Thursday, January 13, 2011

Maxwell reviews Schmidtz & Brennan, A Brief History of Liberty

The Law & Politics Book Review has posted a review of A Brief History of Liberty (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2010), by David Schmidtz (University of Arizona) and Jason Brennan (Brown University).

Reviewer Lida Maxwell (Department of Political Science, Trinity College), introduces the book as follows:
In A BRIEF HISTORY OF LIBERTY, the philosophers David Schmidtz and Jason Brennan seek to offer a brief “history of liberty, not a history of theorizing about liberty” for a general readership (p.1). By this, Schmidtz and Brennan mean that they want to tell a story about how liberty arose on the ground and, from telling this story, teach us something about how we should understand the conditions and problems of liberty today. The authors admit at the outset that they are telling “a story of liberty” (my emphasis, p.18) and not the story of liberty. Their story, as they make clear, is a story of the rise of negative liberty, which they define as individual liberty, secured by the rule of law and property rights: “The point of negative liberty has less to do with what liberty guarantees and more to do with what liberty gives people the chance to do for themselves” (p.9). Yet they also want to make the case that securing negative liberty encourages the development of positive liberty, which they understand as the development of the capacities to live a good life through having meaningful choices about what kind of life to live. Securing negative liberty, they suggest, “has a history of enabling people to achieve positive freedom. That is to say, in (negatively) free countries, people generally have more real choice” insofar as they have “options together with the capacities to exercise these options successfully” (p.17).
In Maxwell's view, this volume "may be appropriate to use in an undergraduate upper level course on theories of freedom" or "as one exemplar of a liberal view of liberty, again in an undergraduate course."

You can access the full review here. You can find another review, written from the philosopher's perspective, here.