If we are to apply it to contemporary politics, which republicanism should we be talking about?

DWlogo3-194px[1]Too narrow an interpretation of republicanism can rob us off many of the tools and insights we should now be employing. This is no time for elite paternalism.

As an intellectual tradition, republicanism is a broad church. J. G. A. Pocock’s seminal charting of a particular part of that tradition, his genealogy of republicanism’s role in Britain’s 13 North American colonies’ struggle for and consolidation of their independence in The Machiavellian Moment, takes in figures as different as Niccolò Machiavelli and Alexander Hamilton.

One of these was a Florentine humanist for whom the Roman republic’s class-driven political strife was central to its success while the other, a soldier married into the pre-Independence colonial elite, could not think of “the rapid succession of revolutions” in such “petty” republics without “horror and disgust”, and so was glad that the “science of politics” had received the “great improvement” which enabled it to go beyond the tools available in antiquity[1].

Yet Pocock hardly covers the whole republican tradition, even in the countries he deals with. Alex Gourevitch has ably shown the ways in which labour and other struggles well after the era Pocock is concerned with drew on republican tropes, for example. Nor is that to say anything of the Francophone or German republican traditions through the eighteenth and nineteenth century, in which theorists as different as Fichte and Tocqueville can be located, or of the forms (anti-) colonial republicanism took outside the eastern seaboard of North America.

Any attempt to draw on the republican tradition for contemporary political insight needs to be aware, then, of the variety of thinkers who fall within it and the specificity of the problems they were trying to solve. Often their differences are considerably greater than their similarities, and in failing to appreciate those differences, much of the sophistication and plausibility of the lessons we might learn from the tradition can be lost.

Pettit’s republicanism

Much contemporary republicanism seems to me to fail to see this. Its standard bearer, Philip Pettit, undeniably leans on the authority provided by the republican tradition extensively, describing himself as trying to revive an “ideal” that, despite having “shaped many of the most important institutions… we associate with democracy”, “has not been given enough attention in contemporary debates”[2]. The ideal he tries to revive, however, is one that is supposed to be shared by both Machiavelli and Madison, co-author of The Federalist Papers with Hamilton, as well as Locke, Harrington, and many in between. More than that, the ideal is rather specific. Pettit claims that valuing freedom as non-domination requires what he calls ‘contestatory democracy’, which, in addition to being democratic in the sense of having governments selected through some kind of formally egalitarian political process, should satisfy a further three conditions. The first two, that the rule of law should be observed and that there should be some separation of powers, are relatively uncontroversial, but the third, that law should be “resistant to majority will”, is I hope not[3].

Pettit not only believes that the republican case for “counter-majoritarian protection” is “straightforward”, but that the means of providing that protection should be through something like the elaborate system of checks and balances we see in the United States[4]. His republican ideal consequently amounts to something very similar to that of Publius and The Federalist Papers. However, the counter-majoritarianism of The Federalist Papers is paternalistic and elitist, concerned to defend the people “against their own temporary errors and delusions” by dispersing and checking power[5].  In insulating representatives from the popular will, they aim to “suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority” – or at least reason, justice, and truth as decided by the members of the colonial elite selected as representatives[6].  Thus, Pettit’s reconstruction of the republican tradition does at least two unfortunate things. First, it adopts the recommendations of a clique of eighteenth century oligarchs as a set of guidelines for contemporary institutional design, and second, it casts this as the content of republicanism as such.

Yet it is not clear either that the ideal that Pettit claims characterises the republican tradition is in fact what unifies it or unequivocally supports the institutional arrangements he favours. This should hardly be surprising, given the breadth and depth of the republican tradition, but it is disappointing, given Pettit’s public role as, for example, an assessor of the republican credentials of Zapatero’s government in Spain. The lack of attention to the diversity and particularity of thinkers in the republican tradition impoverishes it and so makes it less useful and attractive to us as a source from which we can draw contemporary political inspiration.

