Freedom And Equality: Freedom From Domination Part 1
Elizabeth Anderson wrote a chapter for The Oxford Handbook of Freedom and Equality, titled simply Freedom and Equality. She begins by acknowledging that perfect material equality would require an authoritarian state, and no one seriously argues for that position. On the other hand, Friedrich Hayek argued in The Road To Serfdom that any form of socialism would lead down the slippery slope to totalitarianism, but he was wrong. There are realistic choices short of perfect material equality, such as the societies of Western Europe with their social democratic forms of government and economy.
To make progress on the question of normative trade-offs between freedom and equality within the range of options for political economy credibly on the table, we must clarify our concepts. There are at least three conceptions of freedom — negative, positive, and republican — and three conceptions of equality—of standing, esteem, and authority.
Republican freedom is an unfortunate term, given its association with a political party with a highly … nuanced view of freedom. Philosophers use the term because it is associated with the Roman Republic of Cicero and Cato. And that is another unfortunate juxtaposition, because the leading libertarian think tank is the Cato Institute, which is heavily funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, another group not that interested in broad concepts of freedom. So I’m not going to use the term, and instead will refer to it as freedom from dominanation, or non-domination.
In her book chapter, Anderson offers a brief description of the three forms of freedom: negative freedom as noninterference, positive freedom as opportunitites, and non=domination.
Sarah has negative freedom if no one interferes with her actions. She has positive freedom if she has a rich set of opportunities effectively accessible to her. She has republican freedom if she is not dominated by another person — not subject to another’s arbitrary and unaccountable will.
For the last few decades, talk about freedom has meant almost exclusively negative freedom, with occasional references to positive freedom. Anderson says there has been a recent revival of interest in freedom from domination, citing a book by Philip Pettit, a philosophy professor at Princeton, titled Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government. Here’s a paper written about the same time as the book, Freedom With Honor: A Republican Ideal. 64 Social Research, Vol.1, p. 52.
Pettit starts with the proposition that
The decent society, as Avishai Margalit … defines it for us, is one in which the institutions do not humiliate people. They do not deprive a person of honor. … They do not cast the person as less than fully adult or human.
He obviously isn’t talking about the Republican party. Honor is a crucial issue for humans, both personally and as the ground for participation in society, and thus is a central element of a decent society. Pettit says that negative freedom, that is, freedom from interference, is the heart of liberalism, by which he means the philosophical perspective common in the 19th Centuries, not our 21st Century usage as a political ideology. We would use the term neoliberal to refer to people who hold this political stance today.
… I think it is fair to say that almost all contemporary descendants of nineteenth-century liberalism agree on the equation of liberty with negative liberty. All agree that I am free “to the degree to which no human being interferes with my activity” [quoting Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty, 1957].
Negative freedom can exist in a society in which the institutions undermine and jeopardize the grounds of self-respect for some of its inhabitants. Institutionally people may be treated as a second-class citizen without interfering directly with their choices.
This seems intuitively obvious but Pettit only makes an argument; he doesn’t offer examples. Here are three that seem right to me. First, consider the status of women in the 19th Century. They were treated as dependents economically, politically and socially. The attitudes of women towards themselves were largely created by institutions such as the family, the Church, and the education system. They were not free to form their own projects for themselves, to act fully as agents in their own lives, or to determine their own views of themselves free of these institutions. Of course these institutional constraints were reinforced by laws, but the laws had their origins in those institutions, and did not touch most of the effective limitations.
My second example is our education system. Every child is entitled to education, but the quality of that education is systematically worse for working class children and children of color. There is no interference with the liberty of every parent to send their child to the best school they can afford, and there is a public school for every child. But the schools for upper class children generally are better than the schools for middle class children, and the schools for working class and poor children are worse. What’s important is the ways they are worse. Generally they perpetuate the class status of their parents. And generally, they reinforce the existing schemes of social domination. We saw the importance of this in our discussion of Pierre Bourdieu’s work; here’s a sample.
My third example is the treatment of employees by employers. We all know that many employers systematically abuse their workers. There is some protection for certain kinds of abuse, such as abuse based on gender or race. But who stops the humiliating practice of driving employees to pee in bottles or wear diapers?
