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Political freedom : a defence of natural rights republicanism Hellewell, Jamie Scott


What is political freedom? Many, especially liberal, philosophers have followed Isaiah Berlin in insisting we understand liberty as essentially about the absence of interference in the life choices of individuals. However “neo-Roman republicans,” prominently Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit, have challenged Berlin’s view. They argue that political freedom is better understood as the absence of domination, where “domination” consists in being under another person’s power in the manner of a slave or a despot’s subject. Such forms of power undermine freedom in virtue of being arbitrary -- i.e. unaccountable to the interests of those subject to them. In consequence, neorepublicans hold that freedom is realized through the democratic control of social life. In this dissertation, I argue that neither of these alternatives is entirely satisfactory. Berlin’s non-interference view captures a basic and compelling liberal insight, namely that there ought to be limits on how far any community, democratic or otherwise, can intrude upon the lives of individuals. Yet it neglects the way in which arbitrary power can undermine freedom even in the absence of actual interferences, leading Berlin to embrace the implausible conclusion that freedom is in principle compatible with despotic rule. By contrast, the neo-republican view supports a more plausible account of the relation between freedom and power, and thus between freedom and democratic government. Yet, I argue, it is unable to justify or provide the proper criteria for setting limits on the state’s authority over individuals. It thus risks licensing a ‘tyranny of the majority.’ "ii Given these challenges, I defend an alternative account of political freedom: While I accept the republican claim that freedom consists in non-domination rather than non-interference, I argue that the neo-Roman account of the nature of domination is problematic, resting on a flawed conception of arbitrary power. I look to Locke for a more plausible account of arbitrary power and thus the ideal of non-domination, one which defines political freedom against a background of natural rights. The resulting view -- “natural rights republicanism” -- plausibly accommodates both liberal concerns for individual sovereignty and republican sensitivity to relations of power.

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