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.
Freedom, without Power
This article attributes the conception of 'freedom-without-power' which dominates contemporary Western political philosophy to a reification of social agency that mystifies contexts of human capacities and achievements. It suggests that Plato's analogy between the structure of the soul and the polis shows how freedom is a consequence, rather than a condition, of political relations, mediated by inter-subjective contestation. From this basis, the article draws on the work of Raymond Geuss to argue against pre-political ethical frameworks in political philosophy, in favour of a more contextually sensitive, self-critical approach to ethics. Such reciprocal ethical-political integration addresses problems of ideological complicity that may arise if freedom is discretely abstracted from history and power in political philosophy. Finally, the article roughly reconstructs a critical account of African identity from writings of Steven Biko to illuminate symptoms of 'meritocratic apartheid' in South Africa today which Thad Metz's influential pre-political conception of ubuntu obscures, by abstracting the figure of African personhood from politically significant historical conditions.
In this article, I try to embark on an understanding of the work that the concept of freedom does, by distinguishing it from the concept of power. When we are interested in our power, we are interested in what we are able (and not able) to do; it is plausible to think that when we are interested in freedom, we are interested in something else. The article is largely concerned with looking for this 'something else'. I suggest that freedom differs from power in focusing on the constraints that we are (or are not) under. When we are interested in freedom, the importance of these constraints is not particularly that they stop us doing things, because that is covered by considering our powers. I suggest that the constraints are important - if they are important at all - because some constraints insult our dignity. This suggests an alternative approach to the current focus on freedom as a property of actions: that of freedom as a property of persons. This idea is explored and defended. In a final section on republican freedom, I argue, against Pettit, that there is no distinctive concept of republican freedom (as distinct from the standard liberal understanding of freedom); but that there is a different - and a highly attractive - political theory present in republicanism.
Human freedom resides primarily in exercise of that capacity that humans employ more abundantly than any other species on earth: the capacity for judgement. And in particular: that special judgement in relation to Self that we call aspiration. Freedom is not the absence of a field of (other) powers; instead, freedom shows up only against the reticulations of power impinging from without. For freedom worthy of the name must be construed as an exercise of power within an already-present field of power. Thus, liberty and causal necessity are not obverses.
Democracy has been justified as the political system whose citizens are sovereign, which is to say most free or most equal in their political experience, participation or consent, and most likely to be benefited by economic freedoms. Most importantly, democracy is recommended as that form of government which gets things more right than any other form of government. But this traditional view, and also more recent qualifications of this view, is simply inadequate, refuted and rendered nonsensical by very real electoral, wealth, income and power inequalities in democratic societies. Nevertheless, it is this kind of hierarchic democracy, like those of the United States and the United Kingdom, whose systems of government are exactly not true to the idea that two heads are better than one and more heads better than two, which reaches to judgements about Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7 and about all that is to come after those things.
Opposite or Equivalent Concepts?
The aim of this work is to offer an assessment of the conceptual relations between 'power' and 'freedom'. The two concepts are normally thought of as standing in a relation of mutual exclusion, and are often defined in reciprocal terms: while being free means not being subject to someone's power, to have power is to constrain someone's freedom. In this article I propose a more detailed interpretation of their conceptual relations, distinguishing between two different cases. In the case in which power and freedom are understood as properties of two different individuals involved in a social relation, I shall argue that they are not necessarily in a relation of mutual exclusion: power can be exercised in ways which do not reduce, and which might even increase, the power-subject's freedom. In the case, by contrast, in which they are understood as properties of the same individual, I shall claim that power and freedom show a significant degree of correspondence.
