Berlin and Bosanquet: True self and positive freedom

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1 Scopus citations


Is the Idealist conception of positive freedom doomed as politically dangerous? Decidedly yes, Berlin famously argues. The danger lies with manipulating positive freedom into a political tool of tyranny, coercing individuals to be free. The vehicle of manipulation is a conception of a divided self that underpins positive freedom. For, Berlin argues, conceptions of freedom derive directly from views of what constitutes a self. He cites the British Idealists as evidence for his criticism. The case for Green’s immunity to Berlin’s criticism is now well established. Bosanquet, in particular, however, is a sitting duck to Berlin’s fire. Berlin’s fire, however, misses its target. Not only is Bosanquet immune to Berlin’s criticism, but Berlin’s criticism obscures the extent to which Bosanquet shares Berlin’s worry about the danger of concentrated political power. Moreover, Bosanquet institutionalizes positive freedom into a bulwark against political tyranny in a fashion that Berlin’s wholesale criticism of positive freedom forecloses. Bosanquet’s true self is equipped to resist being coerced to be free. Indeed, Berlin’s divided self ill-describes Bosanquet’s conception of self which being, instead, complex/dynamic/integrated, is at once spontaneous/energetic and habitual/automatic. Moreover, whereas he recognizes with Bosanquet that positive freedom is not merely an internal condition of the true self, but takes shape in society, Berlin’s holistic interpretation of the organic metaphor of society means that he sees only the “dark” side of that connection. Consequently, he misses the affirmative link, the “bright” side, that Bosanquet, employing a relational interpretation of the organic metaphor, forges between positive freedom and social institutions. Ultimately, engaging Berlin and Bosanquet unveils the complexity of political theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-21
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Berlin
  • Bosanquet
  • Complex self
  • Organic metaphor of society
  • Positive freedom
  • True self

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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