Aesthetics: Another Way to View the World

The Origins of Aesthetic Theory

It was either Hegel or Schelling, in 1796, who proclaimed the ‘aesthetic act’ as the ‘highest act of reason’. Indeed, though the concept of aesthetics has been around since Plato’s theory of the forms, it was not until the mid eighteenth century that aesthetics (from the Greek ‘aisthanesthai’ meaning ‘perceive sensuously’) had developed into an philosophical discipline in its own right.

There are obvious historical reasons for this development. Modern philosophy ‘begins’ when God dies. The departure from Platonic conceptions of beauty is the connection of aesthetics with the emergence of subjectivity, and the search for new meaning and orientation in a world without a deity. On the one hand, this leads to such formulations as Kant’s argument about the universal validity of the judgement of taste:

… when [a man] puts a thing on a pedestal and calls it beautiful, he demands the same delight from others. He judges not merely for himself, but for all men, and then speaks of beauty as if it were a property of things. Thus he says that the thing is beautiful; and it is not as if he counts on others agreeing with him in his judgment of liking owing to his having found them in such agreement on a number of occasions, but he demands this agreement of them. He blames them if they judge differently, and denies them taste, which he still requires of them as something they ought to have; and to this extent it is not open to men to say: Every one has his own taste. This would be equivalent to saying that there is no such thing as taste, i.e. no aesthetic judgment capable of making a rightful claim upon the assent of all men. (Kant, 1790)

On the other hand, a conception of aesthetic autonomy emerges with the idea that art freely produces rules which do not apply to nature or human products. The experience of beauty is the creation of new meanings. This involves aspects of the self that cannot be theorised in terms of the subject becoming present to itself as an object of knowledge (the corollary of subjectivism is the reification of the subject to an object). Beauty for the sake of beauty, rather than as a manifestation of God, as well as the human production of art which carries significance outside of a scientific explanation: both are essential to the search for new meanings.

The Turn to Subjectivity

In simple terms, reflection on subjectivity produces two responses. On the one hand, enthusiasm is generated by the sense of liberation from traditional sources of power and explanation, such as theological narratives. On the other hand, a deep suspicion permeates this freedom, since it is left unclear from where meaning is supposed to originate. Indeed, it is now a merely human projection onto the natural world: inherently fallible, temporal and relative.

Both responses, however, attach equal significance to art. Art produces images of what the world could look like if we were to establish a proper relationship with nature. Art is now the only way in which we can create meaning for ourselves, thus a coping mechanism for dealing with a meaningless existence. Underpinning both responses is a suspicion of the ‘dominance of quantifying rationalism as the exclusive principle of modern life’ (Bowie). It is rationalisation, the apex of subjectivity, which gives rise to the crises of meaning in modern life. Rationalisation strips the world of any intrinsic meaning it could have for the individual; scientific vocabulary reduces our relationship with nature to one of pure mastery, to be responded to mechanically rather than sensuously.

The rise of capitalism as the dominant form of economic organisation in the industrial and post-industrial societies of the West is concomitant with the emergence a type of thinking which assigns exchange value (monetary or otherwise) to both individual subjects and nature. Art would appear to resist this type of identitarian thinking; beauty has nothing to do with usefulness or exchange value. Schelling, for instance, argues that the demand for usefulness from art ‘is only possible in an age which locates the highest efforts of the human spirit in economic discoveries’ (Schelling, 1800).

Aesthetic Theory takes its starting point from the belief that nature (art’s object) should have intrinsic value that makes it worthy of contemplation; crucially, this should be separate from its utility or exchange value. Aesthetics responds to the process of rationalisation and the crises that it engenders in modern society by providing a reminder that there are other ways of seeing nature and human activity. Not only can art be its own purpose, an understanding of it can enable what has been repressed by a limited conception of reason to be articulated.

