of their private interests constitutes an interference in their liberty (Hayek, 1976 ). Even if it is admitted that the principle of equal opportunity entails neither complete control over the circumstances in which individuals pursue their well-being (Rawls, 1971 ), nor equality of results (Rawls, 1971 ), nor the worsening of the position of the better-off (see Rawls’s principle of difference, Rawls, 1971 ), the fact that it involves changing the positions of individuals via a public rule means that it constitutes the imposition of an illegitimate obligation on individuals (Hayek, 1960 ; 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ). The public law limits the overall sum of well-being—the greater the privatization, the greater the well-being—and restricts the unlimited intensification of individuals’ purely private interests (see Hayek’s, ( 1976 ) and Nozick’s, ( 1974 ) criticism of the utilitarian and Rawlsian theories of social justice). “Inconsistent” (Hayek, 1976 , p. 129) with individual liberties from the perspective of negative liberty and with the unlimited intensification of individuals’ purely private interests, public rules are transformed into private rules (commands or end-rules).

On the neoliberal view, the pursuit of individual ends ought to be based on historical principles (Nozick, 1974 ) or Hayek’s abstract rules, which only set out the procedures for acquiring and preserving individual well-being and which do not refer to a common purpose, such as social justice: “Freedom under the law rests on the contention that when we obey laws, in the sense of general abstract rules irrespective of their application to us; we are not subject to another man’s will and are therefore free” (Hayek, 1960 , p. 11). Under this negative conception of liberty, abstract rules allow for the improvement of “ the chances of all in the pursuit of their aims”; they are therefore truly public rules :

To regard only the public law as serving general welfare and the private law as protecting only the selfish interests of the individuals would be a complete inversion of the truth: it is an error to believe that only actions, which deliberately aim at common purposes, serve common needs. The fact is rather that what the spontaneous order of society provides for us is more important for everyone, and therefore for the general welfare, than most of the particular services which the organization of government can provide, excepting only the security provided by the enforcement of the rules of just conduct . (Hayek, 1960 , p. 132 emphasis added).

Neoliberal “public” rules are therefore abstract rules that exclude common concern . Organizations “sanction” the rights resulting from individuals’ interactions under abstract rules (Hayek, 1976 ). This means not only that governments ought to mirror that order—they cannot provide any rights of themselves—but also that the judicial system ought to be redesigned to fit with the Great Society. Indeed, Hayek critiques the enslavement of law by “false economics” (Hayek, 1960 , p. 67), i.e., economics that are dependent on the existence of public goods, and “prophetically” foresees the disappearance of this law in the spontaneous society (Hayek, 1960 ). Other neoliberal theorists have conceived of the neoliberal impact on law in similar terms, envisaging a legal system based on “true neoliberal economics”, which transforms the law into a bond “oblig[ing] one party to behave according to the expectations of the other” (Supiot, 2013 , p. 141; see also LeBaron, 2008 ; McCluskey, 2003 ; Wacquant, 1999 ).

This model cannot accommodate the idea of a public person, the people, to whom individuals belong; indeed, the role of ultimate intentional lawmaker is taken from the people and given to the spontaneous order , the Great or Open Society. Understood in analogy with the economic market, and equating to abstract rules applied to “an unknown number of future instances” (Hayek, 1976 : 35), this spontaneous order constitutes the sovereign lawmaker (Queiroz, 2017 ).

Neoliberal political intervention under private law

Under the negative conception of liberty, individual freedom is compatible with impediments and constraints (liberty is not bare license, which ultimately undermines negative liberty; Berlin, 1958 ). Abstract rules allow for private restrictions on liberty, and neoliberal governmental organizations ought to ensure that any restrictions on liberty are limited to the private realm. Neoliberal theorists do not understand this protection as a form of intervention or interference, however. Hayek, ( 1960 ), for example, argues for this notion by establishing a distinction between repairing and intervening. When a person oils a clock, they are merely repairing it, securing the conditions required for its proper functioning. In turn, when a person changes “the position of any particular part in a manner which is not in accord with the general principle of its operation” (Hayek, 1976 , p. 128), for example by shifting the clock’s hands, this counts as intervention or interference. In other words, just as oiling a clock provides the conditions required for its proper functioning, so governmental protection of the private scope of restrictions on liberty allows for the proper functioning of the Great Society. Both merely create the conditions under which individual wellbeing can be maintained, if not increased. In turn, just as shifting the hands of a clock is not in accord with the general principle of the clock’s operation, public rules, which impose illegitimate obligations on individuals, constitute an intervention into the functioning of the spontaneous society.

When establishing the particular character of organizations’ rules, and excluding “the security provided by the enforcement of the rules of the just conduct” (Hayek, 1960 , p. 132), this enforcement means that neoliberal politicians intentionally intervene, but only to prevent the auto-destruction of the “mechanism” itself. They permanently adjust the rules to the neoliberal common law.

Consider a situation in which two people, A and B, are involved in cooperative activity and in which both establish a common rule to safeguard the maximization of their interests. Under this rule, A and B both contribute to the maximization of their own well-being. Although it accepts the interdependence of individuals when pursuing their personal well-being, neoliberal reparation does not allow for a common right to the results of that cooperative interdependence (Hayek, 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ). In denying the existence of a public person, a public will, and in ultimately challenging the idea that there is a common right to a share in the total well-being that results from the contributions of all, neoliberalism not only allows, but also requires , that one party has a claim to the exclusively private enjoyment of the benefits of their mutual relationship. Accordingly, neoliberal repair (a metaphor for neoliberal government) ought to remove public law, which allows for the common right to well-being, and should replace it with private law. In this way, the proper functioning of the Great Society—which permits the unrestricted preservation and increasing of individuals’ private wellbeing—can be reestablished. The resulting intensification of poverty and inequality (Greer, 2014 ; Matsaganis and Leventi 2014; Stiglitz, 2013 ), the diminishing security of employment and income (Clayton and Pontusson, 1998 ; Stiglitz, 2013 ), and growing authoritarianism (Brown, 2015 ; Bruff, 2014 ; Kreuder-Sonnen and Zangl, 2015 ; Orphanides, 2014 ; Schmidt and Thatcher, 2014 ) are not problems in themselves. To the contrary, to the extent that it undermines individual liberty, any attempt to redress these effects violates the law of the neoliberal state, which, Hayek would say, is based on “true economics”. Accordingly, when choosing between the intensification of poverty and inequality and allegiance to the right of non-interference, non-interference must prevail, thus preventing political and social action to reduce (or compensate for) poverty and inequality. Notwithstanding the underlying theoretical debate on the legitimacy and justice of the acquisition of private rights (Hayek, 1976 ; Marx, 2000 ; Nozick, 1974 ; Rawls, 1971 , 1993 ), enforcing the rules of the Open Society deprives one part of that society of the right to their well-being and to their contribution to the general well-being . Under the neoliberal model of government and law, certain citizens are deprived of the right to enjoy the public goods that result from their collective activity, while others enjoy a private right to goods that result from the contribution of all. Since those who benefit are not able to acknowledge the contribution of others, they erase it and privatize the public law. This privatization shows that the neoliberal trinity of privatization, flexibilization and deregulation ultimately results from the original privatization of the public or common law .

