Surveillance, freedom and the republic

AuthorJeffrey Monaghan,J. Matthew Hoye
Published date01 July 2018
Date01 July 2018
Subject MatterArticles
European Journal of Political Theory
2018, Vol. 17(3) 343–363
!The Author(s) 2015
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DOI: 10.1177/1474885115608783
Surveillance, freedom
and the republic
J. Matthew Hoye
Department of Philosophy, Maastricht University,
The Netherlands
Jeffrey Monaghan
Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa, Canada
Arbitrary state and corporate powers are helping to turn the Internet into a global
surveillance dragnet. Responses to this novel form of power have been tepid and inef-
fective. Liberal critiques of surveillance are constrained by their focus on privacy, security
and the underlying presupposition that freedom consists only of freedom from interfer-
ence. By contrast, (post)Foucauldian critiques rejecting liberalism have been well
rewarded analytically, but have proven incapable of addressing normative questions
regarding the relationship between surveillance and freedom. Quite apart from these
debates, neorepublicans have excavated a third concept of freedom, understood as
non-domination. Could neorepublicanism overcome the limitations of liberal and
(post)Foucauldian critiques of surveillance? We argue, positively, that neorepublicanism
can accommodate much of the (post)Foucauldian analyses while also incorporating a
normative critique of surveillance vis-a
`-vis freedom. We further argue, negatively, that
surveillance power has outstripped the capacities of traditional republican institutional
responses to domination. We conclude by considering ways in which neorepublicanism
can be recalibrated to address the novelty of surveillance power while adhering to the
ideal of non-domination. Two ways of addressing the problem are proposed: an offensive,
dedicated surveillance antipower and a defensive republican amplification of privacy.
Surveillance, Foucault, freedom, neorepublicanism, liberalism
Successive revelations of the global breadth and depth of state surveillance have
exposed a striking discontinuity between the intuition that these practices make
Corresponding author:
J. Matthew Hoye, Maastricht University, UM FASoS, Postbus 616, Maastricht 6200, MD The Netherlands.
citizens unfree, and the popular incapacity to explain and rectify the situation
(Bauman et al., 2014). Correspondingly, there is a stark asymmetry between the
repertoire of institutional defenses mustered to address the threat and the capacities
of both state and corporate surveillance powers. The very language we use to talk
about the state, governance, resistance and freedom fails to speak to the general
problem of surveillance today. That language – both in public and in much of the
academy – is the language of liberalism.
Liberalism may be hegemonic, but it is under significant stress. Public knowledge
of expanded surveillance practices has elicited debate as well as urgent academic
inquiry, often with the aim of understanding how our new ‘‘surveillant society’’
problematises liberal political categories. Nevertheless, it is a testament to the resili-
ence of the language of liberalism that despite leaks from Snowden and others, the
stock liberal defense of the surveillance state – what Neocleous (2008: 4) refers to as
the ‘‘semiotic black hole of security’’, conjoined to the emergent discourse of privacy
– holds fast. Without an alternative normative language of politics, the liberal dis-
course will continue to stand. This results in two overarching problems. Analytically,
the unique features of surveillance are not accountable by way of liberal categories.
And normatively, liberalism does not readily afford a critique of how mass surveil-
lance relates to unfreedom beyond interference.
Surveillance studies generally circumvent the normative question of freedom,
focusing instead on pushing the study of surveillance beyond questions of privacy,
security and the state. Indeed, the field has flourished, insofar as it has rejected
liberal analytical and normative frameworks.
And for good reason: there is more
to surveillance than is afforded by the discourse on privacy and security – and
whatever ‘‘balance’’ is to be struck between them. Reacting to these evident limi-
tations, the new surveillance scholarship – pervaded by Michel Foucault’s influence
– has underlined the complex networks of surveillance powers with an emphasis on
the diminished role of the state.
The analytical benefit of jettisoning normative presuppositions regarding
freedom, while focusing instead on the ‘‘normativity’’ of those concepts and the
‘‘normalisation’’ of surveillance, has its disadvantages. For one, it elides the intui-
tive point that surveillance is related to the condition of unfreedom. For another,
omitting questions of freedom and unfreedom limits the capacity of surveillance
scholarship to inform the public debate. As such, surveillance scholarship risks
a worse fate than liberalism. Analytical acuity aside, it does not cast its insights
in a language amenable to public debate. If surveillance scholarship cannot proffer
a critique of surveillance in a language suitable to a more general political dis-
course, then its insights must remain politically aloof.
In the previous 30 years, a ‘‘third concept of liberty’’ has been historically
excavated and analytically honed by Quentin Skinner (1997, 2002, 2008, 2010)
and Philip Pettit (1999, 2012, 2014), respectively.
In contrast to the liberal con-
ception of freedom as non-interference, at the heart of the neorepublican program
is the concept of freedom as non-domination. Does the neorepublican concept of
freedom, its attendant language of politics, and its institutional prescriptions pro-
vide an analytical and normative framework for thinking through the problem of
344 European Journal of Political Theory 17(3)

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