The ideal Pettit claims characterises the republican tradition is that of freedom as non-domination, an understanding eclipsed by Bentham’s Hobbes-inspired polemics against the rebellious North American colonists. Pettit is certainly able to show that some figures like Harrington, opponent of Hobbes’ attack on the ‘democratical gentlemen’ who opposed government by prerogative, have something like Pettit’s account of freedom as resting in being free from subjection “to the potentially capricious will or the potentially idiosyncratic judgement of another”[7]. That some figures in the tradition talk in these terms though does not show that this is an appropriate way to characterise the tradition as a whole. It may not be their central idea, and it may not be any part of what other members of the tradition claim. In The Federalist Papers, for example, a republic is simply not a despotism, that is, a state which respects civil liberties and grants its citizens a role in law-making. This is not a quite specific claim about freedom consisting in not being exposed to the arbitrary will of another and only not being exposed to such a will. Equally, Rousseau’s discussion of living under laws you yourself have willed in The Social Contractseems motivated by a worry about the entitlement to authority of laws made any other way, not by a claim about what freedom as such is. A republican tradition without either The Federalist Papers or The Social Contract, texts which are clearly central to the two great republican revolutions of the late eighteenth century in France and North America, would be rather poor though.

Republicanism against democracy?

Further, even if we were to grant that Pettit is right to characterise the republican tradition as united by freedom as non-domination, the case for his preferred counter-majoritarian institutions would remain weak. Pettit seems to believe that if a democratic majority is prevented from imposing its will, then non-domination is secured, that non-arbitrary rule is ensured by counter-majoritarian measures of the sort he favours. Yet the record of those checks and balances is at best ambiguous. For example, for more than 150 years, the US Supreme Court acquiesced in, if not perpetuated, first slavery and then Jim Crow, leaving it to Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and remedy the blatant injustice of the treatment meted out to African Americans. Given the centrality of slavery as the definitional opposite of freedom in Pettit’s account of republicanism, his preference for a kind of institutional arrangement that has shown itself capable of repeatedly holding, at times against democratic majorities, that the state-mandated oppression of minorities is perfectly acceptable is odd. Indeed, the relatively untrammelled central authority in the United Kingdom was able to abolish slavery significantly earlier, partly as a result of the kind of mass political campaign the political system of the United States was deliberately designed to resist.

This is not only an empirical question about what policies a political system full of actors able to slow or veto policies favoured by democratic majorities is likely to favour, or whether such a system will in fact make slavery less likely or more. There is also a more conceptual issue. When a democratic majority is thwarted, who rules? Whose will makes the law if it is not a democratic majority’s? Why are we not concerned about the domination of the democratic majority by those who prevent them making law, who after all must be less numerous than the majority they are opposing? How can non-domination require that, simply because they disagree with it, a minority must be offered the opportunity systematically to obstruct and frustrate the decided will of a democratic majority? Pettit suggests in his most recent book that institutions designed to check the majority’s will make decisions “likely to be the ones that the people… would make or approve if they had all the relevant information or expertise”[8]. This paternalistic defence of counter-majoritarian institutions turns not living under the will of another into being told that you do not know your own mind, and that experts with whom you disagree should interpret your interests for you, as you are not to be trusted to protect or promote them yourself. The people are being rescued from their ‘temporary errors and delusions’ again.

Learning from other republicanisms: Rousseau, Machiavelli

Insofar as figures in the republican tradition have shared something like Pettit’s ideal, they have been aware that political disagreement means that coercion is inevitable, and the question is who does it to whom. Pettit is consistently hostile to Rousseau, but in admitting that living under law involves forcing people to be free, Rousseau gave himself the conceptual apparatus to acknowledge the losses of liberty involved in law-making and so confront the problem of ensuring that loss of liberty is not dominating. His problem in The Social Contract is, after all “[t]o find a form of association that will defend and protect the person and goods of each associate with the full common force, and by means of which each, uniting with all, nevertheless obey only himself and remain as free as before”[9]. Being ruled by the general will answers this demand because it matches the laws its members are required to obey to their own wills by aiming at the protection of interests they share. Where wills do not align, either because of divergent or misunderstood interests, the general will ceases to exist and a just society becomes impossible. Rousseau’s answer to the problem of dissatisfied minorities Pettit worries about is to deny that a republic is possible once the problem exists and instead direct his attention to trying to find ways of preventing their emergence, to ensuring that citizens share enough interests to genuinely sustain a general will. Rousseau’s views about how a general will can be sustained may be unpalatable and we may need to re-think some of his assumptions and reject some of his claims to arrive at more satisfactory ones, but at least they are the confrontation of the right problem. Ironically, through their influence on Kant, they are one of the ancestors of Rawls’ idea of the overlapping consensus, which, to mix Rawls’ and Rousseau’s terms, allows for people to be forced to be free from within their own comprehensive doctrines, and so of the liberalism Pettit insistently claims cannot make proper sense of the relation between law and freedom.

