Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly


With the publication of Isaiah Berlin's essay, "Two Concepts of Liberty," liberals and their adversaries came to view their respective positions as expressions of a deeper philosophical gulf between two opposed ideas of freedom - what Kant first dubbed the "negative" and "positive" ideas of liberty. Negative liberty, or "freedom from," represented the classical liberal conception of freedom, while positive liberty or "freedom to" is vouchsafed by civic republicans, progressive liberals, socialists and others. Negative liberty was associated with the absence of constraint and, more specifically, with individual rights and limits upon government power while positive liberty was usually interpreted as collective self-government. This Article argues that the distinctly American conception of liberty transcends the negative-positive dichotomy and seeks to demonstrate that the American ideal of liberty is distinctive for its commitment to individual self-determination. The piece argues that individual self-determination can only take place in the context of a social structure that protects the values of diversity, association and statement and seeks to show how the Madisonian, progressive liberal and communitarian conceptions of society represent varying responses to changing conditions in the service of a single concept of liberty as selfdetermination within a balanced society.