Concept of Freedom


The current study is conceived to investigate two philosophical approaches to the concept of freedom. Both approaches being elaborated by the political philosophers emphasize various aspects of the concept. The thesis statement of the research should be formulated as follows: “Despite the unanimously apparent linkage with the state processes, the concept of liberty is differently explicated by both Marx and Berlin.”

In view of the above, the research objectives may be enumerated as follows:

  1. To examine both Marx’s “On the Jewish Question” and Berlin’s “Two Concepts of Liberty”.
  2. To clarify chief similarities of the philosophers’ approaches to the concept of liberty.
  3. To investigate major discrepancies in the two approaches to the concept of liberty.

The relevant terms which are used in the current research are the following:

Liberty – should be apprehended as the right to do as one pleases as well as immunity from various types of oppression.

Freedom – should be grasped as a quality or state of being free.

Emancipation – should be understood as the act or process of freeing from a restraint.

The above-mentioned termsare recognized the most relevant in the current study.

Marx’s Criticism

In the work “On the Jewish Question” Karl Marx distinguishes between the political rights and human emancipation. He starts with the depiction of Bauer’s attitude towards the civil equality for both Jews and Christians. In Marx’s opinion, Bauer’s argument is grounded on the democratic concept of equality of all persons before the law, regardless of religion or any other factors (Marx 53). However, Marx goes further ascertaining that the genuine problem consists not in the level of political rights, but in the more fundamental level of civil society. Therefore, Marx argues that the political emancipation is not equivalent to human emancipation, because human emancipation creates preconditions for the religious psychology of escape from the actual world, that is, from the reality of human interaction in “civil society” (Marx 53).

Furthermore, Marx discerns civil society (the material life of man) from life in the political community (man’s “species-life”). In this connection, Marx reckons that the German Jews seek both civil and political emancipation. Moreover, the thinker contemplates that the relation between the political emancipation and religion is possible to juxtapose with the interplay between the political emancipation and human emancipation (Marx 57). Hence, the political emancipation of a man takes place in devious paths.

In accordance with Marx’s discourse, it seems reasonable to claim that man is potent to emancipate himself politically from religion by driving it out of the domain of public law in favor of the private law. To the researcher’s way of thinking religion has lost its features as the spirit of the state. It is no longer the essence of community, but the essence of disparity. As far as the notion of Christian state is concerned, it might be appropriate to clarify that the narrator regards it as not a state which acknowledges Christianity at its basis, but as the atheistic state where democratic values of civil society have lined up with the religion relegating its true magnitude (Marx 59). In addition, a mental note should be made that Marx is disposed to think that the genuine basis of the democratic state is not Christianity but “the human basis of Christianity”.

Apart from the above, the narrator differentiates between the rights of man and the rights of citizen. Thus, the rights of a man as a member of civil society are the rights of an egoistic man who is separated from other men. The aforementioned rights may be exemplified by equality, liberty, security and property. In the context of liberty, the author of “On the Jewish Question” cites the article 6 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen claiming that “liberty is the power which man has to do everything which does not harm the rights of others” (Marx 61).

In view of the above, Marx is prone to believe liberty to be the relation founded upon the separation of a man from other men, rather than fusion between a man and a man. Likewise, the practical application of the right of liberty juxtaposes with the right of property (Marx 62). According to the article 16 of Constitution 1793, it is possible to detect that the right of property is that right which belongs to each citizen “of enjoying and disposing as he will of his goods and revenues, of the fruits of his work and industry” (Marx 62). The right of property consists in the right to enjoy one’s fortune and to dispose of it as one wills. Other liberties of man are also taken into consideration by Marx.

Berlin’s Pluralism

Isaia Berlin in his “Two Concepts of Liberty” differentiates between the negative and positive freedom. In his discourse, Berlin is disposed to believe that the factor of non-interference plays a fairly crucial role the designation of freedom. According to the author, the criterion of the oppression is very significant for the understanding of freedom. To be free, in the thinker’s opinion, is not to be interfered with by others (Berlin 3). Therefore, the wider the dimensions of non-interference are, the wider freedom of an individual is.