I offer these examples without citation, appealing perhaps to my own preconceptions, but I think they give a flavor to Pettit’s bare argument.
Looking more closely at these examples, we can see that protecting the dignity of women, children, especially working class children and children of color, and workers, will require interference by the state. But husbands and fathers, school boards, and employers would argue that state interference restricts their freedom, their rights to noninterference. That illustrates the central point made by both Anderson and Pettit: noninterference with respect to one person is an interferes with the choices of many others.
That explains the central justification for replacing the concept of negative liberty with freedom from domination. Admittedly, freedom from domination is a kind of negative liberty. But negative liberty is based on small group relationships (husband/wife, employer/employee, school/child) where one party has power over another, whether by tradition, money or by law. Freedom from domination is created by a democratic government established expressly for the purpose of constructing, maintaining, and improving a decent society, in which every member’s honor and self-respect is the central goal.
Very nice. Look forward to more on this..
The standard liberatarian answer is that a lot of government functions can be replace by contracts, with the role of the state being shifted to the enforcement of contracts.
The fervor of a libertarian’s viewpoint varies, of course, based on the state of their relationships with Comcast, Blue Cross, and their local homeowners association.
Having had the pleasure of being a government contracting officer as well as a contractor feeding at the teats of government agencies (mainly US federal but also state), I can say that this arrangement of foxes and hen-houses would benefit the contractor shareholders immensely.
I’d far prefer to see independent entities within a government have the authority to oversee any contracts they want. These entities should report to legislative bodies and be able to take enforcement actions as needed. To some extent the Inspectors General positions have worked well but the ability of an executive to thwart their mission is always present.
While CO’s may be good people they are also usually over-worked, underfunded, and undermined by the vested/political interests in their agencies. They are also sometimes subject to inducements from the very organizations that they are supposed to regulate and enforce. The revolving door is constantly in motion.
This is a very good comment. And agree about the independent authority. But with some fashion of citizen involvement kind of like civilian review boards many cities use for their police departments.
Well stated and as evidence we offer Pacific Graft and Extortion’s regulatory capture of the PUC. They actually cashed checks made out that way.
No real consequences from the San Bruno explosion despite numerous falsified and missing required records, no real consequences from the wildfires either (to be fair, the 2017 SF Bay Area version officially wasn’t their fault, but they added to the problem) because by golly the bonuses must be paid and the shareholders protected. That’s also included in the BK filing after they were busted for the 2018 fires.
Ubiquitous propaganda to the contrary, outsourcing rarely provides greater benefits and is always more expensive. And it does not account for the monopoly power that often accompanies such services.
The manner in which government outsourcing is generally done rarely provides adequate oversight. The standards of fairness, due process, and accountability imposed on government are rarely adequately passed through.
Then there’s the so-called proprietary nature of such private services, which is often a dodge to keep secret what’s really being provided and at what real cost.
Sly, funny answer at the end there, Bob, and so true! What I find so sad about our discussions of personal liberty and social justice is that often folks will not acknowledge the linked realities of ALL these issues and how they link to our politics. Whatever the method used to solve problems, politics and intelligence play roles in finding solutions.
The quality of education is relative to where one lives. Housing costs are relative to overall quality of community. Homes are accruing mortgage costs that cannot be indefinitely compiled and passed on to the next generation. Our environment must be preserved for the next generations no matter if 3M wants to produce perfluorochemicals.
Politics is where we attempt to solve all these issues. Sooner or later. If we leave off solving them until later, we end up w/60 year’s worth of perfluorocarbons having polluted the water supply of 6 communities into the indefinite future while the water supply improves over a century or two of natural remediation.
the ideal of individualism means noninterference. “noninterference with respect to one person is an [interference] with the choices of many others.”
The American ideal of individualism used by Republicans as justification for noninterference does interfere with the choices of many others.
Baby Boomers live ideals. GenX live pragmatic.
This article discusses ideals.
Arguing based on ideals, supports a strategy.
However, in the real world those ideals remain unachievable for 99% of people worldwide.