Private restrictions on liberty and coercive positive liberty

Aside from the controversy concerning the epistemological value of the distinction between negative and positive liberty (Berlin, 1958 [1997]; Gray, 1993 ; Rawls, 1971 , 1993 ; Taylor, 1979 ), theoretical disagreement about their meanings (Taylor, 1979 ), and the caricatures by which they are often understood (e.g., positive liberty as a form of being “forced-to-be-free”; Taylor, 1979 ), governmental protection of private restrictions on liberty under neoliberalism shows that neoliberal political theory does not dispense with the coercive feature of positive liberty (see Gray, 1989 for a reading of Hayekian freedom as more than merely negative).

This not a negligible issue; neoliberal political philosophers establish a relationship between the main act of the people’s sovereignty, or its constitutional power—establishing a public law that provides to each person a unique set of liberties with regard to the use of material goods and imposes on each a unique set of restrictions—and the violation of individual liberty (Hayek, 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ). The replacement of the people’s sovereignty with the spontaneous order is thought to be justifiable because “when we obey laws, in the sense of general abstract rules irrespective of their application to us, we are not subject to another man’s will and are therefore free” (Hayek, 1960 , p. 11). When arguing against the oppressive nature of the rules that issue from the people, neoliberalism relies on the positive meaning of liberty (freedom to be one’s own “master”; Berlin, 1958 (1997)). A private right to a good that results from the (perhaps unequal) contribution of all constitutes a coercive act of positive liberty—“coercing others for their own sake, in their, not my, interest” (Berlin, 1958 (1997), p. 397). Similarly, the imposition of that right on society as a whole through legislation, including those who have been deprived of their well-being, also constitutes positive coercion . Citizens who are deprived of their well-being must simply accept the neoliberal diktat , i.e., the transference of their well-being to the few (Stiglitz, 2013 ). In a paternalistic way—according to Berlin, ( 1958 (1997)), positive liberty is always paternalistic in some sense—neoliberal politicians argue that there is no alternative (TINA) to neoliberal political legislation (the government knows best). Consequently, under the veil of state juridical and political violence, neoliberal politicians present governmental rules as an ultimatum , precluding consent, i.e., forcing individuals to give up their political right to challenge that deprivation (see the political meaning of TINA , Queiroz 2016 ; Queiroz 2017 ). The rejection of all public right, i.e., the exclusion of peoples, introduces into the core of the theory (and its practice) the despotic feature that neoliberalism attributes to the general will. In other words, the neoliberal political order mirrors the despotic nature that neoliberals attribute to the meaningless or mystical general will (Buchanan and Tullock, 1962 ).

The neoliberal ultimatum not only protects those citizens who apparently do not need the state’s intervention but also ensures that the law only protects their interests (which constitutes the privatization of legal protection). Neoliberal theorists understand public rules as means of protection, as if private interests were not highly dependent on law. Indeed, Nozick’s distinction between ‘public’, “paternalistically regulated” citizens (Nozick, 1974 , p. 14) and free citizens, who dispense with state intervention, obscures the existence of private, “paternalistically regulated” citizens. These citizens are protected by the reparations of neoliberal “public” law. In addition, however, rather than accepting the collective protective scope of the law, they demand a monopoly on it. Although neoliberalism casts them as utterly independent actors—lone Robinson Crusoes—they are highly dependent not only on the contributions of others for their well-being but also on the positive law. This shows that unless there is a common law to prevent others from interfering with one’s liberty and to provide certain means, negative liberty is an empty claim.

Insofar as the protective function of the government and the positive law include both legislative and coercive power, instead of coercing others for one’s own sake, neoliberal positive liberty allows private individuals to impose, without consent, public restrictions for the sake of their private interests. Neoliberal positive liberty thus leads to the establishment of legal and political inequality: some command without consent, i.e., without restriction, while others obey without consent, i.e., without liberty. Ultimately, making use of the benefits of negative liberty depends on the (political) attribution to individuals of certain legal and political statuses, under which they can make use of their liberty.

Moreover, the positive liberty that underlies the spontaneous order not only deprives certain citizens of their share of the general well-being but also leaves no room to claim a right against that deprivation. Besides protecting negative liberty in the maximization of individuals’ well-being, this order does not provide any concrete rights. Hayek explicitly says that it “is meaningless to speak of a right in the sense of a claim on the spontaneous order” (Hayek, 1960 , p. 102, II). Indeed, although framed by abstract rules, rights are always obtained under particular circumstances, i.e., in terms of differences between “individuals”, for example natural and social talents (Hayek, 1976 ; Nozick, 1974 ). Despite the interdependence of all individuals, individuals always remain separate unities and are thus deprived of the right to claim a common share of the fruits of their relationships—as if belonging to a common body entailed personal indifference and the abandonment of private interests. Accordingly, if the Great Society, which replaces the will of the people, does not provide rights to citizens, and if those citizens do not obtain them from their private interactions, it is meaningless to claim such a right or to complain that such a right has been denied them. There is nothing to claim or to complain about . In other words, where there are no rights, there can be no deprivation of rights.

Even if individuals wish to complain about the deprivation of their rights, the neoliberal state—which considers such rights imaginary, fictitious, mystical—does not contain institutions that can address such complaints. Under the neoliberal state, both the people and public institutions vanish into thin air. As Beck stresses with regard to neoliberal globalization, neoliberalism is the power of Nobody (Beck 2002 ). Alluding to Odysseus’s clever escape from the cyclops Polyphemus in the Odyssey (Homer, 1996 , 9, pp. 414–455), Beck suggests that the Nobody created under neoliberalism does not establish, protect or enforce equal individual rights. Even though Nozick (unlike Hayek) accepts the existence of natural rights and liberties, his rejection of a public person and public restrictions shows that the assumption of natural rights does not guarantee their enjoyment. In other words, when the will of the people becomes a mirage, individuals’ natural rights are also rendered illusory, as the neoliberal spontaneous society illustrates. Accordingly, instead of allowing for the “creat(ion of) conditions likely to improve the chances of all in the pursuit of their aims” (Hayek, 1976 , p. 2), private restrictions on liberty deprive certain citizens of the chance to pursue their aims (Brown, 2015 ; Gill, 1998 ; Hall, 2011 ; Klein, 2007 ; Overbeek, 1993 ; Stiglitz, 2013 , 2016 ). Instead of protecting individual liberty, the rejection of the “fairy tale” of the people allows for the emergence of two familiar political statuses, originally deployed in neoliberal political society: those who live under free self-serfdom on the one hand and the invisible and voiceless on the other.

