Freedom And Inequality: Introduction and Index
Posts in this series:
Freedom and Inequality: Introduction and Index
Freedom and Inequality: Freedom From Domination Part I
Freedom and Equality: Freedom From Domination Part 2
Freedom and Equality: Relational Equality Against Social Hierarchies
Freedom And Equality: More On Equality.
Freedom and Equality: Anderson Against Libertarianism
Freedom And Equality: In The Workplace
A Primer On Pragmatism: Method
A Primer on Pragmatism: Truth
A Primer On Pragmatism: Applications
Egalitarianism And Markets
Private Government By Corporations
Inequality And Freedom
Inequality In Social Relations
This will be a series of discussions of freedom and inequality, based on works by Elizabeth Anderson, Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Michigan. I first heard about Anderson in this New Yorker article by Nathan Heller. Anderson explores the meaning of freedom and equality, especially in the context of work, the economy and the politics of both. Until recently, the dominant ideas were those of conservatives and libertarians, people like Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and neoliberals of both parties.
The New Yorker article says that historically everyone thought that freedom and equality are at odds: exercise of freedom would naturally lead to increasing inequality. Political domination is a natural consequence of increasing inequality. If that is true, how can democracy survive? Anderson questions the view that freedom and equality are in conflict. The relevance of this idea to our current political environment is obvious. Republicans champion inequality as an exercise of freedom, and neoliberal democrats agree, but argue that some restraints on freedom must exist to prevent too much inequality. We need a new structure to step outside this duality and protect our democracy.
Again historically, people thought of freedom in two ways: negative freedom, that is, freedom from interference, and positive freedom, the range of options available to people. Anderson adds a third idea, freedom from domination. As we saw in the series on Ellen Meiksins Wood, one major Marxist criticism of capitalism is domination of the worker by the capitalist, aided by the state.* We saw in Pierre Bourdieu a detailed study of the way dominance is embedded in social relations.** We have also seen Michel Foucault’s view of power, an idea closely related to domination. I’ll discuss the concept of freedom from domination in this series.
From the New Yorker article:
As the students listened, [Anderson] sketched out the entry-level idea that one basic way to expand equality is by expanding the range of valued fields within a society. Unlike a hardscrabble peasant community of yore in which the only skill that anyone cared about might be agricultural prowess, a society with many valued arenas lets individuals who are good at art or storytelling or sports or making people laugh receive a bit of love.
I’m particularly fond of this idea. I made a living practicing law, and on the side, I did a lot of chorus singing, mostly classical and opera. I made room in my life for voice lessons and the unending rehearsals and performances that dominate the life of the singer. I used to say that among lawyers I was one of the best singers, which seems to me to be what this quote is saying.
The New Yorker article says that one of the major influences for Anderson is pragmatism, the distinctly American philosophy, generated by Charles Peirce, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and William James. It’s leading exponent in the 20th Century was John Dewey.*** A central idea of pragmatism is the definition of “truth”:
To a pragmatist, “truth” is an instrumental and contingent state; a claim is true for now if, by all tests, it works for now.
Ideas are tools, and the truth value of a tool is related to its usefulness. This description of truth throws off centuries of effort to find a fixed point of certainty in the world. It opens the possibility of finding our way through social and individual problems not by reference to some prior version of the truth, but by our own best understandings of our own social reality. I do not currently plan on a formal discussion of this description of truth, and will content myself with pointing it out in passing. But I share that view, and I think it is apparent in much of my thinking and writing.
Reading philosophy papers is difficult for a lay reader like me. Most are presented as arguments with one or more other philosophers. This is not necessarily a good way for a layman to get a positive statement of the views of the author, especially when there are many papers and many arguments. The New Yorker article seems to be a good introduction to the themes Anderson addresses.
Finding these academic papers online is harder than finding the books I’ve been writing about. I am fortunate to have access to a university’s online library, and I can’t find all of Anderson’s work there; I have no idea if readers can find the material I’m reading through their own public libraries, though I hope so. I’ll be giving the best links I can find, for what that’s worth. And as always, I’ll try to separate Anderson’s thinking and that of the authors she discusses separate from my own views.
I’ll update this post with links to all the posts in this series. Thanks for reading.
