The Classical concept of Freedom aims to bring together the antinomic notions of the Will and of Reason. In turn, both the Will and Reason can have antithetical meanings when considered in their autonomous decisional or heteronomous instrumental aspects: the Will can have a decisional aspect as conscious Volition (voluntas, velle, arbitrium, Wollen) and an operational one as blind insatiable Appetite (appetitus, conatus, want, Lust); similarly, reason can have a substantive meaning as a faculty (Reason, Vernunft) allowing for the human comprehension of Being (esse) which then makes possible the determination of harmonious human goals (inter esse, human interests) by the autonomous Will; and an instrumental one as a tool for consistent measurable action or calculation (intellect, understanding, Verstand).
The inconsistency between Will and Reason arises from the fact that in Western philosophy the Will has always been regarded as “absolutely and autonomously free” – even free to perpetrate evil (as liberum arbitrium indifferentiae). As Cacciari notes (DeCdP, c.p.60), in Western rationalist thought, unlike the Eastern (from which Schopenhauer in particular was first to draw keenly), freedom at least in the decisional sense has always been predicated of the Will, and has also always been construed in the volitional sense as auto-nomous or ab-solute, that is, not subject to any restrictions or heteronomy – and therefore as consistent with the rule of Reason, given that a choice exercised inconsistently with Reason cannot be “free”. As Kant insisted in the Second Critique (following Plato), to be “free”, the Will must be able to restrain its appetite by being “reasonable” in its substantive sense as Volition – because, quite obviously, the will can be neither free in the sense of autonomous nor instrumentally reasonable in its aspect as appetite.
And yet, if it is to be free even as volition, the will cannot be subordinate to Reason on pain of making their compatibility tautologous, or even to reason in the limited instrumental sense as the intellect, because this would turn the Will from an autonomous substantive entity into a heteronomous instrumental one, similar to mere appetite, of which “freedom” cannot be predicated except in the purely quantitative, self-seeking sense of “free-dom” – that is, the seeking of satisfaction to the detriment of all other wills. Similarly and conversely, Reason cannot be free if it is to be consistent with appetite, whilst freedom cannot be predicated of reason as intellect. The word “arbitrium” itself gives the sense of the antithetical ambi-valence of the notion of Will: the human faculty of arbitrium makes the decision-maker an “arbiter” in the sense that the Will is “free” to decide; and yet this “arbitration” cannot be “arbitrary” but “reasonable”, that is, subject to the rules of Reason or at least of reason or intellect – whence the phrase “liberum arbitrium” to emphasize the fact that the Will can be both free or unfettered and reasonable.
Freedom is therefore inconsistent with Reason because the notions of Volition as well as that of Appetite are incompatible with the restrictions that Reason must impose on Freedom by virtue of its supposed internal consistency – both logico-mathematical and also practico-moral. Thus, to the extent that the concept of Will must include that of Reason, Freedom must be inconsistent with Reason, unless the two are defined tautologously – that is, only reasonable decisions by the Will can be said to be free. And this is the difficulty that the negatives Denken from Hobbes to Heidegger has sought to overcome, as we shall see presently. In pursuit of his genial theory of value-neutral (wert-frei) social science, Max Weber mistakenly argues that only “rational” decisions are free, without noticing that “rationality” here must also mean “reasonableness” or that Freedom must be reduced to free-dom – otherwise there could be irrational decisions in the sense of substantive Reason [Wert-rationalitat] that could still be said to be free if they were carried out in an instrumentally rational manner [Zweck-rationalitat]! Evidently, Weber did not intend freedom in its substantive sense as Freedom, that is, as the union of Volition and Reason, but only in its instrumental sense as free-dom, the union of appetite and calculation, as in the scientific link between Want and Provision in neoclassical economic theory. In effect, this free-dom becomes a form of co-ercion – necessity in a political sense, not “necessity” in a scientific sense given that Weber agreed that there are indefinite scientific ways or means to attain stated goals or ends.
There are two concepts of freedom
in classical liberal philosophical and political theory (cf. I. Berlin, The Two Concepts of Liberty, and
N. Bobbio, “Kant e le due liberta’” in Da Hobbes a Marx). The first concept
combines the instrumental aspects of freedom – appetite and intellect - and
sets its boundaries heteronomously,
that is to say, through an external limit to the Will as appetite: – appetite
and means to its satisfaction are rationally,
though not necessarily reasonably,
regulated through limited provision of whatever individuals seek to obtain
imposed by external forces such as scarcity or other appetites or the State.