Free self-serfdom and voiceless persons

A free serf is someone who, although deprived of political protection—whether this is understood as it was in the medieval era (Bloch, 1961 ), which made a distinction between the protector and the protected, or as it was understood in the liberal tradition (Locke, 1679 (1960); Kant, 1793 (1977)), in which each person is simultaneously protector and protected—can still satisfy their bodily needs through selling themselves or their labor. Neoliberal private restrictions on liberty cannot override the unrestricted autocratic deliberation of those who, in the absence of public law, can freely renounce their liberty in situations of extreme need, thus voluntarily enslaving themselves. The rejection of a public limit to individual liberty, along with the overlapping of public law and private interests, allows for unrestricted orders and, correlatively, for obedience without liberty (on work precariousness see Gill and Pratt, 2008 ; on work conditions in sweat shops, see Bales 1999 ). Consequently, neoliberal political theory and practice allow for the creation of a situation in which some citizens (serfs) only obey while others (lords) only command.

One may argue that despite social and economic differences, along with their non-negligible impact on individual liberty (Marx 2000 ; Rawls, 1971 ), neoliberalism’s Great or Open Society is not compatible with serfdom. Regardless of the lack of clear political criteria for defining an individual’s legal and political status (Bloch, 1961 ), human relationships have evolved under conditions of legal and political inequality (for example the superior free person vs. the inferior serf or vassal). This legal and political inequality is at work, for example, in systems where lords offer protection in exchange for total obedience (on the part of serfs and vassals) (Bloch, 1961 ). From the perspective of neoliberal theory, we are all equal: neoliberal society does not contain legal or political inequality and does not divide citizens into those who are superior and those who are inferior. It also does not include “protective relationships” or juridical and political obligations. To be at the disposal of someone else who can do whatever they please and to whom one owes unrestricted obedience entails neither that one has an inferior legal status nor that the political relationship at stake is one of a superior to an inferior. Persons have the same legal constitutional status (they all are seen as equally free), and all are equally entitled to pursue their private interests. Even if people sell themselves, this concerns the private restriction of liberty from the perspective of neoliberalism and does not conflict with the conditions required for the proper functioning of the spontaneous order, i.e., with individuals’ private liberty. Still, the private scope of individuals’ mutual service—the forbidding of serving others for the sake of those others’ well-being —does not prevent a person’s serving another as a means of ensuring their own private well-being, in which case it would not be appropriate to understand their relationship in terms of servant and seignior.

Besides entailing what is known in political philosophy as the liberty of slaves, i.e., the liberty of choosing either to comply with the orders of the master or to be beaten to death, the privatization of the well-being that results from individuals’ cooperation is based on the coercive restriction of liberty, under which some obey without liberty and others command without restriction. Thus, even if in neoliberal spontaneous societies people are not assigned explicitly different political statuses, which entail different political rights and duties, neoliberal political society does not prevent people from becoming servile or, correlatively, from becoming despotic. This fact reveals the extent to which neoliberalism entails a dangerous process of what some authors have called refeudalization (Supiot, 2013 ; Szalai, 2017 ), full analysis of which deserves examination of its own.

Nevertheless, when obeying without liberty , if citizens fail to acquire their rights they risk becoming something less than a free serf, i.e., a free excluded citizen. A free excluded citizen is a citizen who lives in a free society without having the personal, social or institutional resources to make use of their own liberty . When the neoliberal spontaneous order does not provide any concrete rights, and when another’s wellbeing has no bearing on one’s own, one is unrestrictedly free to pursue one’s own wellbeing even to the detriment of others unilaterally (the fully alienated person can be thrown away). In this case, voiceless and invisible citizens can only enjoy purely negative liberty, in the absence of the personal, social and institutional resources with which they might otherwise achieve well-being. Neoliberalism also entails the continuous risk of passing from servile (or docile) citizenship into lawless personhood. As such, individuals’ social existence is excluded from the neoliberal subjectivation procedure itself (in which human beings make themselves and are made subjects, Foucault, 2008 ).

Neoliberalism does not reduce to fostering the entrenchment of political inequality: the division of citizens into those who obey and those who command. It also does not merely imply a situation in which some are protected by the state while others are not, where private interests have a monopoly on legal protection and rights while others are denied political protection and only have duties (on work precariousness see Gill and Pratt, 2008 ). Similarly, it does not exclusively entail political arbitrariness; the private reduction of the “public” law allows for the unilateral institution of the rules (or their revocation). Ultimately, neoliberalism risks leading to the total exclusion of some citizens under the veil of full liberty . The vanishing of the will of the people results in the invisibility of certain kinds of people, who are then forced to live in the spontaneous society as if they were stateless or lawless persons.

It is true that under the distinction between neoliberal theoretical premises and neo-liberal practice individuals’ lack of protection does not correspond to these extreme cases. There is a distinction between neoliberal theoretical premises and neoliberal governmental laws within the many versions of the welfare state, for example neoliberalism’s reshaping of previous (welfare) state policies along neoliberal lines (Kus, 2006 ). Neoliberalism has retained some of the elements of that state (such as the protection of the rights of the most vulnerable), although these elements have been reshaped by the market approach to social welfare (Hartman, 2005 ; MacLeavy, 2016 ). On this basis, neoliberal officials have assigned public goods and services to private market providers, redesigning social programs to address the needs of neoliberal labor markets rather than personal wellbeing and establishing partnerships between the state and the private sector (Brodie, 2007 ).

Moreover, some argue that neoliberalism’s market approach to social welfare was an attempt to overcome certain economic and social difficulties of the welfare state. For example, economic internationalization has affected the competitive viability of the welfare state (Boyer and Drache, 1996 ; Rhodes, 1996 ). Also, the expansion of the state weakened intermediate groups and jeopardized individual liberties, subjecting citizens to increasing bureaucratic controls (Alber, 1988 ). We shall not dwell on a full analysis of these developments. The neoliberal market approach is, however, incompatible with the very idea of a welfare state. Indeed, despite the differences between the socialist, conservative and liberal versions of that state (Esping-Andersen, 1990 ), welfare states protect social rights, such as the right to education and health, and therefore provide social policies to enforce them (Marshall, 1950 ; Esping-Andersen, 1990 ), such that “[t]he provided service, not the purchased service, becomes the norm of the social welfare” (Marshall, 1950 , p. 309). Moreover, the functioning of the welfare state requires the contribution of fellow citizens (Marshall, 1950 ; Esping-Andersen, 1990 ). By contrast, the market approach rejects in principle all social rights, such as the right to education and health, and requires that individual welfare be an exclusively private enterprise (Brodie, 2007 ; MacLeavy, 2016 ). Instead of being provided, such services ought to be purchased (Brodie, 2007 ; MacLeavy, 2016 ).