Baumgarten and Hamaan

An awareness of the danger of such repression is found in Baumgarten and Hamaan. Still later, it will be a leading theme in post-structuralism. Both Baumgarten and Hamaan share a concern about the failure of eighteenth century rationalism to do justice to the individual’s sensuous relationship with nature. Art, as a result of its particularity, subverts the Cartesian standard of ‘clear and distinct ideas’. Nonetheless, at this stage, it is possible to focus on the particular because God still acts as a guarantee that everything hangs together in some way. What happens if there is no centre point from which to organise the endless moments of pleasure into a network of moments which have some kind of connection with each other? Should aesthetic theory search for a whole into which aesthetics ‘fits’?

Unlike Baumgarten, Hamaan does not wish to integrate aesthetics into a narrow Enlightenment conception of reason. He develops a theory of language, a precursor to the structuralist conception of language from the twentieth century, in which the signifying chain is celebrated for its endless differentiality precisely because it never comes to an end. Hamaan believes that, if adequacy between the sign and signified were to be achieved, it would be at the cost of language’s ability to speak about the fullness of existence. Language is never separate from sensuousness, so it is not a pure articulation of truth. In this way, he prefigures Derrida, for instance, who will come to argue that communication relies upon temporalised chains of signifiers that can never be completed. He also prefigures Heidegger’s theory of the ‘clearing of being’, which is manifest to us in language as the ‘house of being’.

Aesthetics and Modernity

Modernity was founded on the Enlightened principle of subjectivity. In the twentieth century, this resulted in two responses. The first defines, to a greater or lesser extent, defines the postmodern movement, centering on a questioning of the idea of universal rationality. The second, led by Habermas, focuses on trying to sustem the universalising demands of rationality with a turn to intersubjectivity. These ideas, however, were already present in Schelling, Schleiermacher, the early Romantics, Schlegel and Novalis: there is nothing intrinsically original about either approach. What links German Idealism with Heidegger, for example, is a questioning of the assumption that truth is adequately defined in terms of the propositional assertion of ‘what is the case’, independently of how we apprehend it (philosophy of consciousness).

For Heidegger, Western philosophy has sought the truth about being by asking what being is, or seeking an explanation for the fact that it is, an epistemic rather than ontological concern with the nature of being. This is bound up in modernity – and specifically Descarte’s – expression of the subjectification of being (the cogito). In this scheme, everything is regarded in terms of its relation to our consciousness. German Idealism presents the idea that subject and object are identical, in so far as the world is a subject thinking itself and we are objects of the natural world as well. Thus, the way we think about the world and the world itself are identical. Can a philosophy based on subjectivity establish a place from which it can explain how thinking and being relate, without one dominating the other?

The emergence of aesthetics is part of the process of subjectification; works of art are reduced to subjective contingencies such as taste and reception. There is no way to articulate the truth of a work of art outside the totalising scheme of subjectivity. The linguistic turn ‘discredits’ subjectivity, as it locates subjectivity in texts and discourses, as an effect of the texts. This is the postmodern line; the effect is a Nietzschean celebration of self-legitimation – autonomy rather than heteronomy. And yet, this view presents a one dimensional view of subjectivity. By equating the centrality of the subject with the dominance of science, for example, theorists cannot adequately account for the ways in which rationalisation actually attempt to exclude the subject in the name of objectivity.

The point of aesthetics in modernity can be simply defined as the confrontation between aesthetic objects and perceiving subjects, in which the subject does not attempt to determine the objects, but rather to engage with the object as a work of art: beauty in particularity, irreducible to general schema, an interrogation of traditional concepts such as truth and universality. Aesthetic theory therefore confronts the paradox of unifying the potential for individual meaning with the requirement that meaning should obtain general validity. It cannot hope to offer a final answer; there is no way out of the paradox. Perhaps it is this confrontation itself – facing it head on – that generates new means of self-expression and diversity of meaning in aesthetic production? This points to the view that aesthetic judgements demand some other type of cognitive relationship. Rather than approach the work of art with a view to controlling or appropriating it, we must give ourselves up to it in order to understand something deeper about the relationship of subject to object, man to world.