Other figures in the republican tradition could be used to show the strangeness of Pettit’s view too. John P. McCormick has argued that the Cambridge School interpretation of Machiavelli that Pettit admits to relying on fails to see the extent to which Machiavelli is a theorist who relies on the class struggle of the popolo against the ambition of the grandi, the notables, to sustain a republic and is primarily concerned to find ways of empowering the mass against the elites. If this can be sustained, and Machiavelli does insist time and time again that the people and nobles have different interests, and that the people’s are less destructive of republican liberty, then it would also cut against Pettit’s counter-majoritarian instincts. Rather than entrusting the protection of liberty to unaccountable institutions like supreme courts and central banks, Machiavelli can be seen as stressing the importance of creating ways for democratic majorities to prevent elites capturing the machinery of the state and directing it towards their ends, much as the distribution of the proceeds of growth suggests has happened over the past thirty or so years in the UK and USA.

In order to provide the full range of insights available from this tradition, contemporary republicans need to look more deeply into a wider range of thinkers and the diversity of their views. We need to understand, for example, why Rousseau claimed that Corsica was the only European society capable of being just in The Social Contract, and what relation contemporary republican proposals stand in to his apparent utopianism, both as a critical perspective and as a kind of lament. Without doing that, we may struggle to understand how difficult achieving republican ideals could be, and so what their real appeal might be.

This article is part of the Democratic Wealth series, hosted by Politics in Spires in partnership with OurKingdom.

Which republicanism are we talking about?

Too narrow an interpretation of republicanism can rob us off many of the tools and insights we should now be employing. This is no time for elite paternalism.

As an intellectual tradition, republicanism is a broad church. J. G. A. Pocock’s seminal charting of a particular part of that tradition, his genealogy of republicanism’s role in Britain’s 13 North American colonies’ struggle for and consolidation of their independence in The Machiavellian Moment, takes in figures as different as Niccolò Machiavelli and Alexander Hamilton.

One of these was a Florentine humanist for whom the Roman republic’s class-driven political strife was central to its success while the other, a soldier married into the pre-Independence colonial elite, could not think of “the rapid succession of revolutions” in such “petty” republics without “horror and disgust”, and so was glad that the “science of politics” had received the “great improvement” which enabled it to go beyond the tools available in antiquity[1].

Yet Pocock hardly covers the whole republican tradition, even in the countries he deals with. Alex Gourevitch has ably shown the ways in which labour and other struggles well after the era Pocock is concerned with drew on republican tropes, for example. Nor is that to say anything of the Francophone or German republican traditions through the eighteenth and nineteenth century, in which theorists as different as Fichte and Tocqueville can be located, or of the forms (anti-) colonial republicanism took outside the eastern seaboard of North America.

Any attempt to draw on the republican tradition for contemporary political insight needs to be aware, then, of the variety of thinkers who fall within it and the specificity of the problems they were trying to solve. Often their differences are considerably greater than their similarities, and in failing to appreciate those differences, much of the sophistication and plausibility of the lessons we might learn from the tradition can be lost.

Pettit’s republicanism

Much contemporary republicanism seems to me to fail to see this. Its standard bearer, Philip Pettit, undeniably leans on the authority provided by the republican tradition extensively, describing himself as trying to revive an “ideal” that, despite having “shaped many of the most important institutions… we associate with democracy”, “has not been given enough attention in contemporary debates”[2]. The ideal he tries to revive, however, is one that is supposed to be shared by both Machiavelli and Madison, co-author of The Federalist Papers with Hamilton, as well as Locke, Harrington, and many in between. More than that, the ideal is rather specific. Pettit claims that valuing freedom as non-domination requires what he calls ‘contestatory democracy’, which, in addition to being democratic in the sense of having governments selected through some kind of formally egalitarian political process, should satisfy a further three conditions. The first two, that the rule of law should be observed and that there should be some separation of powers, are relatively uncontroversial, but the third, that law should be “resistant to majority will”, is I hope not[3].

Pettit not only believes that the republican case for “counter-majoritarian protection” is “straightforward”, but that the means of providing that protection should be through something like the elaborate system of checks and balances we see in the United States[4]. His republican ideal consequently amounts to something very similar to that of Publius and The Federalist Papers. However, the counter-majoritarianism of The Federalist Papers is paternalistic and elitist, concerned to defend the people “against their own temporary errors and delusions” by dispersing and checking power[5].  In insulating representatives from the popular will, they aim to “suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority” – or at least reason, justice, and truth as decided by the members of the colonial elite selected as representatives[6].  Thus, Pettit’s reconstruction of the republican tradition does at least two unfortunate things. First, it adopts the recommendations of a clique of eighteenth century oligarchs as a set of guidelines for contemporary institutional design, and second, it casts this as the content of republicanism as such.