Moreover, if the economic market only identifies solvable needs, and if individuals cannot signal their lack of resources, the neoliberal welfare state cannot prevent individuals who have been deprived of their rights from becoming invisible, along with the resulting institutionalized insecurity (Brodie, 2007 ), intensified poverty and inequality, and diminishing of security of employment and income for many wage earners (Clayton and Pontusson, 1998 ; Stiglitz, 2013 ). If the spontaneous society and its governments do not provide any rights, and if individuals do not acquire them in the economic market, there is no reason to claim such rights (including social rights). In this case, neoliberal social welfare reduces to charity (Clayton and Pontusson, 1998 ; Raddon, 2008 ; Mendes, 2003 ). Under this reduction, neoliberal theory fosters individuals’ dependence on the private goodwill of citizens who, after legislating with their own interests in mind, and after denying others the right to enjoy the fruits of their own contributions, then establish government spending as a “free lunch” of sorts (all the while paradoxically arguing that “government spending is no free lunch” (Barro, 2009 ); see Nozick’s, ( 1974 ) defense of charity)). The neoliberal conception of welfare also shows how neoliberal theory and practice do not prevent the subordination of certain individuals to non-consensual external mastery.

Neoliberalism is equally committed to state retrenchment or permanent austerity (Whiteside, 2016 ). By requiring fiscal consolidation, cuts to social security, the privatization of public property, the liberalization of collective bargaining, and the shrinking of pensions (Barro, 2009 ), austerity not only undermines all attempts to establish social security but also challenges the liberal and democratic basis of society. First, neoliberal austerity neglects people’s well-being. A Portuguese neo-liberal politician declared in 2013 that even if under austerity measures the well-being of the people had worsened, the country was better off Footnote 1 . The fact that neo-liberal policies have improved the state market is more relevant than the fact that the Portuguese people have been neglected and severely harmed (Legido-Quigley et al. 2016 ).

Second, neoliberalism excludes in principle the will of the people, i.e., it obliges citizens to obey private laws to which they have not consented. Consequently, it excludes citizens’ rejection of its harmful effects, such as poverty and inequality, and rejects all appeals to alternative policies. Following the political referendum of 2015, for example, where the people voted against neoliberal politics of austerity Footnote 2 , the Greek government nonetheless imposed a third harsh and austere economic program Footnote 3 .

Accordingly, neoliberal political principles, embedded in austerity policies, cannot prevent certain citizens from becoming invisible and voiceless citizens, i.e., Nobodies . As voiceless citizens, their preferences can only be registered through illiberal and antidemocratic channels, such as populism. Only following the election of US President Trump did the deteriorating life conditions of American citizens living in the rust belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin become widely known (Walley, 2017 ). Treated as nothing, and having becoming Nobodies, these citizens face the oppressive and violent institutional neoliberal Nobody, with its no less violent and oppressive political body.

The rise of populism

There is a lack of consensus on the definition of populism (Collier, 2001 ). It can, however, be described as an organizational or a strategic approach (Weyland, 2001 ) and ideology (Freeden, 2016 ; MacRae, 1969 ; Mudde, 2013 ; Mudde and Kaltwasser, 2013 ). The organizational perspective of populism stresses the importance of the personal leader, who bases his or her power on direct, unmediated, and institutionalized relationships with unorganized followers (Weyland, 2001 ). In turn, as an ideology, i.e., a set of beliefs, values, attitudes, and ideas, populism combines (not always coherently and clearly) political, economic, social, moral, and cultural features with several characteristics that appear together, such as emphasis on the leader’s charisma: “the populist can demand the highest principles in the behavior, moral and political, of others while being absolved him or herself from such standards” (MacRae, 1969 , p. 158). Beyond these features, however, and despite the fact that the concept of the “pure” people and the corrupted elite can be framed in different ways (Canovan, 1999 ), the pure and homogenous people and the corrupt and homogenous elites are core concepts that underlie populist ideology (Mudde, 2004 ).

Since neo-liberal officials do not consider citizens’ and peoples’ political claims and are not entitled to address the political, economic, and social consequences of their policies, the perception that neo-liberal politicians are corrupt elites has been on the increase (Mudde and Kaltwasser, 2013 ). This has helped populist leaders to replace neo-liberal politicians, allowing populism to fill the emptiness that has resulted from the failure of those in power to address the people’s claims.

Although the relationship between neoliberalism and populism deserves its own examination, the exclusion of the people, along with the right to reciprocal coercion, is a point of tacit agreement between neoliberalism and anti-liberal, anti-democratic political forces (Weyland, 1999 ). Populist leaders have employed modern, rational models of economic liberalism—such as fiscal consolidation, cuts to social security, the privatization of public property, the liberalization of collective bargaining, and the shrinking of pensions to undermine intermediary associations, entrenched bureaucrats and rival politicians who seek to restrict their personal latitude, to attack influential interest groups, politicians, and bureaucrats, and to combat the serious crises in Latin America and Eastern Europe in the 1980s (Weyland, 1999 ). In turn, neoliberal experts use populist attacks on special interests to combat state interventionism and view the rise of new political forces, including populists, as crucial for determined market reform (Weyland, 1999 ). We therefore ought to be careful not to criticize neoliberal authoritarianism while neglecting the hidden powers that secretly support neoliberalism’s disdain for the people, such as mafias (Schneider and Schneider, 2007 ). Indeed, those who do so may take pleasure in seeing the blame for authoritarianism fall exclusively on the shoulders of neoliberal theory and practice, even though they too endorse a form of governance and the administration of the state apparatus that does away with the people.

When individuals’ relationships evolve in the absence of the people and of laws to protect against despotic and abusive power, an increase in illiberal and antidemocratic forms of resistance to neoliberal policies can only be expected (Gill, 1995 ; Hickel, 2016 ). As Locke, ( 1679 (1960): II, p. 225) put clearly:

Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient Laws, and all the slip s of human frailty will be born by the People, without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of Abuses, Prevarications, and Artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the People, and they cannot but feel, what they lie under, and see, whither they are going; ’tis not to be wonder’d, that they should then rouze themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands, which may secure to them the ends for which Government was at first erected.

If we accept that (a) impoverishment and inequality are on the increase; (b) governments are refusing to provide political remedies for this impoverishment; (c) and citizens’ political choices are being neglected in a long series of abuses, it is not surprising that voiceless citizens may try to put the ruling power into illiberal hands that will achieve the purpose for which government was first established: securing the common public good. Under the neoliberal transformation of private rules into public rules, citizens are witnessing a continuous disregard for their collective well-being (see the relationship between the election of Donald Trump and the deteriorating life conditions of American citizens living in the rust belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; Walley, 2017 ).

Instead of welcoming populist reactions, however, we should be clear that the anti-liberal and antidemocratic hijacking of the citizens’ revolt against neoliberalism in no way respects the need for public rules. A call for the establishment and protection of public law is a call for personal and institutional liberal and democratic sovereignty , which differs fundamentally from populism and the neoliberal model of sovereignty (Dean, 2015 ; Foucault, 2008 ). This claim also rejects the political (and nightmarish) choice between neoliberalism and populism. Indeed, even if the relationship between liberal democracy and populism deserves investigation of its own, liberal and democratic sovereignty does away with the distinction between the pure and homogenous people against corrupt and homogenous elites. It also rejects the idea of the personal and benevolent leader/protector, who bases their power on direct, unmediated, and institutionalized relationships with unorganized followers.

