Berlin, being a liberalist, who started writing during the period of cold war, was propelled by the idea of authoritarian rulers of 20th century. He presented the distorted view of liberty which promotes the idea of self-mastery (Berlin, 2002). In addition to this, if a society adopts an organic concept wherein a collective society is hypothetically considered an individual and it is believed that the individual will act in a rational way even when exposed to external factors, the individual will be in control of its own power.
As stated by Berlin, liberty is not merely defined as two different kinds: Positive liberty and negative liberty; rather they can be seen as not going together harmoniously, and are ideas of a single political personality. The distinction between positive liberty and negative liberty has a lot to do with Libertarian and Socialist political thinkers. These terms play a significant role in evaluating the role of the state and permissible actions taken by them. For the sake of simplicity, if we define the term negative liberty, it could mean absence of external control or limits, while on the other hand, positive liberty could mean the absence of limits and power internally.
Political liberals, who are in favour of individual liberty, generally claim that one would eventually place strong control or try to limit the activities undertaken by the state. Whereas, the critics would argue by contesting the definition of negative liberty given by the liberals. As per the critics, liberty of an individual or the collective liberty of the society can require the state to intervene.
In the famous piece of writing, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ published in 1958, Isaiah Berlin has clearly stated the reason for using the label of negative and positive to define liberty. Firstly, negative liberty could mean mere absence of external control or barriers created by external forces. Secondly, positive liberty could mean the absence of limits and power internally. It would also mean the presence self-determination (Berlin, 1969). It can also be said that the concept of self-determination or self-mastery entails a presence of control of power. Although, these are two different terms, the only difference lies in the style and the way they are used by social and political philosophers.
It is argued by Berlin and many other liberals that with positive liberty, there comes a risk of totalitarianism (Berlin, 1978). Consider the doom of an oppressed and permanent minority for instance, since the members of this minority take active participation in the democratic process of the state, they might be said to have self-control and power to exercise their own affairs in the society. However, an important thing to note here is that, they belong to the category of the oppressed which surely makes them dependent and certainly not free. Thus, it can be said that even a majority group can be oppressed in the name of liberty. This suggests that a democratic society is not necessarily self-sufficient and self-controlled.