This is the “negative” meaning of freedom also known as “liberty”, according to
which freedom is whatever the appetite is allowed to do by scarce means and
resources or by other appetites either through sheer force (Hobbes,
Schopenhauer) or by convention based on labour or utility (cf. Locke’s notion of
labour, Mill’s utilitarianism, Schopenhauer’s sym-pathy, Constant’s
market-based liberalism). Here is the classic definition of “negative freedom”
– what we call “free-dom” – offered by : Berlin
I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interferes with my activity. Political liberty in this sense is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed by others. If I am prevented by others from doing what I could otherwise do, I am to that degree unfree; and if this area is contracted by other men beyond a certain minimum, I can be described as being coerced, or, it may be, enslaved. (op.city., p.3)
Of course, as Berlin correctly
implies, the inconsistency
between freedom and reason cannot be overcome by positing a natural or
scientific or even logical necessity
because what may be impossible for the Will to achieve with one set of means
may be possible with another, what is impossible today may become possible
tomorrow (flying to another galaxy, for instance) depending on the means
available, and in any case, any restriction on an individual’s aim, however
unreasonable, is a restriction on its free-dom in the instrumental sense.
Freedom therefore may only be opposed to coercion if we adopt a definition of
necessity that allows of all means, however impractical or impossible. In other
words, contra Weber, even absolutely
impossible or irrational volitions can be free, and then the only obstacle to
the Will is co-ercion and not physical-scientific “necessity”. Even where human
beings attempt the impossible – are constrained by “necessity” -, any attempt
to restrain them from the attempt, however foolish it may be, must amount to
co-ercion and is therefore a matter for political deliberation.
himself seems to
agree with this conclusion: Berlin
Coercion is not, however, a term that covers every form of inability. If I say that I am unable to jump more than ten feet in the air, or cannot read because I am blind, or cannot understand the darker pages of Hegel, it would be eccentric to say that I am to that degree enslaved or coerced. Coercion implies the deliberate interference of other human beings within the area in which I could otherwise act. You lack political liberty or freedom only if you are prevented from attaining a goal by human beings.3 Mere incapacity to attain a goal is not lack of political freedom.4(loc.cit.)
(By contrast, Hannah Arendt [in On Revolution], still clings to the distinction between necessity, to which chance is opposed, and coercion, the opposite of freedom. This is what led Nietzsche to attack and refute the notion of physical-scientific and logico-mathematical “necessity”, as we are about to see in connection with Schopenhauer.)
The limit of this “negative” conception of freedom is that if appetites are to be externally, heteronomously, kept in check so as not to lead to self-destruction or mutual annihilation, then they must be governed by Reason in its substantive sense, which is incompatible with appetite. The extreme pessimism of this “negative” definition of freedom is evident in the conceptualisation of freedom developed by Western liberalism, which is also the ideological foundation of capitalism, and is evinced by the dismissive approach its theoreticians take to the “positive” or “rationalist” concept of freedom.
I am free if, and only if, I plan my life in accordance with my own will; plans entail rules; a rule does not oppress me or enslave me if I impose it on myself consciously, or accept it freely, having understood it, whether it was invented by me or by others, provided that it is rational, that is to say, conforms to the necessities of things. To understand why things must be as they must be is to will them to be so. Knowledge liberates not by offering us more open possibilities amongst which we can make our choice, but by preserving us from the frustration of attempting the impossible. To want necessary laws to be other than they are is to be prey to an irrational desire - a desire that what must be X should also be not-X. To go further and believe these laws to be other than what they necessarily are, is to be insane. That is the metaphysical heart of rationalism. The notion of liberty contained in it is not the 'negative' conception of a field (ideally) without obstacles, a vacuum in which nothing obstructs me, but the notion of self-direction or self-control. I can do what I will with my own. I am a rational being; whatever I can demonstrate to myself as being necessary, as incapable of being otherwise in a rational society - that is, in a society directed by rational minds, towards goals such as a rational being would have - I cannot, being rational, wish to sweep out of my way. I assimilate it into my substance as I do the laws of logic, of mathematics, of which I can never be thwarted, since I cannot want it to be other than it is. 