Yet it is not clear either that the ideal that Pettit claims characterises the republican tradition is in fact what unifies it or unequivocally supports the institutional arrangements he favours. This should hardly be surprising, given the breadth and depth of the republican tradition, but it is disappointing, given Pettit’s public role as, for example, an assessor of the republican credentials of Zapatero’s government in Spain. The lack of attention to the diversity and particularity of thinkers in the republican tradition impoverishes it and so makes it less useful and attractive to us as a source from which we can draw contemporary political inspiration.

The ideal Pettit claims characterises the republican tradition is that of freedom as non-domination, an understanding eclipsed by Bentham’s Hobbes-inspired polemics against the rebellious North American colonists. Pettit is certainly able to show that some figures like Harrington, opponent of Hobbes’ attack on the ‘democratical gentlemen’ who opposed government by prerogative, have something like Pettit’s account of freedom as resting in being free from subjection “to the potentially capricious will or the potentially idiosyncratic judgement of another”[7]. That some figures in the tradition talk in these terms though does not show that this is an appropriate way to characterise the tradition as a whole. It may not be their central idea, and it may not be any part of what other members of the tradition claim. In The Federalist Papers, for example, a republic is simply not a despotism, that is, a state which respects civil liberties and grants its citizens a role in law-making. This is not a quite specific claim about freedom consisting in not being exposed to the arbitrary will of another and only not being exposed to such a will. Equally, Rousseau’s discussion of living under laws you yourself have willed in The Social Contractseems motivated by a worry about the entitlement to authority of laws made any other way, not by a claim about what freedom as such is. A republican tradition without either The Federalist Papers or The Social Contract, texts which are clearly central to the two great republican revolutions of the late eighteenth century in France and North America, would be rather poor though.

Republicanism against democracy?

Further, even if we were to grant that Pettit is right to characterise the republican tradition as united by freedom as non-domination, the case for his preferred counter-majoritarian institutions would remain weak. Pettit seems to believe that if a democratic majority is prevented from imposing its will, then non-domination is secured, that non-arbitrary rule is ensured by counter-majoritarian measures of the sort he favours. Yet the record of those checks and balances is at best ambiguous. For example, for more than 150 years, the US Supreme Court acquiesced in, if not perpetuated, first slavery and then Jim Crow, leaving it to Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and remedy the blatant injustice of the treatment meted out to African Americans. Given the centrality of slavery as the definitional opposite of freedom in Pettit’s account of republicanism, his preference for a kind of institutional arrangement that has shown itself capable of repeatedly holding, at times against democratic majorities, that the state-mandated oppression of minorities is perfectly acceptable is odd. Indeed, the relatively untrammelled central authority in the United Kingdom was able to abolish slavery significantly earlier, partly as a result of the kind of mass political campaign the political system of the United States was deliberately designed to resist.

This is not only an empirical question about what policies a political system full of actors able to slow or veto policies favoured by democratic majorities is likely to favour, or whether such a system will in fact make slavery less likely or more. There is also a more conceptual issue. When a democratic majority is thwarted, who rules? Whose will makes the law if it is not a democratic majority’s? Why are we not concerned about the domination of the democratic majority by those who prevent them making law, who after all must be less numerous than the majority they are opposing? How can non-domination require that, simply because they disagree with it, a minority must be offered the opportunity systematically to obstruct and frustrate the decided will of a democratic majority? Pettit suggests in his most recent book that institutions designed to check the majority’s will make decisions “likely to be the ones that the people… would make or approve if they had all the relevant information or expertise”[8]. This paternalistic defence of counter-majoritarian institutions turns not living under the will of another into being told that you do not know your own mind, and that experts with whom you disagree should interpret your interests for you, as you are not to be trusted to protect or promote them yourself. The people are being rescued from their ‘temporary errors and delusions’ again.