Millennials live in the real world of climate emergency, student debt, low pay, expensive housing and not owning a car. Millennials age 18 to 38 voting in 2020 in significant enough numbers overwhelm the split vote of Boomers and GenX, with older Silent generation too small in number.
Your description of Millenials intrigues, but seems to small a sample. I am well aware of Millenials (32 – 44) who are doing quite well, thank you very much. But the people in their 20s have few union options, and — like the rest of us — are threatened by climate change.
However, as Ed points out, in recent historical times, “freedom” has principally been used to mean ‘noninterference’. This is a Cato Institute core belief, and has led to no end of nonsense in terms of larger social obligations to the environment, to socially stable policies, and to the role of government oversight.
So we get rubbish like Citizens United, and gerrymandering, and McConnell’s obstructionism, in the guise of ‘you can’t tell me what to do’.
How does that definition of ‘freedom’ — basically, throwing up your hands at any sense of social responsibility, or any hope of socially productive intervention — help defeat climate change? Or unseat an intractable, undemocratic obstructionist like Mitch McConnell?
Gen X-ers, like the rest of us, are laboring under outdated definitions of ‘freedom’ that worked well out on the wild grasslands of the 1880s, but are a serious social threat when applied to decisions as seemingly innocuous as ‘does a President [Obama] get to nominate a SCOTUS appointment [following the death of Scalia]”?
Instead, we had ‘freedom as non-interference’ driving the nation off a cliff. McConnell had ‘freedom’ from interference. How did that serve the larger public purpose, to say nothing of addressing the threats of global climate change?
Until this post, I had not really thought about how colored the term ‘freedom’ has become by ‘non-interference, I can do whatever the f*ck I damn well please’ defiance. That phrase needs a serious unpacking and rethink.
Thanks for this, Ed. Sobering, to say the least.
The abusive use of “freedom” also seems to contemplate having government (and public universities) sponsor and favor the right in an effort to maintain dominance and to positively exclude the left from having a cultural platform. Ironically, they claim it is to compensate for dominant “leftist” views that prevail at, say, public universities and mainstream media, which is laugh-out-loud funny.
Whenever progressive views surface in government policy, such as the idea of compensatory privilege for historical racial terror and discrimination, the right shouts “Commie” and whatnot to deny such motivations cultural legitimacy. Everything for me, nothing for thee.
A tad exaggerated.
Another element that might bear consideration is how technology fits in. Obviously big data and surveillance technology are effective tools for reducing freedoms and have been so for a long time. Foucault’s idea of panopticism came from 18th-century Bentham’s work. But it seems that we are now on the verge of some fundamental differences that change the discussion. Do national identity, boundaries, and government have less meaning in an age ruled by Google, Apple and others? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? How does AI fit in, and what happens if/when the machines are self-aware? Does the definition of equality change when you have to include non-human entities?
We (humans in general) have had the opportunity to include intelligent non-humans in our moral community before, but whales were slaughtered, and primates are caged or endangered everywhere. (Pets aside,) it seems that we include animals in our moral calculations, if at all, only in the pain-feeling sense, and not based on intelligence. Protozoa, fungi, and plants don’t even make the pain qualification.
I suspect we would respect the rights of non-human AI beings only to the degree that (we fear that) they could use force to gain what they have a right to. Or perhaps, to the degree that we fear other humans taking up their cause.
You might appreciate the Murderbot stories by Martha Wells. They get into this. (Murderbot is the name the main character, a security robot, calls itself. The robot prefers watching soap operas/telenovelas.)
I can’t claim to be up to speed on recent developments in the field of AI, but my general thinking is that any machine or other device that we might construct and program to generate a simulacrum or facsimile of ‘intelligence’ or even ‘personality’ will only ever be just that–something we constructed, with no more ‘rights’ than a toaster.
Try imagining an AI imbued with the identity and rights of a corporation.
You mean as in “Corporations are people, too!”? It’s entirely possible that I’m too obtuse to see what you’re driving at.
That’s what most humans thought in the fictional Caprica > Battlestar Galactica space-time. The toasters were not amused. The results are comparable to what we are seeing take form under Trump. Be careful what you take for granted.
Battlestar Galaxative? Not a fan.