(Notes from a reading of Bowie’s Aesthetics and Subjectivity and Autumn term lecture on Aesthetic Theory)


Legitimation Crisis in Late Capitalism

Marxism and Late Capitalism

In Legitimation Crisis, Habermas is concerned with the question: how do Marxist theories have to be revised in order to account for late capitalism? He defines late capitalism as social welfare mass democracy, thereby situating it post-WWII. Late capitalism is characterised by an increase in state intervention in the economy, as the state seeks to mitigate the dysfunctional side effects of capitalism – unequal pay, for example, or legislating against discrimination in the work place. The development of capitalism raises the key question of whether the role of the free market and class structure is the same as it was in liberal capitalism, and subsequently, whether core notions such as the labour theory of value and class conflict must be refigured.

Habermas examines two Marxist responses to this problem, the Orthodox approach and the Revisionist approach. The former holds that the late capitalist state does not interfere in the anarchy of commodity production (51), in contradistinction to the latter, which holds that the anarchy of commodity production has been replaced through the state operating as the planning agent of a monopolistic capitalism (59).

Against the first approach, Habermas argues that surplus value and labour value are not the same in late capitalism as they were in liberal capitalism. The increase in the contribution of “reflexive” labour (56) – through improved education of the workforce and institutionalisation of scientific research and technical innovation – are discounted in the orthodox Marxist view, since reflexive labour does not directly contribute to productivity. Reflexive labour increases relative surplus value.

Furthermore, the structure of quasi-political wages now replaces wage determination through the free market; unionisation of the workforce is cited as an example of increased negotiation between the economy and government (LC, 38, 57). Determination of the value of labour is rendered highly problematic. Use value within the welfare state becomes the focus of political struggle (in issues such as education and healthcare); the state can appease the interests of either capital or enfranchised labour (LC: 58). Orthodox Marxism reduces democracy to a mere epiphenomenon of the class structure; but democracy does not merely appease labour – it provides citizens with a resource through which pressure can be exerted on the government.

Against the second approach, though revisionist Marxism might be able to acknowledge the “recoupling” of political and economic activity, it is fundamentally over optimistic in its expectation of the state to provide the framework for economic development. Habermas suggests that the state cannot wholly manage economic contradiction.

In their own ways, both approaches are overly simplistic; the orthodox approach focuses on the separation of state and economy, whilst the revisionist approach focuses on convergence). Habermas argues on the middle ground: the state can intervene in the economy, but it must simultaneously make it appear that the economy functions freely.

A tension arises in late capitalism, further distinguishing it from the liberal period. One has private appropriation and surplus value, emerging from the economy and interests of capital, on the one hand; on the other, the administration of socialised production, a demand emerging from the need for the state to secure legitimacy from its citizens. Capitalism is, therefore, still a distinctive feature of the economy, but its nature differs in several key ways. The fundamental contradiction evident in capitalism is how the forces of social production are appropriated for private interests.

Systems Theory and Late Capitalism

Following Claus Offe, Habermas appropriates Systems Theory in response to the weaknesses of both approaches outlined above. Systems theory analyses capitalist theory in terms of three subsystems: the economic, political and sociocultural. The economic subsystem appropriates outer nature and secures consumable and surplus values (49). The sociocultural appropriates inner nature and secures social integration through appropriate normative structures and world-views. The political subsystem is further divided into administrative and legitimation systems. The administrative system is complemented by processes of “conflict resolution and consensus formation, of decision and implementation” (60).

The subsystems have interlocking relationships, theorised in terms of inputs and outputs. Thus, the output of the economic subsystem is consumable values; of the political subsystem it is administrative decisions; and of the sociocultural, the network of meanings etc that secure social integration. Inputs into the economic subsystem include land, capital, labour as well as the administrative decisions taken in the political subsystem (laws and regulation, for instance), and the motivations of the sociocultural subsystem. Inputs into the political subsystem include consumable values, as well as popular support from its citizens. Inputs into the sociocultural system include consumable values and administrative systems. Orthodox Marxist view only account for crisis tendencies in capitalism in terms of political crises; systems theory analysis shows that, by vitue of the three subsystems being so closely interweaved, stress on one results in stress on the other two, either in terms of an input or output crisis.

