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Copyright (c) 2004 Boston College Law School
Boston College Law Review

ARTICLE: The Five Faces of Freedom in American Political and Constitutional Thought

May, 2004

45 B.C. L. Rev. 499





There exists a great gulf between many philosophical conceptions of freedom and prevailing legal ideals concerning the nature of liberty. If we were to ask a philosopher what "freedom" means, we might be answered that it consists of the openness or availability of meaningful choice options to any hypothetical choosing individual. 1 Others with a more naturalistic view of the world conceptualize freedom as the absence of physical or interpersonal conditions that render certain courses of action difficult or impossible. 2 Other philosophical traditions equate freedom with the capacity for meaningful self-expression in the public domain. 3 Others conceive of freedom in interpersonal terms, equating it with the absence of domination. 4 Still others consider freedom to be an intrapersonal ideal, the capacity to act autonomously. 5 The most ambitious or utopian hold the uncompromising view that freedom is nothing less than the total realization of the human will in the sphere of worldly activity. 6 Philosophers, alas, have failed to achieve much consensus, but have instead provided a bewildering plethora of answers to the question: What is freedom? 7

Freedom is arguably the central animating value of the American political order, yet American statesmen and political thinkers have done little better than philosophers in arriving at a uniform understanding of the idea. 8 Beneath every political edifice lies a particular, sometimes inchoate, conception of freedom, but freedom has meant radically different things in various systems of political thought. 9 The Framers undoubtedly had varying intuitions about the ...
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