* Here’s an example. The index to these posts is here.
** See for example this post.
*** Lewis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club is an engaging account of the first three and their friends. Here’s a good introduction to the thought of John Dewey. Richard Rorty considered himself an heir to Dewey. For a fascinating discussion of the nature of truth in pragmatist thought, see Philosophy and Social Hope by Richard Rorty, Ch. 2. It’s worth the effort.
Brief Description of the conclusion of Chapter 2 and Chapters 3-7 of Elizabeth Anderson’s Private Government
Chapter 2 of Elizabeth Anderson’s Private Government ends with several plausible ways of dealing with the lack of freedom and equality* in the workplace. These are:
1. Exit: the employee can quit and find other work.
2. The Rule of Law: we could have a statutory scheme favorable to the freedom of working people.
3. Substantial “constitutional” rights: we could force corporate structures to allow greater worker freedom.
4. Voice: workers could be given greater rights to participate is making decisions about working conditions, as through unions or board positions, modeled by German codetermination in the form of board seats and Worker Councils.
The next four chapters are brief responses to Anderson’s argument. Ann Hughes offers deeper discussion of the history of dissenters such as the Levellers, which was helpful in understanding some of the history David Bromwich discusses the evolution of business away from the egalitarian ideals of the dissidents. Niko Kolodny suggests that being bossed around isn’t that big a deal. Tyler Cowan represents the neoliberal view, that loss of freedom in Anderson’s sense has to be balanced against the gains, and besides, businesses won’t abuse workers much. Anderson deals with the replies in Chapter 7.
I think the comments are interesting, but somehow less than satisfying. Anderson is talking about concepts of freedom and equality that are foreign to most of us. The reply of Tyler Cowan seems utterly unaware that freedom and equality are social goods, valuable in themselves for human flourishing. These benefits are simply irrelevant to economic efficiency, the traditional goal driving libertarian econmics. Kolodny is sympathetic to Anderson’s egalitarianism, but does not recognize these benefits either. Bromwich takes a more philosophical approach founded on Polanyi’s view that labor, money and land are fictitious commodities. But he offers little in the way of an alternative treatment of the turn away from egalitarianism on the left, and nothing suggesting what can be done.
Anderson’s replies are helpful, but she does not return to the fundamental definitions of freedom and equality. She simply takes the replies on their own terms and responds in the same terms. That is disappointing. I’ll offer my own thoughts in this series.
1. Achieving Our Country by Richard Rorty. Anderson identifies as a pragmatist, and so does Rorty. He is controversial on a number of grounds, but I have learned a great deal from this and other works by Rorty. This is a short book, not theoretical and easy to read. It is an impassioned defense of small-d democracy as described by John Dewey and Walt Whitman. It counsels against despair of that ironic spectator variety of leftism, and argues for an agressive hopeful politics of the left.
2. Podcasts of the Partially Examined Life. This is a philosophy discussion group of some guys who planned to make a living at philosophy but thought better of it, as they say in their introduction. There are two that I think are of interest here. First there is a three part series including an interview with Elizabeth Anderson, Episode 199. There are several episodes devoted to Richard Rorty, listed here. I have listened to the first episode on Achieving our Country, Episode 157, and plan to listen to the rest.
3. In the posts on equality Anderson lays out egalitarian arguments against social hierarchies. For a counterpoint, Episode 157 of the podcast Partially Examined life discusses the Analects of Confucius. The second part is an effort to understand the justification for Chinese hierarchy. Confucius and his school are still influential in China today,and the discussion is a nice counterpoint to the very American ideas of Anderson and the pragmatists.
4. Elizabeth Andersonn wrote a book applying some of her ideas to the world of work. Private Government. Here’s a review in The New Yorker.
5. The Partially Examined Life discusses Peirce and James on Pragmatism in episodes 20 and 22. I have listened to the free part of Episode 20 and plan to listen to the rest.
I have just been introduced to Dewey and pragmatism recently and so this is very interesting to me.
I am not seeing how “freedom from domination” isn’t just a negative freedom though. Interested to see the argument.
It’s a restriction on the predator. Jeff Bezos “earns” $100,000/minute, while his “Amazon warehouse employees, many talented and hardworking, have reportedly resorted to urinating in bottles in lieu of a bathroom break.” Freedom from that sort of oppression is not negative. (Heller article in the New Yorker.)