This is the positive doctrine of liberation by reason. Socialized forms of it, widely disparate and opposed to each other as they are, are at the heart of many of the nationalist, communist, authoritarian, and totalitarian creeds of our day. It may, in the course of its evolution, have wandered far from its rationalist moorings. Nevertheless, it is this freedom that, in democracies and in dictatorships, is argued about, and fought for, in many parts of the earth today. (Berlin, pp.15-6)
Evident is the dismissive
distaste with which
addresses the “rationalist” or “positive” concept of freedom and its
“metaphysical” pretensions. Yet Berlin
fails to explain why the “negative” concept of freedom shared by liberalism in
politics, empiricism in science, and neoclassical economics should be any less
“metaphysical” than that of rationalism! Indeed, the flaws of the “positive”
concept of freedom as a range of conduct autonomously
adopted by the Will either alone or in conjunction with other wills can be said
to apply equally to the “negative” definition of freedom ( Berlin , loc.cit. p.8). To the extent that
human beings may decide autonomously to restrict their freedom in the sense of
their appetites or self-interests to a minimum, this restriction must be reasonable if it is not to void freedom
of its meaning! In other words, even the substantive sense of the Will as
volition cannot be consistent with Reason because its autonomy must be guided
and enlightened by Reason and also be limited and measured by (be commensurate
with) the intellect or instrumental reason – because otherwise it degenerates
into either insatiable appetite or self-annihilating abnegation, which means
that it can reduce itself to naught (cf. I. Berlin, op.cit.). Berlin
acknowledges that indeed before we
define freedom we need to define human being itself: Berlin
This demonstrates (if demonstration of so obvious a truth is needed) that conceptions of freedom directly derive from views of what constitutes a self, a person, a man. Enough manipulation of the definition of man, and freedom can be made to mean whatever the manipulator wishes. Recent history has made it only too clear that the issue is not merely academic. The consequences of distinguishing between two selves will become even clearer if one considers the two major forms which the desire to be self-directed - directed by one's 'true' self – has historically taken: the first, that of self-abnegation in order to attain independence; the second, that of self-realisation, or total self-identification with a specific principle or ideal in order to attain the selfsame end. (
Still, yet again, we can see the
negative slant that
places on any attempt to theorise the notion of self as anything other than the
in-dividuum, the individual self or its
“ego-ity” [Ich-heit] – as if any
analysis based on other than “empirical”, that is to say “present” or “given”,
reality necessarily implied the “manipulation” of the human self! Once again, Berlin is agitating the
delusions of Utopianism as a barrier to the construction of a rational society
- and indeed as a screen and apology for the existing society of capital! – as
is shown in the following passage: Berlin
But if we are not armed with an a priori guarantee of the proposition that a total harmony of
true values is somewhere to be found - perhaps in some ideal realm the characteristics of which we
can, in our finite state, not so much as conceive - we must fall back on the ordinary resources of
empirical observation and ordinary human knowledge. And these certainly give us no warrant for
supposing (or even understanding what would be meant by saying) that all good things, or all bad
things for that matter, are reconcilable with each other.… Nevertheless, it is a conclusion that cannot be escaped by those who, with Kant, have learnt the truth that 'Out of the crooked timber of humanity no
straight thing was ever made’[31 at fn.58]
The difficulty that
is having arises from his inability
to go beyond the notion of the human “self” as belonging to an “in-dividual” –
an indivisible atom – rather than to a species-conscious being. Once more, Berlin remains trapped
within the ontogenetic or individualistic and empiricist mould, - a trap which
is equally shared by Western empiricism and rationalism alike, namely, their
total allegiance to the metaphysical “autonomy” or Freedom of the human mind or
soul, of “Ego-ity”. Berlin
’s smug and obtuse insistence on
the superiority of empirical “facts” makes it inevitable that he should cite
and quote Joseph Schumpeter, perhaps the most sophisticated proponent of
empiricism in social science, in the very last paragraph of his influential
essay on “the two conceptions of liberty”: Berlin
Indeed, the very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and
secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties
of childhood or the absolute values of our primitive past. 'To realise the
relative validity of one's convictions', said an admirable writer of our time,
'and yet stand for them unflinchingly is what distinguishes a civilised man from
a barbarian.’ [J. Schumpeter, CS&D, p.243] To demand more than this is
perhaps a deep and incurable metaphysical
need; but to allow it to determine one's practice is a symptom of an
equally deep, and more dangerous, moral and political immaturity. (
, op.cit., p.32) Berlin
Evidently, Berlin and Schumpeter are relying on the truth-fulness of empiricism, on its “realism” as against the “metaphysical need” of rationalism, that is, against its presumed intransigence and recalcitrance, according to Berlin, in the face of “facts”.
