3

Three concepts of freedom

Liberalism, republicanism and nationalism

I have already touched on the central place that freedom occupies amongst the values of the modern world. Indeed, it may well be the central value of modernity. Every significant political ideology professes to speak in the name of freedom, and, while the accounts they provide of freedom differ, each claims to have captured its essence and that the pretensions of its competitors are bogus.

In this chapter, I wish to evaluate these claims with respect to three major political doctrines at work in the modern world. The central concern of liberalism is with the freedom of individuals to make up their own minds how they are to live. For reasons which are historically—if not philosophically—inescapable, liberals have considered that the main threat to freedom has come from the actions of others, and especially of the minions of the State; so the liberal affirmation of freedom of choice has been combined with the idea that freedom is best secured when the individual is protected from others. Freedom is conceived ‘negatively’ as the absence of certain kinds of interference. This understanding of freedom contrasts with a strong republican tradition in which the various responsibilities associated with citizenship, and in particular the responsibility to sustain the political community, are conceived of as modes of free activity. While there are various ways in which this more ‘positive’ conception of freedom may be interpreted, I will suggest that the most attractive account involves the idea that political activity is a form of self-formation: in political activity, citizens form themselves, and, at the same time, form the State to which they are subject. The nationalist understanding of freedom often makes use of the rhetoric of republicanism, and is in some respects quite close to it. However, the dominant (and most defensible) nationalist conception of freedom involves living in a social and political world which expresses and sustain one’s national identity. Freedom is a matter of being ‘at home’ in the world. Citizens

-83-

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Nation and Identity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Coming of Nationalism 9
  • 2 - National and Other Identities 44
  • 3 - Three Concepts of Freedom 83
  • 4 - Multiculturalism, Aboriginal Rights and the Nation 114
  • 5 - The End of the Affair? 143
  • Bibliographical Essay 194
  • Index 205
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