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My new article in the anthology The Idea of Freedom and its Semantics analyzes how liberalism and Hegelianism, or negative freedom and social freedom, can and are mobilized in concert for anti-identity politics. This is not a misuse or misunderstanding, but systematically inherent in the universalism of both concepts of freedom - and an element to explain why many self-identified or former leftists today write against identity politics.


In the current culture wars, conservatives criticize identity politics and “cancel culture” as restrictions on individual freedom. This article examines the underlying notions of freedom in these efforts. The conservative critique usually relies on a negative notion of freedom as non-interference in the sense of the liberal tradition. In political theory, such a negative conception of freedom is seen as antithetical to the conception of social freedom, which conceives of freedom in Hegelian and communitarian traditions as a communal enterprise. The article shows that both concepts – despite their philosophical contrasts – coincide in contemporary conservative critiques of identity politics and are therefore politically compatible. Both concepts of freedom suffer from a false universalism. In contrast, the radical democratic tradition helps to understand freedom particularistically. In doing so, it becomes understandable that identity politics is not primarily a restriction of individual freedom but, as a democratization of democracy, a contribution to the freedom of all.

The volume

The volume edited by Nicole J. Saam and Heiner Bielefeldt The Idea of Freedom and its Semantics. On the Tension between Freedom and Security is available open access at transcript. The interdisciplinary contributions allow for a complex discussion of the different facets of freedom. I am very pleased to be included and recommend reading the entire volume.

“Freedom” finds widespread acceptance as the political-legal guiding idea of modernity. A closer look, however, reveals highly divergent interpretations and accentuations. Moreover, the concept of freedom is subject to semantic inversions, which can even amount to passing off de facto unfreedom as the highest freedom. The interdisciplinary contributions argue for a sophisticated understanding of freedom and focus not least on the relational dimension of freedom practices.


Cite and download

Schubert, Karsten (2023): In Ruhe gelassen werden. Das Zusammenspiel von negativer und sozialer Freiheit in der Kritik an Identitätspolitik. In: Nicole J. Saam & Heiner Bielefeldt (Hg.): Die Idee der Freiheit und ihre Semantiken. Zum Spannungsverhältnis von Freiheit und Sicherheit. Bielefeld: transcript, 149–158.

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