1st Edition

Rethinking Positive and Negative Liberty

By Maria Dimova-Cookson Copyright 2020
    270 Pages
    by Routledge

    270 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book argues that the distinction between positive and negative freedom remains highly pertinent today, despite having fallen out of fashion in the late twentieth century. It proposes a new reading of this distinction for the twenty-first century, building on the work of Constant, Green and Berlin who led the historical development of these ideas.

    The author defends the idea that freedom is a dynamic interaction between two inseparable, yet sometimes fundamentally, opposed positive and negative concepts – the yin and yang of freedom. Positive freedom is achieved when one succeeds in doing what is right, while negative freedom is achieved when one is able to advance one’s wellbeing. In an environment of culture wars, resurging populism and challenge to progressive liberal values, recognising the duality of freedom can help us better understand the political dilemmas we face and point the way forward.

    The book analyses the duality of freedom in more philosophical depth than previous studies and places it within the context of both historical and contemporary political thinking. It will be of interest to students and scholars of liberalism and political theory.


    1. Benjamin Constant on Modern People and their Two Liberties

    2. T.H. Green’s True Freedom as the Paradigm Positive Liberty Concept

    3. T.H. Green and Negative Freedom as Wellbeing Improvement

    4. Isaiah Berlin, Positive Freedom and the Impact of Moral Authorities on Human Agency

    5. Berlin’s Negative Freedom and the Conceptual Work of the Boundaries of Liberty

    6. Value Pluralism and the Duality of Freedom



    Maria Dimova-Cookson is Associate Professor in Politics at the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University, UK.

      "The text represents a very serious and erudite attempt to revisit a key debate in political theory and to ask us to reconsider how we have conceptualised the distinction between positive and negative liberty. To that extent, it is a very original piece of work."

      Jeremy Jennings, King's College London, UK

      "This is a major contribution to political theory, as well as a key study in British Idealist political thought. It gives the most thorough treatment of Green on freedom that exists. The way it untangles the various strands of Green's accounts, but also critically assesses them and suggests how to improve and build on them, is admirable. The discussion of Berlin achieves the difficult task of showing both his strengths and insights and also his limitations and deficiencies; and then, after identifying gaps in his argument, showing how to fill them. Altogether, it covers a huge range of issues, and throws light on them all."

      Peter Nicholson, author of The Political Philosophy of the British Idealists, and a leading expert in British Idealism

      "This book is a landmark in the study of positive and negative liberty. It develops a creative reconstruction of the political philosophy of three prominent liberals – Benjamin Constant, T.H. Green and Isaiah Berlin – and carries their scholarship into contemporary political theory. This book helps us rethink positive and negative freedom in today’s world."

      Avital Simhony, Arizona State University, USA

      "Dimova-Cookson’s book Rethinking Positive and Negative Liberty is a brave attempt to bridge historical and logical analysis. It revisits the thought of Benjamin Constant, T. H. Green and Isaiah Berlin, reconsidering their conceptions of positive and negative liberty, while providing a novel and reimagined analysis of the notions of positive and negative liberty. In effect Dimova-Cookson undertakes at one stroke, and in one book, analytic political theory and the history of political thought…. Dimova-Cookson succeeds in doing what she attempts, because she brings a freshness and determination to her work, while possessing a detailed historical understanding of past thinkers and hard-edged logical skill in reimagining the concepts of positive and negative liberty."

      Gary Browning, Book Review in Utilitas, 2020.

      "[This book] not only places our thoughts about Berlin, Constant and Green into a new and much broader and coherent frame, but also advances our understanding of the concept [of liberty] itself, lifting it out of the sterile ideological debates of previous decades. [This is] an immensely interesting text, which in my estimation should in future be an essential component of any proper appraisal of the concept of liberty."

      Andrew Vincent, Book Reviews in Global Intellectual History, 2020.