This chapter examines the concept of liberty. There are different rival interpretations of liberty. These interpretations can be discussed in terms of a well-known distinction: that between negative and positive liberty. Negative liberty is the absence of something: normally, the absence of external obstacles imposed by other human agents. Positive liberty is the presence of something: the exercise of our choice-making capacities in ways that put us in control of our own lives. Much of the recent literature on liberty has focused on a new challenge to these conceptions of liberty. The challenge comes from thinkers inspired by the neo-roman or republican idea of liberty as the antithesis of slavery. Republicans define liberty as the absence of domination. Meanwhile, some libertarians, who hold that liberty is best realized through the protection of private property and contract, have argued that liberty is always limited by the pursuit of economic equality.
This edition provides an introduction to the major schools of thought that dominate contemporary debates in political philosophy. The focus is on theories which have attracted a certain allegiance, and which offer a more or less comprehensive vision of the ideals of politics. The text examines the notion, advanced by Ronald Dworkin, that every plausible political theory has the same ultimate value, which is equality. It considers another, more abstract and more fundamental, idea of equality in political theory — namely, the idea of treating people ‘as equals’. It also explores what it might mean for libertarianism to have freedom as its foundational value, or for utilitarianism to have utility as its foundational value. Finally, it analyses the relationship between moral and political philosophy and argues that the ultimate test of a theory of justice is that it should be concordant with, and help illuminate, our convictions of justice.
This chapter focuses on libertarianism and its main assumptions. According to libertarians, people have a right to dispose freely of their goods and services, and that they have this right whether or not it is the best way to ensure productivity. Put another way, government has no right to interfere in the market, even in order to increase efficiency. The chapter begins with a discussion of the diversity of right-wing political theory, with particular emphasis on Robert Nozick’s entitlement theory of justice and his intuitive argument. It then considers the idea of a right to liberty and the contractarian idea of mutual advantage, along with Nozick’s principle of ‘self-ownership’. The chapter concludes with an analysis of the politics of libertarianism, taking into account its rejection of the principle of rectifying unequal circumstances, even as it shares with liberal equality a commitment to the principle of respect for people’s choices.