The Heller article doesn’t touch on negative and positive freedoms at all.
Freedom from domination is a negative freedom. (“Freedom from”)
Or maybe she is arguing that this idea of “freedom from domination” is a constellation of interrelated negative and positive freedoms?
That’s still not some kind of third thing.
Anyway, that seems a pointless definitional argument. Her actual work seems very interesting.
Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
And nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free
And that is care of famed philosopher Kris Kristopherson, who is a little more clear eyed than the convoluted Anderson.
“Freedom from restraint.” Is that not a negative freedom, or is it a potato-potahtoe argument for the same spud? Anyway, I’ll trade you one Bobby for a Janis, how’s that?
The Janis version is the best (even Kristopherson has admitted that), but Kris wrote it. And Bobby was a girl originally.
Hey bmaz! This old rock n roller turns 80 in a few weeks and my husband still heads for the back 40 when I crank up Janis doing Bobby McGee. She absolutely owned that song, dammit!
Hi Lulymay! She really did. And happy birthday a tad ahead of time! Janis was so, so, good.
Bit of trivia: The Janis version is one of only two songs released posthumously to ever chart at number one. The other is Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding.
an earlier draft was abandoned, as
“freedom’s just another word for nothing left to depreciate”
didn’t quite roll of the tongue…
That would not have been as good.
it got worse:
One day up near the CME, Lord, I let him slip away
He’s lookin’ for that home, and I hope he finds it
But, I’d trade all of my pork belly futures, for a single yesterday
To be holdin’ Bobby’s portfolio next to mine
Well, I call him my banker, call him my man
I said, I call him my broker did the best I can, c’mon
Hey now, Bobby now
Hey now, Bobby McGee, yeah
‘freedom from domination’ is an absurd argument – it *requires* domination. Think Putin, Xi, Jon un… Trump? What distinguishes the latter is patent self-dealing. The other three deliver the goods, though to what good purpose? Which Korea would *you* prefer to live in?
For what it’s worth, I believe health is the ultimate equalizer.
The leaders in the countries you mentioned all built and maintain their power (aka dominance) by consolidating power to a select few and keeping the rest of it’s people sick, poor, uneducated and often hungry.
At what point do conservatives realize that while the gun lobby and it’s Washington puppets have them all jacked up and believing that step 1 of the government taking away their freedom/liberty will be when liberals try to pass stricter gun laws, this current administration went around to the back door and WITH THEIR APPROVAL is already up to step 4 or 5?
First and foremost, when you publish a thread of sizable consequence, I am an avid reader thusly, my “tip of the hat” in your directed, is well- deserved.
As both a Native American and Chicano, I am somewhat obsessed with my fellow citizens, i.e., European Americans that are unwilling to learn any of the 27 ‘domestic’ languages and the attendant 22 ‘cultures, and subsequently, I am far more comfortable addressing my ‘future’ and what’s since occurred in the arenas of philosophy, politics and economics, regardless of the ravages and success as it pertains to the Doctrine of Discovery. And starting with the subject matter that is our hemisphere’s Migration Flow and when compared to what animates the Pundits, the Sages and the Gurus.
And below will be the first of many postings to this thread. What follows is what I wrote earlier this week.
Immigration: The Great Democratic Debate Failure…
With this evening’s debate as well as tomorrow’s debate, the Democratic candidates seeking our Party’s nomination for the presidency, speak volumes when it comes to the subject matter that encompasses all aspects of immigration. To wit, consider the following, and in particular, the leadership regimes of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump.
Back in 1985, the Chicano Movement issued its Agenda of Unmet Needs and of these 10 items, the starting point for Comprehensive Immigration Reform commenced with the establishment of the TransNational Technology Center. As such, each embassy or consulate would have a minimum of five desks and as such,
1. The Travel Desk: Thus the requisite transportation documents for traveling to and from the United States would be effectively addressed via this Travel Desk.
2. The Employment Desk: Take, for example, a Mexican citizen could use the allocated computers to submit his or her resume and to contact American-based business entities that were searching for new employees qualified for such work here in the United States.
