Freedom reconsidered

Freedom reconsidered May 11, 2015

Now that the truths that were foundational to the American republic–that there is a Creator who is the basis for human equality and rights that transcend the state–are no longer self-evident, we are starting to see a rethinking of everything America used to stand for.  For example, Princeton professor Philip Pettit, in a book entitled Just Freedom, argues that we need to do away with the “libertarian” notion of individual freedom.  Instead, we should pursue “democratic freedom,” based on the liberty of groups not to be dominated by another group.

Liberal think-tanker Danielle Allen explains, after the jump.

From Danielle Alen Why the dispossessed riot – The Washington Post:

Finding our way out of the riots will require sloughing off the libertarian conception of freedom that has dominated our discourse for a half-century and replacing it with a democratic one. The former is an ideal of freedom as non-interference, the latter one of non-domination.

In his brilliant new book, “Just Freedom,” Princeton philosopher Philip Pettit explains freedom from domination with reference to the expression “free rein.” If you give a horse free rein, it may be able to go where it wants, but the rider retains “reserve control” and can reassert constraint at any point. Or consider Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s play, “A Doll’s House.” Nora’s husband, Torvald, a late-19th-century bourgeois gentleman, applies few restrictions to his wife, who is able to spend her time as she pleases. And yet she’s unhappy. She is at liberty thanks only to his good graces; she is dominated by his reserve control.

To have freedom from domination requires more than just protection of the basic liberty to choose your religion, political party, associations and employment. It also requires an equal share of control over the institutions — the laws, policies, procedures — that necessarily interfere with your life but that do so, ideally, only to protect each individual from domination by another, and any group from domination by other groups.

Libertarian conceptions of freedom, in contrast, define liberty simply as the absence of restraint and originate in the political thought of the utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Instead of desiring a society where citizens work together to establish the governing framework for their interactions, the 19th-century utilitarians argued for maximizing the number of social relationships organized on the basis of free contracts between consenting adults. Freedom as non-interference, Pettit writes, is the freedom not “to act under any constraints other than those you had negotiated contractually.”

This libertarian concept of freedom seeks a “natural liberty,” while the democratic understanding of freedom pursues “civic liberty.” The goal of libertarian natural liberty is to live with the minimum impingement of law and social norms. Under civic liberty, however, you help create the laws and norms of your society, and these, Pettit says, “promote your freedom in the sense of providing the security that it requires.” Democracy, thus, is “nothing more and nothing less than a community organized around these ideas of equality before and equality over the law.”

Freedom, then, is just another word for true equality.

[Keep reading. . . ]

Note how the concept of freedom is thus collectivized.  The importance of the collective over the individual was, of course, a hallmark of both Marxist and Fascist thought.  Now it is coming back.

What would be the consequences, in practice, of this redefinition of freedom?  What would happen, for example, to religious freedom?


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