Habermas identifies four forms of crisis tendencies within late capitalism. Economic crises arise typically as the problem of production and allocation of consumable values. Political crises arise either i) through the inability to manage the economy (rationality crisis), or ii) the inability to gain popular support (legitimation crisis). Sociocultural crises occur when the network of worldviews comes into conflict with the distribution of consumable values or administrative decisions (motivation crisis). The first two, economic and rationality crises, occur at the level of the system; the latter two, legitimation and motivation, occur at the level of society. In other words, they are manifest as problems in the social agent’s ability to form a coherent worldview. Ultimately, he will argue that the system’s identity is only successfully preserved at the cost of individual autonomy.

As an illustration of how a legitimation crisis is established, consider how the consequences of controlling crises in one area of the system result in crisis tendencies emerging in another. The state, for instance, shoulders an increasing share of the costs of production to avoid an economic crisis. But, the state is legitimate in the eyes of its citizens in so far as it is perceived to be just, eaul and free. Thus, the state must act to support the accumulation process at the same time as concealing what it is doing to perpetuate its image of just and fair. If the citizens perceive this manipulation, mass loyalty is threatened, and a tendency toward a legitimation crisis is established.

The root cause of a legitimation crisis is a contradiction between class interests. The state must secure loyalty of one class, while acting to the advantage of the other (something the current Conservative government haven’t done too great a job of). The state cannot ignore the demands of the citizens, as this would demonstrate its fundamentally undemocratic nature. The future of capitalism (31), Habermas will argue, rests on the analysis of these crisis tendencies, and the system’s ability to resolve them (39 – 40). One way of avoiding a crisis would be to uncouple the sociocultural subsystem from the political-economic subsystem so as to break one of the interdependencies. This seems highly unlikely, however, given the advanced state of late capitalism. Similarly, overcoming the class contradiction would require a new principle of organisation, i.e. increased opportunity for democratic participation. This, too, seems highly improbable, given the development of our democratic state institutions into closed systems favouring the powerful voices of the elite class to the exclusion of the voice of the majority.

Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Habermas cites three thinkers: Adorno (role of mass media in society); Neumann (critique of modern democracy); and Weber (sociology of law and politics) in support of the thesis that the basic principles of modern democracy have been betrayed by the political order of modern society. He agrees with Weber on two points: firstly, that that the political order has divided into a formal sphere of private interest and a sphere of administrative operation, and secondly, that this separation must be overcome in order for the political sphere to be legitimate in the eyes of the citizens. He departs from Weber in his resolution of the separation; whereas Weber puts forward a theory of political integration, Habermas argues that only the existence of a strong public sphere situated above the private-economic sphere but below political apparatus, can guarantee genuine democracy.

The public sphere is both a space which emerges when the state and economy are separate, and the location of discourse freed from certainty and presupposition. Habermas arrives at this definition through an analysis of the history of modern democracy. As a quick summary, in the classical bourgeois period, differentiation of the political system as an organ of control separate from the economy occurred. The state operates as a body with genuine representational functions, but in general, only represents the private needs of property owners, with a homogenous set of interests. The state and economy are mediated by the public sphere, in which public issues are open to general scrutiny, common discussion. In this space, the public will is formed. In the modern political democracy (legal state), the bourgeoisie are self constituted as a class that can i) assert its needs through the public sphere, and ii) achieve direct impact on the legislative functions of government.

The public sphere is thus the space of Enlightenment. Law takes the place of theology, as a set of references in which the terms of secular political identity can be established. Law is of therefore of elevated significance, as it is above material needs, detached from pre-secular conviction and vertically open to the state. Individuals are able to recognise themselves as both privately and publicly autonomous.