Moreover, the classical English political philosophers disagree with the presupposition that the dimensions of non-interference designate limits of personal freedom, because things are not unlimited and human purposes and activities do not automatically harmonize with each other. Consequently, it is presumed by those philosophers that the dimensions of men’s free action need to be restricted by law.

Also, Berlin accentuates on Mill’s approach to individual liberty. According to Mill, unless the man is left to life the desired life, in the part of conduct concerning him, civilization cannot become advanced. However, the society can be smashed by the collective mediocrity. (Berlin 6). In addition, Mill is prone to think that the concept of liberty is not correlative with the democratic rule. In Mill’s opinion, liberty concerns the area of control disregarding the source of political power. Thus, a great considerable extent of liberty in a state may incite chaos and disorder.

As far as the concept of positive freedom is concerned, it should be clarified that the positive context of liberty, in Berlin’s opinion, originates from the wishes of an individual to be his own master (Berlin 8). According to Berlin, at least a part of the human is a positively free self. The aforementioned positively free self seeks to become some super-personal entity.

Besides, Berlin depicts the situation when a person, similarly to Buddhist sages, moves through the process of self-transformation which enables him to care no longer for any social values remaining isolated and independent as well as no longer vulnerable to the weapons of life in society (Berlin 11). The author suggests that the aforementioned escape is driven by the security reasons. Thus, Rousseau regards freedom as “obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves” (Berlin 11). Also, Kant supplements Rousseau claiming that “nobody may compel me to be happy in his own way” (Berlin 11). Kant continues that paternalism should be recognized the “greatest despotism imaginable”. In this connection, it is possible to grasp that Kant’s free individual is a transcendent being existent beyond the domain of the natural causality. In the final analysis, it might be appropriate to emphasize that the only true method of gaining freedom, in Berlin’s opinion, is by the use the of critical reason.

Discrepancies and Similarities in Contemplations of Marx and Berlin

After everything has been given due consideration, it is possible to make generalizations with regard to similarities and discrepancies in contemplations of Marx and Berlin. In the context of similarities, a mental note should be made that both Marx and Berlin take into account such category as liberty. In Marx’s opinion, liberty being a right of a man should be comprehended as a manifestation of the human emancipation. Marx considers the right of property a kind of liberty. In contrast to the rights of citizen, rights of man assert the process of human emancipation. Also, the political emancipation is impossible without the human emancipation in accordance with Marx’s discourse. Berlin narrates about liberty as well. He distinguishes between the negative and positive liberty. On the one hand, negative liberty is interpreted in correlation with the factor of non-interference which negates any oppression on a personality. On the other hand, positive liberty is explicated in linkage with positive actions of the self incited by the desire to be self-directed. Berlin resembles Marx when argues that the category of liberty means separation of a man from another man. Moreover, both of the philosophers involve the issue of Jewish people in their research.

As far as the discrepancies between the two studies are concerned, it might be prudent to ascertain that Marx substantiates his research primarily with the analysis the provisions concerning rights of man and citizen extracted from the Constitution of 1793. He claims that liberty is harmful because it subjugates the rights of citizen making them subservient to the egoistic rights of man. Therefore, Marx’s political emancipation involves the dissolution of the old society and reincarnation of liberty as a right of man.

In contrast to Marx, Berlin seeks to substantiate his research with the pluralism of arguments borrowed from various thinkers including Burke, Mill and Kant. It should be assumed that the author aims to depict the whole complexity of such category as freedom (liberty) in linkage with the phenomenon of state. In addition, Berlin endeavors to fuse the individual freedom with the social action whereas Marx contradistinguishes between liberty (freedom) as a right of man and social actions as rights of citizen.


 It is possible to arrive at a conclusion that Marx and Berlin represent fairly different interpretations of the concept of liberty notwithstanding that both of them unanimously take notice of its apparent connection with the state processes.

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