Classical liberal political theory assumes that the State is the holistic ethico-political ex-pression and pro-duct of more fundamental social components that precede the State both historically and analytically. The bourgeois theory of the State, known as liberalism, shares this vision of the State with the added ingredient that society itself can be separated into a scientific economic sphere governed by the “laws of the market” and “economic value”, on one side, and a political sphere of public opinion guided by ethical values, on the other. In other words, if Economics is the bourgeoisie’s scientific rationalisation of capitalism, then Liberalism constitutes its quintessential political ideology. Liberalism is the political expression of capitalism in that it proclaims that it is possible to separate the economic sphere of social life which is the realm of necessity or “free-dom”, that is, the rigid constraint of each individual free-dom imposed by the free-doms of others all understood strictly as “individual freedoms” (the optimal utilisation of resources made scarce by the insatiable nature of individual self-interest – whence the dismal science – this is the constraint that founds the scientificity of capitalist social relations, the Objective Value of neoclassical economic theory) from the sphere of freedom or public opinion in which individuals can air their most subjective beliefs, the Subjective or Ethical Values of the liberal public sphere, without – for that very reason, that is, by reason of the “ideal” nature of opinions and beliefs – upsetting the politico-technical neutrality of the State which, again, is founded on the scientificity of Economics, that is to say, on the liberalist presumption of the scientific workings of the self-regulating market mechanism.
The subjectivity of these ethical values, their origin in the ideal “freedom of the human will”, and the fact that this ethical-moral “freedom” can be founded exclusively on the objectivity and “scientific” operation of the market mechanism and on the “laws of Economics” – it is these two factors combined that liberalism can exploit ideologically to vaunt its unique affinity with democracy. The central tenet of liberalism is that “democracy” is socially impossible unless the sphere of economic production and exchange is kept hermetically separate and protected from the sphere of public opinion with its “irrational” ethico-moral and religious beliefs!
Locke and Constant are the great theoreticians of liberalism. For Locke, the separation of economic and political spheres is made possible by the fact that it is possible to assign individual property rights to resources by means of “individual labour” – by which Locke means also the labour of others exchanged like any other product of labour or commodity. Constant goes further by treating liberalism as the social state that allows the transformation of proprietary antagonism from war to commerce. In other words, for Constant, commerce, or the Lockean appropriation of resources on the basis of supposedly “individual” labour, leads not just to social peace guaranteed by a neutral State, but also to international peace between nation-states on the basis of the disciplining effect of property and capital movements between nation-states! This could not be achieved without the existence of “natural rights” that precede the State. Here is Constant:
War precedes commerce, because they are merely two different ways of achieving the same end—namely, coming to own what one wants to own. If I want something that you own, commerce— ·i.e. my offer to buy it from you·—is simply my tribute to your strength, ·i.e. my admission that I can’t just take the thing I want·. Commerce is an attempt to get through mutual agreement something that one has given up hope of acquiring through violence. (De la liberte’, p.3)
But the obvious objection arises that if commerce is chosen by the weaker party as a means to obtain something from the stronger party that it could not obtain by force, then there is no reason why the stronger party should keep to their part of the commercial agreement! Constant is at once conceding that commercial transactions are founded on relationships of force, and then insinuating that they are ideally based either on mutual consent or at least on the wiles of the weak in enticing the strong to relinquish their possessions! Yet, if commerce is based on “mutual consent” or better still, as liberal market ideology insists, on “equal exchange”, then it is obviously something very different from war and cannot be said to replace it. And if commerce is based on wiles and inducements if not outright deceit, then there is still a foundation of “violence”, however veiled, in the commercial transaction. Of course, Constant’s argument flies in the face of what lies at the heart of liberalism – the “equal exchange” on which the market mechanism supposedly rests, which necessarily rests on the neutral pricing of exchange values that wars make impossible to achieve! Hence, it is simply inarguable that “commerce replaces war” for the simple reason that, if commerce is claimed to be based on “unequal exchange”, then it is merely a form of violence akin to war – which means that commerce will always degenerate into war; and if commerce is instead claimed to be based on “equal exchange”, then commerce and war are two completely incomparable forms of human behaviour and interaction so that commerce cannot ever be said to be able to replace war! The same argument would invalidate Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals – that is, the argument that morality replaces violence - except that in that case it is the “internalisation” of morals and “crystallisation” of conventions that makes the thesis more credible. Indeed, both theses become plausible only on the Hobbesian foundation of mutual fear – that is, commerce and morals as political conventions founded on the equal capacity of individuals to harm one another.