First, although the distinction between corrupt elites and the pure people rightly points to the problem of the legitimacy of the rulers’ power, the people is not a homogeneous or pure body, whatever the criterion of belonging (ethical, ethnic, racial, economic). Far from referring to an undifferentiated and homogeneous corpus , the people is a heterogeneous political body, which includes gender, racial, and economic differences (along with disagreement about personal and collective ends), and which ultimately entails non-alienable individual rights and duties (Locke, 1679 (1960); Kant, 1793 (1977); Sieyes, 1789 (1989)).

Second, the solution to this gap is not its elimination through the immediate relationship between the leader and the pure, homogeneous people. In the liberal political tradition, there is no immediate political power. Rawls’s, ( 1993 ) political liberalism, for example, points to the gap between the political principles of society (e.g., the principles of justice), which are embedded in its basic political institutions (e.g., constitutions) and in “executive” institutions (parliaments, courts, governments), and the individuals in everyday life. Accordingly, the sovereignty of the people ultimately means that, whether at the political, local, national, international, or global level, citizens’ relationships are always mediated by law embedded in their public institutions (Locke, 1679 (1960); Kant, 1793 (1977); Rawls, 1993 ).

Even if there are many points of ideological disagreement concerning the concept of the people, sparked mainly by its use by controversial figures from the standpoint of liberalism, such as Rousseau’s concept of the general will, in Locke’s and Kant’s political philosophy the sovereignty of the people does not mean that the people can pursue its immediate and unbridled wishes. A charter of rights or constitutional principles always binds the will of the people (Locke, 1679 (1960); Kant, 1793 (1977)). In the absence of such restrictions, the people can itself become a despot, a danger which has been acknowledged since at least the time of Aristotle, ( 2002 ; see also Cicero 1999 ; Locke, 1679 (1960); Rawls, 1971 , 1993 ).

Third, in Locke’s and Kant’s political philosophies, the protective role of the people aims to ensure a political society of free and equal persons, not a society of minor and inferior subjects who need benevolent protectors, such as populist leaders (see Locke’s claim concerning the constitutional protection of individuals’ political rights (Locke, 1679 (1960)) and Kant’s rejection of paternalistic and despotic political power (1793 (1977)).

Liberal theory challenges the underlying neoliberal and populist Manichean opposition between personal interests and the general will of the people (“either there is a general will or individual liberty is repressed”, “if there is individual liberty, the general will is excluded”). If, when protecting the homogenous people against corrupt elites, populists endorse the first alternative, and if the neoliberal exclusion of the people corresponds to the second, both approaches remain blind to the political responsibility of free persons. Ultimately, whether by imposing on others the unrestrictedly and selfish pursuit of well-being or by appealing to the unlimited will of the people, both undermine individuals’ political freedom.

For these reasons, personal and institutional liberal and democratic sovereignty is more than a childish claim to state protection against political irresponsibility and blindness to public contributions to individual private well-being. It is a claim to one’s own political responsibility, for oneself and others, as this claim is clearly formulated in Locke’s and Kant’s political philosophies.

The social safety net

Although Locke’s and Kant’s political philosophies do not require individuals under public law to positively foster others’ social, economic and cultural well-being, their perspectives on the public challenge indifference towards the increasing poverty and inequality that we are currently witnessing under neoliberalism (Greer, 2014 ; Stiglitz, 2013 ). They also speak against the state authoritarianism that neoliberalism engenders (Brown, 2015 ; Bruff, 2014 ; Kreuder–Sonnen and Zangl, 2015 ; Orphanides, 2014 ; Schmidt and Thatcher, 2014 ). Of course, we may disagree on the extent of the success or failure of Locke’s and Kant’s theoretical political constructions of a political personality, understood in analogy with a single body. Some criticize the illiberal nature of Kant’s general will (for example the representatives’ betrayal of the people’s interest in the liberal social contract; Badiou, 2016 ). Nevertheless, these weaknesses challenge neither individual liberty, nor the people, nor the inter-protective role of the people and public law. Indeed, they remind us of the political meaning of ‘the body politic’.

Despite their strong commitment to the protective role of the people, along with their awareness of our political responsibility for the fairness of the public rules that affect us all , Locke and Kant do not fully explain the necessity of the notion of the people when it comes to producing a social safety net created by the will of the sovereign people. They also do not consider democratic procedures for arriving at collective support for a social safety net. With the differences between ancient and modern democracies acknowledged (Bobbio, 1988 ), the fact that Locke and Kant endorse democracy’s core feature, the existence of a people (the entire body of citizens) with a right to make collective decisions (Bobbio, 1988 ), does not make them democrats, at least in our modern sense (Bobbio, 1988 ).

Following our premises, and acknowledging the various ways in which globalization impacts states and people, democratic governments should establish democratic procedures at the national and international level to secure collective support for the political and social safety net. These include public laws based on the will of the people that provide each person with a unique set of liberties with regard to the use of material goods which impose on each a unique set of restrictions. These liberties and restrictions will ensure that individuals have an equal coercive power to prevent their becoming servile persons and, correlatively, to prevent any one of them from becoming a despotic lord. They also require the assumption of the cooperative nature of individual well-being, and therefore the pursuit of social justice with regards to the fruits of that cooperation. The political translation of the common right to the results of social cooperation through public policies that protect social rights, such as the right to education and health, is also desirable. This requires the “direct or indirect participation of citizens, and the greatest possible number of citizens, in the formation of laws” (Bobbio, 1988 , p. 38). Again, it is necessary to recast the political principle of provided (not purchased) services as a norm of public and social welfare. Finally, it requires awareness of the fact that in the absence of a political body to protect and enforce individual liberties, individuals will lack the personal, social and institutional resources to make use of their own liberty .

We have shown that neoliberalism’s rejection of the existence of the people seriously harms individual private liberty and does not prevent the transformation of the majority of free individuals into servile persons. More specifically, we have shown that forbidding the public restriction of liberty (which is inherent in the concept of the people) while exclusively defending private restrictions of liberty (a) deprives the majority of citizens of the equal right of coercion, and therefore of equal liberty, and (b) promotes the rise of different political statuses, a division between those who obey and those who command. We have also shown that neoliberalism lacks the resources to prevent the total alienation of liberty.

