Berlin’s dichotomy of positive and negative freedom is, in academic quarters, such a well-discussed problem that any kind of attempt at a fresh interpretation confronts the real risk of developing what has already been said and, in that way, of losing argumentational strength. The aim of this article does not, however, consist in contributing to the debate about the viability of Berlin’s distinction, but in calling into question the stereotypical reception of the intellectual sources that Berlin was inspired by. In the framework of the line of traditions of liberal thinking, which, among others, Berlin himself identifies, is his distinction between two concepts of freedom, usually identified with the principles and intellectual meaning of the classification by the French enlightenment thinker Benjamin Constant. The mixing up of Berlin’s polarity positive–negative with Constant’s scheme of ancient–modern is probably a consequence of the numerous common points in the two conceptions. These, however, lead to the automatic perception of agreement even in those principles for which the level of coherence is questionable. The main aim of this study is, therefore, to indicate, firstly, the proven fact that for a consistent comparison of Berlin’s and Constant’s dichotomy one must examine, in addition to the commonly analysed relationship of negative freedom with modern freedom, the connectedness of the opposite poles in the two cases. Secondly, and more importantly, the thesis is advanced that, in its fundamental properties, Constant’s thinking goes beyond the liberal tradition and points towards Pettit’s republican principles of freedom as non-dominance. This conclusion ultimately leads to the recognition that Berlin’s and Constant’s division cannot be seen as homogenous.
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