This gives rise to a consensual theory of political legitimacy. Genuinely legitimate government is secured only when private needs are mediated through the discursive channels of the public sphere and when public opinion plays a regulatory role in the legislative. Arguing along neo-Aristotelian lines, the integrity of the public sphere is maintained only to the extent that it does not get involved in the private sphere, for instance, the state intervening to resolve private conflicts. In sum, the state is an overarching integrative body whose normative base is anchored in the interactions of citizens, but which is elevated above private needs by the public sphere, where private needs are reconciled.

In late capitalism, the rationality of political interaction has been usurped by the technical rationality of administration. The public sphere’s demise is attributed to the onus placed on the state to intervene in the private sphere and to reconcile conflict between increasingly powerful organisations. Thus, the state derives its legitimacy in late capitalism from its ability to settle conflicts in the private sphere, not because it represents public opinion. Such socialisation of state activity coincides with the partial transfer of state authority to private corporations: semi-private systems of authority which evade the need for legitimate will formation. The social sphere is politicised, and the classical democratic distinction between private, public and political is lost. The state, in losing its publicly determined legitimacy, must artificially manufacture (technical endeavour) its own validity by securing popular support through motivations for obedience, as well as being called upon to maintain a balance of interests between plural bodies struggling for power: it is no longer representative or discursive.

In its quest for self-legitimation, capitalist society increasingly depends on production; specifically, science and technology become the leading productive forces. Economic success, therefore, appears to depend on the progress of technical innovation. The problems facing capitalist societies, inflation, unemployment etc, are defined as solvable only by experts. The state becomes more risk adverse, less oriented toward practical goals and more focused on discovering solutions to technical problems.



Understanding the Term: Democratic Deficit

What is a ‘democratic deficit’? I will be looking at the concept in terms of the European Union, offering a brief definition followed by a few cases of the perceived democratic deficit in the EU.

The ‘democratic deficit’ is a concept invoked in support of the argument that the European Union and its associated bodies, particularly the European Commission, are undemocratic and, by virtue of their complexity, exclude the ordinary European citizen from meaningfully participating in democratic processes. The democratic deficit emerges as these processes and institutions lose legitimacy in the eyes of the ordinary citizen. The signing of new treaties often triggers new debate about the democratic legitimacy of the EU, and its central institutions have responded positively or negatively to this debate. For instance, following the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, the powers of the European Parliament (elected by direct universal suffrage) were expanded with regard to appointments made in the European Commission (completely independent from member nation states, though answerable to the European Parliament; commissioners are voted in for five year appointments).

Turning to different applications and meanings of the term (focusing on the EU), the ‘standard version’ of the term is close to the federal state concept of democratic legitimation. According to the ‘standard version’, the basic problem of the EU is that the executive-centred system has resulted in movement of power from democratically elected national governments to unelected officials operating at the European level. The executive (European Commission and Council) are not accountable to national governments, and lack transparency, often taking decisions in secrecy without referring to European citizens.

The antidote is to give more power to the European Parliament, which, as noted above, is directly elected, and to make the European Commission accountable before the European Parliament. Enlargement of the EP’s powers is supposed to act as compensation for the reduced competences of national governments.

Another application of the term ‘democratic deficit’ is in reference to the EU’s inability to increase democratic input. One reason for this might simply be that European citizens are unwilling or unmotivated to participate in processes which, they perceive, have little or no bearing on their everyday lives. In this way, the deficit lies in the fact that the EU is very far removed from the lifeworld of everyday discourse, in other words, in the parts of life that carry significance or have meaning for ordinary citizens. This is further reinforced by the lack of opportunities to even have input – the majority of decisions are either made in secret or without reference to the European community.
Furthermore, the complexity of the EU’s processes make it nearly impossible to increase opportunities for democratic input. As Simon Hix has written: “At no point do voters have the opportunity to choose between rival candidates for executive office at the European level, or to choose between rival policy agendas for EU actions, or to throw out elected representatives for their policy positions or actions at the EU level”
Another application, related to the above, is in terms of a lack of political accountability. Giandomenico Majone, for instance, has argued that the solution to this is, quite simply, European institutions giving more justification for their decisions, involving more public debate and participation, peer review, complaints procedures and judicial review. Such procedures encourage political engagement, compromises on the part of the citizens and the officials. At the popular representative level, elected members have to work harder to demonstrate that they have their constituents’ interests at heart, or else risk being voted out.