In comparing neoliberalism to Locke and Kant’s political philosophies, we have shown how the protective role of the people is compatible with individual liberty. Since it requires an equal right of coercion, it allows for the protection of individual liberty. We have also shown that this is not an exclusively collective task. It also depends on each citizen. In Locke’s and Kant’s political philosophies, the protective role of the people aims to ensure that political society is free and equal, not a society of minor and inferior subjects who need benevolent protectors (Locke, 1679 (1960)); Kant, ( 1793 (1977)). We concluded that, against neoliberalism’s faith in the powers of the spontaneous order, individual political autonomy depends on the public safeguarding of liberties. We also pointed out that unless there is a political turn toward the acknowledgement of the people or peoples, along with recognition of the significance of their political deliberation, neo-liberalism cannot be separated from illiberal and antidemocratic political choices. Similarly, if individuals’ relationships evolve beyond the existence of the people and lack laws to protect against despotic and abusive power, we cannot prevent the development of slavish and servile relationships among citizens. The fact that these relationships remain politically forbidden in neoliberal states, for example in the European Union, only reveals that neoliberalism’s dismantling of liberal and democratic political institutions has not fully succeeded. In the absence of the people, human rights depend exclusively on individuals’ interests; the spontaneous order thus cannot prevent neoliberalism from descending into slavery and serfdom, i.e., self-slavery and self-serfdom.

Future research should ascertain how, in the aftermath of neoliberalism’s devastating social and political effects on public cohesion, it might be possible to reconstitute a sense of political belonging (Habermas, 2008 ) and the sovereignty of the people (Pyke, 2001 ) under globalization.

Future research should also continue to evaluate the dangerous process of what many are calling refeudalization under neoliberalism (Supiot, 2013 ; Szalai, 2017 ). It is worth comparing the feudal alienation of political liberty, for example the different perspectives on vassalage (Bloch, 1961 ), with contemporary forms of inferior political status.

Finally, future research could evaluate how, as a reaction to the disenchantment with the rise of bureaucracy identified by Weber, ( 1978 ), neoliberalism might express a kind of re-enchantment with the exclusively individual rational actor, who claims a non-alienable space of liberty against the bureaucratic “iron cage”.

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Queiroz, R. Individual liberty and the importance of the concept of the people. Palgrave Commun 4 , 99 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-018-0151-3

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Liberty Essay Example

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Topic: Freedom , People , Politics , Liberty , Europe , Government , Democracy , Life

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Liberty has a different meaning to different people. Some people may not even know liberty even exists because of the society they live in which is very oppressive towards certain ideas. Liberty to some people is the freedom from controlling government, the ability to decide one’s destiny, to be able to speak or write their thoughts, to not be confined based on one’s appearance, and to be free from foreign rule. While there is no real official rule about what liberty truly is, I had the opportunity to interview people from various backgrounds about what liberty is to them. Each person came up with a different answer based on their life experiences and their country of origin. Their responses allowed me to come up with some idea of what liberty means to me based on my personal experiences, life, and the country in which I live. I realize that many of the people I interviewed believed in the very basic which is freedom. Similarly, I think liberty is freedom as well. Part of that freedom comes from knowing that my government does not control every aspect of my life. People in other countries are not so fortunate and live under a controlling government. Many people will agree that it is better for society if the government does not have absolute control over the lives of its citizens. Interviewing someone who has left North Korea, have made me aware that controlling government can ruin people’s lives. The interviewee, who wishes to remain anonymous, described how life was during his time in North Korea. In cities like Pyongyang, many people were able to pursue careers and life a somewhat decent life. However, in other cities, people lived without running water in their homes. Honoring the government and being loyal is vigorously enforced. Those who live according to government rules are rewarded. Those who do not, are punished. Sometimes the punishment can be so severe that one person’s action could mean punishment for his or her entire family. The idea of liberty never truly crossed my friend’s mind because of the environment he grew up in prevented such notions from being formed. After leaving, my friend was able to witness and experience a different way of living. When asked about the meaning of liberty to him, he considered the question for several hours before replying that freedom from a controlling government was a crucial aspect of liberty. Without the limiting of government in people’s lives, freedom such as to live how one chooses becomes difficult for people. A controlling government prevents people from thinking as individuals. A government that controls the media, how people live, what they should believe in, and how one is educated among many other things, can control how a person sees the world around them. For people who cannot be controlled as such, they are either punished or killed so that the rest of society does not become tainted by free thinkers. Another very different view of the meaning of liberty comes from someone who is from Yemen. Liberty to some people is the freedom to choose their destiny. I had the chance to interview a friend of mine from Yemen about what liberty met to her. She grew up in a society where women were not highly respected. Unlike in the Western countries, in Yemen, men and women did not mix or socialized unless they were closely related. Women were hijabs or veiled their faces. Young girls, even those under the age of 18 years old, could be secretly married off to older men to settle debts or because the family cannot provide for the girl due to having many children. Often, girls and women are not asked how they want to live their lives. In many instances, they have no choice but to follow what their family wants them to do, and if they do not they can be “honorably” killed. While in more recent times, the Yemen government has attempted to change the mindset of society by passing laws forbidding certain acts such as underage marriages, society still holds firm to these practices. In some aspects, women remain the property of men in Yemen. Education, jobs, and even healthcare can be very hard for women to gain access to because there are places that still requires women to be with a male relative while traveling. My Yemen friend went on to define liberty as the freedom to decide her destiny. She stated that she was very lucky to have had a father who saw the importance of educating both his sons and daughters. Many of her other relatives were not so fortunate as her. Some of her female cousins were forced to marry at sixteen years of age and had several babies before they were twenty. They were given an education but prevented from going to university by their husbands. Though they have made the most of their lives, they do wish they had more control over how they live, what they do, and where they can go without a male relative around. Many people take a particular aspect of liberty for granted such as freedom of speech. There is some society that simply do not like people to speak their minds freely. Freedom of speech may seem to be a natural birthright of any human, but there are some governments that look to quite those who speak out. I’ve had the opportunity to interview someone from Turkey named Canberk. In his country, people who say rude or negative things about their president, Tayyip Erdogan are known to have been thrown into jail. Anyone who opposes the current Turkish government can be thrown into prison. While freedom of the press is something that is different from freedom of speech, it does fall under the “speech” portion. Thus, many journalists, writers, and professors have been thrown into jail for speaking out against President Erdogan. To put it differently, if anyone in the United States was ever displeased with President Obama’s administration and voiced such opinions either in print or on the internet, they do not fear the police coming to their house and putting them in jail for their opinions. In Turkey, if someone is upset over how President Erdogan or the current political party in power is running the Turkish government, they cannot voice their opinions without being afraid of being arrested. Turkey has one of the highest rates of journalist and writers being arrested today, and it just might be increased in the future if nothing is done to stop the government from taking away people’s right to free speech. Canberk stated that liberty is the freedom to be able to voice one’s opinion without the fear of being jailed or killed. Without freedom of expression, people will end up living a life of fear and lies. No government official should be highly considered that they consider themselves above criticism. A government that prevents a person from speaking out can end up being a dangerous one to its citizen. Such a government has no place in today’s society. Even in countries like the United States where liberty is considered a person’s unalienable right, people define liberty in different ways. The United States government has a history of infringing on people’s right to liberty and society continues to infringe on those rights today. One person I interviewed was an African American from Detroit, Michigan named David. As he stated, while slavery has been over many years ago, African Americans, particularly males, have a hard time in the United States. Some laws protect people from illegal confinement and physical restraint. However, enforcing such laws have proven to be difficult because African American men tend to be imprisoned at a higher rate than other races in the United States. There are times when the African American is confined based on false evidence. Even first-time offenders are often given severe sentences despite the fact other races would have been given light sentences. For David, liberty means having the freedom of living in a society where African American are not illegally confined in jails because of their race rather than their actions. Europe is another area where people live in a pretty much free society. However, some people think that they are being ruled by foreigners in their country. The freedom from foreign rule is another aspect of liberty, and there are some societies that have willingly given up the freedom of self-rule. In Europe, many countries have come together to form the European Union. However, as a Janelle, a British citizen I interviewed, stated, the European Union have taken away some of the rights in many European countries. In recent times, many European countries were forced under the European Union agreement to take in refugees and migrants. Some of these countries are having financial issues, and the extra burden of taking care of refugees and migrants have made their problems worse. Many of the governments are refusing to take in refugees and migrants or are sending people back to other countries. The European Union tells these countries that they are violating the agreement they had signed. In other words, the European Union is telling countries they have no other option but to take in a certain amount of refugees and migrants or risk being punished. However, the increase in migrants and refugees led to a rise of rape and sexual assaults in various European countries. Many people are beginning to see the European Union as a foreign entity that has a stronger hold on them and their government. Janelle sees liberty as being free of the rules of the European Union. She wants the ability to elect government officials who put the concern and well-being of its citizens at the forefront. After interviewing several people about their idea of what liberty is, I formed my opinions and beliefs based on my life’s experience. Liberty has so many definitions to different people, and I believe each definition defines some aspect of liberty. Personally, I think liberty is the ability to live a life that is suitable to my needs and wants without the government interfering too much in it. There is a need for some government control in people’s lives. If the government is moved out completely from people’s lives, some people will abuse others in society with no regards to the consequences that may follow. An example of how people abuse others when the government is not around would be how many companies would destroy the environment if they were no government control over how, when, and where they dump waste products. Many people in the past have either been hurt or killed by companies that were run by people who only cared for turning a profit. As a result, the government passed laws to protect people and the environment from ruthless company owners. Liberty comes in many different forms and is defined in many different ways by people all over the world. There is not one definition that can truly define what liberty is because people have different needs and wants that influences what freedom means to them. Some may say freedom from controlling government is more important than freedom of speech. However, one thing is true. Liberty means freedom.