3. The Economic Development Desk: A small business owner could use this Desk to expand the exportation/importation of their “goods and services.”
4. Citizenship Desk: Again, a Mexican national could apply for and submit the standarized citizenship application.
5. “Fleeing the Violence” Desk: As such, any Mexican national including the spouse and children could complete the appropriate documentation and which would lead to a ‘hearing’ to be held in the applicant’s nation of birth.
And needless to say but I will, the Democratic candidates have little knowledge of “history” but do have a wealth of “history” when it comes to a Pander for the Assorted Comeuppance.
This is tangential to this discussion, but you might enjoy this book that my buddy recently published – hope it’s OK to post here:
Aliens is a timely new monograph of art and pithy texts by the eminent San Francisco artist and Stanford professor Enrique Chagoya. The 128-page book features paintings, drawings, lithographs, and twelve of Chagoya’s singular codices, with sixteen foldout pages.
Aliens explores some of the artist’s pioneering themes: “Reverse Anthropology” and “Reverse Modernism,” and is filled with the artist’s brash, spot-on humor. Aliens is divided in halves, with two front covers. One half proceeds from left to right and showcases single-page works, while the other half unfolds from right to left, in the traditional manner of codices.
Chagoya’s art reminds us that we are all aliens; it speaks directly to the absurd and horrifying return to tribalism in our time, as many lives are threatened and numerous freedoms curtailed.
Chagoya is fantastic. If he is a friend, please convey the best from this blog and say hi. His work is incredible.
I don’t know him personally, but I met him at a reading and after-party in Berkeley. He’s a charming fellow with great stories to tell. And spot-on socio-economic criticism.
Wait a minute. What kind of “inequality” are we talking about here? Differences in income, status and influence in a system that tries for equal opportunity, or actual legal inequality based on nothing except “race”?
The assumptions in your question suggest you have your answer and you’re sticking to it, regardless of the facts.
Chris Hedges, in particular, has driven a stake into the heart of the myth of American meritocracy. Yet, like racism, it refuses to die.
“The assumptions in your question suggest you have your answer “
Well, roughly, complete equality under law, with lots of enforcement to keep us from sliding back into Jim Crow, and reparations, too.
And steps can be taken towards social and economic equality too. And they should be.
And don’t try and tell me about meritocracy. The fact that I have a roof over my head, food in my tum-tum, and a joint in my hand is strong evidence that merit has nothing to do with it.
It is impossible to avoid racism: America is built on it. But there are plenty of inequalities to go round:
I used to think that I was one of the best lawyer singers
What the hell
[Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment; this is your second. Please also use a differentiated username as we have more than one ‘Arthur’ in the community. Thanks./~Rayne]
Hi there. Irrespective of any purported vocal ability you may, or may not, possess, which is not worth squat on a digital blog, what are you trying to say?
Also, too, why are you using a different handle than the other time you deigned to participate here? Pick one so other commenters can discern whether are talking to, or be gone. And, that is “what the hell”. You have another question?
I suspect even in hardscrabble agricultural communities, people got known for being better with some stuff than others (green thumb for certain crops, or good with chickens/cattle/sheep), and community gatherings would involve stuff like singing and storytelling. Women would be working in the gardens and with chickens and other small animals, and they’d also be doing the preserving and the clothing production.
That all sounds good, but who raises the pot, and who brews the beer? I think men make somewhat better brewers. But I’m always willing to be proven wrong.
“Brewster”: a female brewer. “Webster”: a female weaver.
Thank you. I stand corrected.
Women began brewing. It, like computing and other industries, was taken from them when it was commercialized and became highly profitable. Brewing was part of women’s household arts because it, like bread, relied on knowledge of grains, water, and yeast. The first recorded deity worshipped for beer was a Sumerian goddess, not a god.
Think very carefully about this history and the history of capitalism when you consider who makes a better brewer.
“Brewing was part of women’s household arts because it, like bread…”
It’s a good thing I’m always willing to be proven wrong.
I am a big fan of the ivory tower inhabitants, and thus, my little story. During the course of my 20-year business career, I spent an approximate ten years working in the Latin America Region. Consequently, I was ‘offered’ two professorships in American Democracy, i.e., Argentina and Mexico. And after a few days of serious consideration, I turned down these opportunities. Thus, my logic was simplified and to the point that after a couple of months as a professor, I would be seen as a “foreigner” and subsequently, I would rise to the top of list by the ever-watchful kidnapping cartels.
