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Power and Freedom

Opposite or Equivalent Concepts?

Pamela Pansardi

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.

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Peter Morriss

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.

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Ted Honderich

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.

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Mariam Thalos

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.

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Rereading Hannah Arendt's 'What Is Freedom?'

Freedom as a Phenomenon of Political Virtuosity

Ilya Winham

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.

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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.

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Poverty in Freedom versus Opulence in Chains

Satirical Exposé of the Postcolonial Dictatorships in Kourouma's Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote

Isaac Ndlovu

In my examination of Ahmadou Kourouma's satirical 'historiographic metafiction' (Hutcheon 1988: 93) Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote [1998] (2004), I argue that this narrative shows that in postcolonial Africa freedom from colonial rule has resulted neither in privilege nor power for the majority of African citizens. In the novel, Kourouma employs but also subverts the style of donsomana or praise poetry in his satirisation of postcolonial African ways of wielding political power. Largely narrated by Bingo, a satirical griot, the novel adopts a mock-epic mode as a way of acknowledging but also subverting both traditional African and European modernistic conceptualisations of the historical and literary. Among other things, the title of the novel satirises the inadequacy of electoral processes imposed by the Western nations to bring about smooth power transitions and genuine freedoms to the African populace. The novel's title also mocks African rulers for undermining democracy and those who are ruled for their inability to seize the voting opportunities, which in the novel are sometimes presented as moments of genuine civil power, to rid themselves of the emasculating dictators.

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Republican Freedom in the Labour Market

Exploitation Without Interpersonal Domination

Fausto Corvino

In this article, I query whether participation in the labour market can hinder neo-republican freedom as non-domination. I briefly present the view of Philip Pettit on the topic, based on the distinction between offering a reward and threatening a punishment. I compare it to the analysis of labour republicans, recently reconstructed by Alex Gourevitch, according to whom, the exclusion of a group of individuals from the control of productive assets represents a form of structural domination. Then, I explain why I take a position that is different from both. I hold that capitalist structural domination leads only to exploitation, not interpersonal domination. In doing this, I consider two objections that might be raised against my argument. The first one is based on incomplete contracts and on a possible ideal benchmark for job offers. The second one challenges the supposed arbitrariness of unequal property relations within the capitalist social system.

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David James

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.

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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.