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Liberty - Essay Examples And Topic Ideas For Free

Liberty refers to the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life. Essays could delve into the philosophical concepts of liberty, its various forms (e.g., civil, political, economic), its evolution over time, and how it’s embodied in legal systems and societal norms. A substantial compilation of free essay instances related to Liberty you can find at Papersowl. You can use our samples for inspiration to write your own essay, research paper, or just to explore a new topic for yourself.

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Essay on “Liberty in the Modern World” for Kids and Students, English, Paragraph, Speech for Class 8, 9, 10, 12, College and Competitive Exams.

Liberty in the Modern World

Liberty, another word for freedom is an essential concomitant for development and growth. However, just to get liberty is not enough, in how we use it lies at the essence of achievement by liberty.

In the modern world, a lot of freedom is given to all and sundry. Liberty to women, to children, to workers, to lower classes and so on and so forth. However, as things stand today, wherever we look it is being amply misused.

The modern world is correct when it says and thinks that, there can be no growth without liberty. So much so good but, when we think of liberty we do not seem to realize that, complete liberty should be given only to a highly sophisticated, highly disciplined and a highly educated and responsible class of people. This is because if we give liberty to a lesser class that does not know the right use of the gift, it will in all probability be misused. Just as a monkey handling a razor is likely to cut his cheek while a man knows how to use it correctly to his advantage without harming himself. In the very same way, liberty is also a thing which needs a very delicate and sophisticated handling for it to be really useful. Liberty must thereby find place only in the hands of the few well educated and well meaning people.

However, this is not true at least in India, liberty has been granted as a gift from the Gods to all and sundry and the result is for all of us to see. Wherever liberty is being given it is being misused by one and all. This is because when liberty is in the hands of people like those, common in India, dishonest and indisciplined, it is bound to bring disaster. To understand the validity of the statement that, liberty must be given only when we are disciplined and know how and how far to use this gift. To see how far our liberty is misused we will take and study a few examples from our day-to-day lives.

The home and the society are the two main spheres where all of us individuals have interest. At the home front, the women and the children have the liberty to work, to play, to go where they want, to follow any style of dress they may like, so on and so forth. This large spectrum of freedom has led to an utter confusion in the family where everyone does what he/she wants as, each one is at liberty to, do as he/she wants to do. Our very understanding of the concept of liberty and the true concept has taken a beating. We, being not really educated and disciplined feel that, in reality we can do, say behave as and when we like. Yes, this is what basically liberty is all about, but, do we know where to stop taking this liberty? Women are free to do what they want and not do what they do not want, but, when we hear the following, “the house is mine and yours together when I can look after the house so can you.” When a wife says this to her husband it shows that she has not really understood her liberty correctly. She does not seem to realize that, such words can have multiple effects on the family. Work gets dislocated as, now both partners want the other to take the first step forward. Seeing this, the children take the cue and learn the same indiscipline and misbehaviour. Similarly, at the level of the society everyone wishing to do what and how he/she wants, leaves the social fabric without any cohesion and civic boundaries.

Thus when we talk of liberty we must ensure that, it must come only after good education, and discipline for else, liberty in the hands of the uneducated and uncouth becomes a harbinger of greater and greater indiscipline, leading to disaster. This is exactly what is happening in India. Every individual has the liberty to do, to say, and behave as he/she wants, and the resulting chaos is for us all to suffer. Liberty is the gift meant for people who know above far to take the liberty and when to stop using it and, above all how to use their liberty.

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1150 words essay on Liberty

essay about liberty is growth

Liberty is a magic concept which has inspired millions to revolt and the history of mankind is nothing but the story of liberty. The celebrated French philosopher Rousseau on the eve of the French Revolution of 1789 made a historic declaration “Man is born free but is everywhere in chains”. It is a concept with magical touch for which people still prefer to die. Being obsessed by the blood bath of French Revolution Romain (Madam) Roland went to the statue of Liberty and said “Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name”. The fight of the Americans against British imperialism, the French Revolution of 1789 against the Bourbon king, the Proletarian Revolution of 1917 against the Czarist regime, India’s freedom struggle and Dr. Nelson Mandela’s ceaseless fight against the White Regime etc. are the few instances to high-light the craze for liberty.