And when I “look” to the future and in particular, the ivory tower inhabitants, within the next twenty years, these academics will be ‘unemployed’ or perhaps, working as dog-walkers for their well-paying customers.
And I come at this ‘view’ from the standpoint of our national debt that now exceeds $33 Trillion. And when looking at the history of this debt, our Congress, writ large, continues to ejaculate on our fellow citizens. As such, today’s majority, that being European Americans, are not going to change their “equality” decision-making. Therefore, in twenty years, the new “majority” –given the demographics, will have to establish a disgusting public law that is in essence, the National Debt Surtax. As such, no more credit cards for any of our fellow citizens. It will be all ‘cash and carry.’
However, this millennial generaton and those that follow, will “sell” the Grand Canyon, for example, to the Saudi Royal Family,and where Saudi Arabia can establish their Nuclear Arsenal, and accomplished in order to defend its ‘royalty’ from their anticipated Iranian onslaught.
Anderson’s 2015 Tanner Lectures showed up online, and I retrieved a copy last year. Thanks for the reminder.
Here is a nugget for starters and very useful to general readers like me:
Well-chosen quote. The Cold War prism offered America false choices and a vastly distorted world. Much of the world revised or rejected it, causing American leaders to go to war with them, virtually or physically.
As with a dysfunctional family, when that’s what you grow up with, it is hard to adjust your world view to a broader reality, one many will not manage. Doing so remains a vital task.
Speaking to the spirit of the post, and a playfulness of contingent truth, see this thread (and the images are a must):
Kim Severson: “This is what passes for ballpark food at the #LondonSeries. #mlb #GoYankees [image*] ”
*I did go, ~ blech, no thanks ~ at this image of otherwise (I’m sure) delightful confections.
Peircean doubter in the comments says, “But does it have to be the same as it is in the U.S.?”
What do we value in what contexts and why, and who is “we,” anyway.
Pragmatism seems of great importance today, particularly given our current political and legal powers who seem lost in ideologies. The sense of a thing being practical, or useful, seems to me a powerfully American trait. We need to understand how things actually work, and what improvements will have practical results.
Re: the era of Dewey — I think that Scientific American was one distinctively American publication that kind of embodied the social ferment of Dewey’s era. (IIRC, Dewey put tremendous focus on public education, on widely dissemenated information.)
One Christmas, a family member gave my spouse an early edition of Scientific American, from the late 1800s IIRC — which was basically a report and explanation of recent patent applications. People fail to understand the widespread impact of patents, but I’m sure the pragmatists thought about it a lot.
Indeed, even today, people from all over the world apply for US patents, to be protected under US law. The publication and explanation of very practical things (harvesting equipment, dairy improvements, laundry machines…) disseminated practical information and generated new innovations as a result.
I look forward to this new series of yours.
Early in his senior year in college – before his 21st birthday – my father applied for a patent on a rolled-paper cover for the headrests on barber’s and dentist’s chairs. It was granted three or four years later – though he didn’t get any money, as he’d assigned the rights to (I assume) the guy who’d asked for such a thing. It’s still potentially useful, to replace disposable plastic covers.
That was his first patent, and (AFAIK) the only one with just his name on it. (The others in the public database were from his work, and the rights went to the employer.)
This should be great series. Thanks Ed. It’s been 20+ years since I read philosophy texts and had academic discussions on them. My best friend did her dissertation on Dewey, so I had a lot of “pragmatism” bounced off of me.
I do hope you’ll chime in as we go along. I don’t have any formal training in this area, and I need all the help I can get.
Sorry I’m late to the party, but equality is only commensurate with morality — freedom is utterly irrelevant to such a worthy and difficult goal except in noting how pervasive inequality is in the face of our many freedoms.
Every person will always ever have the freedom to, e.g., slap the face of every person they meet and, sure, it is rightfully illegal, but legislation is only ever a band-aid covering the source of the harm: the lack of morality.
All problems of how to construct optimal societal standards of behavior rely solely upon the moral standards each and every member of that society set for themselves.