Evidently, Berlin and Schumpeter are relying on the truth-fulness of empiricism, on its “realism” as against the “metaphysical need” of rationalism, that is, against its presumed intransigence and recalcitrance, according to Berlin, in the face of “facts”. Schumpeter begins Chapter Two of his Theorie with this sweeping and suggestive summation:
“The social process which rationalizes our life and thought has led us away from the metaphysical treatment of social development and taught us to see the possibility of an empirical treatment; but it has done its work so imperfectly that we must be careful in dealing with the phenomenon itself, still more with the concept with which we comprehend it, and most of all with the word by which we designate the concept and whose associations may lead us astray in all manner of directions. Closely connected with the metaphysical preconception…. is every search for a ‘meaning’ of history. The same is true of the postulate that a nation, a civilization, or even the whole of mankind must show some kind of uniform unilinear development, as even such a matter-of-fact mind as Roscher assumed…” (p.57)
The footnote at “rationalizes” was expanded for the English translation and reads as follows:
“This is used in Max Weber’s sense. As the reader will see, “rational” and “empirical” here mean, if not identical, yet cognate, things. They are equally different from, and opposed to, “metaphysical”, which implies going beyond the reach of both “reason” and “facts”, beyond the realm, that is, of science. With some it has become a habit to use the word “rational” in much the same sense as we do “metaphysical”. Hence some warning against misunderstanding may not be out of place.”
Evident here is the maladroit manner and dis-comfort (not aided, and perhaps exacerbated, by the disjoint prose) with which Schumpeter approaches the question of the “meaning” of history. The Rationalisierung, which Schumpeter adopts from Weber, has made “possible” a scientific “empirical treatment” of “social development (Entwicklung)”, but has done so only “imperfectly”, not to such a degree that we are able to free ourselves entirely of “metaphysical” concepts – which is why “we must be careful in dealing with the phenomenon [of Entwicklung] itself”. Nevertheless, Schumpeter believes that it is possible to leave “metaphysics” behind and to focus on “both ‘reason’ and ‘facts’”, and therefore on the “realm of science”. In true Machian empiricist fashion, Schumpeter completely fails to see the point that Weber was making in adopting the ante litteram Nietzschean conception of Rationalisierung to which he gave the name. “The social process which rationalizes” is an exquisitely Weberian expression: far from indicating that there is a “rational science” founded on “reason” and “facts” that can epistemologically and uncritically be opposed to a non-scientifc idealistic and “metaphysical rationalism”, Weber is saying what Nietzsche intended by the ex-ertion of the Will to Power as an ontological dimension of life and the world that “imposes” the “rationalization” of social processes and development in such a manner that they can be subjected to mathesis, to “scientific control”! What Weber posits as a “practice”, one that has clear Nietzschean onto-logical (philosophical) and onto-genetic (biological) origins, Schumpeter mistakes for an “empirical” and “objective” process that is “rational” and “factual” at once – forgetting thus the very basis of Nietzsche’s critique of Roscher and “historicism”, - certainly not (!) because they are founded on “metaphysics” (!), but because they fail to “question critically” the necessarily meta-physical foundations of their “value-systems”, of their “historical truth” or “meaning”!
Far from positing a “scientific-rational”, “ob-jective” and “empirical” methodology from which Roscher and the German Historical School have “diverged” with their philo-Hegelian “rationalist teleology”, Weber and Nietzsche before him were attacking the foundations of any “scientific” study of “the social process” or “social development” that does not see it for what it is – Rationalisierung, that is, “rationalization of life and the world”, the ex-pression and mani-festation of the Wille zur Macht! By contrast, Schumpeter believes that the mere abandonment of any “linearity” in the interpretation of history, of any “progressus” (as Nietzsche calls it), is sufficient to “free” his “rational science” from the pitfalls of “metaphysics”!
Berlin considers and acknowledges the limitations of the liberal worldview when human needs other than those that have to do with claims on social resources are considered – such as the need for full participation in the conduct of social affairs:
This is the degradation that I am fighting against - I am not seeking equality of legal rights, nor liberty to do as I wish (although I may want these too), but a condition in which I can feel that I am, because I am taken to be, a responsible agent, whose will is taken into consideration because I am entitled to it, even if I am attacked and persecuted for being what I am or choosing as I do. ….
All this has little to do with Mill's notion of liberty as limited only by the danger of doing harm to others. It is the non-recognition of this psychological and political fact (which lurks behind the apparent ambiguity of the term 'liberty') that has, perhaps, blinded some contemporary liberals to the world in which they live. Their plea is clear, their cause is just. But they do not allow for the variety of basic human needs. (
, op.cit., p.26) Berlin