This might be a interesting,
Billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein was arrested for allegedly sex trafficking dozens of minors in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005, and will appear in court in New York on Monday
The SDNY’s *public-corruption* unit headed this investigation, which was a joint NYPD/state/Federal task force.
As I said on a different thread, while it may feel good to cheer this, I would be extremely careful doing so.
If the Daily Beast article is right, this is for conduct years that were both covered in the plea bargain, and now far outside of any statute of limitation. Unless it is going to be charged as a conspiracy involving the original prosecutor, Alex Acosta, who is now Trump’s Secretary of Labor, I do not see how these charges are viable.
Concur, for the same reasons. This is a very slippery slope unless Epstein got back into business. The First Law of Dirtballs says they will always give you another chance for discipline and maybe that’s what happened here. The SDNY would certainly understand the concept of double jeopardy.
Anyhow, the filings to come will make it clear what’s up with that situation. Lets see if this falls apart and how quickly.
Goodness knows how all of this will play out but the replies to Dershowitz’s “I’m totally innocent!” tweets are priceless.
The conception of freedom as non-interference has always come with the asterisk that each person’s freedom of action is limited, not only by the end of my nose, but also by the equal freedom of other members of society. When there was an unlimited commons, the limitations on freedom imposed by respecting other’s freedom seemed minor, and we can envision the man striding west towards the sunset unrestrained and unhindered. That paradigm was already understood to be an ideal, as most people lived in communities, and had to respect each other’s freedoms in the exercise of one’s own freedom, whether through mutual self-restraint, cooperation, or written social contract.
Another constraint on freedom from interference was that one could not claim more from the commons than one could work or use. With the increase in individual power and the loss of the commons, this constraint no longer seems relevant sometimes. Maybe this limit would still apply astronomically, such that countries cannot claim more planets than they can explore or populate. (To think that earthly land and resources were once seen as limitless as I now see planets…)
Finally, maybe the old-school liberal philosophy can encompass the idea of freedom from domination by people and social structures, with the (quaint?) notion that those who do not like the social contract can always high out to the wilderness, with others, and establish their own (hopefully better) society. This was part of the non-interference ideal, that if the social structures are bad, you are free to go off and create new ones, in the uninhabited wilderness. Of course, the wilderness is gone, and so this theoretical lever is now non-functional.
Many years ago, Kurt Vonnegut claimed that the true American anthem was: Fuck you, Jack, I got mine! Apparently, the Republican party has fully adopted this anthem as it’s own.
You can’t get away from the entwining of dominance and interference.
Preface, which will make more sense at the end:
I threw together a reply last night, didn’t submit it, but today am still bothered so will append it here.
If the conclusion, in good faith, collapses the initial argument, is the initial argument worth making as if it, too, is in good faith?
I read this earlier before several things came up, so I apologize in advance for cutting to the chase. As always, I mean well.
You lost me right here:
I would have said the opposite, like ~intuitively contrived. You can’t decontextualize interference, because the choice set would have been at least somewhat identified by the dominance itself (and in an evolving, fluxing fashion). That dominated people can deploy power in their choices (~the subaltern other) is still part of the dominance relations.
All manner of on-the-ground interferences were flying through my head as I read your examples of structural inequalities or what would constitute domination. Everything in the news as to census and voting and entailments; usurious payday loans (interference with getting a loan at a fair rate, and when and what food one could put on the table, etc.); gay couple wants a cake; trans people want to walk into a bathroom as an autopilot matter like everyone else; (and for that matter) amazon worker would like to walk into a bathroom as an autopilot matter like everyone else– and urinating in a bottle amidst cameras and coworkers surely relates to interpersonal choices, including job choices, particularly if one’s urethra isn’t extruded.
Take also the femme couverte laws as you denote. One can imagine (and surely locate in literature, film, other media) all manner of interpersonal interference in daily choices in even relations with rights-laden children for a woman with no right to her own home.
Also note having to add qualifiers to make these distinctions hold:
It’s like the examples you used were not your own voice, but the voice of trying to make realities fit to a philosophical model that may not work.
I could go on, but you already got there at the end.