Learning from other republicanisms: Rousseau, Machiavelli

Insofar as figures in the republican tradition have shared something like Pettit’s ideal, they have been aware that political disagreement means that coercion is inevitable, and the question is who does it to whom. Pettit is consistently hostile to Rousseau, but in admitting that living under law involves forcing people to be free, Rousseau gave himself the conceptual apparatus to acknowledge the losses of liberty involved in law-making and so confront the problem of ensuring that loss of liberty is not dominating. His problem in The Social Contract is, after all “[t]o find a form of association that will defend and protect the person and goods of each associate with the full common force, and by means of which each, uniting with all, nevertheless obey only himself and remain as free as before”[9]. Being ruled by the general will answers this demand because it matches the laws its members are required to obey to their own wills by aiming at the protection of interests they share. Where wills do not align, either because of divergent or misunderstood interests, the general will ceases to exist and a just society becomes impossible. Rousseau’s answer to the problem of dissatisfied minorities Pettit worries about is to deny that a republic is possible once the problem exists and instead direct his attention to trying to find ways of preventing their emergence, to ensuring that citizens share enough interests to genuinely sustain a general will. Rousseau’s views about how a general will can be sustained may be unpalatable and we may need to re-think some of his assumptions and reject some of his claims to arrive at more satisfactory ones, but at least they are the confrontation of the right problem. Ironically, through their influence on Kant, they are one of the ancestors of Rawls’ idea of the overlapping consensus, which, to mix Rawls’ and Rousseau’s terms, allows for people to be forced to be free from within their own comprehensive doctrines, and so of the liberalism Pettit insistently claims cannot make proper sense of the relation between law and freedom.

Other figures in the republican tradition could be used to show the strangeness of Pettit’s view too. John P. McCormick has argued that the Cambridge School interpretation of Machiavelli that Pettit admits to relying on fails to see the extent to which Machiavelli is a theorist who relies on the class struggle of the popolo against the ambition of the grandi, the notables, to sustain a republic and is primarily concerned to find ways of empowering the mass against the elites. If this can be sustained, and Machiavelli does insist time and time again that the people and nobles have different interests, and that the people’s are less destructive of republican liberty, then it would also cut against Pettit’s counter-majoritarian instincts. Rather than entrusting the protection of liberty to unaccountable institutions like supreme courts and central banks, Machiavelli can be seen as stressing the importance of creating ways for democratic majorities to prevent elites capturing the machinery of the state and directing it towards their ends, much as the distribution of the proceeds of growth suggests has happened over the past thirty or so years in the UK and USA.

In order to provide the full range of insights available from this tradition, contemporary republicans need to look more deeply into a wider range of thinkers and the diversity of their views. We need to understand, for example, why Rousseau claimed that Corsica was the only European society capable of being just in The Social Contract, and what relation contemporary republican proposals stand in to his apparent utopianism, both as a critical perspective and as a kind of lament. Without doing that, we may struggle to understand how difficult achieving republican ideals could be, and so what their real appeal might be.

This piece is part of the Democratic Wealth series, hosted by OurKingdom in partnership with Politics in Spires.

Notes

[1] The Federalist Papers, 9, paras. 1 and 3.

[2] Republicanism, pp. viii, 4.

[3] Republicanism, pg. 173.

[4] Republicanism, pg. 181

[5] The Federalist Papers, 63, para. 6.

[6] The Federalist Papers, 63, para. 6.

[7] Republicanism, pg. 5.

[8] In the People’s Name, p. 237.

[9] Social Contract, 1.6.4.

About Robert Jubb

Robert Jubb is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester. His fellowship was granted for a project on responding to injustice, and he has published work on involvement in and responsibility for political injustices. He is currently particularly interested in how to defend egalitarian political commitments in a realistic but philosophically respectable way.

3 Responses to If we are to apply it to contemporary politics, which republicanism should we be talking about?

  1. Daniel Savery March 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

    Dear Dr. Jubb

    Thank you for this post. While I agree with you that republicanism is a much broader church than some contemporary republicans are willing to acknowledge, I have to disagree that Pettit, and neo-roman republicans in general, are as guilty of this charge to the degree you suggest. In fact, it may be more correct to assert that non-republicans have been more guilty of this charge than neo-republicans. The idea that republicanism is an extreme form of participatory democracy has long been the standard liberal straw-man construction. This aside, let us see how Pettit might respond to your charge: first, Pettit explicitly refers to his account of republicanism as neo-roman. As such, he wants to distinguish this account from other athenian inspired republican accounts, like one finds in Sandel, Taylor, Barber and Arendt. However, as you do not mention any of these figures, I take that when you are talking about republicanism there is an implicit assumption here that you mean neo-roman republicanism. Does Pettit, then, offer us an overly-homogenous account of this tradition which leaves many notable republicans side-lined? I think you overstate the case.