Human beings will always have the choice oppress those of different races, forms of religion (including none at all), gender identity, sexual orientation, economic class, or any other means of self-aggrandizement people use to rationalize their oppressions. This is the reality of our fundamental nature as beings who have intrinsic morality, the ability to learn and adapt one’s morality over the course of one’s lifetime, and the free will to choose to behave morally or otherwise. As well, when one honestly evaluates both history and our currently ever-worsening situation, one can only surmise that our natural tendency is to act selfishly both as individuals and as groups.
Equality can only ever be the result of actively loving all others such that their happiness becomes as important as one’s own. Manifesting egalitarian soceities requires that we each actively work to overcome our personal and societal tendencies towards selfishness in order to perfect our individual and collective morality.
Philosophy that does not integrate morality as the primary concept is as useful as masturbation: there is some pleasure in the act, after which only the banal emptiness of reality is left to stare back from the mirror.
[Ok, I just consulted the source article and see that Ms. Anderson gets it, “Working at the intersection of moral and political philosophy, social science, and economics, she has become a leading theorist of democracy and social justice.”; that said, there is no prior mention of the text ‘moral’ on this page, which is why I wrote the above.]
After further reading, I have to say that I’m happy that Prof. Anderson has been recognized for her warm-hearted and obviously brilliant scholarship.
I’m still wading through the article (Firefox “Reader mode” is a must for New Yorker articles, it stops all the CPU churn), but I was thunder struck by how much the following sentence speaks to the ills that besiege America (and much of the world) here in 2019:
“Today, Eve and Olof Anderson support President Donald Trump. They describe themselves as conservative on social matters and libertarian on everything else. “We do come together with Elizabeth on many levels—issues of right and wrong and family,” Eve says.”
Fuuuuck!! That’s maddening. No one can ever, ever, ever claim to understand “right and wrong and family” if they support Trump and his immigrant concentration camps. For one thing, any person that supports an inveterate liar is some combination of amoral and utterly ignorant of the truth. Of course, my parents are the exact Goddamned same. It really comes down to what old people really mean by conservative is “we don’t want the black and brown people to be economically and socially equal to us”, with libertarian meaning “we don’t care that centuries of ill-gotten wealth is still aggregated in a very small number of amoral families” and “we’re fine with poor people remaining poor”.
Sorry for the rant, but f**k if that paragraph doesn’t really describe in a nutshell why so much of America (and the world at large) is moving in the diametrically opposite direction from equality. Ignorance is a fundamental vice of the human heart and the willful ignorance of Trump supporters is facilitating literal atrocities, not to mention the complete destruction of both the environment and our American system of government which, for all its flaws (especially in implementation), is still the greatest on Earth.
Only love can overcome such oppression, but such love must be vigorous and fierce in the defense of the innocent and powerless. The lowest level of equality begins at ensuring that no one is either oppressed or uncared-for.
Wow! Thanks, Mr. Walker for pointing us to that wonderful article, for which I have one final comment, concerning this paragraph that occurs near the end of the piece:
“Andersonism holds that we don’t have to give up on market society if we can recognize and correct for its limitations—it may even be our best hope, because it’s friendlier to pluralism than most alternatives are. And we shouldn’t commit ourselves to an ideal system of any sort, whether socialist or libertarian, because a model set in motion like a Swiss watch will become a trap as soon as circumstances change. Instead, we must be flexible. We must remain alert. We must solve problems collaboratively, in the moment, using society’s ears and eyes and the best tools that we can find.”
It’s so well said and spot-on, so long as we understand that the “best tool we can find” is right in our own head-heart nexus: our ability to manifest universal, selfless, effortful compassion. Once our systems navigate with our compassionate moral compass, we will manifest “On Earth as it is in Heaven”, or, as Pops put it:
“Love baby, love. That’s the secret, yeah. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems. And then this world would be a gasser.”
It bears noting, however, that those who forgo virtue and embrace vices such as hatred, oppression and ignorance must be dealt with actively. We must ever remember that their amorality is the carrier wave of brutalities that history has shown to have the ugliest of inertias and results. In order to establish equality — with its concomitant peace and happiness — compassion must be oppression’s equal and opposite force. Nay, GREATER even.