Positive Freedom in a Changing World

Convenors: Maria Dimova-Cookson (Durham University); John Christman (Penn State University)

Email: maria.dimova-cookson@durham.ac.uk

The academic interest in and the affirmation of positive freedom have increased since the end of the cold war (see Habermas, Honneth, Gould, Simhony, Christman, Cooke, Hirschman), although both the positive and the negative concepts of liberty continue to suffer from their association with a past ideological conflict. The recent rise of populism however brings moral and social dilemmas not dissimilar to those at the heart of the clash between the communist East and the capitalist West. Questions about justifications of progressive ideals and the desirability of social equality are once again hotly debated. Populist movements shun the radical visions of social justice advocated by the academic and political elites alike. And these elites are paralysed as they find it impossible to choose between the liberty advanced through democracy, on the one hand, and the justice of gender, racial, ethnic, cultural and global equality, on the other. 60 years after the publication of ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, the Berlinian positive-negative freedom dichotomy which reflected the standoff between liberty and social justice, is back in play. The most recent resurrection of the cold war through the British-Russian diplomatic confrontation is symbolic of the need to find old solutions to painful and divisive moral dilemmas.

Concepts of positive freedom provide viable alternatives to more traditional liberal conceptions of liberty. The latter have served arguably well in the limited purview of justifying rights protections and individual interests in stable constitutional states.  However, liberal views of freedom as non-interference, as well as more recent neo-republican models of freedom fail to adequately capture the inherent connection between freedom and democracy, on the one hand, and liberatory freedom (“freedom struggles”) on the other.  They also fail to conceptualise adequately the relation between liberty and social justice and thus have little to offer when a stark confrontation between them emerges as is the case in recent populism. What is needed is renewed attention to positive conceptions of liberty which develop better understanding of the processes of motivation behind liberatory movements, including the quest for independence, and find ways to thicken the thin ideas of equality and liberty that shape the traditional liberal concept.

This workshop invites papers trying to forge innovative conceptual connections between freedom of self-realization, substantive equality of real opportunity, non-exploitation, autonomy, and experiences of discrimination. The papers are expected to offer a fresh perspective on the notion of freedom in a positive modality, emphasizing the intersubjective nature of the idea, the connection between freedom and democracy, the picture of agency that emerges in the positive notion, and moral dilemmas implied in the pursuit of liberty, among others.