Bitcoin Requires Positive Freedom – Bitcoin Magazine: Bitcoin News, Articles, Charts, and Guides

Negative freedom (also known as liberal freedom) is freedom from interference. There may be a master (king, central authority, government, etc.), but as long as the master is benevolent and does not interfere, you are considered free.

To guarantee negative freedom, you need positive freedoms, but not for the same reasons that liberal thinkers understood them. Defining freedom only in the liberal sense highlights the pitfalls that can be used arbitrarily. To overcome this difficult situation, Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit propose a third alternative conception of freedom: freedom as non-domination.

In a recent conversation with Lex Fridman, Human Rights Foundation Chief Strategy Officer Alex Gladstein defined freedom (and Bitcoin freedom) as dichotomies: negative and positive. This duality was introduced by Isaiah Berlin, following Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Benjamin Constant. Gladstein named speech, press, assembly, belief, participation in government, privacy, and property as negative freedoms. On the other hand, positive freedoms are the rights to work, housing, water and holidays.

Because Gladstein’s definition rests on the dichotomy proposed by Berlin in his seminal essay, “Two Concepts Of Liberty,” he unfairly labeled positive freedoms as rights, such as those granted in Cuba, Venezuela, and the Soviet Union. Again, similar to Berlin’s attack on positive freedoms, Gladstein used a contradictory tone on positive freedoms. This argument is valid only if we agree with the binary definitions of negative and positive freedoms based on the works of Berlin.

What is freedom? negative and positive

In a nutshell, the negative conception of freedom refers to the absence of something, for example interference, hindrances, barriers or constraints. Negative (liberal) freedom is simply freedom as non-interference. On the other hand, the positive conception of freedom refers to the presence of something. In this sense, the presence of something refers to an external force that can exert influence over control, self-control, self-determination, or self-realization (Carter, 2016).

In particular, Berlin defines two conceptions of freedom by providing the questions whose answers lead to the definition of each concept. In its own words, the negative conception of freedom is an answer to the question: “What is the domain in which the subject – a person or a group of people – is or should be left to do or be what he is? able to do or to be? , without the intervention of other people?

In contrast, the positive view attempts to answer the question, “What or who is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do or be this rather than that?”

However, at some point a third alternative emerged (proposed by Skinner and Pettit), which was seen as freedom from dependence or domination, and became known as the “republican” conception of freedom.

Bitcoin freedom as freedom from non-domination

Bitcoin freedom has primarily been defined as negative freedom. Bitcoin’s most common value is its freedom from a central authority. Therefore, the core value of Bitcoin freedom rests on the foundation cemented by liberal freedom as non-interference.

I have argued elsewhere that Bitcoin freedom offers a more comprehensive approach than liberal freedom. Pettit and Skinner independently explored a third conception of freedom. This “new” version goes back to the writings of ancient republican Rome. They presented it as freedom from domination (Pettit) or dependence (Skinner). I believe this new conception of freedom more adequately defines Bitcoin freedom.

Freedom as non-domination is a negative concept because it offers the absence of something. While the liberal conception of freedom valued freedom from interference, Pettit argues that its approach as freedom from domination provides a broader meaning. Domination, for Pettit, is simply interference on an arbitrary basis. Thus, Pettit’s definition of freedom expands the liberal conception by eliminating certain forms of interference. In other words, if an interference is not injected on an arbitrary basis, then it does not exercise dominance. Such a definition allows freedom within the framework of non-arbitrary laws.

Freedom as non-domination is also a positive concept because it is based on active citizenship. However, the essence of active citizenship (positive freedom) differentiates it from the demonization of Berlin. Berlin refers to positive freedoms as understood by civic humanists. Republican thinkers greatly valued active citizenship because of its central role in securing freedom.

Unlike civic humanist advocates, such as Hans Baron (1955), John Greville Agard Pocock (1975), Hannah Arendt (1993), and Iseult Honohan (2002), Republican thinkers saw civic citizenship as a consequential ideal. In other words, participation in political activity was understood by republican thinkers as a means of securing freedom. On the other hand, civic humanists valued political participation as an end with no additional “required” purpose. The difference between the two approaches is critical because this distinction established the new idea of ​​nondominant interference (nonarbitrary interference) in the concept of republican liberty.

Bitcoin freedom is not liberal freedom because it offers more than the absence of central authority and its interference. Security and ownership of data/values ​​by administering the mechanisms of a trustless, transparent and decentralized system are the fundamental positive freedoms of Bitcoin. Additionally, the ability to participate in the governance of the Bitcoin blockchain without any permission is another fundamental positive freedom of Bitcoin. If we define Bitcoin freedom in a liberal sense (non-interference), we leave out the other half (positive freedoms), which helps secure the first.

The references

  1. Arendt, H. 1993, “What is freedom? in “Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thinking”, Penguin Books, New York.
  2. Baron, H. 1955, “Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance”, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
  3. Berlin, I. 1969, “Two Concepts Of Liberty”, in “Four Essays On Liberty”, Oxford University Press, London.
  4. Carter, I. 2016, “Positive and Negative Freedom”, The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy (Fall 2016 edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL= .
  5. Honohan, I. 2002, “Civic Republicanism”, Routledge, London.
  6. Pettit, P. 2002, “Republicanism: A Theory of Liberty and Government”, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Pocock, JGA 1975, “The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition”, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
  8. Skinner, Q. 2002, “A third concept of freedom”. Proceedings of the British Academy, 117(237): pp. 237–268.

This is a guest post by Burak Tamaç. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.

Comments are closed.