Of course, the question remains, Isn't all of this just semantics? That is, what is this issue all about? It seems that everyone understands negative liberty. If some people want to call an individual's personal fulfillment or individual control of the political system "liberty," as well, who cares? There seems to be no fact of the matter about whether those two things are really liberty independently of linguistic convention, so it seems to be fake issue which may be dissolved as "mere semantics."
What this objection overlooks is that if "positive liberty" is allowed into our vocabulary the proponent of positive liberty will also demand that negative liberty of the well-off be curtailed in order to increase the positive liberty of the poor, the personally unfulfilled, and those who have not had much of a voice in their government. For it is assumed by all parties that one may have as much liberty as is compatible with others' having the same amount. This is why you aren't allowed to walk down the sidewalk swinging your arms wildly, driving your car into people's living rooms, or enslaving people. People of excellence, wealth, and, due to their talents and the importance of their roles in society, customary influence in the political sphere will have to sacrifice some of their negative and positive liberty in order to increase the positive liberty of the losers in society who are unhappy, poor and, due to their having little to offer, have little role in political life. Wealth and political sway will have to be artificially transferred to these people because, thought they have as much negative liberty as anyone else, they don't have much positive liberty.
If this is what the advocate of positive liberty will argue, then perhaps the issue is not bogus. However, perhaps it may be drained of its newly found substance. Perhaps the assumption we stipulated above should be amended to read:
It is assumed by all parties that one may have as much negative liberty as is compatible with others' having the same amount.But the advocate of positive liberty will require proof that the principle should be fine-tuned in this way when, after all, the principle originally included no reference to species of liberty.
So, the issue is of substance. We are forced to come up with an analytical definition of liberty if we want to answer the charge of varies leftists, big-government liberals, and totalitarians that, as a matter of our common devotion to liberty, the losers in life deserve to have more personal fulfillment and political influence provided for them by the winners at the cost of the winners' negative liberty.
Next, we will take up Charles Taylor's essay on this point: "What's Wrong with Negative Liberty".