Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory

Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory

Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory

Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory

Synopsis

In Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory, Nancy Hirschmann demonstrates not merely that modern theories of freedom are susceptible to gender and class analysis but that they must be analyzed in terms of gender and class in order to be understood at all. Through rigorous close readings of major and minor works of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Mill, Hirschmann establishes and examines the gender and class foundations of the modern understanding of freedom. Building on a social constructivist model of freedom that she developed in her award-winning book The Subject of Liberty: Toward a Feminist Theory of Freedom, she makes in her new book another original and important contribution to political and feminist theory.


Despite the prominence of "state of nature" ideas in modern political theory, Hirschmann argues, theories of freedom actually advance a social constructivist understanding of humanity. By rereading "human nature" in light of this insight, Hirschmann uncovers theories of freedom that are both more historically accurate and more relevant to contemporary politics. Pigeonholing canonical theorists as proponents of either "positive" or "negative" liberty is historically inaccurate, she demonstrates, because theorists deploy both conceptions of freedom simultaneously throughout their work.

Excerpt

The purpose of this book is to examine the concept of freedom in five key canonical figures: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Mill. the importance of the concept of freedom is, I assume, self-evident to readers of this book: it is clearly a, if not the, key concept of the modern canon. Defining “the canon” of modern political theory in terms of these five figures, rather than Hume, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, or any number of other figures, is justified because of their centrality to at least the West's understanding of freedom, and particularly to Western political theory arguments about freedom; they are all key figures in modern liberalism, which is arguably the ideology that has been responsible for translating the political theory ideal of freedom into the common collective consciousness of the modern West. For Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, the “natural freedom” of the state of nature posited by each theorist has had profound effects on how we understand, think about, and talk about freedom in the West today. Mill made vital contributions to this understanding in his famous defense of individual liberty of conscience and speech, and his articulation of the notion of a zone of privacy into which the state may not intrude. Kant, perhaps better known as a moral philosopher who posited the “categorical imperative,” also defended liberal freedoms such as freedom of speech in his political writings and is associated by many scholars with social contract theory and the liberal tradition. As the ensuing chapters will demonstrate, I do not always agree with these dominant readings, but these readings make the selection of these five theorists obvious and central for anyone writing on freedom.

In one sense, then, this book is a very traditional work of political theory: it selects some major canonical figures, examines their texts, analyzes their arguments, and develops an account of freedom out of that. But it is not traditional in the three related themes that I use to guide my reading of the texts: Isaiah Berlin's typology of negative and positive liberty in its historical, rather than analytic, dimensions; the idea of social construction; and the place of gender and class in the concept of freedom. At first glance, the first and third might not seem that untraditional: but instead of justifying those themes here in summary fashion, I will break down my introduction to this book along the lines of those three themes, to present . . .

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