    Of course, Pettit does recognise that there are certain members of this tradition that, while endorsing the idea of freedom as non-domination as a central republican value, ultimately fall outside of the tradition he is referring to in how they cash-out this principle in their thought: Rousseau is probably the most well-known example. However, I take it that you disagree that Rousseau is even commencing from the same basic republican starting-point – the starting-point of freedom – as other republicans. If this is the case, I think you are mistaken. You write: ‘Rousseau’s discussion of living under laws you yourself have willed in The Social Contract seems motivated by a worry about the entitlement to authority of laws made any other way, not by a claim about what freedom as such is’. Indeed, while it may perhaps seem that this is a worry about the authority of laws, at base it is more a worry about how to remain free from domination. Recall, Rousseau’s philosophical project is built around a certain moral psychology. For Rousseau, there are two elements that make up an individual’s moral psychology: amour de soi and amour propre. While the former represents the natural drive for self-preservation, it is the latter that represents the artificial desire for recognition. According to Rousseau, in the pre-social state of nature, it is amour de soi that directs us towards our own self-preservation. By contrast, once we leave this pre-social natural state and move into the artificial social world, we are also directed by a desire for the positive-regard or esteem of others. As Rousseau describes it:

    ‘Amour-propre must not be confused with love of self [amour de soi]: for they differ both in themselves and in their effects. Love of self is a natural feeling which leads every animal to look to its own preservation, and which, guided in man by reason and modified by compassion, creates humanity and virtue. Amour-propre is a purely relative and factitious feeling, which arises in the state of society, leads each individual to make more of himself than of any other, causes all the mutual damage men inflict one on another, and is the real source of the sense of honour’

    Unfortunately, for Rousseau, amour propre can take an objectionable, competitive and aggressive form but this need not necessarily be the case. This reflects the idea that as pre-social man leaves the state of nature the type of society he builds with others will vary according to different historical and social conditions. For Rousseau, in a hierarchical society, like his own, the drive for esteem produces the sort of asymmetries in social standing that are inimical to real freedom. By being dependent on ‘superiors’ for positive-regard, citizens sense of self-worth is wholly dependent on the good-will of more powerful individuals. In other words, they are subjected to all kinds of domination. To put it in Marxian terms, because amour propre is situated in a society in which honour is tied to the ownership of the means of the production, the result is a deeply unequal society in which some have to sell their labour power for subsistence wage and some extract a profit. Again, it is the drive to receive the positive-regard of others that motivates individuals to be at the top of the hierarchy rather than the bottom, and helps to sustain the exploitative relation between the ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’. However, and this is the crucial point for Rousseau, if we can create social and political institutions in such a way that amour propre is relative to some other positional good, then we can create a society in which recognition need not produce such gross inequalities. That is to say, by giving the general will supreme authority in a state, we can make the equal legal respect, that each member of the political community shares, an equal basis to citizens desire for esteem. Ultimately, it is this drive to create a political and social order in which each is given the recognition they deserve that motivates Rousseau’s Social Contract. Put differently: by each giving themselves up to the dictates of the general will citizens can remain free from the arbitrary will or domination of others. For Rousseau, this freedom from domination that the general will provides can only be maintained in small republics. Thus, when he writes his short work on Corsica he has this idea firmly in mind. In short, starting with a particular account of the moral psychology of a person, Rousseau wants an answer to the question of how we can be free in artificial world of social interaction as one is in the state of nature. For him, it is only ‘by each giving himself to all’ via the general will that citizens can secure their freedom from one another. In this sense, Rousseau is in the long line of republican thinkers who see freedom from domination as the central republican concern. However, he views the majority will as having emancipatory effects. Whereas, later republicans have, I think rightly, viewed the majority will as another potential form of domination. As Pettit has written elsewhere: ‘Rousseau, developed a version of republican doctrine- a renegade or heretical version- in the social contract in which the idea of popular sovereignty was given pride of place’. Such a will may, and this is a very big may, not produce domination if everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet, so to speak. But as Madison famously said: ‘A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary controul on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions’