At the end, you wrote how non-domination of women and so forth would entail interference for men/so forth. So you basically resolved it yourself, but only from the point of view of the dominant. Perhaps unintentionally, it ends up reading like (the natural state is that) all but white/ males/ of means have a disability that needs to be accommodated by the state (when as we all know/read daily about e.g. the GOP’s dominance/interference efforts).
The funny thing is that most pragmatists would call philosophy bullshit, certainly at the point where it doesn’t work. In vivo, the distinction between these types of freedoms often collapses.
I don’t know that there isn’t value in separating them for purposes of discussion (and also don’t know what you already have in mind as to where you are going), but am mainly reacting to the starkness (to me) of the artifice in trying to assert an almost platonic _separation between them._
When compared to the conditions of life, it is coming off to me as not ecologically valid, as they say.
Lol, maybe I should’ve just quoted Kristofferson myself and moved along.
Instead I scrolled back up and noticed this, which should have been a first warning:
I’ve often meant in these discussions to bring up how kinship structure and post-marital residence (among other things) covary with and predict things like human rights, freedoms, and dignities. I can’t really unpack this now, and it’s more an issue of general applicability, so will just leave the note here, perhaps as a non-sequitur.
Generally, things are much better for all in matrilineal (tracing kinship through the mother’s line)/matrilocal (living local to the mother’s family after marriage) societies, and worse, with more discrepancies in rights, in patrilineal/patrilocal or neo-local societies like ours.
An older reference on this: _Kinship and Gender: An Introduction_, by Linda Stone (1997).
“Gender” in the title does not denote a limitation of relevance to either women or gender relations: so go women, so go all but an increasingly limited number and sphere of powerful men.
One’s culture usually defines a persons perception and definition of freedom, liberty and domination. Most of a groups “core values” have developed and strengthened over time because those in power (parent, religious leader, political figure) feel these “values” best serve the tribe and (go figure!) those in power.
Because how we have been taught to view certain things is so hard wired and emotionally imprinted AND reinforced by those in power manipulating the truth to best serve them it’s quite an ordeal for folks to get “woke” on an issue, but holy crap when they do finally get it, it can sound an awful lot like a stadium full a people chanting “EQUAL PAY!”
Equal pay for these athletes may seem obvious now that people are finally thinking about it but to those rich and powerful males that have been having their way for so long, quoting the bible about women’s roles, dismissing, or even worse attacking the victims of sexual assault, passing laws to force woman to give birth against their will, and anything else that looks like way to dominate women just got a whole lot harder to sell.
I should also point out that after talks broke down last spring, the #1 ranked USA Women’s Hockey Team staged a boycott right before the world championship (hosted by the United States) and refused to back down. Two days before the tournament was set to start they accepted an offer that tripled their pay.
Kendal Coyle was the first ever women to participate in the NHL all star games this year (came in 7th out of 8 in fastest skater event) and two or three others from the team dem-ode a couple of the skills contests i thought it was a bit condescending but the crowd ate it up and at least it’s a good start for year one.
Thank you for this post Ed.
Once had a professor who described the two parties current foundational views as:
Rep – freedom from equality
Dem – freedom is equality
Then he would state that unfortunately there is the dynamic of power which views equality as:
Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.
I am still wrestling with the concept of freedom from domination and how that would play out in economically oppressed cities and neighborhoods.
It would take the election of leaders willing to put it all out there for real change.
As it stands those in power benefit from a huge chunk of the country being poorer, sicker, and less educated than others and will lie cheat and dump crap in the water to keep it that way. It’s when these people become engaged, when they realize laws are passed intentionally to crap on them and lift others and start VOTING for people they trust to fight for them things will really change.
People can advocate for the less fortunate, try to pass laws to level the playing field but until everyone in this country learns the power of their voice and thier vote it will be two steps forward one step back.
As for reflections on the Roman Republic I ask your indulgence (from my copy of McCormick’s Machiavellian Democracy 2011):
Place under your pillow at night—from the Introduction of J P McCormick’s Machiavellian Democracy 2011 (pp. 7-8) Cambridge University Press
*Machiavelli, “Discursus on Florentine Affairs” (1520-21)
[emphasis added, two footnotes, and section citation omitted]
Thanks for this comment. I hope you will add more to future posts on this subject, as Machiavelli’s views on government are not well known, but are sources for current thought on non-domination.
