Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Three Concepts of Political Liberty

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Three Concepts of Political Liberty

Article excerpt

The distinction between negative and positive liberty is familiar to political philosophers. The negative variety is freedom as noninterference. The positive variety is freedom as self-mastery. However, recently there has been an attempt on the part of a growing number of philosophers, historians, and legal scholars to recapture a third concept of political liberty uncovered from within the rich tradition of civic republicanism. Republican political liberty is freedom as nondomination. I argue that features that distinguish it from noninterference and self-mastery highlight the theoretical and practical advantages of liberty as nondomination. It is, among these candidates, best-suited to serve as the guiding principle for the State's basic institutions and rules. The principle says that the State should secure nondomination among its citizens.

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Isaiah Berlin's distinction between negative and positive liberty (1) is familiar to political philosophers. The negative variety is freedom as noninterference. The positive variety is freedom as self-mastery. However, recently there has been an attempt on the part of a growing number of philosophers, historians, and legal scholars to recapture a third concept of political liberty. This is the republican one of liberty as nondomination. The attempt has been to carve out the conceptual space for this neglected third option. (2) However, many have resisted that it is a viable third option. Some have claimed that it is virtually indistinguishable from liberty as noninterference. Others have claimed that it is simply another variety of positive liberty. (3) I say that these critiques go wrong in a variety of ways. I will provide a characterization of the republican concept of freedom. I will argue that it not only is a distinct political good; the features that make it distinct highlight the theoretical and practical advantages of liberty as nondomination. It is, among these candidates, best-suited to serve as the guiding principle for the State's basic institutions and rules.

Liberty As Nondomination

The intellectual roots of the third concept of liberty are found in the republican tradition of Ancient Rome, the Italian Renaissance, and the period leading up to the American Revolution. The institutions associated with this tradition are familiar enough in the principles of constitutionalism. Republicans advocate the rule of law rather than of men, a representative government where citizens elect public officials for a definite tenure, the separation of executive power from legislative power so that appropriate checks and balances are in place, and provisions that make it difficult for majorities to alter basic rules and procedures. However, there is also associated with this tradition a particular concept of political liberty, which concept provides the rationale for these institutions. It involves, according to Cicero, "being subject to no master." (4) This is often presented in terms of being able "to stand upright by means of one's own strength without depending on the will of anyone else." (5) Philip Pettit says it reflects an ability to "look others in the eye." (6) These formulations are a bit metaphorical. What are they metaphors for?

Pettit says it is nondomination. The republican concept of liberty is only possible in a political system where discretionary power is absent and, therefore, one's enjoyment of rights is not contingent upon either the goodwill of anyone else or one's ability to elicit someone's goodwill. When this kind of situation obtains, one enjoys nondomination. According to Pettit, some person, network of persons, or system dominates, or has dominating power over another insofar as they have the capacity to interfere with that person on an arbitrary basis in certain choices that the other is in a position to make. (7)

The first condition refers to someone having the capacity to intrude in a way that inhibits another's range of voluntary choices. …

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