Diego von Vacano
The article argues that Plato's Laws contain an implicit conception of freedom, particularly in Book III. It proposes that, while the concept is not treated systematically by Plato, it merits attention due to its presence in the text. I argue that there is a Form of Freedom in the book. It is comprised of two dimensions: an organic and a civic component. They are mediated by human agency. However, freedom in its ideal form is only possible for a select intellectual elite that can grasp these two dimensions. This elite is composed of a few wise elder men who take up the task of lawmaking as a ludic or playful enterprise. I also argue that degeneration away from true freedom is possible when political elites mislead a community away from Plato's ideal, such as with Cyrus in Persia. Ultimately, Plato's idea of freedom tells us that liberty is only truly available to a select few, not to a broad citizenry. Thus, freedom and democracy are not tied intimately but are opposed to each other.
Freedom as a Phenomenon of Political Virtuosity
In 'What Is Freedom?', Arendt speaks of freedom as a 'phenomenon of virtuosity', claiming that this phenomenon is the original, hitherto undertheorised experience of freedom in ancient Greece and Rome, and that the idea of freedom began to appear in connection with the will in our philosophical tradition only after freedom as a phenomenon of virtuosity had in practice disappeared in the late Roman Empire - but not from all human activities in which it continued to exist in a hidden form, as the power or 'gift' of humans to begin a new line of action. My interpretation of Arendt's conception of freedom begins from and elaborates on these claims, and shows that she should be taken seriously as a critic of the late antique notion that freedom consists in the decisions we make with our will. I also show that in rejecting accounts of freedom that reduce it to a matter of the will or the intellect, Arendt relies on the notion of an inspiring 'principle' of action that functions in a manner analogous to Hegel's understanding of (moral) action as taking place against a background of unwritten rules (sittlichkeit) and as deriving its 'validity' and 'absolute' character from a spirit, or principle, immanent within it.
Hegel associates 'subjective' freedom with various rights, all of which concern the subject's particularity, and with the demand that this particularity be accorded proper recognition within the modern state. I show that Hegel's account of subjective freedom can be assimilated to the 'positive' model of freedom that is often attributed to him because of the way in which the objective determinations of right (Recht) recognise the subject's particularity in the form of individual welfare. To this extent, the practical constraints to which individuals are subject in the modern state are not purely external ones, and the freedom which they enjoy within it is not merely subjective in kind. In exploring the role of certain practical forms of necessity in Hegel's account of civil society I show, however, that Hegel points to the existence of a group of people, the poor, who must be thought to lack subjective freedom, because they will experience the constraints to which they are subject as purely external ones. He also suggests the existence of a form of freedom that is merely subjective in kind, because it consists in a sense of absence of constraint that fails to reflect fully the practical forms of necessity that underlie civil society and constrain an individual's actions. The importance of the concept of necessity in Hegel's Philosophy of Right, as highlighted in the paper, demonstrates, moreover, that the emphasis on freedom found in recent interpretations of Hegel's social and political philosophy needs to be counterbalanced by greater recognition of the role played in it by this concept.
Peter Jones, Michael Butler, Taylor Smith, Matthew C. Eshleman and David Detmer
Three articles analyze David Detmer’s first book on Sartre, Freedom as a Value. Peter Jones argues that Sartre uses freedom in only one sense, as freedom to choose, whereas Detmer argues that Sartre distinguishes between freedom of choice (“ontological freedom”) and freedom of obtaining (“practical freedom”). Michael Butler’s paper contends that under a Sartrean framework, any moral judgment we make regarding our own action is never final; the meaning and moral value of our past actions always remains reinterpretable in light of what unfolds in the future. Our interactions with other people reveal that we are responsible for far more than we had initially supposed ourselves to be choosing when we began our project, such that it is in fact impossible to ever finish taking responsibility completely. Taylor Smith and Matthew Eshleman tackle Sartre’s supposed “subjectivism” from the opposite angle. They agree with Detmer that Sartre’s belief that values are mind-dependent does not necessarily entail ethical subjectivism, but argue that even the early Sartre was more fully committed to a cognitivist view of normative justification than Detmer allows. Detmer’s replies to all three essays round out this section and this issue.