Examine the competing definitions of positive and negative freedom.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The original question had to be edited down.  I would suggest that both expressions of freedom are vital to the modern setting.  Leading political theorists like Mill, de Tocqueville, Locke, Constant,  Rousseau, Rorty, and Berlin struggle with both constructions of freedom.  

The establishment of positive freedom clearly identifies to what extent an individual can be an agent of action in their own development of autonomy.  Positive freedom indicates the ability to do "great things" and the idea of being able to clearly act as an individual in ownership of their own freedom.  Positive freedom indicates a sense of freedom that is rooted in self- sufficiency and independence in action.  Negative freedom is a condition in which individuals seek to be free from obstacles or intrusions on their own sense of identity.  Negative freedom can be seen as the desire to be left alone.  What Sir Isaiah Berlin would call "the inner citadel, " negative freedom addresses how individuals can be free from external control, free from obstacles that define one's being in the world.

The primary difference between both constructions is where the individual is located and their approach towards their own sense of self in the world.  Positive freedom is more driven by a positivist sense that the individual can overcome challenges and actively impact the world in which they live.  Its counterpart is driven by the desire to be left alone, to operate in a world free from external control.  Presence is a large part of both.  Positive freedom comes to represent the presence of individual action.  Presence is a critical element in negative freedom, in that it seeks to operate outside of the realm of the presence of obstacles or conditions that compel the individual to want to be left alone. Both notions are critical for understanding the modern construction of freedom.