The Impact of a Single Vote

What is political morality? In a weak sense, it’s just whatever morality requires us to do plus any specifically political things. In a strong sense, it can refer to distinct political principles, in relation to power, for example, which sit alongside anything that we are required to do in our private lives.

What is political legitimation: legitimation of politics (validating reasons for basic political institutions) or legitimation by politics (conclusions are given validity because they have been reached via some political process).

Early political legitimacy (late 16th – early 18th century) was derived from traditional ordering based on dichotomies: god and man, reason and passion, husband and wife, father and child etc: ‘social and political hierarchies are thus part of the chain of creation itself, and cosmologically underwritten’ (Vernon, p.37). From Rousseau, we learn that legitimacy must be created by exercising ‘the art of generalising’ on political circumstances themselves. The law is thus self-imposed, ‘as opposed to being discovered or deduced’ (ibid.). Self-imposition implies moral arbitrariness; there is nothing to be ‘discovered’ about the essence of politics or political institutions and so they must work harder to justify themselves. This development is concomitant with the weakening of the religious and feudal orders, as well as Kant’s conception of practical judgement.

Thus, in modern times ‘we have a transition from a closed picture of the political world, authoritatively interpreted, to an open and uncertain picture in which the political process itself must confer authority under competitive conditions’ (Vernon, p. 38). By ‘competitive conditions’, I take Vernon to mean a framework that gives credence to public questioning, a process of reaching consensus by listening to the views of more people than the previously ‘closed’ political world allowed.

An open political world demands new processes of justification, particularly in terms of governance of the act of voting. Przeworski says that the distinctive feature of a democratic system is that ‘there is no group whose interest would predict political outcomes with a near certainty’ (Przeworski, 1988). The success of democracy relies upon the public or voting groups feeling that they have ‘a reasonable guarantee that their interests would not be affected in a highly adverse manner in the course of democratic competition’ (ibid.). Political institutions must therefore be conceived of as neutral, since any institution that is seen to have adverse influence or to predetermine the outcomes of the political process ‘would become dispensable, for whatever led us to favour that kind of process would also lead us to favour the kinds of outcomes to which it inevitably (or probably) led, and so we could simply (and more economically) replace agreement on that process with agreement on results’ (Vernon, p.41).

Is political neutrality something that can be realistically aimed at, though? Surely some things must be settled before hand: boundaries, natural language of discourse, or, more normatively, a shared national identity? In addition, a democracy has the ‘unique merit of creating incentives for openness’, thus behaviours of persuasion, argumentation and problematising the arguments of your opponent come into play, precluding neutrality. Political equality, on the other hand, seems a more appropriate way to measure political legitimacy for it is only on condition of equality that participants might have faith in the political process – faith that some participants are not unduly privileged over others.

What is political equality? Does it equalise the chances of being on the winning side (principle of majority rule)? We could achieve this via undemocratic means, however. Does it entail a sense of having an equal chance at influencing the outcome? In an election, one vote hardly makes the difference, though, so it doesn’t seem worth it. In Democracy and Decision, Brennan and Lomasky abandon the claim that a vote is instrumental. In contrast to an economic act of purchasing, the political act of voting for one party over another does not bring about the other party’s defeat, whereas purchasing product A does mean that I do not end up with product B. Brennan and Lomasky argue that the inconsequentialness of a single vote is the basis for its normative importance, because ‘voting is conceived of as expressive behaviour, behaviour which realises the good, for the actor, of giving expression to a sentiment or an identification’ (Vernon, p.44). Expressive behaviour enables the actor to consult other things apart from personal interest, like public interest; thus, we need a ‘prevailing civic morality’, which will encourage the responsible and public-spirited use of the vote.