    You also remain sceptical as to whether the federalists were talking about freedom to the extent that Pettit might assume. You write: Pettit is certainly able to show that some figures like Harrington, opponent of Hobbes’ attack on the ‘democratical gentlemen’ who opposed government by prerogative, have something like Pettit’s account of freedom as resting in being free from subjection “to the potentially capricious will or the potentially idiosyncratic judgement of another” That some figures in the tradition talk in these terms though does not show that this is an appropriate way to characterise the tradition as a whole. It may not be their central idea, and it may not be any part of what other members of the tradition claim. In The Federalist Papers, for example, a republic is simply not a despotism, that is, a state which respects civil liberties and grants its citizens a role in law-making. This is not a quite specific claim about freedom consisting in not being exposed to the arbitrary will of another and only not being exposed to such a will’. Here, I also think you are mistaken. Republicans are concerned with two salient kinds of domination: dominium and imperium. The former concerns the kinds of domination at the horizontal level between citizens. The latter concerns the kinds of vertical domination between the citizenry and the state. Rousseau paid more attention to the former than he did to the latter. The federalists, quite rightly at the time, are trying to justify how the national government does not simply represent a form of imperium like the monarchical government of Britain. In other words, their primary concern is with legitimacy. Many anti-federalists decried the idea of having a republic across such a large territory comprised of the then thirteen states of the confederation. They favoured the small participatory democracies of the Athenian tradition. However, for the federalists, not only was a large republic feasible, it was also desirable. Following the neo-roman tradition of republicanism, the chief concern was to design a system of government which would not become a dominating presence, or imperium, in citizens lives. In the words of Madison, this would be achieved by ensuring that ‘ambition must be made to counteract ambition’. By separating the crafting, executing, and judging of laws into three different areas of government, this would ensure that no single individual or group would have so much power that they would become a dominating presence in citizens’ lives. The threat of power being concentrated in the hands of one group or individual was too dangerous a risk to fail to address. In this sense, the federalists were cognizant of domination existing at the two levels I mentioned. In short, freedom from domination, wherever this domination might come from, was their central animating concern.

    Your last argument focuses centrally on Pettit’s republicanism. You write: ‘Pettit seems to believe that if a democratic majority is prevented from imposing its will, then non-domination is secured, that non-arbitrary rule is ensured by counter-majoritarian measures of the sort he favours. Yet the record of those checks and balances is at best ambiguous. For example, for more than 150 years, the US Supreme Court acquiesced in, if not perpetuated, first slavery and then Jim Crow, leaving it to Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and remedy the blatant injustice of the treatment meted out to African Americans. Given the centrality of slavery as the definitional opposite of freedom in Pettit’s account of republicanism, his preference for a kind of institutional arrangement that has shown itself capable of repeatedly holding, at times against democratic majorities, that the state-mandated oppression of minorities is perfectly acceptable is odd’. Here, again, I think you mis-characterize Pettit’s position. The conceptual claim that Pettit is making is that freedom as non-domination demands much more resources and protections as this case illustrates. Freedom from a democratic majority is necessary for non-domination but it is not sufficient. First, from the perspective of republican justice, citizens, whether black, white, male or female, require a sufficient degree of resources and protections that will prevent them from being dominated by other agents or agencies. The state will have to ensure that they are not in the jurisdiction of another person, he or she is not sui juris. Pettit, here, refers to the free-person heuristic as a useful model for what this might entail. In short, citizens will have to have enough resources and protections so that they can pass the eyeball test: they can look each citizen in the eyes without fear or deference. Denying citizens basic civil and political rights on this view is simply unjust and inconsistent with the demands of republican justice. Second, the ability that citizens have to contest laws and the counter-majoritarian measures you mention are necessary bulwarks against the state overstepping its role in delivering these justice requirements. The case you refer to has less to do with the conceptual matter of what freedom as non-domination demands for each citizen and more to do with the empirical matter of how the US supreme court defined the rights and obligations of its segregated citizens: it did this in a very un-republican manner. In fact, the measures that Pettit is calling for our more likely to prevent cases like this from emerging than if we had no counter-majoritarian measures in place.

