Non-domination and the Free State

Authored by: Richard Bellamy

Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory

Print publication date:  March  2011
Online publication date:  March  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415548250
eBook ISBN: 9780203875575
Adobe ISBN: 9781135997946


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The recent resurgence of republican thinking has constituted one of the most notable and exciting developments within contemporary social and political thought (Laborde and Maynor 2008). Roughly speaking, there have been three strands within this republican revival. The first strand goes back to Aristotle and stresses the importance of civic participation for individual self-realisation. This view has been prominent within modern communitarianism, particularly the more left-leaning and democratic versions of this school of thought. It can be likened to Benjamin Constant's famous characterisation of ‘ancient liberty’ (Constant 1988 [1819]), in which political freedom is bound up with popular sovereignty and assumes a close identification between citizens and their political community, on the one hand, and among themselves, on the other (for an example, see Sandel 1996). The second strand, while retaining elements of this communitarian version of republicanism, draws more on the Enlightenment tradition of republican thought of Tom Paine and especially Kant. This view has figured within critical theory, particularly the writings of Jürgen Habermas (1996). It can be associated with Constant's characterisation of ‘modern liberty’ as combining liberal civil rights with a communitarian republican view of popular sovereignty to produce a system of constitutional democracy. The key difference with Constant's account is that these republican theorists have added social to the liberal civil rights of ‘private autonomy’ and connect them not to the market but to the political rights of ‘public autonomy’. Rights on this account offer preconditions for citizens to deliberate on a free and equal basis with each other. The third strand looks to the neo-Roman tradition of republican thought of Cicero and Machiavelli (Pettit 1997; Skinner 1998). The distinctive feature of this view is a conception of freedom as non-domination. By contrast to the first two strands that conceive freedom in terms of collective self-mastery achieved through popular sovereignty, this view sees freedom in terms of freedom from mastery by another. On this account, political participation is valued more for its instrumental than its intrinsic virtues. Rather than being the expression of a sovereign popular will, democracy offers a system of government in which all are treated as equals and act as rulers and ruled in turn, so no one is regarded as the master of others or placed in a position to dominate them.

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