Isn’t a general moral responsibility undermined by the inconsequentialness of a single vote? Brennan and Lomasky argue that it is not, since the principle of identification with one’s vote means that people must bear responsibility for their behaviour, regardless of its effect. Further, in securing a personal (expressive) benefit, voters also secure a public benefit as a by-product. There are two conclusion that we can draw from this behaviour. First, that the good sought by the individual actor is the self-satisfaction of having done one’s civic duty. Second, that the good sought by the individual actor is that of making one’s fair contribution to an outcome that one hopes to see. As Vernon argues:

What motivates the desire to vote reflectively can only be the desire to play one’s fair part in influencing the rationality of the next election. It is clearly impossible that the reflectiveness of one’s vote will influence this election – whether it is cast reflectively or with total abandon will have no effect on the tiny direction or influence that it exerts. (Vernon, p. 50)

In sum, all that equality can mean is that the voter is able to make a judgement, which is respected by a political institution in so far as it does not prejudge the outcome and provides the voter with all the information required to make an informed decision. The winning proposal will have to have been made as persuasive as possible to allow the voter the greatest possible chance of understanding and evaluating it; and the voter must respect the right of the other voters to be persuaded in their own way.

Ref: Richard Vernon, ‘Democracy as Political Morality’, in Political Morality, (London & NY: Continuum, 2001)

Political Morality

‘Fables about Freedom’

Richard Vernon begins his opening chapter with a short historical analysis of the concepts of liberalism and democracy. He identifies Isaiah Berlin‘s two questions as indicative of the concepts’ dualism:

1) ‘What is the area within which the subject…is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?’;

2)’What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?’

Adherents of the former question are called theorists of negative freedom. They [liberals] are characterised by: a desire for the ability to act without obstruction; seeking protection against all authorities, including democratic ones; resisting deliberate obstruction by states. The British generally fall under this concept of freedom.

Adherents of the latter question are theorists of positive freedom. They [democrats] are characterised by: a desire for the capacity of a person or group to be self-determining; rejection of the restraints on government which prevent individuals or groups from exercising their self-determining power; pursuing a more metaphysical path. Continental thinkers generally fall under this concept.

But is there really any ‘great logical distance’ (Berlin) between the two concepts? Are they merely semantic devices, around which traits and ideologies have developed?

Benjamin Constant formulated a distinction between the ‘Liberty of the Moderns’ and the ‘Liberty of the Ancients’; he explained their relationship in terms of the supersession of one by the other: ‘the liberty of self-determination, or of “exercising collectively, but directly, several parts of the complete sovereignty”, was “what the ancients called liberty” – the complete subjection of the individual (“Thus among the ancients the individual, almost always sovereign in public affairs, was a slave in his private relations”). Modern liberty, though, ‘resides in freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of expression, freedom to choose a profession and to dispose of property, freedom of conscience…’ (Vernon)… “Our freedom must consist of peaceful enjoyment and private independence” (Constant)

Vernon outlines another perspective, from C.B. Macpherson.

Democracy, in its modern from, proceeded after liberalism, however the pre-existing liberal character of Western societies has so far prevented the full realisation of the democratic ideal: “before democracy came in the Western world, there came the society and the politics of choice, the society and politics of competition, the society and politics of the market” (Macpherson, 1965). Freedom in the liberal sense is forced upon people via the compulsion to adopt market behaviour.

Macpherson recognises that commercial society wanted and needed a certain kind of responsive politics that would head off tyranny and ensure that important interests were taken into account. The achievements of democracy may have been only to provide a maturing capitalist economy with the welfare provisions ad regulatory mechanisms that it needed anyway. Democrats have not, therefore, altered in any fundamental way the exploitative logic of capitalism: until that is accomplished, democratic egalitarian principles will remain unfulfilled.

Self-development [rather than self-determination]: the idea of self-development provides a link between the ideals of democracy and another side of liberalism, a humanistic side which, however, is overshadowed by the dominant market model (Macpherson).