Pettit's republic.

Author:Ypi, Lea

On the People's Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy

Philip Pettit


Just Freedom: A Moral Compass for a Complex World

Philip Pettit


The idea of freedom as non-domination, familiar in the history of political thought since classical republican Rome, has enjoyed a splashing revival in recent contemporary political theory. No one has done as much to advance the republican debate from a normative perspective as Philip Pettit, whose sophisticated and erudite scholarship has set the parameters against which any new contribution has to measure itself. His latest books, On the People's Terms (PT) and Just Freedom (JF), articulate the ideal of freedom as non-domination in a compelling philosophical account distinct from both the liberal idea of freedom as non-interference and from the communitarian idea of freedom as collective self-realisation. They then also examine the institutional implications of this ideal for the relations of citizens to each other (the republican conception of social justice), for the relations of citizens to the state (the republican conception of political legitimacy as instantiated in a democratic account of political institutions) and, in Just Freedom, also for the relations among different states (the republican conception of sovereignty).

To illustrate the distinctiveness and attractiveness of freedom as non-domination, Pettit begins with the familiar idea that to be free means to be free to choose as one wants. But this, he persuasively argues, needs to be qualified further. It should not be understood merely as being free from interference with an actually preferred option for then an agent could simply adapt preferences and only choose options that are feasible to realise. A prisoner that progressively changes his frame of mind and adapts to enjoy life behind bars without ever attempting to escape does not thereby become free; there is a difference between getting what one wants and wanting only what one can get. Freedom of choice, according to a standard liberal critique of this argument, is not secured through mere non-frustration of one's actually preferred options but requires a more robust guarantee against interference with any of the options one might want to pursue (regardless of which one they end up pursuing). Yet the requirement of republican freedom is even stronger than that. To be free means to have the room and resources i) to enact the option one prefers (freedom as non-frustration); ii) whatever one's preference over those options (freedom as non-interference) and, crucially for the theory's purposes, iii) regardless of how any other might want to direct one's preferences (freedom as non-domination). To be free in this third sense means to be able to choose without being subjected to the uncontrolled power of others, even if those others might never actually exercise that power to undermine one's preferred choices. The mere vulnerability to having preferred options removed, replaced or misrepresented through the potential interference of an uncontrolled external will, is a grave enough wrong to warrant republican remedy (beyond the guarantees of non-frustration and non-interference). For just as it is problematic to think that one can render oneself...

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