Right! to Ed Walker.
I will continue a while longer as scribe, typing out capsules from McCormick’s intro.
(p 11) [emphasis added]
There’s a great deal of elaboration and supporting argument in McCormick. I might want to return before the close of comments :-)
Furthermore, the institution of constitutional dictator in the Roman Republic is of independent interest (versus the American system of secret government)
“@SecPompeo announces the formation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights”
We have billionaire pedophiles and pool boy scandals from top Evangelicals YET all the right/white i.e. rich GOP men of privilege who wave the flag get a Kavanaugh pass. Prep school is perp. school. “Every child is entitled to education, but the quality of that education is systematically worse for working class children and children of color.” Yeah right. I was in foster care until 19. I finished high school early. Made it to the University of Chicago. Education is no longer the great equalizer. See Ivanka Trump and Varsity Blues cases. It’s the norm. I know. I kicked ass in school. But $ trumps all things. It’s a rich person’s world. They hire their frat bros and sorority sisters – you know ppl they cheated with / HAZED with – WHICH IS WHY I TURNED DOWN EACH IC job. FUCK HAZING. I’m better than that. I ran away from abuse. Why be hazed?
So we have prep school perps in IC who believe in hazing and making $. They’re not going to save us. They’re going to watch us, steal our privacy and call it a day. I’ve seen your phone on my phone. They see all of it. YES ALL OF IT.
How will we as a nation defeat China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Gathering Nations Exploring New World Order (CRINGE)?
CRINGE is exploiting quick cash infusions by China and Russia via strongman / nationalist politics to uproot long-held US allies, e.g. Philippines, Saudi Arabia.
CRINGE is undermining existing international institutions by neutering their oversight and unity e.g. UN, UK (brexit was hacked)
Crimea’s annexation was a test (they need water access for sea cables and ISR; not just a land grab – it’s about SATCOM, and MAXCOM.
Durante’s “son of a whore” was the 1st utterance of allies being ripped away. CRINGE
I can go on, but Pompeo’s misapplied focus is indicative of our wasted hours as a nation.
Re “We all know that many employers systematically abuse their workers.” I WAS HAZED by the DHS and DoD.
Good luck w/ CRINGE y’all.
This cat is OUT.
Never a dog a in bitch’s world.
I’ve gone FERAL.
It’s Elizabeth, not Ellen. Please correct.
You got anything else to contribute, or are you just an annoying rando drop in grammar editor?
“But husbands and fathers, school boards, and employers would argue that state interference restricts their freedom”
They don’t have a freedom to oppress.
When it comes to a “philosophy” of contrivance, a sales and marketing effort requires that i express a tad of humor, and particularly, from the standpoint of today’s animated “philosophy of the pachuco contrivance”. Ahh, you’re not familiar with this Pachucho Schema? Long story short, it’s a variation of today’s version of a Philosophy of Domination.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see a PBS documentary on today’s relevance to and of the newly deceased Ross Perot and his presidential campaign in 1992 as an Independent and where he spent well over $68 million of his private wealth on his presidential campaign that challenged both Clinton and the re-election effort of President George H.W. Bush. At the time, our national debt was readily recognized at $6 trillion, and today, this national debt is sitting well above $33 trillion.
And how is this national debt viewed by the Pachuco Contrivance? Given that America’s Arc of Power of a 30-year mindset, much can be said but only to the limit that is a 20-year period, and anything more would put me into the category of Fools for the Unsavory Shennanigans. And that’s where today’s Pachuco Contrivance is located and awaiting its ‘revival.’ Of course, its orignal contrivance commenced shortly after World War Two and was animated by the Spanish-speaking and Native American military vets and which is today’s complementary to the over 7,000 Elected and Appointed Officials within our ongoing Democracy.
Therefore, our Democracy will either rise or fall in how we address our National Debt. As for the tongue-in-cheek humor, the Final Schema of Reparations for White Privilege is embodied within our wide-ranging behavior to address this National Debt Surtax. And of course, the Pachuco Contrivance has many of the ‘answers’ but they are only answers when accepted seriously?