I don’t know why Palmer keeps accusing Schmidtz and me of conflating wealth with freedom. We explicitly disavow this in the book.
Anyways, here’s our view:
1. In normal English, we in fact use the words “liberty” and “freedom” to refer to more than just negative liberty.
2. This isn’t a recent development–people have been using the word to mean lots of different things for a long time. Berlin recognized this. So, if you claim that “liberty” should only mean a particular kind of negative liberty, you appear to engaging in ideologically motivated linguistic revisionism. You better have a good justification for that. Libertarians think they have a good justification. It doesn’t look that way to me. It just looks like they’re trying to pick a definition that privileges their theory.
3. The thing that Marxists and others mean by “positive liberty” is valuable and worth promoting. One of the best arguments for classical liberal institutions is that as a matter of fact they do a good job getting people positive liberty.
4. Empirically, one of the best ways to promote positive liberty is to protect negative liberty.
5. Nothing is at stake ideologically on how we define our terms. Whatever role government gets, if any, in protecting or promoting any kind of liberty (however we define the term) depends in part on how well government can do the job and what the alternatives are.
Palmer says liberty is an inherently social concept. Not so, at least not in common English. He’s once again engaging in ideologically motivated linguistic revisionism. That’s okay if he has a good reason, but I don’t think he has one. Here’s an earlier essay explaining why. Excerpt:
Palmer says that no matter what happens to a man on a desert island, the man is neither free nor unfree, because liberty is an inherently social concept. Palmer might want to limit his talk of ‘liberty’ this way. Ordinary people do not, and they are not obviously mistaken in having a range of concerns that are not so limited. Stipulating that they are mistaken will not do.
Before ever reading any philosophy, I would have found it obvious that if Robinson Crusoe were pinned under a log, he would thereby be unfree, and would want to be liberated from the burden of being thus pinned. I likewise would have considered it obvious that when a log pins Crusoe down, this is morally different than when a mugger pins him down, or when a policeman pins him down after Crusoe has robbed a bank. Some philosophers say that because these three cases are morally different, we shouldn’t use the same word. But the question of whether to use the same word is a question about how to be clear. In using the same word, we can obscure differences while emphasizing similarities. Using different terms can obscure similarities while emphasizing differences.
We can just as easily say that in all three cases, Crusoe becomes less free (in the same sense of ’free’), but that the moral significance of these cases is different. In the first case, the situation is regrettable, but no one has done anything wrong. In the second case, the mugging is wrong, not merely regrettable. In the third case, the policeman limits Crusoe’s freedom, but with justification.
Palmer asserts ‘liberty’ can only refer to a certain kind of relationship among people. He thinks other uses of the term are confused. Or, perhaps, when hears the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Free Bird”, he thinks Collins and Van Zant are speaking metaphorically. Palmer does not show us why we must confine our use of the term ‘liberty’ to social situations. Like the average English-speaker, I feel comfortable saying that birds are free to fly in a way people are not. If somebody objects that the bird’s freedom to fly is different from the freedom in question when we discuss free speech, I agree. So, ordinary English uses of the term ‘liberty’ refer to many different things, and we philosophers should be more precise by saying what particular kind of freedom or liberty we have in mind.
In a Brief History of Liberty, Schmidtz and I take issue with the fact that so many people–Marxists, libertarians, neoclassical republicans (like Pettit), left-liberals, etc.–try to reverse engineer a definition of “liberty” to fit their favored political views. Our view is that basically nothing is at stake in how we define the word. We argue don’t have any good reasons to try to revise common English.