Freedom of Expression: Positive or Negative Freedom? Helping Understanding the Boundaries of a Cherished Right

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Freedom of expression is a key value of a liberal democracy. In the Netherlands, like other democracies, freedom of expression has become a hot topic. Events such as the assassinations of Pim Fortuyn (2002) and Theo van Gogh (2004), the Danish cartoons affaire (2005) and the Paris Charlie Hebdo shooting (2015) have ignited debates concerning the scope and limits of the right to freedom of expression. There are roughly speaking two prevalent opinions in the current heated debate about freedom of expression: either free speech is under attack or there is simply too much of it. This brings me to the following main question of the article: what are the justifications to curtail freedom of expression in a liberal democracy?
I will show in this article that Isaiah Berlin´s ideas of freedom are extremely useful in exploring the boundaries of free speech. After presenting a case dealing with the boundaries of freedom of expression, I will explain the two concepts of liberty as designed by Isaiah Berlin. I will demonstrate that, generally speaking, we value freedom, when it becomes practically meaningful, when it is a condition in which people have the opportunity to become or do something else. I will analyze Berlin’s preference for negative freedom and discuss his criticism of positive freedom. Next, I will analyze whether freedom of expression is a positive or negative freedom. This outcome helps to better understand appropriate boundaries on freedom of expression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-58
Number of pages28
JournalNTKR : Tijdschrift voor Recht en Religie
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


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