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The ideal of ‘Freedom’ is cherished and sought by thinkers of all ideological hues. However, when it comes to the specifics of the concept, philosophers hold widely divergent views. Over time these different views of the idea of Freedom come to be grouped into two categories – positive freedom and negative freedom. In fact, it is this basic distinction which divides the modern left and the modern right, especially in the economic domain, i.e. Economic Freedom.

Shri M. A. Venkata Rao in this article published May 1958 edition of the Indian Libertarian magazine, deconstructs the concept of economic freedom. He writes that for left-leaning intellectuals, Negative economic freedom is actually economic exploitation by the capitalists of the working class and true economic freedom can only be experienced in a socialist society. However, when he examines the application of this concept in the erstwhile Soviet Union, he concludes the opposite.

The entire stream of thought, feeling and policy, (social, economic and political), now called Leftist, and issuing in various forms and degrees of socialism and communism illustrates how a partial truth can obtain strong and fanatic hold of whole generations and large areas of globe when it is supported by a major emotion. Leftist thought is borne on a swift and strong current of emotion; namely sympathy with the under-dog, mixed with hatred for the favoured ones of society. The tendency is assisted by a number of factors such as the impossibility of experimentation in social affairs, and the limited opportunity for even statistical measurement even when dictatorial governments introduce changes by force.

Frustration, The Main Basis 

Socialism and communism have ostensibly originated in the sense of frustration that leaders of progress experienced with the course of democracy in European countries, after the French Revolution. It was found that political democracy brought equality no doubt in the legal sense but without capital the worker benefitting· little or nothing by the new equality and new right of franchise. Equality before the law did not come on him the capacity to bargain with the capitalist employer. Hence they felt that the goal of “earthly paradise” was yet far off from the large majority of the people, who could not resist the exploitation of the capitalist class. It was felt poignantly that economic freedom should be added to political freedom, if democracy and its great ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity were to be realised in any significant measure. The problem was how to put the substance of humanism into the framework of democracy.  

But the analysis the reformers made of the economic process was faulty, and hence the remedy they came to suggest for the extension of political freedom, to include economic freedom, was also faulty. But the emotion of humanitarianism so widespread in the nineteenth century in Europe (which however halted before the lesser breeds without the law in Asia and Africa) blinded thinkers to the necessity of fuller analysis and riper consideration. To this must be added the Marxist working class movement which prevented the refinement of. the vital ideas of socialism and communism by politicalization and even militarisation of the masses mobilising their hunger, jealousy and greed. Marx offered to the fascinated gaze of the poor and disinherited the ecstatic hope of economic salvation here and now. 

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The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.