The English word ‘liberty’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Liber’ which means free. Thus, the etymological or the literal meaning of liberty is ‘doing what one desires’. But this fails to satisfy the spirit of this concept. From time to time this concept has been variously interpreted to give it varied meanings Liberty can be enjoyed only in a society and there would be no liberty if there is no society. Alexander Selkirk, the sailor who was banished in a lonely island, was denied of liberty as there was no human society. Thus, liberty can be enjoyed in a congenial social atmosphere. ]

The Greeks viewed liberty as the subjugation of the individual to the dictates of law or rule of law. Rousseau is of the opinion that liberty of an individual is to be completely identified with the General will or the will of the sovereign. Hobbes holds the view that liberty means absence of restraint. T.H.Green takes liberty as the positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying. J.S. Mill, the leading exponent of liberty, defines it as “being left to oneself’ and to him “all restraint qua restraint is an evil”. A Marxist can see liberty only in the withering away of the state and the establishment of a classless and stateless society, an anarchist can find liberty only in the absence of state by advocating ‘nihilism’, a pluralist can see liberty in the working of various associations, a democrat discovers liberty only in the decentralisation of authority etc. To find out the true meaning of the term ‘liberty’ some standard definitions need citation and elaboration.

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According to Mekechzie “Freedom is not the absence of all restraints, but rather the substitution of rational one’s for the irrational”.

To Gettel “Liberty is the positive power of doing and enjoying those things which are worthy of enjoyment and work”.

According to Prof H. J. Laski Liberty is “the eager maintenance of that atmosphere in which men have opportunity to be their bestselves”.

To Seeley “Liberty is the opposite of over-government”.

M. K.Gandhi writes “Liberty does not mean the absence of restraint but it lies in development of personality”.

John Locke, the social contractualist maintains that “where there is no law, there is no freedom”.

The French Declaration of the Right of man (1789) says “Liberty consists in the power to do everything that does not injure another.”

The above definitions point out two aspects of liberty- negative and positive. When liberty implies the absence of restraints it means the negative aspect of liberty. It guarantees absolute freedom to the individuals. John Stuart Mill, advocates for absolute freedom in the matter of self-regarding actions and denies state interference. In the positive aspect of liberty free and full opportunity is provided by law to every individual for the development of his personality. Prof. Laski supports the positive aspect of liberty. All the modern democratic states accept and recognise the positive aspect of liberty as against the negative aspect of liberty, as absolute and unrestrained freedom will degenerate into licence. Prof. Barker believes all actions of the individual are social-actions as they affect society.

Broadly, liberty implies the following things.

(1) Liberty does not mean the absence of all restraints.

(2) Liberty means the absence of unjust and tyrannical restrictions.

(3) Liberty means legal, moral and reasonable restrictions on the functions the individuals.

(4) Liberty is an essential condition for the development of individual per­sonality.

(5) It means the rights of the individual to do things which are not harmful to others.

(6) Liberty is to be provided to every individual equally by the state without discrimination.

Types of Liberty

R. M.MacIver observes in his book “The Modern State” that ‘Liberty itself is not one but manifold’. Thus, Liberty can be divided into five kinds.

(a) Natural Liberty :

The concept of natural liberty was highlighted by the contractualists like Hobbes, Locks and Rousseau. According to them, the concept of liberty is natural to man and therefore it is in born with man. Rousseau writes ” Man is born free”. It implies that liberty is natu­ral in whose absence an organised political community can never come into existence.

(b) Civil Liberty :

The civil liberty is enjoyed in the capacity of a man or an individual. The absence of civil liberty will reduce the man to the status of stud animals. This liberty is granted by the state to its people in the form of rights, like the right to life, liberty, property, freedom of ex­pression, freedom of religion etc.

(c) Political Liberty :

Political liberty is enjoyed by a person in the capac­ity of a citizen. This liberty enables a person to associate himself in the affairs of the state. It includes the right to vote, right to hold public of­fice, right to canvass, right to petition etc. Prof. Laski writes for the enjoyment of this liberty two conditions are necessary- (1) widespread education, (2) supply of honest and straightforward information.

(d) Economic Liberty :

A person enjoys economic liberty in the capacity of a worker. This liberty was highlighted by Karl Marx who propounded for an exploitation free society. It implies the absence of unemployment, exploitation, unfair wages, insecurity, substandard living etc.

(e) National Liberty :

National liberty implies ‘self-rule’ of the people Every nation has a right to rule over themselves. It means the absence of imperialism and colonialism. Thus when a states born, it is born with a right to be independent and sovereign. The nation should be independent of foreign domination as it will lead to slavery, exploitation and racial discrimination.

Besides the five liberties, with the passage of time, the concept of internationalism and International liberty has emerged and the entire world is viewed as one family of nations. The international liberty implies renunciation of war, abandonment of the use of force and peaceful settlement of all international disputes, limitation on the production of mass destructive weapons, coexistence of nation-states, international cooperation and peaceful world order.

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Liberty Essay Examples

Anti-federalist ideals: preserving liberty.

The Anti-Federalists emerged as a formidable counterforce to the Federalists during the early years of the United States. They articulated concerns about the proposed Constitution's potential to undermine individual liberties and encroach upon the powers of states. This essay examines the core principles of Anti-Federalist...

Balancing Freedom: Exploring Positive and Negative Liberties

The terms liberty and freedom are used interchangeably by political and social philosophers, generally speaking, they are realistically the same word. This is positive and negative freedom essay where will be an attempt to outline and assess the central features of positive and negative liberty....

The Concept of Liberty

For a great number of people, the concept of liberty is interpreted as independence or freedom from the norms or restrictions of the society. It can also be defined as the will to get away from the shackles of the society and be one’s own...

On Liberty: a World for the People 

Liberty is recognized by humans as their freedom from someone else’s control depending on a certain circumstance or necessity, which allows them to act how they please with the ultimate goal of progressing together as a society and avoid stagnation. This idea was promoted by...

Liberty Through My Eyes

Throughout history, a plethora of battles have been fought in hopes of gaining one thing; liberty. Whether it was the French Revolution or America's Civil War, the goal of the the oppressed was to gain freedom. These individuals sacrificed their time, money, and lives for...

The Significance of on Liberty

The philosophical essay, On Liberty, written by John Stuart Mill, has made a significant impact surrounding the idea of power, and how much power society should have and what is, and is not acceptable within a society. Mill was able to develop these abstract ideas...

Liberty Vs. Equality Debate

Freedom is an extremely far reaching thought and it changes with the difference in time and different things, for example, standpoint, physical conditions, state of mind and so on. By freedom one need not mean just political or some other' specific sort of freedom. The...

Life, Liberty, and the Existence of Slavery 

Every culture has its core values that define the measure of its humanity and determine the importance placed on the rights of the people. America, our nation, was built on the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness guaranteed by the Declaration of...

The Significance of Liberty, Equal Opportunity, and Democracy in the United States

When I read the topic of this essay, I wasn’t confident in my naive political views. I began to educate myself on politics and our current political climate. I concluded the idea that liberty, equal opportunity, and democracy could be further improved given our country’s...

The Patriot Act: Liberty Versus Surveillance

Imagine one person sitting in front of a monitor, who can track, with precision, an unimaginably large number of people. Sadly, our society does not have to imagine such a thing because that is currently our reality. Government surveillance has reached to a point where...

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