Liberty before liberalism

I am currently putting the finishing touches on a book considering the relationship between individualist thought and welfare policy. I’ve just attended two fascinating sessions given by Quentin Skinner, the intellectual historian, who explained what was, to me, a completely unfamiliar different way of understanding the idea of liberty. In Roman law, he explains, freedom was a status, not a course of action; the distinction between freedom and slavery rested not on individual choice, but on domination, dependency and subjection to arbitrary power. Within the neo-Roman or “Republican” model, people lose their freedom, not so much because they are interfered with by laws, but because they have a status which is subject to the decisions of others. There is, arguably, a lesson for contemporary welfare states in the construction of our social rights.

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