    To sum up: neo-roman republicans have a shared concern, namely, how to ensure citizens are free from domination. While some classical figures have focused on the way the state can be a threat to this freedom and have been more concerned with the horizontal dimension of domination between citizens than the vertical between citizen and state, contemporary republicans ought to be concerned with both. To Pettit’s credit, I think his neo-roman account does not shy away from either of these two aspects of domination; others have. The classical writers you refer to endorse the key republican intuition that a life of domination is something to be avoided. And just as many liberals start from similar premises and reach different conclusions, the same applies to republicans. However, we should not allow the different conclusions that these writers reach to cloud out the fact that they started with a desire for the same thing: freedom

    • Rob Jubb March 24, 2014 at 11:23 am #

      Dear Daniel,

      Thank you for your long and thoughtful response. Unfortunately, I think it is not always quite to the point. You argue that Pettit’s theory of freedom as non-domination is more central to the neo-roman republican tradition than I claim, pointing to worries that Rousseau and the Federalist have about domination as evidence against my suggestion that they are not captured by Pettit’s account of the tradition. Notice though that in neither case are you able to show that they define freedom as non-domination, or that they accept Pettit’s somewhat idiosyncratic definition of domination. It is the former though, and possibly also the latter, which determine whether Pettit’s claim about republicanism being united around the theory of freedom he articulates is accurate. I’m not quite sure that the weaker claim you seem to be defending, that neo-roman republicans worried about domination, is also true – amour-propre seems to me more a concern about a loss of autonomy than about domination, and the Federalist appears to operate with a natural rights theory rather than one about who rules – but even if it were, it wouldn’t vindicate Pettit’s stronger claim.

      On the question of Pettit’s counter-majoritarianism and its relation to the record of, for example, the US Supreme Court, my point was simply that counter-majoritarian institutions of the sort it seems Pettit favours do not have an unblemished record of securing non-domination, understood pre-theoretically. Of course, these are not the only institutions Pettit requires, and of course I didn’t mean to suggest that he would endorse slavery or Jim Crow-type regimes. They are, though, a central part of his account, and pointing to their record seems to me a sensible way of questioning why they are there. Are they really needed to pass the ‘eyeball’ test? In a society which otherwise passes the eyeball test, would having such institutions reliably protect that status for all or, as I’d argue history suggests, more often protect the privileges of elites, as their creators typically intended them to? If we don’t need them to secure non-domination, and in fact they may threaten it, then the tight connection between his theory of freedom and his institutional recommendations Pettit is at pains to stress will be broken.

      • Daniel Savery March 27, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

        Dear Robert,

        Thank you for your response. I will set aside the question of whether freedom as non-domination is the unifying feature of republicanism and focus on your latter point. I think it is useful again to refer to Pettit’s distinction between two forms of domination: dominium and Imperium. The institutional measures he advocates are for the latter form of domination; in other words, imperium. This is why he views justice and legitimacy as two separate issues for republicans. On his account, one could be free from dominium, the kind of domination that exists between citizens on the horizontal level, yet suffer imperium, say, by living under the power of a benevolent despot. One could pass the eyeball test, in other words, if one lived under a benevolent despot, but this would not make the state legitimate. While the state might score well on the justice dimension, it would score poorly on the legitimacy dimension. The institutional measures that republicans call for are particularly salient for ensuring that the state is under the popular control of its citizens. Put differently: they ensure that citizens view the exercise of political power over them as a positive sum game overall rather than zero-sum. Of course, there will be individual instances of zero-sum power, but citizens will view the state as legitimate if they see this within the broader context of a positive-sum game. Pettit, I think, refers to this as the ‘tough-luck test’.

        I do not think, as you suggest, the institutional measures that republicans advocate are for the express purpose of privileging a small elite. However, history has certainly shown that they can often be corrupted. The intention of such institutions is to ensure the state remains a legitimate state in the eyes of its citizens. Without these measures, the likelihood that a democratic majority could become a potential tyranny in the eyes of the minority would be a constant danger for its citizens. In other words, citizens from minority groups would see the majority will not as an overall positive-sum game but a zero-sum game in which they were the constant losers. In effect, this would increase the possibility of minorities wanting to secede or, as history has shown, take up arms. I would argue, ensuring that a small elite does not take control of the state requires more republican measures not less. If we have less, the likelihood that the majority would constantly win at the expense of the minority is a real possibility. This would inevitably produce instability; an issue the federalists were particularly concerned with. However, divesting power in the hands of a Supreme Court, for republicans, requires that there are additional safeguards put in place so that the courts do not overstep their remit. A fully functioning supreme court should be viewed as a necessary check on government which enables citizens to contest government decisions, but it should also be viewed as a potential dominus in the eyes of vigilant citizens. The unblemished record the U.S Supreme Court has, as you suggest, speaks to the need of additional measures. While a supreme court is necessary for non-domination, it is not sufficient. Indeed, institutional measures without a civic minded citizenry are empty legal abstractions more likely than not to become corruptible; hence, the republican requirement of civic virtue and eternal vigilance to ‘keep the bastards honest’.

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