Ever since Livy proclaimed that ‘freedom is to be in one’s own power’, if not from long before and in other contexts, the relationship between freedom and power has been an enduring concern of social and political theorists. It has withstood even Isaiah Berlin’s sharp distinction between seemingly irreconcilable forms of freedom and much of the subsequent theoretical and philosophical debates that it spawned. The history of political thought is littered with thinkers who have opposed freedom and power, arguing that liberty can only be truly attained free from power and domination (republicans) or in the absence of external impediments imposed by other human beings (liberals); but there are also many examples of arguments that identify a close and intriguing link between them, especially in the sphere of politics, that emanate from radicals and conservatives alike, thinkers such as Machiavelli, Montaigne, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Arendt and Foucault. Moreover, those in the former camp tend to think of freedom in formal and abstract terms, while proponents of the latter eschew this now normal tendency in political philosophy and instead think of freedom in fully substantive, concrete and even materialist terms. Hobbes is an unusual and unique figure as his account of freedom inspires members of both parties, that is those concerned with the formal character of freedom and those troubled by its more substantive components and conditions, which is why it is only right that we start this special issue on freedom and power with an analysis of Hobbes’ account of freedom.
This is the second of two special issues on freedom and power to be published seriatim in Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory. The contributors to this issue analyse the relationship between freedom and power in fascinating ways. Issue 131 was arranged in terms of intellectual historical chronology, focusing on the work of Hobbes, Spinoza, Hegel, Adorno and Arendt, amongst others. This time the contributors are concerned less with intellectual history and more with conceptual, exegetic and contemporary matters.
I argue that 'negative' freedom or freedom as absence of impediment is better described as freedom within a putative 'private' sphere, where individuals are allegedly protected from the coercive interference of other agents. As such it is characterised by four problems as an account of freedom under modern conditions. I then consider two alternatives, within which freedom is identified with politics or political action, and argue that they are therefore also inappropriate for understanding modern freedom. Yet, I do not discard them completely. In the main part of the paper, I draw on Machiavelli's emphasis on institutionalised class conflict as constitutive of freedom and propose a conception of freedom that captures the manifold conditions for freedom of action today. This realistic, modern conception of freedom identifies freedom with power across four domains; and it follows from this, I argue pace Pettit, that representative, partisan political institutions are requirements for freedom and democracy.
Decolonising Colonialism and Its Legacies in Africa
In order effectively to decolonise Africa we need to understand better the economic and political effects of colonialism in and on Africa today. To achieve that understanding we need to look beyond the tired, well-trodden themes in African historiography and political theory. Liberalism, communism, African and Afrikaner nationalism, localised cultural and social histories and related ideological conflicts of identity have failed to grasp and explain the relations of power that continue to operate at the level of economics, finance, education, war and politics. These factors have not adequately been thought through theoretically, precisely because they are treated as inevitable material circumstances separate from the longue durée of justifying ideas, enduring practices and relations of power and the persistence of institutions even, in many cases, sixty years after independence from colonial rule.
I make two main points in response to the two great articles on my book Freedom is Power: Liberty Through Political Representation (FIP) published in this issue of Theoria. First, I assess the power of ideas, especially vis-à-vis the important imperative to decolonise knowledge production, taking on board much of Boisen and Murray’s arguments while qualifying their tendency to overstate the case for the power of ideas. I then comment on Allsobrook’s criticism of my attempt in FIP to marry Foucault’s view of power with my genealogical account of needs. I take on board his main concern and then argue – all too briefly – that his alternative ‘rights recognition thesis’ fails to escape his own critique of my needs-based view of freedom as power aimed at overcoming domination.
The South African Crucible
South Africa's post-apartheid context and a mix of African and non-mainstream Western political theory is felicitous for a positive critique of the two now predominant Western accounts of democracy. The context highlights how deliberative and aggregative accounts of democracy fall short in their attempts to make universal claims regarding democracy; and it provides the theoretical basis for an account of political democracy that better associates democracy with freedom, power, representation, and domination. The article argues that freedom is power through political representation, and freedom obtains if and only if the existing forms of representation manage power relations in order to minimize domination and enhance political judgement amongst representatives and represented. The article submit that, unless radical institutional change is carried out, South Africa will not rid itself of the legacies of these Western models and will be unable to generate the freedom and democracy its attainment of political freedom has now long promised.
Virtuous Citizenship and Popular Sovereignty
What is virtuous citizenship? Is it possible to be a virtuous citizen whatever the form of one's state? Is it possible to be a virtuous citizen in the new South Africa? In this article I defend some Republican ideas on civic virtue and popular sovereignty, especially as found in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to suggest that popular sovereignty is a necessary condition for active and virtuous citizenship. For it is only under conditions of popular sovereignty that the right kind of political agency is possible. I discuss these ideas in the context of modern constitutional democracies, and argue that constitutional democracy in South Africa is not an instance of popular sovereignty and thus does not provide the possibility for virtuous citizenship. I end the article with a proposal for addressing these deficiencies: effective citizen control over the constitution by means of a decennial plebiscite—a carnival of citizenship.
Democratic Sovereignty Against Imperialism
One of the more intractable questions in the history of political thought is still around today: how can humans collectively control and enhance the development and satisfaction of their needs? This is a question about the nature of contemporary needs, about which and whose needs are developed and satisfied, and about the extant evaluative control over the generation of needs. That is, it is a question about the mechanisms and institutions that constitute and legitimize the generation, interpretation and satisfaction of needs, in particular, states and markets. And it is also a question about the possibilities and means of transforming these mechanisms and institutions. In this paper, I suggest conceptual means of thinking about the different parts of the question and their relation to democratic sovereignty. The suggestions are based on an account of human need that overcomes the current framework of rights and (utilitarian) preferences tempered by paternalist attention to state-defined human needs.
A Very Bad Idea
Raymond Geuss and Lawrence Hamilton
Interview of Raymond Geuss by Lawrence Hamilton