Problematic story of negative freedom from Hobbes to Berlin and its connotations forTurkish Polity

Tütüncü, Koray
In his defense of negative freedom, Isaiah Berlin’s main target is the political voluntarism of enlightenment rationalism which has paved way to totalitarian and authoritarian political regimes of the 20th century which brought the sacrifice of individual freedom. For Berlin, in contrast to Platonic realism of enlightenment rationalism in which there is a substantial belief in reason’s capacity for giving us the knowledge of the supreme good, the nominalist foundations of negative freedom can provide us a secure grounding in the justification of the rights over the goods. By declaring the inviolable rights and relying on the principle of neutrality, negative freedom eliminates the risk of political voluntarism stemming from enlightenment rationalism or scientism. Since the 1980s, in Turkey, political and social oppositions to Rousseauian enlightenment of the Turkish state have deployed the epistemic and political tools of negative freedom. This appeal has aimed to open a legitimate space for the language of freedom as non-intervention under which each individual chooses his personal values without the fear of state intervention. In contrast to the interventionist claims of state, negative freedom, it has been believed that, has provided a secure grounding for the rights of individuals. Besides, the meta-ethical thesis of the incommensurability of human goods has also been employed for delegitimizing the substantial belief in the monism of the republican regime which relied on the assumption presenting the republican way of life as the supreme good. This missionary zeal for the re-construction of the republic on the premises of negative freedom has not, however, gone unchallenged. Against such identification of democracy with free-market and value pluralism, the republican front defends the restoration of the foundational ideals of the republic by returning to the substantial understanding of national sovereignty under the formulation of ‘militant democracy’. In this study, even though I agree with the nominalist epistemology of negative freedom which manifests a skeptic and agnostic attitude toward the power of reason and the insistence of negative freedom on the necessity of the priority of right, I have demonstrated the reasons behind the failure of negative freedom in justifying the priority of the right over the goods. Actually, my analysis has already displayed that concerning the radical consequences of the thesis of incommensurability, it is doubtful whether negative freedom can provide political conditions even for the cause of peace without the presence of absolute sovereign as suggested in Hobbes’s political theory. At this point, I have argued that we should take into consideration the achievements of the ideal of autonomy in grounding the priority of the right over the good. Contrary to Berlin’s distorted representation of autonomy, I believe that the critical rationalism of autonomy and its understanding of law will protect us not only from the metaphysics of enlightenment rationalism and scientism, but also from the metaphysics of historicism envisaged by Berlin’s version of negative freedom.


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Citation Formats
K. Tütüncü, “Problematic story of negative freedom from Hobbes to Berlin and its connotations forTurkish Polity,” Ph.D. - Doctoral Program, Middle East Technical University, 2007.